The documented history of Karnataka dates back to the third century B.C., at which point of time the Ashokan rock edicts were installed in some parts of the state. Many references to Karnataka prior to that period are found in ancient texts. However, archaeologists are basically interested in the findings arrived at by studying the material unearthed by them during their excavations. They have conducted in depth research lookinh for signs of human inhabitation in different parts of this region right from middle decades of the nineteenth century. The rich flora and fauna of Karnataka, as also an availability of water and other resources have facilitated human living. Relics found during the excavations vouch for the presence of weapons made of stone and other material. Consequently, scholars have arrived at a conclusion that human beings have flourished in these regions even during the middle snow ages which dates back to 500,000 years. Archaeologists have divided this long period in to segments such as Old Stone Age, Microlithic age, Neolithic-Copper age and Iron Age.

            Many archaeologists have participated in these excavations over many decades. Pioneering work was done by Meadows Taylor, Leonard Munn, Cole, Burgess, McKenzi, Mortimer Wheeler, F.R. Alchin and Robert Bruce Foote. They have found relics belonging to different ages at different points of time. Indian archaeologists such as M.H. Krishna, Sampath Iyengar, R.V. Joshi, K. Paddayya, R.S. Pappu, M.Sheshadri, M.S. Nagaraja Rao, A.Sundara, M.Hanumanta Rao, S. Nagaraju, K.V. Soundararajan, B.K. Gururaja Rao and a host of others who have followed in their footsteps.  

            More than thirty sites belonging to the early Stone Age are found in South Karnataka. ‘kibbanahaLLi’ in Tumkur district is the most important among them. In North Karnataka, ‘huNasagi’ in Surappur talluk of Gulbarga district, anagavADi in Krishna-Ghataprabha delta and ‘niTTur’ in Shiraguppa talluk, Bellary district rank among the more important sites. Stone implements and weapons are found in all these places. The axes found here are divided in to three categories known as abbevillian, acheulian and elliptical. Many fossils are found in Hunasigi indicating the presence of hunting during that period. Red stone beads found in the same place vouch for their aesthetic sense. NiTTUr is unique because of the chopper like stone weapons found there. Instruments that can be used to scrape and to bore holes in leather are also found in Kibbanahalli. 

            The middle period of the Old Stone Age is represented by quite a few places in Karnataka. To begin with K.D. Banarji started excavations in a place called ‘tamminahALa’ on the banks of Malaprabha river and found some stone implements. This work was extended to ‘sAlvaDagi’ in Bijapura district and kUcabAla and ‘matakana dEvanahaLLi’ in Bijapur district by A.Sundara. K Paddayya has found some eleven sites like that, in places such as ‘anagavADi’ and ‘kOvaLLi. It is to be noted that most of these sites are located on river beds where varieties of stones like agate, calcidoni, chert and jasper are plentifully available. They facilitate the production of stone implements and weapons. These weapons are basically scrappers and bores in different shapes with handles made of wood or bones. These people could have been hunting communities with access to leather garments. The last stage of the Old Stone Age was prevalent in almost the sites at a later period. M.Sheshadri and K.Paddaiah have done pioneering work in this area. A systematic study of the relics found here lead to a classification based on the depth at which they were found. Material found at the uppermost level obviously constitutes the latest period. Consequently, sAlvadagi and huNasagi mentioned earlier as also new places like benahaTTi, maralabAvi and takkanahaLLi contain the relics of the final stage of the Old Stone Age. These implements are made of reddish brown chert stone. These relics include longish blades with sharp edges and many multi purpose instruments.

            The microlithic age or the medieval Stone Age is represented by more than thirty sites spread out over the length and breadth of Karnataka. JalahaLi, sUDasandra, dEvanahaLLi, rAgiguDDa all in Bangalore district, kibbanahalLLi in Tumkur district, sanganakallu, kupgal and kuDatini in Bellary district and quite a few sites in Gulbarga district belong to this age. The relics are found at a relatively low depth and most of them are very small. Some of them measure from 5 mm. to 5 cm. in length and 3 mm. to 3 cm. in width. They are made of flint stone and chert depending on the region. One finds many arrow heads and implements shaped like a half moon, a triangle and a trapezium. They seem to have created compounded instruments putting a number of small implements to together. Sanganakallu (saNNarAcammanaguDDa) and kupgal are very prominent among the sites of this period. The ash mounds of kupgal have yielded lots of material. Ravi Korishettar and K.Paddaiah have carried out excavation work in these areas recently. 

            The next stage in the annals of pre historic India is called neolithic or copper Stone Age. (Chalcolithic age) (2500-800 B.C. in Karnataka)  This age is characterized by adaptation of agriculture and domestication of animals, use of copper, development of polished weapons and ash mounds, rural households and specific burial practices. The sites are found all over Karnataka, usually in sites that supported other ages and occasionally new sites. The more prominent ones among them are brahmagiri, sanganakallu, piklihALu, maski, kuppagallu, (kupgal) tekkalakOTe, tEradALa, koDekallu, hemmige, and bUditiTTu. Experienced archaeologists like Robert Bruce Foote, M.H.Krishna, Mortimer Wheeler, F.R.Alchin, M.S. Nagaraja Rao, A.Sundara, K.V.Soundararajan and M.Hanimantha Rao have taken the lead in most of these excavations.

            There are two important categories in this particular age. They are, respectively ash mounds and village bases. Ashmounds are created by the burning and dumping of cow dung. Over a period of time they harden and become stone like. They indicate cattle rearing and agriculture. They are found in kupgal, kuDatini, tEradAL, kuDaci and koDEkal. Many a time, these huge ash mounds have yielded implements, weapons, clay utensils and bones belonging to the new Stone Age.     

            The villages were built on flat plateaus found on hillocks. The huts were usually circular with a pole in the centre and thatched walls on the circumference. The tall pole facilitated inclining roofs. The roofs were usually thatched with hay. The floor was constructed with layers of small stones, clay, red earth and finally a lime wash. Many implements, weapons and utensils are found in all these habitats. The pots are often decorated with mono chrome drawings. Axes and chisels made of dolerite stones are the more prominent weapons. Copper tools and decorative articles are found in a few places though not very extensively. There are ample evidences in these places to prove that the people were familiar with agricultural and cow herding activities. Millet grains found in haLLUr site and horsegram seeds found in tekkalakOte are significant. Many tools are useful in agriculture rather than hunting. Bones of domesticated animals like cows and goats prove it further. The burials were done in dwelling places or there abouts. Bodies of children were buried and kept in pots. Adult bodies were placed in a lying position in pits and buried along with articles such as a water pots and lamps.

            Some of the drawings found on rocks near sanganakallu, piklihALu and gombIguDDa are among earliest drawings found in Karnataka. They see to have aesthetic and religious significance according to some scholars.

            Iron Age which is also known as the megalithic age happens to be the last pre-historic era in Karnataka. Brahmagiri, chandravalli, jaDigEnahaLLi T.Narasipura, Hallur, (Dharawad district) Maski, tEradAla-haLingaLi, (Bijapura district) hUnUru and koppa are some pf the important sites of this age. Iron implements have been found in different places from 1851 till the current times. Meadows Taylor, M.H.Krishna, Mortimer Wheeler, M.S. Nagaraja Rao, A.Sundara and R.Gopal have done seminal work in this field. Iron came into prominent use during this period. (2nd century B.C to the middle of the 1st century A.D.) It was used both for agriculture and weaponry. Sickles, spears, daggers, knives, arrow-heads and swords are some of these instruments. The pottery was of a different kind. It is of mainly three varieties: highly polished black-and-red ware, all-black ware and bright as well as coarse dull-red ware. Lines and patterns in white were drawn on them.

The burial practice during this period was again different. They were done in huge stone cists (Chamber Tombs) or excavated pits which were surrounded by boulders arranged in the shape of a circle or concentric circles. The cists also contained funeral pots and objects like iron implements and beads. These graves are divided in to three categories. The first one consists of huge family graves where bones of different perssons are deposited from time to time. In the second method the bodies are burnt, bones are collected and deposited in the graves. The third method has different graves for different individuals. Among these the first method is widely practiced.

          Archaeobotanical findings at Hallur revealed the fact that crops such as millet, green gram, black gram and beans were cultivated at that site. Ornaments made of precious and semi precious metals were also found.  Metal came in to prominent use during the second period. (2nd century B.C to the middle of the 1st century A.D.) They were used both for agriculture and weaponry. Sickles, spears, arrow heads and swords are some of the instruments made of metal. The pottery was of a different kind. It is of mainly three varieties: highly polished black-and-red ware, all-black ware and bright as well as coarse dull-red ware. 
The burial practice during this period was again different.

The housing structures found here consisted of circular floors, composed of schist chips and mud pounded hard to make a hard surface. The walls made of bamboo and mud, provided support to a conical thatched roof. One of the houses was found to have a circular fireplace containing ash and charcoal. The region below the floors was a burial chamber consisting of urns used for child burials. Chalcolithic blade tools of black quartzite, small copper axes and fish hooks are also found. The transition to the Iron Age period is marked by the presence of megaliths and iron implements.”                                                                                                  This completes a brief survey of the pre-historic eras of Karnataka.


Further Readings and Links:



3.      Sannarachamma-gudda

4.      Kupgal Ashmounds


6.      Late prehistoric and early historic South India: recent research along the Tungabhadra river, Karnataka
Carla M. Sinopoli, Kathleen D. Morrison & R. Gopal

7.      ‘Protohistoric Culture of the Tungabhadra Valley’ By M.S. Nagaraja Rao, 1971, Dharwar.

8.      ‘The early chamber tombs of South India: a study of the iron age megalithic monuments of north Karnataka’ by A.Sundara, 1975, University Publishers (India)

9.      ‘Archaeology of Karnataka’ edited by A.V.Narasimha Murthy, 1978, University of Mysore, Mysore.

10. ‘Indian Archaeology in Retrospect: Archaeology and Historiography’ (Volume 4) By S.Settar, Ravi Korisettar, Indian Council of Historical Research, 2002

11. ‘Recent researches in Karnataka Archaeology’ By M.V.Krishnappa, R.Gopal, 2000, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums,

12.  ಪುರಾತತ್ವ ಶೋಧನೆ’, ಎಸ್. ಶ್ರೀಕಂಠ ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಿ, 1960, 1975, ಮೈಸೂರು ವಿಶ್ವವಿದ್ಯಾಲಯ, ಮೈಸೂರು.

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