Home | TNPSC Micro Topics | Early India: Iron Age

Early India: Iron Age

Iron Age in North India

  • The Iron Age in North India coincides with the painted Grey Ware Culture.
  • The painted grey ware is dated to 1100 to 800 BCE.
  • More than 1000 sites have been identified with painted grey ware pottery in northern India, with a major concentration in the Ganga-Yamuna Valley.
  • These ceramics succeeded the Black and Red Ware Culture in the eastern Ganga valley and Central India.
  • The pottery was fine grey in colour with painted geometric designs.
  • The painted grey ware laid the foundation of the early political formations.
  • It correlates with the Kuru-Panchala kingdom known from the Vedic texts.
  • The Painted Grey Ware cultural phase is followed by Northern Black Polished Ware culture   (NBPW),   which is associated with the Mahajanapada and Mauryan periods.
  • The Painted Grey ware sites reveal the development of agriculture and pastoralism, and the settlements of this  period  grew in dimension.
  • They show a large scale population increase in the northern  part of India.
  • The Iron Age in North India was coeval with Painted Greyware Culture, and in South India it was associated with Megalithic burial mounds.

Megalithic/ Iron Age in Tamilnadu

  • The burial system followed by the people of Neolithic period continued into the Megalithic period.
  • A circular tomb using big stone slabs built upon the place of burial is known as a Megalith.
  • Such megaliths have been found in many parts of Tamilnadu.
  • The urn burial system was another type of practice and is evidenced in Adichanallur (present Thoothukudi district).
  • Black-ware is peculiar to burial sites in Tamilnadu.
  • Interestingly, black-ware is found mostly in burial mounds and not  in human habitations.
  • In a majority of urn burials, the use of stone is almost non-existent.
  • However, urn burials are grouped under megalithic because the materials – the pottery, iron objects, beads of semi-precious stones kept in them – are identical to those found in the stone burials.
  • The end of Megalithic burial practice is assigned to third-second centuries CE.
  • During this  period  Brahmi  writing  akin to Ashokan  Brahmi has been discovered in Kodumanal (Erode District).
  • There is  also evidence of the megalithic  tradition continuing into later centuries.
  • During the Sangam period people still remembered urn burials.
  • The four primitive hero-stones with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, datable to third to second  centuries BCE  found  in the upper part of the Vaigai valley, support the authenticity of the hero stone tradition described in the Sangam Tamil  literature  in the context of cattle raids.
  • Scholars infer, based on such evidence, that the some of the Sangam poems could be assigned to the early first century BCE or a little earlier.
  • The tradition of erecting hero stones in memory of dead warrior-heroes is considered to be an extension of the menhir type of megalithic tradition.
  • Menhirs, upright monumental stones, and dolmens made of big slabs or boulders are megalithic tombs found in TamilNadu.

Megalithic Sites in Tamilnadu


  • Adichanallur, 22 km from Tirunelveli, is located in Thoothukudi district.
  • In 1876, a German ethnologist and naturalist, Andrew Jagor conducted an excavation at Adichanallur.
  • He carried with him samples of backed earthenware, utensils of all sizes and shapes, a considerable number of iron weapons and implements, and great quantities of bones and These are now housed in a Berlin Museum.
  • The then district Collector of Tirunelveli J. Stuart and the famous linguist Bishop Robert Caldwell visited Adichanallur subsequently, found it  was a quartz site.
  • Quarrying was immediately banned and archaeological excavation commenced under    the    supervision of Alexander Rea.
  • Rea prepared a comprehensive account of his findings, illustrated by photographs, and was published in the annual report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), 1902–03.
  • Nearly a hundred years later, the ASI carried out another excavation and brought out more The report is awaited.

The burial mound at Adichanallur yielded the following:

  1. Urns and pottery of various kinds in large numbers.
  2. Iron implements, including spades and weapons (daggers, swords, spears and arrows). Some stone beads and a few gold ornaments
  3. Bronze objects representing the domestic animals such as buffalo, goat or sheep and cock, and wild animals like tiger, antelope and elephant.
  4. Traces of cloth and wood.
  • The engraving of animals on bronze and on ornaments is  indicative  of the primitive (Caldwell could stumble upon a copper bangle during his inspection at the site.)
  • The people were evidently skilful in moulding pottery, in casting or brassing metals, in weaving and in working stone and wood.
  • The presence of husks of rice and millet indicates domestication of these grains.
  • Iron weapons were used for both war, and for animal sacrifices.
  • The discovery of sacrificial implements prompted Caldwell to conclude that the people of Adichanallur were not adherents of Vedic religion.


  • Paiyampalli is a village in Tirupathur taluk, Vellore district.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India carried out an excavation in the 1960s and unearthed black and red ware pottery in this megalithic site.
  • A large number of urn burials were also found in this region.
  • The date of this culture, based on radio carbon dating, is 1000 BCE.


  • Kodumanal, 40 km from Erode, is located on the northern  bank  of  Noyyal  river, a tributary of the Cauvery.
  • A series of excavations were carried out during the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The most recent was in 2012.
  • In habitation trenches and megalithic burials of  Kodumanal, the goods unearthed included pots, weapons, tools, ornaments, and beads, particularly carnelian, akin to those found at Mohenjodaro.
  • Since carnelian was not known to this region in ancient times, it may have been brought to Kodumanal from outside.
  • In the Sangam work Pathitrupathu, a place called Kodumanam belonging to the Chera king, is praised for gemstones and therefore some archaeologists argue that Kodumanam is the ancient name of Kodumanal.
  • Hoards of Roman coins have been discovered and it is believed that this is a result of the export of gemstones to the Roman world, resulting in return a huge inflow of gold from the latter into the religion.
  • Conches and  bangles,  remnants of furnaces, a kiln floor filled with ash soot, and potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are other finds in the site.
  • Pit burials, urn burials and chamber tombs of different types excavated at Kodumanal and the names inscribed on potsherds may indicate habitation by multi-ethnic groups.
  • The graffiti etched on potsherds give  a lot of information about the people and their activities.
  • A menhir found at a burial site is assigned to the Megalithic Period.
  • According to Subbarayalu, Kodumanal is coeval the Sangam anthologies (second century BCE to second century CE).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *