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3.6: Bronze Age- The Indo-Aryan Migration (1800-1500 BCE)

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    The Vedic Period began after many people moved from Mesopotamia into the Indus Valley and Ganges Plain. Many of the people spoke Indo-European languages and were deemed Aryans. From 1800 to 1500 BCE, the Indo-Aryans developed small agricultural communities with domesticated animals. The communities were spread across different regions in migrations of small groups that continued over a long period of time and not one major invasion. As the settlements developed, the Vedic Period began and was based on religious traditions derived from the Vedas. The Vedas was considered the oldest scripture of the Hindu religion, written in Sanskrit. The Vedic civilization was centered along the Ganges Plain, fertile land named after the Ganges River and covering much of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The Indus and Ganges Rivers support the Ganges Plain (3.6.1), as the rich soil deposited by the rivers provides a fertile place to support animals and grow crops. 

    map of India
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Ganges Plain (JeroenCC BY-SA 2.5)

    The Vedic Period was divided into early and late designations. The populations grew in the early stages, and sheep, goats, and cattle were the significant animals of pastoralism. Religion and literary writings also became important in this period, and essential works were learned and handed down between generations, particularly those written in Sanskrit, their sacred language. “The Rigveda, which was likely composed during this time, contains several mythological and poetical accounts of the origins of the world, hymns praising the gods, and ancient prayers for life and prosperity.”[1] As the people organized into tribal groups, they incurred multiple conflicts over land, resource ownership, and use. The Battle of Ten Kings was an extensive battle with tribes fighting for control, ending in a tribal coalition in northern India. 

    The transition to settled agriculture characterizes the late Vedic Period. Using metal tools allowed the people to use plows to till the arable soil and cut the forests on the Ganges Plain. Expanded agriculture brought increased trade, more significant populations, and competition for resources as larger political groups began to form. Wheat, rice, and barley were major crops used to feed the large populations, and for trade, even cattle became traded as currency. An entire craft industry grew into commercial enterprises of carpentry, leather goods, and winemaking were prominent. Artisans made pottery, jewelry, and textiles. These expansions led to robust industries and opportunities for gift-giving among the elites.  


    One of the significant cultures (3.6.2) developing early in northern India was the Kuru Kingdom. Historical documentation identified another major city as Indraprastha, now modern Delhi. Their society became multi-tiered, with a king and several chiefdoms. Other groups formed similar communities with similar characteristics. The settlements were relatively large, fortified by encircling moats. They made embankments around the trenches with piled dirt and wooden stakes. Housing was generally round or square huts, and some structures appeared as towers. Bamboo, wood, and thatching were common materials found in the region. In most places, stone was seldom used. The general plan of a town was formed into a rectangle with two streets intersecting the village with four gateways. Each gateway was dedicated to one of the Vedic deities. In some areas, domed rock-cut chambers were found as potential burial sites for chieftains. Archaeologists also found indications of shrines and other hall-like structures. Although little architectural remains have been found, record books indicate a structured philosophy integrated with theology about how architectural designs should be undertaken.   

    Map of India
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Late Vedic cultures (Avantiputra7, CC BY-SA 3.0)


    Pottery was a significant art form of this period, and different regions created their unique styles. Remains of pottery were found in multiple early-settled locations. Pottery construction is an art style still practiced in the Indian subcontinent today, always made as earthenware or terracotta. Because there is little stone in the region, artists used terracotta to make life-sized figures. During the Vedic period, archaeologists found proof of pottery made by hand, along with pottery wheels.  

    During the Cemetery H period from 1700-1400 BCE, people migrated into the Punjab area. Traditionally, they cremated human remains and stored them in burial urns. Previously, bodies were buried in wooden coffins. Their reddish pottery was painted with multiple motifs, which have been interpreted as religious symbols. Peacocks had a tiny human form located in the hollowed body, and the dog may be Yama, the god of death. Most of the pottery for burials was round, ellipsoid, and carinated. The round pots (3.6.3) were painted and may have a flanged neck. Ellipsoid jars were plain or painted with bands and other decorations. Carination pottery was highly decorated. The burial pots were covered on top. The markings on the pots carried a meaning, and archaeologists believe the stars and orbs may represent the sun or heavens. Flying birds may be carrying the soul of the dead person. Each pot was different; the bands, lines, or other decorations may indicate something about the person.[2]

    pots with lids and ornate decorations and designs
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Cemetery H pottery urns (1900-1300 BCE) (Avantiputra7CC BY-SA 4.0)

    The Painted Grey culture was found in Northern India, where people worked together in small villages. The base for the pottery was made from levigated clay. The bare clay levigated when mixed with water and left to have the coarse bits sink and impurities rise. The water was poured off, and freshwater was added until the clay was freed from most impurities and became a finely textured clay. The fine clay was shaped into thin-walled pottery and fired in a kiln while continually reducing the temperature and producing the gray color pottery. The pots were usually made on a wheel. Very few painted grey ware (3.6.4) have been found intact. The pottery shards (3.6.5) demonstrate that the decorations were simple lines, dots, or geometric patterns. Most excavated pottery are bowls, indicating use in food preparation or eating. 

    pieces of a clay pot with line drawings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Painted grey ware (1000-600 BCE) (CC BY 3.0)
    pieces of clay pots with line drawings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Painted grey ware shards (1000 BCE) (ZunkirCC BY-SA 4.0)

    Gandhara Grave culture was found along the Swat River in current-day Pakistan before expanding to other regions. Recent historians believe the culture is associated with burial customs instead of different cultural definitions. Many burial sites were based on inhumations, the practice of laying a body directly into the ground and covering it with objects and pottery. Archaeologists also found simplistic terracotta figures buried with the body. Some graves were covered with large slabs of stone, and others lined the site with stone and then covered. In other places, cremation and the resulting ashes were placed in large pots. Frequently, the pottery was constructed with a human-like face (3.6.6) as the design. “Below the neck, these urns have two holes for eyes, an applied nose, and a large hole for the mouth. The urns are usually covered with saucer-shaped lids with holed handles in the middle of the convex side.”[3] Jars of ashes were positioned in spherical pits along with decorative objects made from pottery and bronze. Much of the archaeological records of the region were developed under colonialism, and only recently are more contemporary studies occurring to understand the protohistoric cultures better. 

    pot with a lid and a face on the side
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Cremation urn (1200 BCE, terracotta) (LACMA, Public Domain)

    Malwa culture was located in the central part of India and was characterized by a developing agricultural life and still the hunter-gatherer. Archaeologists found the people grew wheat and barley and had some domesticated animals quickly grown in the fertile black soil along the many rivers. However, their housing and other structures were laid out randomly. They made rounded houses and storage places with wattle-and-daub construction with little use of stone. Archaeologists found beads and shells made into decorations along with evidence of religion, like items of snakes, trees, and bulls for worship. The pottery (3.6.7) was usually red or orange and painted with unusual designs based on geometric shapes, animals, or flowers. Black was used for the designs. The goblet was made with highly levigated clay to make the thin-walled pottery. The thin red vessel has a red slip on the outside and an inside without slip, which retains its dark color. The globular vessel has an everted rim and a long stem. It was decorated with black lines.  

    goblet with decorative designs around the top
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Ceramic goblet (1300 BCE) (HGCOM, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Ochre Colored Pottery culture, as with the other cultures, was named based on its pottery style. The area grew rice and barley and raised animals. The wattle-and-daub houses were grouped in dense configurations, forming small villages. The Ochre Colored culture had pottery with red slip adorned with black painted lines and patterns. The pottery was usually not well-fired, was porous, and did not weather well. However, pottery did not seem to be the significant artifact; instead, those made from copper and bronze were the primary material. Bronze and copper harpoons, axes, swords, and statuary were grouped and found in piles. 

    The figure of a woman (3.6.8) with two bulls was made of bronze. It is unknown if the figure had a ritual or religious meaning. Cattle were raised in the area and probably had special meaning to the people. The discovery of a copper theriomorphic (animal-shaped) or an anthropomorphic (human-shaped) was an unusual object (3.6.9). The figures were found in a copper hoard; however, what they represent is unknown. The people were skilled in mining, smelting, and casting copper elements, and several of these forms were found. Because this is a protohistoric culture, these little figures' meaning and use will remain speculation. 

    a bronze statue with a person and two bulls
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Woman Riding Two Braham Bulls (2000-1750 BCE, bronze) (Public Domain)
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Anthropomorphic figures (2800-1500 BCE, copper) (Public Domain)



    [1] Boundless World History  

    [2] Prabhakar, V. ((2015). A survey of burial practices in the late/post-urban Harappan phase during the second and first millennium BCE. Heritage: Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies in Archaeology. 3(10). (p. 61).

    [3] Dani, A. H. (1967). Timurgarha and Gandhara Grave Culture, Ancient Pakistan III, 103.