Human communities are thought to have inhabited the Indian subcontinent for 500,000 years, according to stone age sites found scattered between the far south of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the Soan and Beas river valleys in northern Punjab, and from one coast to the other; estimates of dates for some of these range between 400,000 to 150,000 years ago.

So-called ‘middle stone age’ societies appeared between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, followed by those using microlithic tools, first found around 15,000 years ago. Some microlithic communities overlap the first neolithic communi- ties by around 7000 bce, and both types of culture continue to be found in most  parts  of  the  subcontinent  along  with  hunting-gathering  and  nomadic pastoral  economies; often  their  activities  have  been  caught  in  rock  art, such as the examples found at Bhimbetka, in Madhya Pradesh, a middle stone age as  well  as  a  microlithic  site, and  occupied  in  later  times  as  well. Other  late stone  age  sites  have  also  been  identified, half  of  them  scattered  around  the continental portions of the subcontinent and the rest found in various parts of the peninsula, or southern extension.

Around 7000 bce neolithic communities began to be founded in the valleys draining the mountains which separated the Indian subcontinent from Afghan- istan and continental Asia. Before 4000 bce, hunter-gatherers had merged into more complex and advanced communities of farmers and artisanal specialists in  settlements  of  circular  mud-covered  bamboo  huts. The  earliest  known  of these  are  found  in  Baluchistan, with  similar  communities  appearing  shortly after in the Gangetic plain and on the Deccan plateau. There, archaeologists have discovered neolithic assemblages: domesticated cattle, sheep, goats and plants,  including  rice. These  stone  age  cultures  merged  into  iron  age  com- munities by 1000 bce, again divided between northern and southern India.

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