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.