How Iron and Rice Led to the Cause of Second Urbanisation in Early India
In order to appreciate the causal agency of iron in the historical change, it would be worthwhile to undertake a brief survey of various stages of use of iron in early India. Up to 700-600 BC, the sites of Kausambi, Hastinapur and Atranjikhera show that the agricultural productivity remained low and the economy was marked by a combination of hunting, animal husbandry and agriculture.
However, except for stray discoveries of cutting tools like sickle and axe no agricultural implements have been found. Land was either cultivated by wooden ploughshare or it may have been of marginal significance. It is remarked that the fields in the riverine regions develop cracks following a flood. The practice of filling seeds in these cracks with the help of brooms exits even today.
The period between 700/600 BC-1st Century AD is characterised as middle iron phase. Some of the sites in this period were located near raw material rich areas. The agricultural situation undoubtedly improved from single to double crop arrangement as has already been cited in the case of Narhan excavation. Besides sickles and axes, ploughshare, spades and hoes have been reported.
However, as represented at the site of Rajghat, animal husbandry, both the drought and milch animals was still in vogue. The emergence of historical period in the first millennium BC/AD definitely ushered in an era of agricultural implements.
It can be suggested that the farming implements were virtually absent in the early phase though the process of colonisation and exploitation of riverine regions had already begun. Also, the sites such as Pirak would show that mere presence of iron tools in the site sequences might not have evolved in to an iron age. Even if seen in the wider context of environment and patterns of land, the rise of urban centres and complex state societies in the 1st millennium should not be attributed to the single factor of iron.
Manifestations of wide varieties of rice cultivation in archaeology and literature and the significance it acquired in Indian rituals underline its antiquity. Archaeologists have argued in favour of an Indian centre of origin of cultivated rice. Chinese and South-East Asiatic centres may not have had a uniform, direct bearing of rice cultivation in India.
The evidence of rice-cultivation at Koldihawa, the calibrated ranges of which are 7505- 7033 BC, 6190-5764 BC and 5432-5051 BC cannot be summarily dismissed. Although the ‘seed broadcast’ method was initially practiced, the transplanted variety began to be cultivated in the middle Gangetic valley only. It was a well-established practice by the beginning of the early historic period.
The enhancement of yield under transplanted variety is an undeniable fact. Whether this variety along with other variables had a direct bearing on rise of complex state societies is still being debated.