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Sources of Ancient Indian History| Difference Between Prehistory, Proto History and Historical period, Archaeological Sources, Literary Sources, Foreign Records

The Indian History can be divided into three parts (On the basis of availability of sources):

• Prehistoric Age

• Proto history

• Historical period

Prehistoric Age

The period of Indian history whose written records are not available. Humans are not civilised at that time. The study of archaeological remains which are found in different parts of India are only available sources of information of this period. Archaeological sources includes materials such as stone tools, pottery, artifacts, bones etc.

The Prehistoric period is divided into three stages:

• Palaeolithic Age or Old Stone Age

• Mesolithic Age or Later Stone Age

• Neolithic Age or New Stone Age

Read Prehistoric Age in Detail

Proto history

Protohistory is the period between prehistory and Historical period. Written sources for this period is available but could not be deciphered. The period of Indus Valley and Vedic Civilisation are considered as Proto history period.

Historical Period

The period of Indian history whose written records are available and can be deciphered. The period after 600 B.C. is considered as Historical period.

Difference Between Prehistory, Proto History and Historical period

Pre History of India Proto History of India Historical Period of India
The period of Indian history whose written records are not available. The period of Indian history whose written sources are available but could not be deciphered. The period of Indian history whose written records are available and can be deciphered.
The period before 1750 B.C. is considered as Pre History. The period after prehistory till 600 B.C. is considered as Proto History. The period after 600 B.C. is considered as Historical period.
While writing the history of this period, historians are totally dependant on archaeological sources While writing the history of this period, historians are dependant on both archaeological sources and literary sources. While writing the history of this period, historians are dependant on archaeological sources, literary sources as well as foreign accounts.
Example: Stone Age Examples: Period of Indus Valley and Vedic Civilisation Examples: Ancient History after 600 B.C., Medieval India, Modern India.

Sources of Ancient Indian History

There are three main sources from which the data of Ancient Indian History are extracted.

• Archaeological Sources

• Foreign Records

• Literary Sources

Archaeological Sources

• Archaeology is the study of human history through materials remains.

• Archaeologist is a person who study the past through materials remains.

The people of ancient India rarely wrote Indian history therefore, we have scarcity of literary and dependant on Archaeological sources for verifying the facts and joining the timelines of ancient history. These sources includes things such as inscriptions, buildings, monuments, artefacts, sculptures, coins and many others.

• In 1861, Archaeological Survey of India was established by the British. Sir Alexander Cunningham became the first director-general of this institution, also known as the father of Indian archaeology. He was a British army engineer

• In 1902, Sir John Marshall was appointed as director-general of this institution and identified the ancient Indus Valley Civilization with the help of his associates Daya Ram Sahni and R.D. Banerji.

• Archaeological evidence does not provide true picture of what happened in the past. Only those things are available for study that have survived in the nature force.

• Archaeologists used many dating methods such as uranium series, potassium-argon and others to ascertain the date of particular remain. The best known method is radio-carbon method.

• Different Archaeological Sources which we will study in details are:

→ Inscriptions

→ Monuments and Buildings

→ Coins

→ Artefacts

Read Archaeological Sources in Detail

Literary Sources

• The literature available for Ancient India is in tremendous amount however most of them are religious in nature. They contain less historical data.

• Oldest literature such as Purnas, Vedas don’t give importance to political condition such as kings or date of events instead they are more focused on culture and civilisation of that period of time.

• The whole literary records can be divided into two parts:

→ Religious Literature

→ Secular Literature

• Religious Literature can also be divided into three parts:

→ Hindu Religious Literature: The Vedas, The Upnishads, The Aryanakas.

→ Buddhist Literature: Tripitaka, The Jatakas, Dvipavamsa.

→ Jain Literature: Bhagabati sutra, Merutunga.

• Secular Literature consist of epics, plays and biographies. The ‘Mahabhashya’ of Patanjali, the ‘Arthashastra’ of Kautilya, Mudrarakshas of Vishakhadatta are examples of secular literature.

• The Sangam Literature is an important source for knowing the history of ancient South India.

Read Literary Sources in detail

Foreign Records

• The accounts of foreign travellers, traders and pilgrims provides important historical data.

• The earliest Greek account was left by Scylax, a greek explorer who navigated the Indus in 517 B.C, but his work is now lost.

• The invasion of Alexander provided a passage to the various Greeks and Roman explorers and travellers to India such as Arrian, Curtius Rufus, Justin and Plutarch.

• Magasthenes, who lived in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, written his observed facts about India in his book Indica which is lost now however the book but can be reconstructed using the portions preserved by later writers as direct quotations or paraphrase.

• The accounts left by the Chinese monks such as , Fa-hienHiuen-Tsang contain only religious details as their visit was only a pilgrimage to holy Buddhist places.

• From the 8th century AD, India was invaded by Arabs which increased the amount of Muslim writings.

• Al-Beruni, a contemporary of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni came to India sometime before A.D. 1030, learned Sanskrit and the bulky volume which he produced must be considered the most comprehensive account of India ever written by a foreigner.

Read Foreign Accounts in detail

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