Metallurgy: India’s metallurgical history has always been an affluent and varied one. But for some reasons, it remained outside the purview of the historical perception of the land. Also, has it remained confined more or less to the generalizations about the impact of the overture of iron in the field of agriculture only?
One inference which can be drawn with much certainty is of the profusion of India’s mineral resources. The richness of her pre-industrial metallurgical, the relics and abundance of her ancient mines points out that India was a great metallurgical center since antiquity.
Copper Metallurgy in Ancient India
The copper metallurgy was believed to have been established at Mehrgarh in the latter part of the 5th century or early 4th century BCE. By the end of the fourth century BCE, the knowledge of copper along with copper coupled with gold and silver metallurgy became extremely popular.
There also happens to be a probability of the deliberate use of lead and arsenic making an alloy. Lead and arsenic were used to the extent of 1 percent in two scrutinized from Ganeshwar situated in the Aravallis.
Also by this time, the major copper producing areas were Baluchistan, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Gujarat. One of the most crucial developments in the field of archeology was the establishment of the Aravallis. The Aravallis were believed to be one of the oldest and most long-standing areas of Indian metallurgy.
There was also the realization that the same played a vital role in the foundation of the Indus civilization. This was because it played an important element in the process of intensification of craft activities prior to its beginning.
Ancient Indian Alloys
The craftsmen of the established Harappan civilization were proficient in producing a wide range of artifacts. Besides, they also used comprehensive series of alloys like for instance, tin, arsenic, lead, nickel, and not to forget zinc. This was due to their background and the intricate economic life of this rich civilization.
The most widely used alloy was tin though it was copper which dominated. This suits perfectly as till today copper is being used due to its ritual purity. Due to this property, it was produced mostly by the Indian craftsmen.
The typology of the Harappan copper objects consisted of the spiral-headed pins. These pins once campaigned as West Asiatic imports. Now, they have become an intrinsic part of the sub-continental complex from Manda in Jammu to Ganeshwar in Rajasthan. It also included Inamgaon and Daimabad in the state of Maharashtra.
The Contribution of Ancient India in Metallurgy
Interestingly, some of the basic techniques as well as some of the modern Indian craft traditions in copper as well as its alloys including the Dhokra tradition along with gold and silver can be considered to be a gift of the Indus civilization.
Apart from this, India also witnessed one more metallurgical development. This development was the awareness that the Rajasthan-Haryana zone of copper metallurgy. Further, it also supplied finished tools along with other products to Malwa and Maharashtra.
Additionally, a closer look at the samples of the late Harappan ‘Daimabad hoard’ also points out that they also belonged from the same region. Also, the upper Gangetic valley ‘copper hoards’ came to be identified with the ochre-colored tradition of pottery. This tradition belonged to the late Harappan civilization.
This connection can be easily identified as belonging from the Rajasthan-Haryana metallurgical zone. This tradition got all the more significance when it spread a wider geographical area including Gujarat, the Deccan plateau. It almost reached the southernmost boundaries of Tamil Nadu.
Apart from this, according to the gathered evidence, by the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, copper metallurgy could be traced. However, there were no such remains on the Chhotanagpur plateau as well as West Bengal so early.
They dated back to the historic period. In the latter half of the 2nd century BC, however, a tin source came to be discovered in the Chhotanagpur plateau. On the other hand, copper smelting came to be discovered at Global in Orissa. This also dated back to the 2nd century BCE.
Metallurgy In Ancient India
A separate strand of copper metallurgy can be traced from the high arsenic alloying. The same was discovered at Sankarjog in Orissa. Apart from this, the source of tin in a copper object was also found at Brahmagiri in the state of Karnataka. There were also rich deposits of tin in the Bastar region which were successfully excavated.
One of the high tin alloying in Kerala has managed to survive till today. This was definitely a part of the Indus valley civilization. This tradition became more widespread in early historic India. The various places included a number of places from Taxila to the Asura regions situated in the eastern part of the country also including the Nilgiri region of Tamil Nadu.
Development of Ancient Indian Metallurgy
From the mid-1970s, a major development in the study of ancient Indian metallurgy was observed. This development was the escalating evidence of the early antiquity of iron technology in the different regions of the subcontinent like for instance in the states of Jammu-Kashmir, Rajasthan etc.
Additionally, iron was also found during the Chalcolithic period. In this period, black and red sequences in eastern India were traced. Simultaneously there was a continuation in the pottery tradition in Malwa. A proof of this was the early megalithic works at Hallur and Kumaranhalli.
While the already painted grey ware and black and red ware at Jakhera. Additionally, the black and red ware could be traced at Raja Nal-ka-Tila in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. This was an ‘iron object’ from the Harappan civilization.
Right from the early part of the 2nd century BCE, there was somewhat of a steady growth in iron in different parts of the subcontinent till the end of the 2nd century BCE, until it was finally incorporated into the economy of the Gangetic plain. This combined evidence does not need any kind of more substantiation.