The pre-history of India begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from somewhere 3300 to 1300 BCE, was the first major civilization in India.
A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BCE. This Bronze Age civilization collapsed before the end of the second millennium BCE and was followed by the Iron Age Vedic Civilization, which extended over much of the Indo-Gangetic plain and which witnessed the rise of major polities known as the Mahajanapadas.
The South Asian Stone Age covers the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods in South Asia. Evidence for the most ancient anatomically modern Homo sapiens in South Asia has been found in the cave sites of Batadomba lena and Beli lena in Sri Lanka. In Mehrgarh, which is the present day western Pakistan, the Neolithic begins around 7000 and lasts until 3300 BCE and the first beginnings of the Bronze Age.
In South India, the Mesolithic lasts until 3000 BCE and the Neolithic until 1400 BCE, followed by a Megalithic transitional period mostly skipping the Bronze Age. The Iron Age begins roughly simultaneously in North and South India, around 1200 to 1000 BCE.
Homo erectus lived on the Pothohar Plateau, in upper Punjab, Pakistan along the Soan River near Rawalpindi during the Pleistocene Epoch. Soanian sites are found in the Sivalik region across what are now India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Isolated remains of Homo erectus in Hathnora in the Narmada Valley in central India indicate that India might have been inhabited since at least the Middle Pleistocene era, somewhere between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago. Recent finds in Tamil Nadu at around 75,000 years ago, before and after the explosion of the Toba volcano indicate the presence of the first anatomically modern humans in the area.
The Mesolithic period in the Indian subcontinent was followed by the Neolithic period, when more extensive settlement of the subcontinent occurred after the end of the last Ice Age approximately 12,000 years ago. The first confirmed semi-permanent settlements appeared 9,000 years ago in the Bhimbetka rock shelters in modern Madhya Pradesh, India.
Early Neolithic culture in South Asia is represented by the Mehrgarh findings which was7000 BCE onwards in the present-day Balochistan, Pakistan. Traces of a Neolithic culture have been alleged to be submerged in the Gulf of Khambat in India, radiocarbon dated to 7500 BCE.
However, the one dredged piece of wood in question was found in an area of strong ocean currents. Neolithic agriculture cultures sprang up in the Indus Valley region around 5000 BCE, in the lower Gangetic valley around 3000 BCE, and in later South India, spreading southwards and also northwards into Malwa around 1800 BCE. The first urban civilization of the region began with the Indus Valley Civilization.
Analysis of DNA dates the immigration of Homo sapiens to South Asia to 70,000 to 50,000 years ago. An analysis of Y chromosome haplo-groups found one man in a village west of Madurai to be a direct descendant of these migrants. These populations spread further to Southeast Asia, reaching Australia by 40,000 years ago. Cave sites in Sri Lanka have yielded the earliest record of modern Homo sapiens in South Asia. They were dated to 34,000 years ago.
At the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka humans lived throughout the Upper Paleolithic from 10th to 8th millennia BC, revealing cave paintings dating to around 7000 BC; the Sivaliks and the Potwar in Pakistan region also exhibit many vertebrate fossil remains and Paleolithic tools. Chert, jasper and quartzite were often used by humans during this period.
The aceramic Neolithic lasts from approximately 7000 to 5500 BC respectively while the ceramic Neolithic lasts up to 3300 BC, blending into the Early Harappan period. One of the earliest Neolithic sites in India is Lahuradewa, at Middle Ganges region, dated around 7th millennium BC. Recently another site near the confluence of Ganges and Yamuna rivers called Jhusi yielded something which dates back to 7100 BC for its Neolithic levels.