Prehistory by Irfan Habib describes the earliest ages of human life in India, long before the existence of written records.
It is part of a larger project, a People's History of India, but is also intended to stand alone as an independent monograph. In this monograph, as well as others in the series which are published successively, the style is sought to be kept simple without making it 'popular', rhetorical or inexact. Use of technical terms is kept to a minimum, and an effort is made to provide a workable explanation of each term at first use. So too, abbreviations are avoided if these would mean nothing to the lay reader.
The monograph is divided into three chapters. Chapter 1 treats in brief the geological formation of India, and changes in its climate and natural environment in so far as these relate to an understanding of our prehistory and history. Chapter 2 provides the story of man, first in the global context, and then within India. Chapter 3 describes the coming of agriculture and the beginnings of exploitative relationships.
Technical or controversial matters that need special attention are dealt with in notes appended to each chapter. There are bibliographical notes, where the more important books and articles covering the subject of the chapter are listed with brief comments. There are also tables, maps and figures, which are useful aids in understanding the subject as well as interesting in themselves.
Irfan Habib, eminent historian and formerly Professor of History at Aligarh Muslim University, is the author of The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1556-1707 (1963; second revised edition 1999), An Atlas of the Mughal Empire (1982), and Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception (1995).
The Aligarh Historians Society has been working for many years to promote a scientific and secular approach to history, and to resist communal and chauvinistic interpretations. It now has a project to compile a People's History of India and to supplement this effort, it plans to publish a series of monographs, each of which will be authored or edited by Irfan Habib.
The monograph on Prehistory that you hold in your hand describes the earliest ages of human life in India, long before any written records can directly or indirectly shed light on it. It is part of a larger project, A people's History of India, but is also intended to stand by itself. In Chapter 1 it treats in brief the geological formation of India, and changes in its climate and natural environment (vegetation and wildlife), in so far as these are relevant to an understanding of our prehistory and history. Chapter 2 provides the story of man, in the global context and then within India. The changes in his tool kits are related to the kinds of people who were their authors Chapter 3 describes mainly the coming of agriculture, and the beginnings of exploitative relationships.
An effort is made in all the three chapters to draw on the latest information available in authoritative works and journals. In this monograph as well as in the parts of the people's History that would follow, the style is sought to be kept simple, without making it 'popular', rhetorical or inexact. Use of technical terms is kept to a minimum, and an effort is made to provide a workable explanation of each term at first use. Abbreviations too are avoided, if these would not mean anything to a lay reader. Thus 'mya' or 'my' for million years ago, 'kya' or 'ky' for thousand year ago, 'AMN' for Anatomically Modern Man, or 'BP' for Before Present are not used, though these are works (see Note 2.1). A 'Bibliographical Note' is given at the end of each chapter, where the more important books and articles covering the subject of the chapter are listed with brief comments. References for quotations, if any, are also given here. Unfortunately, all printed sources used by me could not be specified in the Bibliographical Notes, which have had necessarily to be very selective.
For technical or controversial matters that need special attention, such as problems of chronology or particular theories, there are special notes, appended to the main text. Thus in Chapter 1 there is a note on Geological Ages, in Chapter 2 on Dating Methods for Prehistory, and in Chapter 3 on the Desert River (Saravati) controversy.
It is hoped that the chronological and other tables, maps and figures would be found to be useful aids and interesting in themselves. Where the international boundaries are shown on our maps, these conform to boundaries delineated on Survey of India maps.
It should be made clear that the use of the word 'man' or pronoun 'he', when what is intended is a reference to members of the hominid species in general, including women and men, is a concession to idiomatic usage. No particular emphasis on the masculine element should be assumed form such use.
By 'India' is meant, unless the context indicates otherwise, what it denoted before 1947, that is, the area comprising the territories of the present nations of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. 'South Asia' further includes Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan. 'India Union' indicates always India with its post-1947 frontiers. Both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have been freely brought into our narrative, and so would Nepal be in subsequent parts.
It is my pleasant duty, on behalf of the Aligarh Historians Society, to acknowledge the generous grant from the Madhya Pradesh State Textbook Corporation, Bhopal, which has made this endeavour possible.
In order to ensure that the text is kept free of errors of various kinds, the text of the monograph was circulated at three stages of its genesis. I am grateful to many friends for their comments, which resulted in change of both narration and style. Professor Suraj Bhan has been kind enough to go through the text, and to him special thanks are due.
Mr Sudeep Banerji has helped us to get the project off the ground. Professor Shireen Moosvi, Secretary of our Society, has done most of the organizing. Mr Muneeruddin Khan has carefully processed the text and borne most manfully with the constant changes made.
Faiz Habib and his senior colleague, Mr Zahoo Ali Khan, have drawn all the eight maps that illusrate the text. Much effort has gone into assuring their accuracy. It should be noted too that Maps 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, and 3.1 embody a good deal of research as well.
I should like especially to thank Dr Rajendra Prasad and Ms Indira Chandrasekhar of Tulika for their ready cooperation, the former, especially, for help in all manner of ways.
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