Painted Grey Ware culture

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Map of some Painted Grey Ware (PGW) sites on the Indian subcontinent. Painted Grey Ware Culture (1200-600 BCE).png
Map of some Painted Grey Ware (PGW) sites on the Indian subcontinent.

The Painted Grey Ware culture (PGW) is an Iron Age Indian culture of the western Gangetic plain and the Ghaggar-Hakra valley on the Indian subcontinent, lasting from roughly 1200 BCE to 600 BCE. [1] [2] [3] It is a successor of the Black and red ware culture (BRW) within this region, and contemporary with the continuation of the BRW culture in the eastern Gangetic plain and Central India. [4]

An archaeological culture is a recurring assemblage of artifacts from a specific time and place that may constitute the material culture remains of a particular past human society. The connection between the artifacts is based on archaeologists' understanding and interpretation and does not necessarily relate to real groups of humans in the past. The concept of archaeological culture is fundamental to culture-historical archaeology.

Ghaggar-Hakra River Intermittent river in India and Pakistan

The Ghaggar-Hakra River is an intermittent, endorheic river in India and Pakistan that flows only during the monsoon season. The river is known as Ghaggar before the Ottu barrage and as the Hakra downstream of the barrage.

Indian subcontinent Peninsular region in south-central Asia south of the Himalayas

The Indian subcontinent, is a southern region and peninsula of Asia, mostly situated on the Indian Plate and projecting southwards into the Indian Ocean from the Himalayas. Geologically, the Indian subcontinent is related to the land mass that rifted from Gondwana and merged with the Eurasian plate nearly 55 million years ago. Geographically, it is the peninsular region in south-central Asia delineated by the Himalayas in the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east. Politically, the Indian subcontinent includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.


Characterized by a style of fine, grey pottery painted with geometric patterns in black, [5] the PGW culture is associated with village and town settlements, domesticated horses, ivory-working, and the advent of iron metallurgy. [6] Total number of PGW sites discovered so far is more than 1100. [7] Although most PGW sites were small farming villages, "several dozen" PGW sites emerged as relatively large settlements that can be characterized as towns; the largest of these were fortified by ditches or moats and embankments made of piled earth with wooden palisades, albeit smaller and simpler than the elaborate fortifications which emerged in large cities after 600 BCE. [8]

The PGW Culture probably corresponds to the middle and late Vedic period, i.e., the Kuru-Panchala kingdom, the first large state in the Indian subcontinent after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. [9] [10] The later vedic literature provides a mass of information on the life and culture of the times. It is succeeded by Northern Black Polished Ware from c.700-500 BCE, associated with the rise of the great mahajanapada states and of the Magadha Empire.

Vedic period Ancient South Asian Period

The Vedic period or Vedic age, is the period in the history of the northern Indian subcontinent between the end of the urban Indus Valley Civilisation and a second urbanisation which began in the central Indo-Gangetic Plain c. 600 BCE. It gets its name from the Vedas, which are liturgical texts containing details of life during this period that have been interpreted to be historical and constitute the primary sources for understanding the period. These documents, alongside the corresponding archaeological record, allow for the evolution of the Vedic culture to be traced and inferred.

Kuru Kingdom former country

Kuru was the name of a Vedic Indo-Aryan tribal union in northern Iron Age India, encompassing the modern-day states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and the western part of Uttar Pradesh, which appeared in the Middle Vedic period and developed into the first recorded state-level society in the Indian subcontinent.

Panchala ancient region in northern India

Panchala was an ancient kingdom of northern India, located in the Ganges-Yamuna Doab of the upper Gangetic plain. During Late Vedic times, it was one of the most powerful states of the Indian subcontinent, closely allied with the Kuru Kingdom. By the c. 5th century BCE, it had become an oligarchic confederacy, considered as one of the solasa (sixteen) mahajanapadas of the Indian subcontinent. After being absorbed into the Mauryan Empire, Panchala regained its independence until it was annexed by the Gupta Empire in the 4th century CE.


Painted Grey Ware - Sonkh (Uttar Pradesh) - 1000-600 BCE. Government Museum, Mathura Painted Grey Ware - Sonkh - 1000-600 BCE - Showcase 6-15 - Prehistory and Terracotta Gallery - Government Museum - Mathura 2013-02-24 6461.JPG
Painted Grey Ware - Sonkh (Uttar Pradesh) - 1000-600 BCE. Government Museum, Mathura
Shards of Painted Grey Ware (right) and Harappan red pottery (left) from Rupnagar, Punjab. BaraSite.jpg
Shards of Painted Grey Ware (right) and Harappan red pottery (left) from Rupnagar, Punjab.
Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC (Swat), Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan migrations. Indo-Iranian origins.png
Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC (Swat), Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan migrations.

The PGW culture cultivated rice, wheat, millet and barley, and domesticated cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses. Houses were built of wattle-and-daub, mud, or bricks, ranging in size from small huts to large houses with many rooms. There is a clear settlement hierarchy, with a few central towns that stand out amongst numerous small villages. Some sites, including Jakhera in Uttar Pradesh, demonstrate a “fairly evolved, proto-urban or semi-urban stage” of this culture, with evidence of social organization and trade, including ornaments of gold, copper, ivory, and semi-precious stones, storage bins for surplus grain, stone weights, paved streets, water channels and embankments. [11]

Uttar Pradesh State in India

Uttar Pradesh is a state in northern India. With roughly 200 million inhabitants, it is the most populous state in India as well as the most populous country subdivision in the world. It was created on 1 April 1937 as the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh during British rule, and was renamed Uttar Pradesh in 1950. The state is divided into 18 divisions and 75 districts with the capital being Lucknow. The main ethnic group is the Hindavi people, forming the demographic plurality. On 9 November 2000, a new state, Uttarakhand, was carved out from the state's Himalayan hill region. The two major rivers of the state, the Ganga and Yamuna, join at Allahabad (Prayagraj) and then flow as the Ganga further east. Hindi is the most widely spoken language and is also the official language of the state.

The plough was used for cultivation. There are also indications of growing complexity of society and the formation of 'castes'. The old tribal groups must have disappeared as population increased and the size and number of settlements multiplied.

Caste system in India class in Hindu society

The caste system in India is the paradigmatic ethnographic example of caste. It has origins in ancient India, and was transformed by various ruling elites in medieval, early-modern, and modern India, especially the Mughal Empire and the British Raj. It is today the basis of educational and job reservations in India. The caste system consists of two different concepts, varna and jati, which may be regarded as different levels of analysis of this system.

Arts and crafts of the PGW people are represented by ornaments (made from terracotta, stone, faience, and glass), human and animal figurines (made from terracotta) as well as "incised terracotta discs with decorated edges and geometric motifs" which probably had "ritual meaning," perhaps representing symbols of deities. [12] There are a few stamp seals with geometric designs but no inscription, contrasting with both the prior Harappan seals and the subsequent Brahmi-inscribed seals of the Northern Black Polished Ware culture. [13]

Faience tin-glazed pottery

Faience or faïence is the conventional name in English for fine tin-glazed pottery on a buff earthenware body, at least when there is no more usual English name for the type concerned. The invention of a white pottery glaze suitable for painted decoration, by the addition of an oxide of tin to the slip of a lead glaze, was a major advance in the history of pottery. The invention seems to have been made in Iran or the Middle East before the ninth century. A kiln capable of producing temperatures exceeding 1,000 °C (1,830 °F) was required to achieve this result, the result of millennia of refined pottery-making traditions. The term is now used for a wide variety of pottery from several parts of the world, including many types of European painted wares, often produced as cheaper versions of porcelain styles.

Terracotta clay-based unglazed or glazed ceramic

Terracotta, terra cotta or terra-cotta, a type of earthenware, is a clay-based unglazed or glazed ceramic, where the fired body is porous. Terracotta is the term normally used for sculpture made in earthenware, and also for various practical uses including vessels, water and waste water pipes, roofing tiles, bricks, and surface embellishment in building construction. The term is also used to refer to the natural brownish orange color of most terracotta, which varies considerably.

Historical Vedic religion Religious ideas and practices among most Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples of ancient India after about 1500 BCE

The historical Vedic religion refers to the religious ideas and practices among most Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples of ancient India after about 1500 BCE. These ideas and practices are found in the Vedic texts, and they were one of the major influences that shaped contemporary Hinduism.

The PGW pottery shows a remarkable degree of standardization. It is dominated by bowls of two shapes, a shallow tray and a deeper bowl, often with a sharp angle between the walls and base. The range of decoration is limited - vertical, oblique or criss-cross lines, rows of dots, spiral chains and concentric circles being common. [14]

At Bhagwanpura in the Kurukshetra district of Haryana, excavations have revealed an overlap between the late Harappan and Painted Grey Ware cultures, large houses that may have been elite residences, and fired bricks that may have been used in Vedic altars. [15]

Fresh surveys by archaeologist Vinay Kumar Gupta suggest Mathura was the largest PGW site around 375 hectares in area. [16] Among the largest sites is also the recently excavated Ahichatra, with at least 40 hectares of area in PGW times along with evidence of early construction of the fortification which goes back to PGW levels. [17] Two periods of PGW were identified recently at Ahichhatra, the earliest from 1500 to 800 BCE, and the Late from 800 to 400 BCE. [18]

Towards the end of the period, many of the PGW settlements grew into the large towns and cities of the Northern Black Polished Ware period. [19]


In the 1950s, archaeologist B.B. Lal associated Hastinapura, Mathura, Ahichatra, Kampilya, Barnava, Kurukshetra and other sites of PGW culture with the Mahabharata period. Furthermore, he pointed out that the Mahabharata mentions a flood and a layer of flooding debris was found in Hastinapura. However, B.B. Lal considered his theories to be provisional and based upon a limited body of evidence, and he later reconsidered his statements on the nature of this culture (Kenneth Kennedy 1995). B.B. Lal confirms that Mahabharata is associated with PGW sites in a recent 2012 presentation at the International Seminar on Mahabharata held by Draupadi Trust and gives a date to c. 900 BCE for the War recounted in the Mahabharata. [20]

The pottery style of this culture is different from the pottery of the Iranian Plateau and Afghanistan (Bryant 2001). In some sites, PGW pottery and Late Harappan pottery are contemporaneous. [21] The archaeologist Jim Shaffer (1984:84-85) has noted that "at present, the archaeological record indicates no cultural discontinuities separating Painted Grey Ware from the indigenous protohistoric culture." However, the continuity of pottery styles may be explained by the fact that pottery was generally made by indigenous craftsmen even after the Indo-Aryan migration. [22] According to Chakrabarti (1968) and other scholars, the origins of the subsistence patterns (e.g. rice use) and most other characteristics of the Painted Grey Ware culture are in eastern India or even Southeast Asia. [note 1]

In 2013, the University of Cambridge and Banaras Hindu University excavated at Alamgirpur near Delhi, where they found a period overlap between the later part of the Harappan phase (with a "noticeable slow decline in quality") and the earliest PGW levels; Sample OxA-21882 showed a calibrated radiocarbon dating from 2136 BCE to 1948 BCE, but seven other samples from the overlap phase that were submitted for dating failed to give a result. [23] A team of the Archaeological Survey of India led by B.R. Mani and Vinay Kumar Gupta collected charcoal samples from Gosna, a site 6 km east of Mathura across the Yamuna river, where two of the radiocarbon dates from the PGW deposit came out to be 2160 BCE and 2170 BCE, but they mention that "there is a possibility that the cultural horizon which is now regarded as belonging to the P.G.W. period might turn out to be as belonging to a period with only plain grey ware." [24] However, later on, other two datings confirming early PGW horizon in Kampil excavations were published as 2310 +/- 120 BCE and 1360 +/- 90 BCE by archaeologist D.P. Tewari. [25]

See also


  1. See also Indo-Aryan migration#Archaeological evidence.

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