I.1 Diffusion of Iron technology in India


The circumstances and time of introduction of iron has been a much debated issue in Indian archaeology. Gordon (1958) and Wheeler (1958) had ruled out the possibility of use of iron in India prior to 600-500 BCE. It was argued that iron in India was introduced under Achaemenids from the North-western part of the Indian subcontinent around circa 600 BCE. The other set of scholars like Neogi (1914) and M.N. Banerji (1927, 1929, 1932), N.R. Banerjee (1965), Roy (1984) etc. suggested that iron arrived in India through diffusion by the immigrating Aryans (following the disintegration of the Hittite Empire). The Hittites and the Mittannians were known to have possessed the technique of iron production but had secretly guarded this knowledge for centuries. Once the Hittites dispersed to other parts of the world after their defeat in a war with the Mitanni rulers somewhere around 1200 BCE (the date of Hittite movement), the technique of iron working also reached to different parts of the world with them. This assumption gave rise to the theory of diffusion of iron in from a single centre. This also gave rise to association of iron with Aryans. This theory gained further credence by the fact that Rigveda, the earliest text attributed to the Aryansmentions the term ayas (that presently stands for iron) several times. Assuming that the Rigvedic Aryans were conversant with iron technology, it was argued that iron was introduced in India by the RigvedicAryans who had immigrated through the North-western passes.


The Aryan association of advent of iron in India has been contested by many scholars. Firstly because it is not universally acceptable whether the Rigvedic people came from outside and secondly, whether the word ayas that today stands for iron had the same connotation during the Rig Vedic period also. Doubts have been raised on the precise meaning of the word ayas.LallanjiGopal (1961:71-86) closely examined the issue of iron in the Early Vedic period and synthesized the existing evidence on the subject. The word ayasin the Rigveda, according to Gopal stood for metal in general, instead of iron as argued by several others like M.N. Banerji (1927, 1929, 1932), N.R. Banerjee (1965), Roy (1984). LallanjiGopal came to the conclusion that iron was introduced in India during the Later Vedic times. My own examination of the context and usage of the word ayasin Rigvedaleads to a similar conclusion (for detail see Tripathi 2001:59-65). Even on the ground of metallurgical assessment, the references in Rigvedaappear to be applicable more aptly for copper-bronze than iron.During the Later Vedic period (in VajsaneyiSamhita of Yajur Veda 28.13), the terms Krishna or Shyamaayas (the black metal) and lohitayas (the red metal) denoting iron and copper, respectively were coined (see Tripathi 1994, 1997). It is reasonable to assume, thusthat Rigvedicayasstood for metal in general and not for iron.With knowledge of iron, a new term had to be coined to describe it during the Later Vedic period. It is alsodebatable whether the Rigvedic people came from outside to the saptasandhavadesha which they refer to as their motherland. Even if we believe that the Rigvedic Aryans were immigrants from outside (from Central Asia or Europe coming through the northwest) there is no definite evidence to suggest that they brought knowledge of iron working with them. In the absence of definite evidence of metallic iron during Rigvedic period,it would be difficult to sustain the argument that the knowledge of iron was acquired from outside by the Aryans of Early Vedic period from the brethren who occupied the distant lands outside the Indian subcontinent.


Additionally, to enquire into the diffusion of iron technology through the north-western borders of India, we need to examine the archaeological evidence ofuse of iron in the subcontinent through which people and commodities had been finding a passage in India from time immemorial. If the evidence of iron on the borderlands is comparatively earlier and strong enough to pass on the technological know-how to adjacent regionsthan the one found in the mainland India, there is a ground to assume that there was a diffusion of technology from there through these passages.


Archaeologically, the areas adjacent to India are the Iranian borderlands, modern Baluchistan (extending over Indo-Iranian plateau). This region has yielded a large number of cairn burials with iron. Stein (1929) has reported as many as 5100 cairns. Many of these cairns have yielded iron objects along with copper-bronze objects and other cultural material along with pottery. Gordon (1950) suggested Iranian connections of SialkCementery B and the cairn burials of Baluchistan on the basis of similarities in pottery, burials and the metal objects. However, Lamberg-Karlovsky and Humphries (1968) disapprove of the ‘Sialk B connections’ or Indo-European movements to east’ towards the cairn burials of Baluchistan because of lack of ‘convincing parallels’. The ecology also plays a role in isolating this area as the “natural barriers of mountain desert in Baluchistan and southeast Iran have isolated the inhabitants from the domination of any neighbouring power in the 20th century AD. “Thus, it seems likely that the occupants of Baluchistan, separated from both east and west, have always maintained a relatively independent existence”. They further state, “The distinctive painted pottery types could not readily be related to the Iranian Plateau or to the painted pottery tradition further to the east. Talking of the possible areas exerting their influence on the Dashtiari and interior Baluchistan, one must look-first to the Persian Gulf trading areas as an outside source of contact. Secondly, there is a connection among the cultures of the northwest India area. The Iranian plateau is an un-distinguished third”(Lamberg-Karlovsky and Humphries, 1968: 269-276).