Burzahom was the first Neolithic site to be discovered in Kashmir. The Neolithic was a part of the stone age when people started using a new technique of making stone tools by grinding and polishing them till they had a smooth surface. They started relying more and more on getting their food by growing crops and domesticating animals. They also began to make pottery. All these changes may seem very ordinary to you, but they were actually extraordinary because they led to big changes in the life of people. The Neolithic settlement at Burzahom is dated to about 3000 B.C.. But people continued to live in this place for many centuries after the stone age as well.
Burzahom means 'place of birch' in Kashmiri. This is because there are a lot of birch trees in the area. Pieces of brunt birch found in the excavations showed that there were birch trees here in the stone age as well. Burzahom is located on the bed of a dried-up lake. There many such dried-up lakes in Kashmir, and the Kashmiris call them 'karewas.' The forests and lakes around Burzahom meant there was a good food and water supply. This explains why people chose to live here for so many centuries.
There is something unusual about the earliest Neolithic homes at Burzahom. They were below ground level. The people dug pits into the ground with the help of stone tools. They plastered the sides of the pits with mud. The pits were usually round or oval (a few were rectangular or squarish). They were narrow at the top and wide at the base. Archaeologists found holes all around the pits. These must have been the places where people fixed wooden poles to give support to a roof made out of branches of trees. Some of the deeper pits had a few steps leading down. As for the less deep ones, people could have simply jumped down into them. Living in these pits was a way in which the early Neolithic people of Burzahom tried to keep snug and warm in the bitterly cold winter.
How do we know people actually lived in these pits?
Ash, charcoal and pieces of pottery were found in them. Some of the pits had ovens (chulas) made of stone or clay, on which people cooked their food. A stone used for grinding grain was found in one of them. All this proves that people lived in the pits.
The early Neolithic people of Burzahom made simple hand-made pots in different shapes and sizes, gray, red and brown in color. They made polished stone tools. One of the unique things about the Neolithic culture of Burzahom is that the people also made a lot of tools out of animal bones and antlers. The bone tools included harpoons for fishing, needles for sewing, and arrow-heads, spear-heads and daggers for hunting.
At some point of time, in about 2000 B.C., there were some changes in the way of life of the Neolithic people of Burzahom. Archaeologists call this phase period II. The people gave up their pit homes and started to live in mud huts at ground level. What happened to the old abandoned pit dwellings? Some of them were filled up and the new houses were built over them. Another change took place in the pottery. The potters of Burzahom started making a new kind of shiny black pottery, which was probably used by people on special occasions. Most of the pottery was hand-made but a few post were made on the potter's wheel. One of the exciting find was red wheel-made pot filled with 950 beautiful beads made of semi-precious stones.
More and more stone and bone tools were now being made and they had a better finish compared to the earlier ones. Many burials of this phase were discovered. The burials were usually under house floors or in the compounds. The people seem to have smeared red ochre (geru) on the bodies before burying them. Most of the burials did not have any items placed along with the body.
Apart from human burials, burials of animals were also found. Animals were sometimes buried along with humans and some times on their own. They included wild animals like wolves, ibex (mountain goat), deer and snow leopards. The tamed or domesticated animals that appear in the burials include dogs, cattle, buffaloes, goats and sheep. Animal burials of this kind are not found at Neolithic sites in other parts of India.
An interesting discovery was a stone slab with a hunting scene carved on it. It shows two hunters hunting a stag. One hunter is armed with a long spear and the other with a bow and arrow. This shows us that hunting was still a part of the life of the Neolithic people of Burzahom. Recently, scientists studied the seeds found at Neolithic levels of Burzahom. They identified seeds of wild and cultivated types of wheat, barley and lentils (dals) of different kinds
After the discovery and excavation of Burzahom, many other Neolithic sites were discovered in Kashmir at places such as Begagund, Gofkral, Hariparigom, Olchibag, Pampur, Panzgom, Sombur Waztal, and Brah. The types of houses and tools at these sites are similar to those of Burzahom. This shows us that the Neolithic cultures in different parts of our country had their own special features.