A new resource-use practice in the form of tending the soil now became known to human societies. This was also the beginning of a revolutionary change in the use of natural resources by humans as road to boundless growth had begun to be traversed.
The early evidence of agriculture on the Indian subcontinent comes from Baluchistan. The settlements are small in size and seem to focus on areas where good cultivable soil was richly available.
This soil was periodically replenished by the floods in the two main rivers, Loralai and Zhob and the valleys of these rivers were thus available as fertile grounds for practicing agriculture.
The beginning of settled life soon resulted in the adoption of the practice of domesticating animals. As a resource the animals could now be reared and used for a variety of purposes in addition to their being a source of food. We have evidence of the domestication of sheep, goats and oxen in the early period of agricultural development. Dog, it may be noted, had already been domesticated.
In a subsequent phase we get the additional evidence of the domestication of ass. Clearly plants, grown from seeds periodically on fixed areas and domesticated cattle became the two main natural resources that were now widely used by human societies.
From wandering habits of man hunting and gathering food for sustenance there was now a change as fixed settlements of human populations had taken precedence. Man’s dependence on stone tools of the earlier period also underwent a change as the new requirements necessitated the development of smaller tools that were more versatile in their use.
The agricultural sites yield tools made of blades of chert, jasper or chalcedony, rubbing or grinding stones, lunates, bone awls (small pointed tool for pricking) spatulas and beads in steatite, lapis-lazuli and frit. In addition pottery also begins to appear from this period onwards. This pottery was both handmade and wheel-made and was decorated with painted designs.
Materials other than stones, such as bones, clay and sand were now used by the man. The realm of resource- use practice got widened and simultaneously, with the growth of a more complex structure of human societies, greater variety of natural resources began to be used by these societies.
The early practice of agriculture opened several new possibilities. Permanent settlements helped develop community life and broadened the areas in which humans could meaningfully engage. In fact the change from hunting-gathering activities, which had occupied the major portion of time, to settled agriculture was a quantum shift.
The near assured availability of food supplies gave man time to employ in other activities. Rapid advances were made as semi-permanent dwellings were made, spinning and weaving was practiced and crops were sown, tended to, and harvested and grain consumed as also stored as seeds for the new season agricultural operation. The stage was set for the rise of civilisation.
The decline of copper-bronze civilisations and the emergence of iron using human societies should not be necessarily linked sequentially. Significant from the point of view of resource-use practice is the fact that the knowledge of the use of iron almost dramatically changed the scenario of the use of natural resources by human societies. Perhaps the foremost change was effected in agricultural practices.
What had, in the earlier period, remained a river-bank bound agriculture was now transformed into open-field based agriculture. Soil as a resource had been successfully used by human societies in the early stages of the growth of agriculture.
But at that time a natural restriction had limited the growth of agriculture in the absence of a hard material to overturn crusty upper surface of virgin soil only soft alluvial soil could be used for agriculture. Since regular alluvial deposits were mainly a feature of the rivers in semi-arid and north-western and western India, most of the agriculture of that period was spread along river valleys in these regions.
The introduction of iron, especially in the plough share, provided man a fresh and new opportunity to work on virgin areas. Consequently, agriculture spread in totally new region which afforded irrigation facilities this region was the Ganga-Yamuna doab. Soon it expanded eastwards and from there to other areas of the country.
In the subsequent historical development of human societies in India agriculture mostly remained the principal natural resource and the patterns of its use often determined the course of further developments.