Northern Black Polished Ware

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Map of some NBPW sites.

The Northern Black Polished Ware culture (abbreviated NBPW or NBP) is an urban Iron Age Indian culture of the Indian Subcontinent, lasting c. 700–200 BCE (proto NBPW between 1200 and 700 BCE),[1] succeeding the Painted Grey Ware culture and Black and red ware culture. It developed beginning around 700 BCE, in the late Vedic period, and peaked from c. 500–300 BCE, coinciding with the emergence of 16 great states or mahajanapadas in Northern India, and the subsequent rise of the Mauryan Empire.

Recent archaeological evidences have pushed back NBPW date to 1200 BCE at Nalanda district, in Bihar, where its earliest occurrences have been recorded and carbon dated from the site of Juafardih.[2] Similarly sites at Akra and Ter Kala Dheri from Bannu have provided carbon dating of 900-790 BCE and 1000-400 BCE,[3] and at Ayodhya around 13th century BC or 1000 BCE.[4][5][6]


Fragment of Northern Black Polished Ware, 500-100 BCE, Sonkh, Uttar Pradesh. Government Museum, Mathura
Fragments of Northern Black Polished Ware from Kausambi and Rajghat (Uttar Pradesh), about 500-400 BC. British Museum.

The diagnostic artifact and namesake of this culture is the Northern Black Polished Ware, a luxury style of burnished pottery used by elites. This period is associated with the emergence of Indian subcontinent's first large cities since the decline of the Indus Valley civilization; this re-urbanization was accompanied by massive embankments and fortifications, significant population growth, increased social stratification, wide-ranging trade networks, specialized craft industries (e.g., carving of ivory, conch shells, and semi-precious stones), a system of weights, punch-marked coins, and writing (in the form of Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts, including inscribed stamp seals).[7]

Scholars have noted similarities between NBP and the much earlier Harappan cultures, among them the ivory dice and combs and a similar system of weights. Other similarities include the utilization of mud, baked bricks and stone in architecture, the construction of large units of public architecture, the systematic development of hydraulic features and a similar craft industry.[8] There are also, however, important differences between these two cultures; for example, rice, millet and sorghum became more important in the NBP culture.[8] The NBP culture may reflect the first state-level organization in the Indian Subcontinent.[8]

According to Geoffrey Samuel, following Tim Hopkins, the Central Gangetic Plain, which was the center of the NBP, was culturally distinct from the Painted Grey Ware culture of the Vedic Aryans of Kuru-Pancala west of it, and saw an independent development toward urbanisation and the use of iron.[9]

The end of the NBP culture around 200 BCE was marked by the replacement of the NBP ware with a different style of pottery, namely red ware decorated with stamped and incised designs.[10] However, the same cities continued to be inhabited, and the period from c. 200 BCE to c. 300 CE was still "marked by urban prosperity all over the subcontinent," corresponding to the Shunga and Satavahana Dynasties, and the Kushan Empire.[11]

NBPW have also been reported from various sites in Southern Thailand which were engaged in maritime trade activity with India in 1st millennium BCE.[12] However, archaeologist Phaedra Bouvet regards these shards as KSK-Black Polished Wares, not linked technically to NBPW, except from their shape and style, produced between fourth and second centuries BCE, but indeed in contact with real NBPW producing populations.[13]

Proto-Northern Black Polished Ware[edit]

Proto-NBPW was first reported by Giovanni Verardi in his excavations at Gotihawa in the Terai, recognised as the transitional phase from Black Slipped Ware to Northern Black Polished Ware, which can be identified through its lustrous black surface with red spots, this spots are due to evident problems in the high temperature firing process, and this ware is dated between 12th and 8th centuries BCE, featuring a black section, a thin slip, very thick walls, and the typical thali shape.[1]

Rakesh Tewari comments that Verardi has noticed the presence of proto-NBPW at Gotihawa in 900-800 BCE and observed “that Proto-NBPW may exist at all the NBPW sites of the region dated to or earlier than the 9th-8th century BCE”, and Tewari suggests this pottery can be at least two centuries older than c. 800 BCE.[14]


Some notable NBPW sites, associated with the mahajanapadas, are as follows:[15]

Other sites where Northern Black Polished Ware have been found are Mahasthangarh, Chandraketugarh, Wari-Bateshwar, Bangarh and Mangalkot (all in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India).

Sites in Sri Lanka such as Anuradhapura have also yielded Northern Black polished ware during the period 500 BC-250 BC indicating interaction with the gangetic valley.[16]

Sites in Southern Thailand include Tam Sǔa in La Un district, Kapoe in Kapoe district and Phu Khao Tong in Suk Samran district in Ranong province and at Khao Sam Kaeo in Muang district and Tam Tuay in Thung Tako district in Chumphon province, although they cannot be considered as "classical" NBPW but local KSK-Black Polished Wares produced in Thailand.[13]

A number of ancient sites where the NBPW has been found, such as Ayodhya and Sringaverapura, are mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.[7]


  1. ^ a b Strickland, K. M., R. A. E. Coningham, et al., (2016). "Ancient Lumminigame: A Preliminary Report on Recent Archaeological Investigations at Lumbini's Village Mound", in Ancient Nepal, Number 190, April 2016, p. 10.
  2. ^ Tewari, Rakesh, (2016). "Excavation at Juafardih, District Nalanda (Bihar)", in Indian Archaeology 2006-07 - A Review, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, pp. 6-8: "... Layer 13, the uppermost deposit of Period I, has provided a C14 date of 1354 BCE, it may thus be seen that the C14 dates of Period I and II are consistent and justifiably indicate that the conventional date bracket for NBPW requires a fresh review at least for the sites in Magadh region..."
  3. ^ Ahmed, Mukhtar (2014). Ancient Pakistan - An Archaeological History: Volume V: The End of the Harappan Civilization, and the Aftermath. Amazon. p. 127: "...recent excavation in the Bannu district at the sites of Akra (900-790 BCE) and Ter Kala Dheri (1000-400 BCE) have provided radiocarbon dates which would push the chronology of NBP at Charsadda and Taxila to as early as 900 BCE...". ISBN 978-1499709827.
  4. ^ Kumar, K., (2005). "Archaeology of the Ramayana Sites: A Review of the Problem in the Light of Recent Excavations at Ayodhya", in Pragdhara 15, pp. 264-265.
  5. ^ Shanker Singh, Dr Anand (20 Nov 2017). "The Chronology of Northern Black Polished Ware : Recent Perspectives". International Journal of Scientific Research in Science, Engineering and Technology IJSRST. 3: 1488-1492: "...The emergent picture is that the beginning of NBPW could safely be pushed to circa 700 BCE, if not earlier (Ayodhya 1003 BCE & Juafardih 1200 BCE) and therefore, the NBPW period ranges from 700 BCE to 50 BCE...".
  6. ^ Danino, Michel. "A Timeline of Ayodhya": 2-6 (Period I: Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) c. 1300 BC - 300 BC Period I: The Human activity at the [Ram Janambhumi - Babri Masjid] dates back to the circa: thirteenth century B.C. on the basis of the scientific dating method providing the only archaeological evidence for such an early dating of the human occupation at the site (Sharma 2011:48). People using Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) a pottery type generally associated with the urbanization of the ganges plains were the first occupants of the site at Ayodhya). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ a b J.M. Kenoyer (2006), "Cultures and Societies of the Indus Tradition. In Historical Roots" Archived 2014-01-01 at the Wayback Machine in the Making of ‘the Aryan’, R. Thapar (ed.), pp. 21–49. New Delhi, National Book Trust.
  8. ^ a b c Shaffer, Jim. 1993, "Reurbanization: The eastern Punjab and beyond." In Urban Form and Meaning in South Asia: The Shaping of Cities from Prehistoric to Precolonial Times, ed. H. Spodek and D.M. Srinivasan.
  9. ^ Samuel 2008, p. 50-51.
  10. ^ Upinder Singh (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. pp. 282, 286, 391. ISBN 978-81-317-1677-9.
  11. ^ Upinder Singh (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. p. 389. ISBN 978-81-317-1677-9.
  12. ^ Jahan, Shahnaj Husne. "Maritime Trade between Thailand and Bengal.pdf". Journal of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University.
  13. ^ a b Bouvet, Phaedra, (2011). "Preliminary Study of Indian and Indian Style Wares from Khao Sam Kaeo (Chumphon, Peninsular Thailand), Fourth - Second Centuries BCE", in Pierre-Yves Manguin, A. Mani, and Geoff Wade, (eds.), Early Interactions Between South and Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, pp. 70 - 72.
  14. ^ Tewari, Rakesh, (2011). "...Given Another Life...", in Man and Environment XXXVI(1)(2011), Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies, p. 23.
  15. ^ A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century
  16. ^ Wikramanayake, T. W. (2004). "The Life Style of Early Inhabitants of Sri Lanka". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka. 50: 89–140. ISSN 1391-720X. JSTOR 44626733.


Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press

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