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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, succeeding the Painted Grey Ware culture and Black and red ware culture. It developed beginning around 700 BC, in the late Vedic period, and peaked from c. 500–300 BC, coinciding with the emergence of 16 great states or mahajanapadas in Northern India, and the subsequent rise of the Mauryan Empire.
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).
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. There are also, however, important differences between these two cultures; for example, rice, millet and sorghum became more important in the NBP culture. The NBP culture may reflect the first state-level organization in the Indian Subcontinent.
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.
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. 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.
Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press