The ashmounds of the central Deccan Plateau remain one of the most enigmatic features of the South Indian Neolithic. While Allchin proposed a primarily ritualistic interpretation for the large mounds of burnt cattle dung, more recent discussion has often stressed more prosaic understandings, underlining the adaptive or economic significance of the ashmounds as indicators of pastoralism or stressing the possibility that they represent accidental or sanitation-related fires. This article argues for a return to more symbolic perspectives on the ashmounds, and offers further support for a ritualistic reading based on evidence relating to the landscape context of ashmounds and other Neolithic remains in the central Deccan region. The article explores the landscape associations of ashmounds in the Bellary District of Karnataka, and in particular draws on new discoveries at the sites of Kudatini and Toranagallu in order to reconstruct aspects of a Southern Neolithic ‘world view’ or cosmology. The article also explores the implications of the ashmounds to subsequent developments in the Indian subcontinent, particularly those relating to the symbolic importance of cattle, dung and ash in Hindu practices, and argues for long-term continuities in certain prehistoric material symbols (though not their associated meanings). In addition, the article takes a wider comparative approach, and explores the implications of South Indian Neolithic practices for our understanding of the Neolithic ‘process’ in general, and in particular the emphasis on transformative processes that appears to distinguish Neolithic approaches to the material world from those that preceded them.