Jwalapuram, India

Hominins are early humans. Until recently scientists believed that man evolved in Africa and didn't leave that continent until 1.5 million years ago and the first hominin to arrive in Asia and Europe was homo erectus, a species which included the famous Java Man and Peking Man. Now scientists working in China and elsewhere in Asia are challenging these theories.

Based on DNA samples taken from 30 ethnic groups, scientist believe that first Indians came from Africa and "rapidly expanded and diversified." Despite the lack of fossil evidence, tools described below appear to indicate the presence of hominids in the subcontinent as early as 200,000-400,000 years ago and thus are likely to have been associated with archaic Homo species.

The earliest evidence of Paleolithic human presence in the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent consists of stone implements found scattered around the Soan River Valley in northern Pakistan. Hand axes and cleavers dated to perhaps 500,000 years ago have been found near Islamabad. Chert from the Rohri Hills of the Upper Sind and quartzite from the Ptohar Plateau and Soan Valley in the Valley of the northern Punjab were used to make these tools. The large number of chippings and flakes found in these places suggested that they served as factories for tools that were used and traded over a large areas.

Book: “Early Indians” by Tony Joseph (Juggernaut Books)

Homo Erectus in India

It can be presumed that Homo erectus at least passed through or skirted Indian subcontinent as it appears to have evolved in Africa and Homo erectus bones have been found in China and Indonesia. The discovery of 1.7-million-year-old hominin fossils in Georgia,1.8-million-year-old hominin fossils in Indonesia, and 1.9-million-year-old hominin fossils in China suggests that Homo erectus may have migrated into Asia as early as 2 million years ago and then migrated across the continent very quickly. There is also evidence that a hominin species more primitive than Homo erectus may have evolved in China before that time.

Homo erectus lived 1.7 million years to 250,000 years ago. He had a considerably larger brain than his predecessor Homo habilis, fashioned more advanced tools (double-edged, teardrop-shaped "hand axes" and "cleavers" ) and controlled fire (based on the discovery of charcoal with erectus fossils). Better foraging and hunting skills improved his ability to exploit his environment.

A piece of skull — possibly from a Homo erectus but largely disputed discovered in December, 1982 in the middle of the Narmada valley in Hathnora, Madhya Pradesh—is the first and only of its kind in India (See Narmanda Human Below). If it is the most ancient human remnant so far discovered ion the Indian subcontinent and it. Some scientists believe the skull fragment is from Homo heidelbergensis— a hominid species that left Africa about 800,000 years ago—not Homo erectus. Some say it is is an archaic homo sapien. [Source: Glorious India, National Geographic]

Narmada Human

The Narmada Human, originally the Narmada Man, is a hominin species that lived in central India between 50,000 and 160,000 years ago. From a skull cup discovered from the bank of Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh in 1982, the discoverer, Arun Sonakia initially classified it as homo erectus. Analysis of additional fossils from the same location in 1997 indicated that the individual could be a female, hence, a revised name, Narmada Human, was introduced. It remains the oldest human species in India. The first scientific description by Sonakia appeared in the Records of the Geological Survey of India in 1984 which described the specimen as Homo erectus narmadensis. Additional fossils described since 1997 have suggested more relatedness to archaic H. sapiens.[Source: Wikipedia]

Narmada River in India

"Narmada Human," is represented by a complete right half of the skull cap, to which a part of the left parietal is attached.. Its cranial capacity is estimated to be around 1,200 cubic centimeters. The skull cap has many similarities to skulls of Asian Homo erectus, which is why "Narmada Man’s" classification as Homo erectus is has been suggested. Sonakia had originally estimated the fossils to be at around 500,000 to 600,000 years old based on the associated fossil.

The Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) organised an archaeological exploration of the central Narmada valley between 1983 and 1992, resulting in the discoveries of many animal remains, stone tools and new human fossil. Two human collarbones (clavicles) were found., along with one lower rib at Hathnora fossil site. Another ASI exploration between 2005 and 2010 led to the discovery of parts of a thigh bone (femur) and arm bone (humerus) at Netankheri village that was reported in Current Science in 2012.

There is no consensus on the exact species identification of Narmada Human. It had been variously described as archaic Homo sapiens, evolved Homo erectus, or Homo heidelbergensis because it exhibits features shared with these human species, along with its own unique features. Results of the most recent study, which includes morphometric and comparative investigations, lead to the conclusion that "Narmada Man" is appropriately identified as Homo sapiens. While the calvaria shares some anatomical features with Asian Homo erectus specimens, it exhibits a broader suite of morphological and mensural characteristics suggesting affinities with early Homo sapiens fossils. In 2007, Sheela Athreya of the Texas A&M University College Station revised the systematic identification and concluded that the Narmada Human could not be H. erectus, but instead could be loosely identified as H. heidelbergensis, as she noted:

Narmanda Human’s closest linkage to homo sapiens is its its brain size, with an is approximate average of 1,200 cubic centimeters. The average brain size of Asian H. erectus is about 1,000 cubic centimeters, while early H. sapiens have the brain size ranging from 1,200 to 1,400 cubic centimeters. According to Cameron, Patnaik and Sahni, the Narmada Human is most closely related to extinct humans such as H. heidelbergensis or H. neanderthalensis than H. erectus. It represents a different species that met evolutionary dead-end in India, fitting into the out of Africa theory of modern human origin.

Soanian Sites

The Soanian is an archaeological culture of the Lower Paleolithic in the Siwalik region of the Indian subcontinent. Contemporary to the Acheulean, it is named after the Soan Valley in Pakistan. Soanian sites are found along the Sivalik region in present-day India, Nepal and Pakistan. The term "Soan Culture" was first used by Hellmut De Terra in 1936,[3] but D. N. Wadia had identified the presence of these archaeological implements in 1928. [Source: Wikipedia]

At Adiyala and Khasala, about 16 kilometers mi) from Rawalpindi terrace on the bend of the river, hundreds of edged pebble tools were discovered. At Chauntra in Himachal Pradesh, hand axes and cleavers were found. Tools up to two million years old have been recovered. In the Soan River Gorge, many fossil bearing rocks are exposed on the surface. 14 million year old fossils of gazelle, rhinoceros, crocodile, giraffe and rodents have been found there. Some of these fossils are on display at the Pakistan Museum of Natural History in Islamabad.

Sites have been found in the Sivalik region across what are now India, Pakistan, and Nepal. These date to 500,000 – 125,000 years before present. Among the main sites are Adiala, Chauntra, Khasala Kalan, Khasala Khurd, Sivalik Hills. In terms of stone tool, the sites were preceded by the Acheulean period and followed by Mousterian period.

First Modern Humans in India

Migration of Y chromosome haplogroup C in East Asia

The first human migrations out of Africa are thought to have taken place over 100,000 years ago. According to PBS: “Migrants gradually made their way down India's coast over a few thousand years. The migration was possible because sea levels were 200 feet lower then they are now, allowing travel via long-since submerged land bridges. The migrants' descendants have been identified by DNA markers as far north as the Pakistani coast and as far south as the Kallar tribe on the Kerala coast in modern India, where entire villages share ancient DNA strains. Along India's west coast there remain pockets of tribal peoples who may have descended from these first human migrations. Until the modern age they have remained largely self-contained, endogamous (marrying within the tribe), physically distinctive in appearance and outside the Hindu caste system. Many retain their own languages, which are distinct from the main Northern and Southern Indian language groups. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

There was a long phase of Paleolithic hunting and gathering cultures parallel in time and characteristics with the Paleolithic peoples of Europe and East Asia. This was followed, eight thousand to ten thousand years ago, by the development of settled agricultural communities in some areas. [Source: Paul Hockings, Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

By 50,000 B.C., the tools were mass produced using organized labor and well-established communications routes were used to distribute them. Evidence of domestication of animals, the adoption of agriculture, permanent village settlements, and wheel-turned pottery dating from the middle of the sixth millennium B.C. has been found in the foothills of Sindh and Baluchistan, both in present-day Pakistan. By around 10,000 years ago, as the last Ice Age ended and the climate became warmer, nomads began settling and living in larger and larger settlements. These settlers grew into the Indus Valley civilization. [Source: Library of Congress]

While India lies at the eastern limit of the hand axe distribution, there are numerous Acheulean findspots. Hathnora, in the Narmada Valley has produced hominid remains of middle Pleistocene date. The subcontinent has produced just one set of early Homo sapiens fossils, found in a cave in Sri Lanka and dated to about 36,000 years ago. Recent finds include a middle palaeolithic quarry in the Kaladgi Basin, southern India. A tradition of Indian rock art dates to 40,000 or 50,000 years ago. Survey has resulted in the identification of 191 Middle Palaeolithic localities along the margins of the Malaprabha and Ghataprabha rivers. [Source: Glorious India, National Geographic]

Paleolithic peoples probably roamed Afghanistan as early as 100,000 B.C. The earliest definite evidence of human occupation was found in the cave of Darra-i-Kur in Badakhshan, where a transitional Neanderthal skull fragment in association with Mousterian-type tools was discovered; the remains are of the Middle Paleolithic, dating about 30,000 years ago. Caves near Aq Kopruk yielded evidence of an early Neolithic culture (c. 9000-6000 B.C.) based on domesticated animals.

Neolithic Indians buried their dead and erected tombs, as is evident from some pre-historic skeletons discovered in Mirzapur. In the caves of the Vindhya hills, Neolithic “cup-marks” and “ruddle drawings” have been found. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Route of Early Modern Man to India

Pakistan and India lie on the postulated southern coastal route followed by anatomically modern H. sapiens out of Africa, and so may have been inhabited by modern humans as early as 60,000-70,000 years ago. There is evidence of cave dwellers in Pakistan’s northwest frontier, but fossil evidence from the Paleolithic has been fragmentary. [Source: Glorious India]

In 2005, Brian Vastag of National Geographic News wrote: “Modern humans migrated out of Africa and into India much earlier than once believed, driving older hominids in present-day India to extinction and creating some of the earliest art and architecture, a new study suggests. The research places modern humans in India tens of thousands of years before their arrival in Europe. University of Cambridge researchers Michael Petraglia and Hannah James developed the new theory after analyzing decades' worth of existing fieldwork in India. They outline their research in the journal Current Anthropology. "He's putting all the pieces together, which no one has done before," Sheela Athreya, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University, said of Petraglia. [Source: Brian Vastag, National Geographic News, November 14, 2005 ]

“Modern humans arrived in Europe around 40,000 years ago, leaving behind cave paintings, jewelry, and evidence that they drove the Neanderthals to extinction. Petraglia and James argue that similar events took place in India when modern humans arrived there about 70,000 years ago.The Indian subcontinent was once home to Homo heidelbergensis, a hominid species that left Africa about 800,000 years ago, Petraglia explained. "I realized that, my god, modern humans might have wiped out Homo heidelbergensis in India," he said. "Modern humans may have been responsible for wiping out all sorts of ancestors around the world." "Our model of India is talking about that entire wave of dispersal," he added. "That's a huge implication for paleoanthropology and human evolution." Petraglia and James reached their conclusions by pulling together fossils, artifacts, and genetic data.

First Modern Humans in India: 70,000 Years Ago?

Jwalapuram's location in India

According to some the earliest evidence of modern humans in India — 74,000 years before present — is from Jwalapuram, Andhra Pradesh. Discoveries of stone tools in Jwalapuram before and after the Toba supereruption 74,000 years ago may have been made by modern humans, but this is disputed. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Tony Joseph wrote in The Hindu: “When did our species, Homo sapiens, first set foot in India? There are two competing versions of the answer: let’s call them the ‘early version’ and the ‘late version’. The ‘early version’ says they arrived 74,000 to 120,000 years ago from Africa through the Arabian peninsula with Middle Stone Age tools such as scrapers and points that helped them hunt their prey, gather food, or make clothes. The ‘late version’ says they arrived much later, around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, with upgraded technology such as microlithic (tiny stone) tools that might have been used to give sharp tips to arrows and spears. A geological event separates the two versions: the supervolcanic eruption at Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia, about 74,000 years ago, dumped tonnes of ash all over South-east Asia and South Asia, causing much stress to all life in the region. The ‘early version’ says migrants reached India before Toba; the ‘late version’ says the opposite.” [Source: Tony Joseph, The Hindu, September 5, 2017 |^^|]

Until fairly recently it seemed like late version had the most support. But two studies, published in July and August, 2017 may have changed that. “The first study, led by Professor Chris Clarkson of the University of Queensland, established that modern humans were in Australia by between 59,300 and 70,700 years ago, or, if you take the midpoint, 65,000 years ago. That is about 15,000 years earlier than previous estimates. Prof. Clarkson and his colleagues used the latest techniques to date things left behind by humans at the Madjedbebe caves in Australia’s Northern Territory: mortars and pestles, ground-edge axes, and painting material. |^^|

“The second study, led by archaeologist Dr. Kira Westaway of the Macquarie University, palaeontologist Dr. Julien Louys of the Australian National University, and others had equally remarkable results. They reinvestigated two teeth that had been found in the Lida Ajer caves in Indonesia’s Sumatra island more than a century ago, but whose dating and provenance were disputed. Using the latest multidisciplinary techniques, they have confirmed that the teeth belonged to modern humans who lived 63,000-73,000 years ago, thus pushing back the dates for modern human occupation of South-east Asia by about 20,000 years.

The Sumatra and the Madjedbebe findings point in the same direction, says Dr. Louys: that Out of Africa (OOA) migrants made it into South-east Asia before 60,000 years ago. In fact, he says, they could have been in the region for much longer because “it is incredibly likely we’re not sampling the very first humans in Sumatra and Australia.” But if people were already in Australia and South-east Asia by 65,000 years ago, then they would have had to have left Africa and reached India much earlier (India having been a key corridor for the OOA migration). And that would put the ‘late version’ in jeopardy. Professor Ravi Korisettar of the Karnatak University, a well-known archaeologist who has worked extensively on early modern human migrations in South Asia, concurs. “These findings support our argument for an earlier migration,” he says.

The first settlers of India are our direct ancestors: about 50% to 60% of Indian genetic ancestry today comes from the first settlers, with the rest contributed by later migrants from West Asia, East Asia, and Central Asia. So, the deeply held belief that only tribals (about 8.6% of the population) carry the ancestry of the original settlers couldn’t be more wrong. The first settlers of India are, indeed, the bedrock of our population and civilisation. Without getting their story right, we cannot get the rest of our history right.

Jwalapuram sites

Jwalapuram Site in Andhra Pradesh

Tony Joseph wrote in The Hindu: “Prof. Korisettar was instrumental in discovering the Jwalapuram site in Andhra Pradesh, which posed the first big challenge to the ‘late version’. Jwalapuram lies in the Jurreru river valley and its significance is in the fact that the river basin holds layers of volcanic ash left behind by the Toba eruption. [Source: Tony Joseph, The Hindu, September 5, 2017 |^^|]

“The archaeologists who excavated Jwalapuram more than a decade ago, including Prof. Korisettar and Prof. Michael Petraglia, then of Cambridge University, found something remarkable at the bottommost layer: Middle Stone Age tools dated to around 77,000 years ago and were made by what they believe were modern humans. Those findings created a stir because they frontally challenged the ‘late version’. Prof. Korisettar and Prof. Petraglia, in fact, went on to argue that modern humans could have been in India as early as 100,000-120,000 years ago. “Ever since our paper was published in Science magazine in July 2007, we have been suggesting pre-Toba expansion,” says Prof. Korisettar. |^^|

“The Jwalapuram findings did not go uncontested, though. Middle Stone Age tools were made by both modern humans and archaic hominins such as Homo erectus and are, therefore, difficult to assign to one or the other. And India has had archaic hominins at least from about 1.5 million years ago. But Prof. Korisettar argues that the Jwalapuram artefacts are remarkably similar to those made by Middle Stone Age modern humans in Africa. That argument now finds strong support from Dr. Louys who says “it makes sense” to think modern humans were in Asia before the Toba eruption. |^^|

DNA Studies Say Modern Humans Arrived in India 50,000 to 60,000 Years Ago

Tony Joseph wrote in The Hindu: “The problem is that this suggestion of humans in India 70,000 years ago bumps up against genetics. All humans belong to haplogroups or lineages (Y-DNA haplogroups for males, and mitrochondrial or mtDNA haplogroups for females), and by studying current populations using genetic markers and mutation rates, geneticists can create global family trees and estimate the age at which two haplogroups shared a common ancestor. These techniques have improved by leaps and bounds, so it’s no surprise that there’s now near-consensus about the history of human migrations. It goes something like this: Homo sapiens originated in Africa over 200,000 years ago, started range expansions into the Levant and West Asia between 120,000-100,000 years ago, and started on a colonising journey of the world around 70,000 years ago, reaching South Asia by 60,000 years, Australia by 50,000 years, and Europe by 45,000 years ago. [Source: Tony Joseph, The Hindu, September 5, 2017 |^^|]

“All non-African populations in the world, therefore, are descendants of a single, small group of migrating Africans (perhaps numbering no more than a thousand). Because of this bottleneck, the entire non-African world population belongs to just three mtDNA super-haplogroups M, N, and R (and C, D, and F in the case of non-African Y-DNA). The common ancestor of M, N, and R is a parent haplogroup called L3, which still has many lineages in Africa. Given this, it is reasonable to conclude that OOA migrations could not have happened earlier than the emergence of L3. And genetic studies say the earliest possible date for the emergence of L3 is 70,000 years ago. In other words, there is no way that an OOA migration could have happened before the Toba eruption of 74,000 years ago! |^^|

single and multiple migration waves into Asia

“Those who argue this also put forward other reasons why the ‘early version’ cannot hold. One of them is that genetic records show that the first migrants had spread across South Asia, South-east Asia, and Australia within a brief period of time before too many mutations could accumulate. And that means it must have been quite a sprint, in historical terms. The only way this could have been accomplished is if they took a coastal route from West Asia to India to South-east Asia and then, finally, Australia. A coastal route meant two things: one, the beach-hopping migrants could use the same skill sets to survive on marine resources such as fish and crustaceans all along their journey. Two, their march got an unintended directionality, taking them inexorably towards Australia. |^^|

“What lends support to this chronology is that at least from about 35,000 years ago, there is incontrovertible evidence of modern humans in South Asia, while evidence for earlier presence is circumstantial. The earliest modern human fossil in the region is from the Sri Lankan cave of Fa Hien, dated to 33,000-30,000 years ago. (Sri Lanka was then linked to the Indian landmass, as sea levels were lower). In India too, there is abundant evidence of microlithic tools from around the same time.” |^^|

DNA Evidence a Huge Human Migration to India 50,000 Years Ago

In 2024, scientists who analyzed more than 2,700 modern Indian genomes from 17 states — including DNA from individuals from most geographic regions, speakers of all major languages, tribal and caste groups — announced the results of what they found in paper published February 20 on the bioRxiv database. Live Science reported: They revealed that one of the three main ancestral groups in India — ancient Iranian farmers — can be traced back to a group of agricultural farmers from Sarazm in modern-day Tajikistan. They also uncovered the extraordinary diversity of DNA inherited from Neanderthals and Denisovans, the closest, now-extinct relatives of modern humans. Additionally, the team found that most of the genetic variation within the current Indian population stems from a single, major migration event of modern humans to India from Africa around 50,000 years ago. [Source: Emily Cooke, Live Science, March 12, 2024]

India is home to more than 4,500 anthropologically well-defined populations, including castes, tribes and religious groups. However, despite this extensive diversity, Indian populations have often been underrepresented in genomic studies, which have primarily focused on people of European ancestry. "South Asian populations are often underrepresented in genomic studies," Elise Kerdoncuff, lead study author and a population geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), told Live Science. "Studying Indian populations helps us understand the history of India, and as our study demonstrates, it also provides valuable insights into broader aspects of human history."

To paint a clearer picture of genetic variation in India, the authors of the new study analyzed the genomes of thousands of individuals who participated in the Longitudinal Aging Study in India-Diagnostic Assessment of Dementia (LASI-DAD). Participants were over the age of 60 and agreed to have blood samples taken for analysis.

Most Indians derive ancestry from three ancestral groups: ancient Iranian farmers, Eurasian Steppe pastoralists and South Asian hunter-gatherers. Researchers already understood how the latter two groups came to India, but they didn't know how and when DNA from ancient Iranian farmers arrived in the region, co-senior study author Priya Moorjani, an assistant professor of genetics, genomics, evolution and development at UCB, told Live Science in an email.

In one analysis in the new study, the team compared the DNA of modern Indians to that of Iranian-related individuals from the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, to the Iron Age. They found that ancient Iranian-related DNA inherited by Indian populations originated from individuals from Sarazm from the early Neolithic. In a separate analysis, the researchers compared the DNA of modern Indians to that of sequenced Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes and found that Indians, like most non-Africans, inherited between 1 percent and 2 percent of their DNA from these groups. This DNA is highly diverse: Almost 90 percent of all known Neanderthal genes found in humans outside of Africa were detected in the Indian genomes studied.

The team also discovered that most of the genetic variation found in modern Indians comes from a single major migration of individuals from Africa 50,000 years ago. This contrasts with previous archaeological studies that suggested modern humans settled in India earlier, for instance before the Toba volcano erupted around 74,000 years ago (See Below). Many questions remain, in particular regarding the population that was living in India 50,000 years ago. For example, the researchers still don't know whether the range of Neanderthals and Denisovans extended to South Asia, or if modern humans encountered Neanderthals and Denisovans further east in Eurasia than widely believed, Moorjani said. These genes may have then been carried with them to India, for instance.

What the DNA Evidence Says About Early Modern Humans India

Recent DNA findings suggest Europeans and Indians share a common ancestor. Brooks Hays, of UPI wrote: “The latest analysis suggests India was populated by a succession of migrations from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Previously, a lack of ancient DNA samples has hampered the search for India's genetic origins. The subcontinent has yielded few well-preserved skeletal remains. Marine Silva, an archaeogeneticist and doctoral student at the University of Huddersfield, was able to skirt this impediment by using modern DNA sourced from people living in India today. Their analysis, detailed in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, showed India hosts some very ancient lineages and was populated by several waves of migration. [Source: Brooks Hays, UPI, May 9, 2017]

“The earliest Indians were hunter-gatherers from Africa. They arrived on the subcontinent 50,000 years ago. More settlers arrived from what is now Iran between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, shortly after the end of the last ice age. The migrants brought early farming techniques with them. African and Middle Eastern origins are most apparent among the male genetic lineage, the Y-chromosome. The female lineage, mitochondrial DNA, suggests a large influx of people from Central Asia migrated to India 5,000 years ago.

mtDNA boundaries in South and Southwest Asia

“Researchers believe these Bronze Age migrants were Indo-European speakers who populated the grasslands between the Black and Caspian seas. These male-dominated, roaming pastoralists domesticated the horse and spoke an early iteration of Sanskrit. Some 200 years ago, linguists showed Sanskrit is related to Greek and Latin. Previous studies have suggested the same population of horse-riders settled Europe. The latest findings suggest Europeans and Indians share a common ancestor.

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: “South Asia, including India, is an important corridor for modern human dispersal out of Africa to East Asia and Oceania. In this area, there are many diverse populations with different morphological, cultural and linguistic characteristics. Using mtDNA data mainly from HVS and RFLPs of the coding region, the genetic structure of South Asians has been partially delineated (Passarino et al. 1996; Kivisild et al. 1999, 2003; Bamshad et al. 2001; Quintana-Murci et al. 2004).[Source: “Genetic studies of human diversity in East Asia” by 1) Feng Zhang, Institute of Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, 2) Bing Su, Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, 3) Ya-ping Zhang, Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-resource, Yunnan University and 4) Li Jin, Institute of Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University. Author for correspondence (, 2007 The Royal Society ***]

“To obtain a phylogeny of mtDNA with higher resolution and to study the relationship between the Indian and the western Eurasian more precisely, Palanichamy et al. (2004) sampled 75 mtDNA lineages in haplogroup N lineages from over 800 samples (including Reddy, Thogataveera, Brahmin, Rajbhansi and the Khasi population) across India, to sequence the complete mtDNA genome. In that study, five new autochthonous haplogroups (R7, R8, R30, R31 and N5) were identified and some previously described autochthonous haplogroups (R5, R6, N1d, U2a, U2b and U2c) were further characterized with the complete sequence data. ***

“By carefully constructing the phylogeny of macro-haplogroup N, Palanichamy et al. (2004) showed that the Indian mtDNA pool harbours at least as many deepest-branching lineages as the western Eurasian mtDNA pool. Furthermore, the evidence of the indigenous haplogroup R lineages in India suggested a common initial spread of the root haplotypes of M, N and R along the southern route, along the Asian coastline, some 60–70 kyr ago, which will be meaningful for the colonization of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania. Recently, Sun et al. (2006) selected 56 mtDNAs from over 1200 samples across India for complete sequencing, with the intention of covering all Indian autochthonous M lineages. As a result, the phylogenetic status of previously identified haplogroups based on control-region and/or partial coding-region information, such as M2–M6, M30 and M33, was solidified or redefined. Moreover, seven novel basal M haplogroups (M34–M40) were identified and yet another five singular branches of the M phylogeny were discovered. The comparison of matrilineal components from India, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania at the deepest level yielded a star-like and non-overlapping pattern, reflecting a rapid dispersal of modern humans along the Asian coast after the initial ‘out of Africa’ event.” ***

Model of Early Modern Man in India

Bhimbetka cave painting

Brian Vastag of National Geographic News wrote: “The evidence points to an early human migration through the Middle East and into India, arriving in Australia by 45,000 to 60,000 years ago, they say. Their model begins about 250,000 years ago, when Homo heidelbergensis arrived in India toting crude stone tools. Digs in central India in the 1980s turned up skeletal remains of the species, and other sites revealed almond-shaped hand axes chipped from stone. Meanwhile in Africa modern humans arose about 190,000 years ago, most archaeologists believe. These humans too developed stone tools. [Source: Brian Vastag, National Geographic News, November 14, 2005 ]

“Scattered evidence, such as red ochre—perhaps used as body paint—suggests early African humans also dabbled in the creative arts. The new theory posits that as much as 70,000 years ago, a group of these modern humans migrated east, arriving in India with technology comparable to that developed by Homo heidelbergensis. "The tools were not so different," Petraglia says. "The technology that the moderns had wasn't of a great advantage over what [Homo heidelbergensis] were using."

“But modern humans outcompeted the natives, slowly but inexorably driving them to extinction, Petraglia says. "It's just like the story in Western Europe, where [modern humans] drove Neandertals to extinction," he says. The modern humans who colonized India may also have been responsible for the disappearance of the so-called Hobbits, whose fossilized bones were discovered recently on the Indonesian island of Flores.

“But Athreya of Texas A&M argues that the evidence for such a "replacement event" in India remains weak. "You have to explain the reasons for the replacement, [such as] technical superiority," she said. "The genetic evidence shows there were multiple migrations out of Africa, so there would have been multiple migrations into [India]. But I think these migrating populations didn't completely replace the indigenous group."

“Petraglia and James's report presents evidence of creativity and culture in India starting about 45,000 years ago. Sophisticated stone blades arrive first, along with rudimentary stone architecture. Beads, red ochre paint, ostrich shell jewelry, and perhaps even shrines to long-lost gods—the hallmarks of an early symbolic culture—appear by 28,500 years ago. This slow change is in contrast to what many scientists believe played out in Europe. Modern humans blew through the continent like a storm about 40,000 years ago, and Neandertals quickly disappeared. The switch happened so rapidly—as evidenced by the sudden arrival of advanced stone tools and an explosion of cave painting and other art—that anthropologists call it the "human revolution." "What we have is a much patchier, very slow and gradual accumulation of what we call modern human behavior in South Asia," Petraglia says. "And that just simply means that culture developed in a slightly different way in South Asia than it did in Western Europe."

Origin of Tribal People of India

Tribals, black aborigines similar to those found in new Guinea and Australia, are believed to be the original inhabitants of much of southern India. DNA evidence from the Negrito tribes of the Andaman Islands spans back 70,000 years and suggests they originated from people from Africa who migrated to India, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. DNA evidence also indicates that they are direct descendants of the first modern humans to leave Africa but lack a distinctive feature of Australian aborigines, another early group to leave Africa.

Andaman Islander in early 20th century

The Onge from the Andaman Islands carry some of the oldest genetic markers found outside Africa. The tribes of the Andaman Islands are believed to be related the Negritos of Southeast Asia and the Philippines (See Malaysia and the Philippines). Some scholars theorize that they arrived in the Andaman Islands from Burma or Malaysia at some time in the distant past by sea, or perhaps arrived from Sumatra by way of the Nicobar Islands. However there are no firm evidence to back this up and is regarded mostly as speculation. The Bhil tribe is regarded by some as "the oldest of the aboriginal tribes comprising India's original inhabitants. They are regarded as the original inhabitants of the forest of central India and were driven into their current homelands by Muslim invaders. Their name is believed to be derived from word in Dravidian languages for “bow,” which until fairly recent times they always were seen carrying. ”

Some anthropologists hypothesize that the region was settled by multiple human migrations over tens of millennia, which makes it even harder to select certain groups as being truly aboriginal. One narrative, largely based on genetic research, describes Negritos, similar to the Andamanese adivasis of today, as the first humans to colonise India, likely 30–65 thousand years ago. Sixty percent of all Indians share the mtDNA haplogroup M, which is universal among Andamanese islander adivasis and might be a genetic legacy of the postulated first Indians. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Some anthropologists theorise that these settlers were displaced by invading Austro-Asiatic-speaking Australoid people (who largely shared skin pigmentation and physiognomy with the Negritos, but had straight rather than curly hair), and adivasi tribes such as the Irulas trace their origins to that displacement. The Oraon adivasi tribe of eastern India and the Korku tribe of western India are considered to be examples of groups of Australoid origin. Subsequent to the Australoids, most anthropologists and geneticists agree that Caucasoids (including both Dravidians and Indo-Aryans) and Mongoloids (Sino-Tibetans) immigrated into India: the Dravidians possibly from Iran, the Indo-Aryans possibly from the Central Asian steppes and the Tibeto-Burmans possibly from the Himalayan and north-eastern borders of the subcontinent. None of these hypotheses is free from debate and disagreement. +

Ethnic origins and linguistic affiliations in India match only inexactly, however: while the Oraon adivasis are classified as an Australoid group, their language, called Kurukh, is Dravidian. Khasis and Nicobarese are considered to be Mongoloid groups and the Munda and Santals are Australoid groups, but all four speak Austro-Asiatic languages. The Bhils and Gonds are frequently classified as Australoid groups, yet Bhil languages are Indo-European and the Gondi language is Dravidian. +

Mixing Between Prehistoric Indians, Southeast Asians and Australians

Miguel Vilar wrote in National Geographic Explorers Journal: “Genographic Project scientists Drs. Ramasamy Pitchappan and GaneshPrasad ArunKumar from Tamil Nadu, India, analyzed the Y-chromosome (paternally-inherited) DNA from more than 10,000 men from southern Asia. The findings, published in the Journal of Systematics and Evolution, showed that in the last 8,000 years humans expanded west from Southeast Asia back to India. [Source: Miguel Vilar, National Geographic Explorers Journal on April 21, 2015]

“This previously undetected migration is evident from the frequency and diversity of a specific genetic clan, or haplogroup, in that part of the world. The Genographic scientists found a much higher frequency of haplogroup O2a1 in their research than expected. “Since O2a1 is accepted as the founding lineage of Austro-Asiatic languages (a group of related languages from Southeast Asia), the origin and spread of this lineage gives clues on the history of these speakers and the region. Our study shows a clear decrease in age and diversity of haplogorup O2a1 from Laos to East India, suggesting an east to west spread out of Southeast Asia,” explains Dr. ArunKumar about his findings.

Mehrgarh well, 7000 BC

Ancient Indians migrated to Australia and mixed with Aborigines 4,000 years ago, bringing the dingo's ancestor with them, according to research from 2013. Barry Parker of Agence France Presse wrote: “The vast southern continent was thought to have been cut off from other populations until Europeans landed at the end of the 1700s, but the latest genetic and archaeological evidence throws that theory out. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, reported "evidence of substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Australia about 4,000 years ago". They analysed genetic variations across the genome from Australian Aborigines to New Guineans, Southeast Asians, and Indians, including Dravidian speakers from the south. [Source: Barry Parker, Agence France Presse, Jan. 15, 2013]

"The prevailing view is that until the arrival of Europeans late in the 18th century, there was little, if any, contact between Australia and the rest of the world," the study said.However, analysis of genome-wide data gave a "significant signature of gene flow from India to Australia which we date to about 4,230 years ago," or 141 generations back. "Long before Europeans settled in Australia humans had migrated from the Indian subcontinent to Australia and mixed with Australian Aborigines," the study said.

"Interestingly," said lead researcher Irina Pugach, "this date also coincides with many changes in the archaeological record of Australia, which include a sudden change in plant processing and stone tool technologies... and the first appearance of the dingo in the fossil record." The study explained that although dingo DNA appears to have a southeast Asian origin, "morphologically, the dingo most closely resembles Indian dogs "The fact that we detect a substantial inflow of genes from India to Australia at about this time does suggest that all of these changes in Australia may be related to this migration."

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

In Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh’s Raisen district, about 45 kilometers, there are a total of 750 caves and shelters spread over a 10-x-4 kilometer area. The caves depict paintings belonging to the Paleolithic (10,000 B.C.), Mesolithic (5,000 B.C.) and the Chalcolithic (2,000 B.C.) periods. The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka are in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau within a cluster of massively sculpted sandstone rock formations around Bhimbetka Hill. Above comparatively dense forest, are five clusters of natural rock shelters, displaying paintings that appear to date from the Mesolithic Period right through to the historical period. The cultural traditions of the inhabitants of the twenty-one villages adjacent to the site bear a strong resemblance to those represented in the rock paintings. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

The Bhimbetka and Vindhyan Hills area has abundant natural resources — perennial water supplies, natural shelter, rich forest flora and fauna, and these conditions of plenty seem to have been conducive to the development of sustainable and persistent societies and the creation of notable rock art. Bhimbetka itself reflects a long interaction between people and the landscape, as demonstrated in the quantity and quality of its rock art. It is closely associated with a hunting and gathering economy as demonstrated in the rock art and in the relicts of this tradition in the local adivasi villages on the periphery of this site.

Tony Joseph wrote in Quartz: It is an enchanting place spread over seven hills and full of naturally occurring rock shelters that are perhaps more imposing and majestic than most man-made residences of the 21st century. The creeks and streams are filled with fish; there are plenty of fruits, tubers, and roots; deer, boar, and hare; and, of course, as many quartzite rocks as you need to make all the tools you want. Moreover, the elevation of the hills makes it possible for the residents to keep track of who is approaching them: food or predator, nilgai or leopard! [Source: Tony Joseph, Quartz, December 26, 2018]

In the world of early humans, this must have been the equivalent of a much sought-after luxury resort. Ever since it was first occupied some 100,000 years ago, it has never lain vacant for too long, and it is easy to imagine there having been a long waiting list to get in. A place so well liked that millennia after millennia, one or the other Homo species, including our own ancestors, the Homo sapiens, lived and hunted and painted and partied there.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2024

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