EARLY HISTORY AND FIRST HUMANS IN INDIA

FIRST HOMININS IN 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.

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.

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.

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. If it is from Homo erectus it is the most ancient human remnant so far discovered in Indian subcontinent and it was discovered in situ which allow a precise determination of its stratigraphic, palaeontological and cultural context all attributable to the Middle Pleistocene (around 500,000 years ago) age in the geological time scale. 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 not from a hominin. [Source: Glorious India <>, National Geographic]

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

Earliest Evidence of Modern Humans in India: 70,000 years before present in Jwalapuram, Andhra Pradesh. Recent finds of stone tools in Jwalapuram before and after the Toba supereruption around 75,000 years ago, may have been made by modern humans, but this is disputed. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to PBS: “The first human migrations out of Africa are thought to have taken place 70,000 years ago. 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, pbs.org/thestoryofindia]

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 n 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. ><

DNA Evidence Related to Early Modern Man in 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.

“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 (ljin007@gmail.com), 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

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.

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.

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 a place called Bhimbetka 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 massive sandstone outcrops, 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]

Bhimbetka 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.

The nominated Bhimbetka rock shelters site lies within the Vindhyan Hills, an area of massively sculpted sandstone rock formations clustered around Bhimbetka Hill. The 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.

The site includes five clusters of rock shelters, with one large complex in the buffer zone. The rock shelters display persistent traditions of rock painting, spanning periods from the Mesolithic to the Historic. They also display a profusion, richness and variety of mural subjects and, as a collection, form one of the densest known concentrations of rock art. Many of the rock shelters within the area are set within fairly dense forest, which displays a high diversity of flora and fauna, still harvested by the local people. Overall the landscape has a strong appealing aesthetic quality, derived from the beauty of the naturally sculpted rock formations and the contrasting lush, densely wooded vegetation, which together give the place a 'timeless' quality.

The site complex was discovered by V. S. Wakankar in 1957. Almost 100 years earlier, in 1867, rock paintings had been discovered in Uttar Pradesh and the first scientific article on Indian rock paintings was published by J. Cockburn in 1883. Bhimbetka was first mentioned in 1888 as a Buddhist site, from information obtained from local adivasis. Two shelters were excavated in 1971 by Bajpai, Pandey and Gour. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

Drawings and Paintings in Bhimbetka

The most famous place in Bhimbetka is Zoo Rock where one can see paintings dating back to 10,000 B.C. made with limestone and also some paintings made between 5,000 years and 7,000 years ago with vegetable colors and iron. The Zoo Rock depicts a variety of animals from horses to elephants and from bulls to antelopes. There is a distinct difference in the paintings made in 10,000 B.C. and those made in 5,000 B.C. It makes one wonder if the animals themselves evolved or was it that man just became a better artist.There are also caves that depict paintings of man’s daily life thousands of years ago. You have paintings showing group dance and others depicting hunting scenes. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Some caves have paintings, which date back to 2,000 B.C. Here, man is shown wearing clothes and the weapons are more sophisticated. The paintings too have improved. For instance, while horses were shown as nothing but line sketches in the 10,000 B.C. paintings, a horse painted in 2,000 B.C. The superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. <>

The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods: Period I - (Upper Paleolithic): These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals such as bisons, tigers, and rhinoceroses. Period II - (Mesolithic): Comparatively small in size, the stylised figures in this group show linear decoration on the body. In addition to animals, there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used: barbed spears, pointed sticks, bows and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, musical instruments, mother and child, pregnant women, men carrying dead animals, drinking and burials appear in rhythmic movement. Period III - (Chaleolithic): Similar to the paintings of Chaleolithic pottery, these drawings reveal that during the period the cave dwellers of this area had come in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains and started an exchange of their requirements with each other. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Period IV & V - (Early Historic): The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style, and are painted mainly in red, white and yellow. The association is of riders, depiction of religious symbols, tunic-like dresses and the existence of scripts of different periods. The religious beliefs are represented by figures of yakshas, tree gods and magical sky chariots. Period Vl & Vll - (Medieval): These paintings are geometric, linear and more schematic, but they show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style. <>

The colours used by the cave dwellers were prepared combining manganese, haematite, soft red stone and wooden coal. Sometimes the fat of animals and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture. The colours have remained intact for many centuries due to the chemical reaction resulting from the oxide present on the surface of the rocks. <>

Pachmari Hills

Rock paintings and images dated to 9000-3000 B.C. have been found in the Pachmari Hills in the Satpura Range of Central India, an area rich with caves, gorges, rock shelters, and lush vegetation. Laura Anne Tedesco of the Department of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: Many of the sandstone rock shelters across this area have been decorated along the ceilings and walls with paintings depicting a wide range of subjects. The tradition of rock painting extends as far back as the Mesolithic (ca. 9000–3000 B.C.) into the early medieval historic period. Images of vegetation and animals indigenous to this region of South Asia are among the most commonly portrayed, indicating the importance of these resources to the earliest hunter-gatherer occupants of the shelters. [Source: Laura Anne Tedesco, Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Game animals such as bulls, bison, elephants, and wild boar are depicted along with images of lizards, fish, scorpions and birds, such as peacocks. Humans are typically represented as hunters using spears, sticks, and bows and arrows. Female human figures are only occasionally shown in the earliest paintings, though they appear more frequently in later images. The pigments used to create the paintings were derived from naturally occurring materials such as hematite, iron oxide, and kaolin. Variations in color were achieved by mixing the darker pigments with white kaolin (ground limestone). While the majority of paintings in the Pachmari Hills are from historic periods, the earliest Mesolithic depictions provide visually rich and compelling images of the natural environment and some aspects of Mesolithic life.

Mehrgarh

In neolithic times, Indians raised cattle, sheep, goats, wheat, millet and barley. Mehrgarh is a Neolithic (7000-3200 B.C.) site on the Kachi plain of Baluchistan, Pakistan, and one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming (wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep and goats) in south Asia. The site is located on the principal route between what is now Afghanistan and the Indus Valley. The habitation of the site has been divided into seven periods, the first being the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period that dates to circa 7000 B.C. or even earlier. The site was abandoned between 2000 and 2500 B.C. during a period of contact with the Indus Civilization and then reused as a burial ground for some time after 2000 B.C. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Mehrgarh has been nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The archaeological site of Mehrgarh consist of a number of low archaeological mounds in the Kachi plain, close to the mouth of the Bolan Pass. Located next to the west bank of the Bolan river, they are some 30 kilometres from the town of Sibi. Covering an area of some 250 hectares, most of the archaeological deposits are buried deep beneath accumulations of alluvium although in other areas ‘in situ’ structures can be seen eroding on the surface. Currently exposed excavated remains at the site comprise a complex of large compartmental mud-brick structures. Built of hand-formed plano-convex mud bricks, the function of these sub-divided units is still uncertain but it is thought that many were for storage rather than residential. Mounds, MR3 & MR1 also contain formal cemeteries, parts of which have been excavated. [Source: Department of Archaeology and Museums of India]

The archaeological sequence at the site of Mehrgarh is over 11 metres deep, spanning the period between the seventh and third millennium BC. The site represents a classic archaeological tell site, that is an artificial mound created by generations of superimposed mudbrick structures. Its excavators have proposed the following chronology:
IA Aceramic Neolithlic c.6500-6000 BC Mound MR3
IB Ceramic Neolithic c.6000-5500 BC Mound MR3
II - c.5500-4500 BC Mound MR4
III Early Chalcolithic c.4500-3500 BC Mound MR2
IV-VII Chalcolithic c.3500-2500 BC Mound MR1

The earliest Neolithic evidence for occupation at the site has been identified at mound MR3, but during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic period the focus shifted to mound MR4. The focus continued to shift between localities at the site but by 2600 BC it had relocated at the site of Naushero, some six kilometres to the south. During this period the settlement was transformed from a cluster of small mudbrick storage units with evidence of the on going domestication of cattle and barley to a substantial Bronze Age village at the centre of its own distinctive craft zone. The absence of early residential structures has been interpreted by some as further evidence of the site’s early occupation by mobile or transhumant groups5 possible travelling through the nearby pass seasonally. Although Mehrgarh was abandoned by the time of the emergence of the literate urbanised phase of the Indus Civilisation, its development illustrates the development of the civilisation’s subsistence patterns as well as its craft and trade specialisation. Following its abandonment it was covered by alluvial selts until it was exposed following a flash flood in the 1970s. The French Archaeological Mission to Pakistan excavated the site for thirteen years between 1974 and 1986, and they resumed their work in 1996. The most recent trenches have astonishingly well preserved remains of mud brick structures.

Settlements and Life in Mehrgarh

Perhaps the most important feature of Mehrgarh is the fact that one can witness its gradual development from an early village society to a regional center that covered an area of 200 hectares. Mehrgarh was also a center of manufacture for various figurines and pottery that were distributed to surrounding regions. Research shows that people here lived in houses and were involved in hunting, domesticating of animals and farming grains such as rice, barley and wheat. This hunting-farming society developed gradually and their pursuits were creative. During the early period these people used stone and bone tools such as polished stone-axes, flint blades and bone-pointers. By 6000 B.C. the hand-made pottery appeared and in the 5th millenium B.C. Metallurgy and potter-wheel were introduced later. The people pf Mehgarh produced fine terra-cotta figurine and pottery with exotic geometric designs and produced and wore ornaments of beads, seashells and semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Research and archaeological work at Mehrgarh had been led by Jean Francois Jarrige, an archaeology scientist and Director of the Musee Guimet in Paris. Dawn reported: “Most of the ruins at Mehrgarh are buried under alluvium deposits, though some structures could be seen eroding on the surface. Currently, the excavated remains at the site comprise a complex of large compartmental mud-brick structures. Function of these subdivided units, built of hand-formed plano-convex mud bricks, is still not clear but it is thought that many were used probably for storage, rather than residential, purposes. A couple of mounds also contain formal cemeteries, parts of which have been excavated. [Source: Dawn, February 19, 2005]

“Although Mehrgarh was abandoned by the time of the emergence of the literate urbanized phase of the Indus civilization around Moenjodaro, Harapa, etc., its development illustrates the development of the civilization's subsistence patterns, as well as its craft and trade. Mr Jarrige said that many beautiful ceramics had been found at the site in Balochistan and were believed to be of the era as early as eighth millennium BC. The French archaeologist said that studies suggested that the findings at Mehrgarh linked this area to the Indus civilization.

“There are indications that bones were used in making tools for farming, textile, and there are also evidences of the use of cotton even in that period. Mr Jarrige pointed out that the skeletons found at the site indicated that the height of people of that era was larger than that of the later period. He said that the architecture at that time was well developed. Rice was the staple food for those people and there were also indications of trade activities.

“The French expert spoke of the difficulties he and his team faced during the exploration work in the area and regretted that some time back, owing to a feud between the two tribes, the Mehrgarh site had been vandalized and the exploratory work had come to a standstill. The work has not yet been resumed fully. He also expressed his concern over the situation where a large number of antiquities belonging to Mehrgarh and other archaeological sites in Zhob and Loralai were available in the market. He called for efforts towards curbing such business, arguing that these antiquities belonged to the entire humanity, and not just a few individuals.”

Oldest Known Dentistry, in Mehrgarh

The first known dental work was done 9,000 years ago at Mehrgarh, a Neolithic villages in present-day Pakistan. Nine individuals from a sample of 300 buried in graves dating from 5500 to 7000 B.C. Had holes drilled in their molars. David Frayer, a professor of anthropology from the University of Kansas, wrote in Natural History, “This is certainly the first case of drilling a person’s teeth. But even more significant this practice lasted 1,500 years and was a tradition at this site. It wasn’t just a sporadic event.” The oldest recorded dentistry before the discovery was found in Denmark and dated to 3000 B.C.

The discovery was reported in an article in Nature by Roberto Macciarelli of the University of Pontiers in France. “Four teeth show signs of decay associated with the hole, indicating that the intervention in some cases could have been therapeutic or palliative,” he said. No evidence of a filling was found but it is possible that there could have been something that decayed away.

The drilling was done to molars in both the upper and lower jaws to adults. In four of the cases the teeth appeared to have been drilled where the teeth had rotted but in the other cases no tooth rot was present. The holes were between a half millimeter and 3.5 millimeters deep. They appear to not have been done for aesthetic reason because the holes way out of view.

The drilling is believed to have been performed with a flint point spun with a bow. An experimental reconstruction of the probable method involved a small thin piece of flint attached to a bone.

Judging from the angle of the holes they were not self made and because the people who had the dental work were performed on them were not buried in special graves it appears that dentistry was available to anyone and was not just the provenance of the rich. One of the individuals had three molars drilled. Another had one molar drilled twice.

Advent of Metals in India

Rama Shankar Tripathi wrote: After many centuries, perhaps, the neolithic man in India learnt the use of metals. Gold was probably his earliest discovery, but it served as a material for ornaments only. His implements and weapons were made of other harder metals. The remarkable finds in a large number of ancient sites prove that in South India stone was directly superseded by iron, whereas in North India axes, awls, swords, spearheads, daggers, harpoons, etc., were at first made of copper, and it was in turn followed by iron. Hoards of such copper implements have been discovered “all across Northern India almost from the Hooghly to the far side of the Indus, and from the foot of the Himalayas to the Cawnpore District.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi , Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The times when the use of these metals became general are known as the Iron and Copper ages. It is, however, important to remember that, unlike other countries, there are no traces in India, except in Sind, of a Bronze Period intervening between the Neolithic and Iron ages. Bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin, is harder than pure copper, and is doubtless better suited for the manufacture of weapons, but the early men in India somehow did not make it the ordinary material for use. The few implements of this metal, that have been discovered in Jubbulpur, were, in the opinion of antiquarians, either experimental or of foreign origin. And bowls and other objects, found in South Indian cemeteries, were simply articles of luxury meant for domestic purposes, and would hardly indicate the existence of an age when bronze tools were commonly used.

So far we were almost groping in the dark. We now see the twilight of Indian civilisation. The remarkable archeological discoveries at Harappa in the Montgomery district and Mohenjo-daro in the Larkana district, besides other sites in the Punjab, Sind (like Canhudaro, Jhukar-daro), and Baluchistan (e.g., Nal, Kelat State), make it abundantly clear that several centuries before the period of the Kigveda, there were busy centres of life and activity along the course of the river Indus. They show that the people possessed a high degree of culture, which was similar to, and in many respects more advanced than that of contemporary Mesopotamia, Elam, and Egypt. Chalcolithic is the name usually given to this age — an age “in which arms and utensils of stone continue to be used side by side with those of copper and bronze.” To get a glimpse into this remote past, we must take note of the relics unearthed at Mohenjodaro, which are essentially akin to those found at other places. The picture may be dim, but the outlines are sufficiently firm.

Products from Ancient India That Made Their Way to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt

Smelting ore probably began in China or India and made its way westward. Much of the copper in ancient civilization in Mesopotamia, the Middle East, Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece and Rome came from Cyprus, whose name is the source of the word copper. To melt copper out the rock it is necessary to keep a fire at least 1981°F (1083°C). This was most likely done in ancient Copper Age sites by continuously blowing a fire through tubes made from wood, bamboo or reeds. Archaeologists recreating the process need about an hour of constant blowing to produced several copper pellets the size of BBs. Producing copper for an ax using this method would take several weeks.

Cucumbers were known in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. They originated in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, where they have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. Blue India dye is derived from a blue powder extracted from the indigofera plant. The dye was known to the Greeks and Romans and used by Egyptians to dye mummy cases.

The ancient Egyptians obtained goods from India and China. A strand of silk has been found on a 3000-year-old Egyptian mummy. This astonishing discovery provides evidence of trade between ancient China and the Mediterranean 1,800 years before Marco Polo traveled the famed Silk Road.

Image Sources:

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 September 2020


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