Niah Caves

The first people to inhabit Southeast Asia, anthropologists believe, were dark-skinned, curly-haired hunter-gatherers similar to people found in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands Australia and Melanesia. They were late displaced by Chinese. The only survivors of the original hunter gathers that inhabited Southeast Asia are Semang Negritos of peninsular Malaysia and the Negritos of the mountains of Luzon and some islands of the Philippines.

Land ridges existed as late as 20,000 years, when seas levels were 120 to 130 meters lower than they are now. Some scholars have speculated that flood myths, common among many Southeast Asian minorities, as well as in the Bible, may have originated in Southeast Asia and refer to flooding caused by rising seas after the Ice Age. Most well-known early Neolithic sites in Southeast Asia are in protected caves. Many good sites are believed to date back to the ice age and are now underwater. [Book: “The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia” by Stephen Oppenheimer (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1999)]

The charred bones of orangutans have been found in at 40,000 archaeological sites at Niah Caves in Malaysian Borneo. Evidence of human habitation, estimated at around 33,000 year old, has also been found at Golo and Wetef Island (northwest of New Guinea), coastal Sulawesi, the northern coast of New Guinea, the Bismark Archipelago (northeast of New Guinea), and the northern Solomon Islands (southeast of New Guinea),

Until roughly 4000 B.C. Southeast Asia was still occupied by hunter gatherers making pebble and flake stone tools. Spirit Cave, which overlooks a steam running into the Salween River near the Thai-Burmese border, was occupied 14,000 to 7,500 years ago by people who hunted deer, pigs, monkeys, bamboo rats, otters and flying squirrel, caught fish and crabs, and ate melons and beans. The Spirit Cave people used scrapers choppers and flakes and fairly sophisticated stone knives and tools called adzes. Archaeologists also found a poison made from plants that are relatives of the caster-oil family that may been used for poisoning arrowheads or darts. Nine-thousand-year-old pottery was also found in Spirit Cave. It is as old as samples found Japan, often regarded as the home of the oldest pottery in the world.

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Iceman Photscan iceman.eurac.edu/ ; Otzi Official Site iceman.it Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica britannica.com/; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

40,000 Year Old Cave Art Found in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Remains at Niah Cave show that men have been living on Borneo for a long time. In the karst interior of Borneo are networks of caves with rock art and hand prints, some of them dated to 12,000 years ago. More significantly, rock art and hand prints found in caves in Sulawesi have been dated to nearly 40,000 years ago. Deborah Netburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Archaeologists working in Indonesia say prehistoric hand stencils and intricately rendered images of primitive animals were created nearly 40,000 years ago. These images, discovered in limestone caves on the island of Sulawesi just east of Borneo, are about the same age as the earliest known art found in the caves of northern Spain and southern France. The findings were published in the journal Nature. "We now have 40,000-year-old rock art in Spain and Sulawesi," said Adam Brumm, a research fellow at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and one of the lead authors of the study. "We anticipate future rock art dating will join these two widely separated dots with similarly aged, if not earlier, art." [Source: Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2014 ~\~]

“The ancient Indonesian art was first reported by Dutch archaeologists in the 1950s but had never been dated until now. For decades researchers thought that the cave art was made during the pre-Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago. "I can say that it was a great — and very nice — surprise to read their findings," said Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study. "'Wow!' was my initial reaction to the paper." ~\~

Hand prints in Pettakere Cave in Sulawesi

The researchers said they had no preconceived ideas of how old the rock art was when they started on this project about three years ago. They just wanted to know the date for sure. To do that, the team relied on a relatively new technique called U-series dating, which was also used to establish minimum dates of rock art in Western Europe. We have seen a lot of surprises in paleoanthropology over the last 10 years, but this one is among my favorites. - Wil Roebroeks, Leiden University archaeologist

First they scoured the caves for images that had small cauliflower-like growths covering them -- eventually finding 14 suitable works, including 12 hand stencils and two figurative drawings. The small white growths they were looking for are known as cave popcorn, and they are made of mineral deposits that get left in the wake of thin streams of calcium-carbonate-saturated water that run down the walls of a cave. These deposits also have small traces of uranium in them, which decays over time to a daughter product called thorium at a known rate. "The ratio between the two elements acts as a kind of geological clock to date the formation of the calcium carbonate deposits," explained Maxime Aubert of the University of Wollongong in Australia's New South Wales state, the team's dating expert. ~\~

“Using a rotary tool with a diamond blade, Aubert cut into the cave popcorn and extracted small samples that included some of the pigment of the art. The pigment layer of the sample would be at least as old as the first layer of mineral deposit that grew on top of it. Using this method, the researchers determined that one of the hand stencils they sampled was made at least 39,900 years ago and that a painting of an animal known as a pig deer was at least 35,400 years old. In Europe, the oldest known cave painting was of a red disk found in a cave in El Castillo, Spain, that has a minimum age of 40,800 years. The earliest figurative painting, of a rhinoceros, was found in the Chauvet Cave in France; it goes back 38,827 years. ~\~

“The unexpected age of the Indonesian paintings suggests two potential narratives of how humans came to be making art at roughly the same time in these disparate parts of the world, the authors write. It is possible that the urge to make art arose simultaneously but independently among the people who colonized these two regions. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the possibility that art was already part of an even earlier prehistoric human culture that these two groups brought with them as they migrated to new lands. One narrative the study clearly contradicts: That tens of thousands of years ago prehistoric humans were making art in Europe and nowhere else "The old 'Europe, the birthplace of art' story was a naive one, anyway," said Roebroeks. "We have seen a lot of surprises in paleoanthropology over the last 10 years, but this one is among my favorites." ~\~

Early Modern Man in 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 and Early Modern Man in India

Migration of the Y chromosome haplogroup C in East Asia

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."

human migration into Asia

“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.

Andaman Islander in early 20th century

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. +


In a place called Bhimbetka in central India there are a total of 750 caves 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 most famous cave is the 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]

Bhimbetka cave painting

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.

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


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 well, 7000 BC

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 at its height. In the course of this development, a huge platform that may reflect some form of authority was constructed at the site. 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 cereals like 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 i.e. 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 and they produced some fine terra-cotta figurine and pottery with exotic geometric designs. Subsequently they produced and wore ornaments of beads, seashells and semi-precious stones like Lapis Lazuli.

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.

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. 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. Skeletons found at the site indicated that the height of people of that era was larger than that of the later period.

North-South Genetic Divide Among Native Populations in East Asia

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: “East Asia is one of the most important regions for studying evolution and genetic diversity of human populations. Its importance is associated with the extensive presence of humans and their claimed ancestors over the last 2 million years, and with being the crossroads connecting America and the Pacific Islands. [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 ***]

“China, one of the centres of human civilization, comprises most of the geographical span, ethnic groups and languages of East Asia. In the past two decades, much effort has been made by researchers in China and their international collaborators to characterize the structure of genetic diversity of human populations in China. The most significant progress of such studies started with the observation of genetic distinction between the southern and the northern East Asian populations (Zhao et al. 1987). ***

In recent years researchers in China have made substantial efforts to collect samples and generate data especially for markers on Y chromosomes and mtDNA. The hallmark of these efforts is the discovery and confirmation of consistent distinction between northern and southern East Asian populations at genetic markers across the genome. With the confirmation of an African origin for East Asian populations and the observation of a dominating impact of the gene flow entering East Asia from the south in early human settlement, interpretation of the north–south division in this context poses the challenge to the field. Other areas of interest that have been studied include the gene flow between East Asia and its neighbouring regions (i.e. Central Asia, the Sub-continent, America and the Pacific Islands), the origin of Sino-Tibetan populations and expansion of the Chinese. ***

Genetic Markers and the Study Native Populations in East Asia

Mongoloid, Australoid and Negrito distribution of Asian peoples

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: Genetic markers are the tools in studying genetic variations. The most important genetic markers in human genetic diversity research (Du 2004) are: (I) blood groups that can be detected in red blood cells, including ABO, Rh and MNSs, (ii) human lymphocyte antigens and immunoglobulins, including Gm, kilometers and Am, (iii) isozyme markers, (iv) classic DNA polymorphisms using restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), and (v) contemporary DNA markers, including short tandem repeat (STR or microsatellite) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). However, it is the introduction of mtDNA and Y chromosome markers that has made a profound impact on our understanding of the genetic diversity of human populations (Wallace et al. 1999; Jobling & Tyler-Smith 2003; Pakendorf & Stoneking in press). ***

Zhao et al. (1987) and Zhao & Lee (1989) studied the Gm and kilometers alleles (or allotypes) in 74 Chinese populations and found that there is an obvious genetic distinction between the southern and northern Chinese. By analysing a comprehensive dataset comprising 38 classical markers, Du & Xiao (Du et al. 1997) validated the genetic differentiation of southern and northern Chinese and showed that they are separated approximately by the Yangtze River. Chu et al. (1998) showed that such a north–south division can also be observed in Chinese populations using DNA markers (i.e. microsatellites). This genetic division is also consistent with multidisciplinary evidence in archaeology, physical anthropology, linguistics and surname distribution (Du et al. 1991, 1992; Jin & Su 2000). Furthermore, the results from Chu et al. (1998) demonstrated that the north–south division is not limited to Chinese populations and is in fact a reflection of a north–south division of East Asian populations. In the last few years, genetic data on mtDNA and Y chromosomes have been accumulated at an unprecedented pace for East Asian populations. Again, a north–south division of East Asians was observed not only with Y chromosome markers (Su et al. 1999; Shi et al. 2005), but also with mtDNA data (Kivisild et al. 2002; Yao et al. 2002). These observations provided convincing evidence of a north–south division in East Asian populations. ***

However, this well-established fact was not accepted without being challenged. Karafet et al. (2001) did not observe the north–south division in East Asians using a set of Y chromosome markers that are less polymorphic in East Asian populations and that over-represent the lineages brought in by recent admixture. In a different study, Ding et al. (2000) examined mtDNA, Y chromosome and autosomal variations and failed to observe a major north–south division. The southern populations in their study (Ding et al. 2000) are primarily the Tibeto-Burman (TB) populations, which have a recent northern origin, and therefore would blur the north–south distinction (Shi et al. 2005). A more extensive study of mtDNA lineages provided a much higher resolution and consequently a strong north–south division emerged (Yao et al. 2002). ***

The north–south division raises the question of whether the southern and northern East Asians (NEAS) are descendants of the same ancestral population in East Asia or originated from different populations that arrived in East Asia via different routes. To date, three main hypotheses have been brought forward on the entry of modern humans into East Asia: (I) entry from Southeast Asia followed by northward migrations (Turner 1987; Ballinger et al. 1992; Chu et al. 1998; Su et al. 1999; Yao et al. 2002; Shi et al. 2005), (ii) entry from northern Asia followed by southward migrations (Nei & Roychoudhury 1993), and (iii) southern and NEAS are derived from different ancestral populations, i.e. southern populations from Southeast Asia and northern populations from Central Asia (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994; Xiao et al. 2000; Karafet et al. 2001). Therefore, to understand the mechanism of genesis and maintenance of the north–south division, much needs to be learnt about the origin and migration of the East Asians. ***

Jiahu Culture in China

20080211-1171 Oldest wine Institute of Cultural relics and Archeology.jpg
Vessels with the
oldest wine from China
Jiahu is a rich but little known archeological site located near the village of Jiahu near the Yellow River in Henan Province in central China. About equidistant between Xian and Nanjing, the site was occupied from 9,000 to 7,800 years ago and then from 2,000 year ago to the present. In addition to yielding the oldest rice and wine and the earliest playable musical instruments, it may have also yielded the earliest examples of Chinese writing.

Jiahu villagers fished for carp; hunted crane, deer, hare, turtle and other animals; and collected a wide variety of wild herbs and vegetables such as acorns, chestnuts and broad beans and possibly wild rice. They also possessed domesticated dogs and pigs. Among the tools and utensils unearthed at Jiahu are three-legged cooking pots, arrows, barbed harpoons, stone axes, awls, and chisels.

Based on an examination of 238 skeletons Harvard forensic archeologist Barbara Li Smith concluded that the Jiahu villagers enjoyed fairly good health. The average age of death was around 40, late for Neolithic people. Sponge lesions on the skull indicate that anemia and iron deficiency were a problem. Hole bone lesions from disease and parasitic infections are rare.

Jiahu villagers practiced some unusual burial customs. In some graves the heads were severed from the body and pointed towards the northwest. Cut marks made when the bones were fresh indicates the heads were cut when the person was still alive or shortly after they died. Adults were generally buried whole in pits; juveniles were buried in pots. Most were buried in individual plots. Some were buried in groups up to six with a mix of sexes and ages.

Jomon People in Japan

replica of Jomon-era clothes
The period between 10,000 and 400 B.C. in Japan is referred to as the Jomon Period. The people who lived at this time are regarded as Japan's first major culture. Jomon is the name of the cord markings on the pottery found in this period.

Jomon people showed up at the end of the last ice age and appeared to have lived in isolation and had little contact with the people on the Asian mainland. Many scholars believe that the Jomon people were Ainu, a people who practiced a religion centered around blood-sacrifice and bear rituals and who survive today in small numbers in northern Japan.

The oldest Jomon Period remains were found in Chino in Nagano Prefecture. One of the largest Jomon sites is in Kasori, now part of Chiba city, near Tokyo. It boasts a large shell midden and was discovered by an American Edward Moss. It is now a preserved site with a constructed village open to tourists. There are several tunnels with glass walls that cut right into the shell midden. Places where prehistoric people live are often indicated by the presence of middens, heaps of discarded shells. Many have been found in the Tokyo area,

The Jomon people were hunter-gatherers who subsisted primarily on hunting animals like deer and boar, collecting acorns, nuts and fruits, and fishing and collecting mollusks in coastal waters. Their nomadic patterns revolved collecting fruits and nuts in the autumn and hunting and collecting shellfish in the spring.

Most Jomon people remained nomadic until around 5000 B.C., when they began settling in large, complex villages and building crudely-roofed houses, known as tate-ana jukyo (pit dwellings), supported by pillars built over shallow holes dug in the ground. Their settlements were particularly numerous along the sheltered bays on the Pacific Ocean side of Honshu. At that time climate was lightly warmer than it is today and the sea level was several meters higher than now. Many of the areas where these settlements occurred were along tidal flats.

One of their main sources of food was clams and other tidal mollusks. Archeologist have uncovered huge piles of discarded shells, known as middens, at Jomon sites. One midden was over 200 meters long. The Jomon people in these areas also hunted and fished — 6,000-year-old Jomon sites have yielded fish hooks, net sinkers, spears and dugout canoes — but the clams were a stable and reliable food source.

The Jomon people made fantastic designs on the edges of their pottery, wore large earrings and other jewelry, made a variety of ritual objects including phallic rods and ritual knives. Most impressive were their ritual clay figurines that possibly represented gods or were symbols of fertility. The Jomon possessed developed burial practices and views on life after death. One custom that endured in rural areas until fairly recently was placing the placenta and afterbirth of newborn children into a pot and burying at the entrance of a village.

Genetic Origin of the Chinese

Genetic studies of 28 of China's 56 ethnic groups, published by the Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project in 2000, indicate that the first Chinese descended from Africans who migrated along the Indian Ocean and made their way to China via Southeast Asia.

DNA studies have shown that all Asians descend from two common lineages: 1) one more common in southern Asia, particularly among Vietnamese, Malays and New Guineans; and 2) one more common in northern Asia, particularly among Tibetans, Koreans and Siberians.

An exhaustive analysis of the genes of 8,200 ethnic Chinese has revealed subtle genetic difference in Chinese that live in northern China and those that live in southern China. A study by Liu Jianjun of the Science, Technology and Research Agency of Singapore, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2009, revealed variants between the two groups that are somewhat consistent with those of historical migrations to the two regions.

In December 2009 Lui told Reuter, “This genetic map...tells us how people differ from each other, or how people are more closely linked to each other...We don't know what these variants are responsible for. Some have clinical outcomes and influence disease development. This is what we are interested in genetic variation." The scientist also found genetic difference between Chinese dialect groups. Liu told Reuters, “Different dialect groups are definitely not identical...language is a reflection of our evolution, that's why you see the differences."

Migration routes in Asia before 33,000 years ago

Origin of the First Chinese: from a Historical Perspective

Ping-Ti Ho, the late Chinese-American historian at Columbia University, wrote: “It is my guess that, since the loessic soil made it possible for large numbers of Yang-shao farmers to live closely together along numerous small streams, they had learned instinctively and empirically that the only way to avoid unnecessary violence and bloodshed was to respect each other's territoriality (as do primates and large carnivorous animals) and rights to survival. Psychically, therefore, the circle demarcating “us” and “them” was constantly being enlarged in favor of the former, once the benefits of peaceful coexistence were better understood (Ho 1996). Over time, notions and norms that guided dealings among various feudal states and ethnic groups crystallized into what may be regarded as a unique Sinitic ethical precept, best expressed in Confucius’ Analects: “Restore states that have been annexed and revive lines that have become extinct (hsing-mieh-kuo, chichiieh-shih)” (Lau 1992, 201). [Source: Excerpted from Ping-Ti Ho,"In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski's “Reenvisioning the Qing," ” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 123-155]

“While this ethical precept could at best only mitigate the unceasing processes of annexing small and weak states by the large and powerful, it does help to explain how and why the ancient Sinitic world had kept on expanding. Mencius explains it best: “Shun [the legendary sage king before Yu) was originally an Eastern barbarian; King Wen [of Chou) was originally a Western barbarian…. their native places were a thousand Ii apart, and there were a thousand years between them. But when they got their wish, and carried their principles into practice throughout the Middle Kingdom, it was like uniting the two halves of a seal."

“What Mencius really meant to say is that the original “Sinitic” group was relatively small and that any subsequent leaders of non-Sinitic tribes or states who adopted the original Sinitic way of life and contributed to its enrichment were retrospectively to be regarded as sage-kings of the progressively enlarging Sinitic world. This saying of Mencius suggests that long before the rise of Chou the fundamental criterion for defining membership in the Sinitic world was the awareness of a common cultural heritage rather than rigid racial or ethnic identity (Ho 1975, 344). It is also prophetic because throughout the following millennia this deeply ingrained culture-orientation in interethnic relationships has largely accounted for the fact that China has become a state with fifty-six officially defined “nationalities."

Genetic Diversity of the Chinese

In September 1998, an international scientific team demonstrated that the peoples of northern and southern China cluster into distinct regional genetic populations that share inherited characteristics. Lee Hotz wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Those groups, in turn, can be divided into even smaller, separate genetic groups. Yet, overall, they all are descendants of a single population group that may have migrated into China eons before humans learned to write or forge metal tools, the new research suggests." [Source: Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1998 |]

Published in a September 1998 “edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the product of the Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project, a consortium of seven major research groups in the People's Republic of China, and the Human Genetics Center at the University of Texas at Houston. It was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China. The group used the advanced tools of DNA analysis to create detailed genetic profiles of 28 of China's official population groups, which make up more than 90 percent of the country's population, to try to understand the roots of complex chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. |

“By exploring the genetic relationships among China's ethnic groups, the team also shed light on the ancestry of people in East Asia, who, like everyone, carry in every cell of their bodies genetic hints to their evolutionary history and the journeys of their forebears. In all, the Chinese government today recognizes 56 ethnic groups. Just one of them, the Han, makes up the bulk of the population, comprising about 1.1 billion people. The 55 other ethnic minority groups encompass about 100 million people. |

“To study the diverse genetic inheritance of such an enormous population, the researchers used a special set of genetic markers called microsatellites. These extremely short chemical segments of DNA mutate very rapidly. That lets scientists use them as signposts to mark how populations diverged or merged over time, reconstructing their evolutionary journey across time and the continents to their present homes.

Migration routes in Asia 33,000 to 19,000 years ago

Study Traces Genetic Origin of Chinese to Africa

The September 1998 Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project study above reported that most of the population of modern China owes its genetic origins to Africa, a finding that debunks any claim that modern Chinese somehow originated independently in China. Robert Lee Hotz wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In the search for human origins, in which political beliefs and pride of place can figure as much as fossil evidence, the new genetic findings dramatically illustrate the intricate weave of prehistoric migrations and human evolution, the scientists said. [Source: Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1998 |]

“The scientists looked at 30 such microsatellite markers across 28 of the population groups in China and compared the pattern to 11 other population groups around the world. "Populations from East Asia always derived from a single lineage, indicating the single origins of those populations," they said. "It is now probably safe to conclude that modern humans originating in Africa constitute the majority of the current gene pool in East Asia," they said. |

“While few scholars today dispute the idea that the earliest ancestors of the human species evolved in Africa, there still is considerable debate over how modern humanity evolved from its more primitive ancestors. Many anthropologists believe humans may have migrated out of Africa in waves. More than a million years ago, humanity's primitive ancestors, known as Homo erectus, walked out of Africa to colonize Europe, the Middle East and Asia. On that everyone agrees. Then several hundred thousand years later, some theorize, a second wave of more sophisticated tool-using humans migrated out of Africa and overwhelmed those earlier ancestors. By that theory, modern humans are descended only from those sophisticated tool-users. |

“Other researchers dispute that pattern. In their view, there was no second wave of migration from Africa. Instead, they believe, humankind evolved in China and elsewhere as colonies of more primitive Homo erectus intermarried in a global network of genetic relationships. "The issue," said University of Michigan anthropologist Milford Wilpoff, "is about whether people have multiple ancestors from many places or one ancestor from one place." |

North-South Variations of Chinese DNA

According to the abstract of the paper “Genetic Structure of the Han Chinese Population Revealed by Genome-wide SNP Variation”: Population stratification is a potential problem for genome-wide association studies (GWAS), confounding results and causing spurious associations. Hence, understanding how allele frequencies vary across geographic regions or among subpopulations is an important prelude to analyzing GWAS data. [Source: “Genetic Structure of the Han Chinese Population Revealed by Genome-wide SNP Variation” by Jieming Chen, Houfeng Zheng, Jin-Xin Bei, Liangdan Sun,3,Wei-hua Jia, Tao Li, Furen Zhang,Mark Seielstad, Yi-Xin Zeng, Xuejun Zhang and Jianjun Liu, American Journal of Human Genetics, December 11, 2009; 85(6): 775–785 ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]

“Using over 350,000 genome-wide autosomal SNPs in over 6000 Han Chinese samples from ten provinces of China, our study revealed a one'dimensional “north-south” population structure and a close correlation between geography and the genetic structure of the Han Chinese. The north-south population structure is consistent with the historical migration pattern of the Han Chinese population. Metropolitan cities in China were, however, more diffused “outliers," probably because of the impact of modern migration of peoples. At a very local scale within the Guangdong province, we observed evidence of population structure among dialect groups, probably on account of endogamy within these dialects.

“Via simulation, we show that empirical levels of population structure observed across modern China can cause spurious associations in GWAS if not properly handled. In the Han Chinese, geographic matching is a good proxy for genetic matching, particularly in validation and candidate-gene studies in which population stratification cannot be directly accessed and accounted for because of the lack of genome-wide data, with the exception of the metropolitan cities, where geographical location is no longer a good indicator of ancestral origin. Our findings are important for designing GWAS in the Chinese population, an activity that is expected to intensify greatly in the near future."

Migration routes in Asia 19,000 to 8,000 years ago

DNA and the Origins of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans

The shared Chinese gene pool between Japanese and Koreans is thought to be formed of Dong-Yi stock(named after the Dong and Yi Chinese ethnic groups) that later formed the Puyo peoples of the Paekche kingdom and Koguyro kingdoms of the Korean peninsula. mtDNA haplogroup A which is widespread in Asia today occurs at levels below 10 percent in moost of Asia, but reaches higher concentrations in some parts of China, Korea and Japan. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

Overall, Japanese are closest to Tibetans and Han Chinese, but only marginally more so than to the Koreans. Meredith T. Knight wrote in “An Introduction to Haplogroups: An Interactive Activity developed by Meredith T. Knight “Some ethnic Chinese populations, such as the Dong and the Yi, carry haplogroup A at levels as high as 30 percent. One branch of the haplogroup, A4, reaches levels of more than 15 percent among mitochondrial DNA samples collected in the city of Wuhan in central China... Ancient China's famous Terracotta Army was constructed by men bearing haplogroup A." [Source: An Introduction to Haplogroups: An Interactive Activity developed by Meredith T. Knight at Tufts University |:|]

“Ancient mtDNA in Siberia Haplogroup A was widespread in Siberia in ancient times. One study of skeletal remains discovered near Siberia's Lake Baikal estimated the haplogroup was present in 13-26 percent of the region's population 7,000 years ago, and is almost exclusively among the Chukchi and the Yupik, two small indigenous groups from northeastern Siberia. |:|

“M7, a widespread haplogroup found in China, Japan, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. [M8, a widespread haplogroup in central and eastern Asia that eventually sent an offshoot to the Americas. M9, which appears to have arisen in Tibet." While Haplogroup M is widespread throughout South and East Asia, it originates from the Indian sub-continent where it is more diverse on there than anywhere else in the world." |:|

Genetic Evidence Links Together People from Northeast Asia

A 1988 study on distribution of genetic markers of human immunoglobin allotypes among Mongoloid populations revealed a high frequency of the Gm ab3st gene marker among people in northeast Asia. This markers is found among Buriats around Lake Baikal in Russia, Eskimos, Tibetans, Japanese, Koreans, Ainus (an ethnic group in northern Japan) and Siberian and Far East Russian ethnic groups such as the Koryaks, Yakuts, Olunchuns and Tungus. [Source: “Characteristics of Mongoloid and neighboring populations based on the genetic markers of human immunoglobulins. Matsumoto H., Human Genetics, 1988 Nov;80(3):207-18: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

H. Matsumoto wrote in Human Genetics: “Since the discovery in 1966 of the Gm ab3st gene, which characterizes Mongoloid populations, the distribution of allotypes of immunoglobulins (Gm) among Mongoloid populations scattered from Southeast Asia through East Asia to South America has been investigated, and the following conclusions can be drawn: 1) Mongoloid populations can be characterized by four Gm haplotypes, Gm ag, axg, ab3st, and afb1b3, and can be divided into two groups based on the analysis of genetic distances utilizing Gm haplotype frequency distributions: the first is a southern group characterized by a remarkably high frequency of Gm afb1b3 and a low frequency of Gm ag, and the second, a northern group characterized by a high frequency of both Gm ag and Gm ab3st but an extremely low frequency of Gm afb1b3.

“2) Populations in China, mainly Han but including minority nationalities, show remarkable heterogeneity of Gm allotypes from north to south and contrast sharply to Korean and Japanese populations, which are considerably more homogenous with respect to these genetic markers. The center of dispersion of the Gm afb1b3 gene characterizing southern Mongoloids has been identified as the Guangxi and Yunnan area in the southwest of China."

“3) The Gm ab3st gene, which is found with the highest incidence among the northern Baikal Buriats, flows in all directions. However, this gene shows a precipitous drop from mainland China to Taiwan and Southeast Asia and from North to South America, although it is still found in high frequency among Eskimos, Koryaks, Yakuts, Tibetans, Olunchuns, Tungus, Koreans, Japanese, and Ainus. On the other hand, the gene was introduced into Huis, Uyghurs, Indians, Iranians, and spread as far as to include Hungarians and Sardinians in Italy. On the basis of these results, it is concluded that the Japanese race belongs to northern Mongoloids and that the origin of the Japanese race was in Siberia, and most likely in the Baikal area of the Soviet Union."

Migration routes in Asia 8,000 to 5,000 years ago

Han Culture and its Expansion: from the View of Chinese Geneticists

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: “The spread of culture in human populations can be explained by two alternative models. The demic diffusion model involves mass movement of people, while the cultural diffusion model refers to cultural impact between populations (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). Historical records show that the Hans originated from the ancient Huaxia tribes in northern China and experienced a continuous expansion into southern China over the past two millennia (Ge et al. 1997). [Source: “Genetic studies of human diversity in East Asia” by Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang, Li Jin. Royal Society, June 29, 2007 ***]

“To test this hypothesis of demic diffusion, Wen et al. (2004a,b) examined genetic variations on both NRY and mtDNA in 28 Han populations in China. According to the NRY data, northern (NH) and southern Hans (SH) share similar haplogroup frequencies. The M122-C mutation is prevalent in almost all the Han populations studied (53.8 percent in NHs and 54.2 percent in SHs), while M119-C and M95-T, prevalent in southern natives (SNs), are more frequent in SHs (19 percent) than in NHs (5 percent). Some haplogroups prevalent in SNs, such as O1b-M110, O2a1-M88 and O3d-M7, are only observed in some SHs. According to the mtDNA lineages, NHs and SHs are significantly different in their mtDNA lineages. The frequency of haplogroups dominant in the NEAS (A, C, D, G, M8a, Y and Z) is 55 percent in NHs, which is much higher than that in SHs (36 percent). In contrast, the frequency of the haplogroups dominant in SNs (B, F, R9a, R9b and N9a) is much higher in SHs (55 percent) than in NHs (33 percent). ***

“These observations of Wen et al. (2004a,b) are consistent with historical records, in which the continuous southward migration of the Hans caused by warfare and famine is mentioned. Taking this genetic and historic evidence into account, it can be concluded that the migration into South China is one of the main causes of the expansion of Han culture. ***

“In the past decade, the NRY and mtDNA markers have been used to analyse the genetic structure of almost all the 56 officially identified ethnic groups and other unsorted populations. As well as the major members of the CHGDP, more and more Chinese research groups have been joining this promising field of scientific research. ***

“In Korea and Japan, human genetic diversity projects have also been launched and some interesting findings have been published. Hammer & Horai (1995) found that the insertion allele of YAP (also called DYS287) is prevalent (approximately 42 percent) in Japanese populations. Differing from the E-YAP+ haplogroup in Africans, West Asians and Europeans, the Y chromosomes of YAP+ belong to the D haplogroup (defined by M174), which is at a high frequency in Japanese and Tibetans but is rare in many other East Asian populations, such as the Han Chinese (Jobling & Tyler-Smith 2003). It is suggested that YAP+ chromosomes might have migrated to Japan with the Jomon people over 10 000 years ago (Hammer & Horai 1995). Tajima et al. (2002) used seven biallelic Y-SNPs (DYS257108, DYS287, SRY4064, SRY10831, RPS4Y711, M9 and M15) to analyse 610 males from 14 global populations; their results suggested that three major groups with different paternal ancestries separately migrated to prehistoric East and Southeast Asia. Jin et al. (2003) examined eight Y-SNP markers (YAP, RPS4Y711, M9, M175, LINE1, SRY+465, 47z and M95) and three Y-STR markers (DYS390, DYS391 and DYS393) in 738 males (including 160 Koreans and 108 Japanese) in East Asia to study the paternal lineage history of Korea. The distribution pattern of Y-chromosomal haplogroups suggested a dual origin for Koreans (a northern Asian settlement and expansion from southern into northern China). ***

“By sequencing the complete mitochondrial genomes of 672 Japanese individuals, Tanaka et al. (2004) constructed an mtDNA phylogeny with high resolution and found some new haplogroups. This phylogeny will be very helpful for analysing the mtDNA diversity and tracing the migration of the maternal lineage of East Asians. In addition, Tanaka et al. (2004) combined their data with mtDNA sequences from other populations of Asia and revealed that present-day Japanese have the closest genetic affinity to the northern Asian populations. ***

Mongol horse herd

Hsing-Lung-Wa and the Early People of the Mongolian Steppe

The Mongolian steppe, located to the north of China proper and also known as the Central Plains, provided the historical setting for the development of numerous nomadic peoples. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “At the dawn of the Neolithic Age, i.e., some 8,000 years ago, the Hsing-lung-wa Culture emerged in the eastern part of the landlocked region, where people based their economic life chiefly on primitive agriculture, fishing and hunting. The carved stone figure of a goddess that is possibly the earliest object of worship in the form of a female goddess in China. Excavations in the area also yielded a large number of jade objects that date to 3,000 B.C. or so. Characteristic of the Hung-shan Culture, these relics are considered as significant as jade pieces of the Liang-chu Culture. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ ]

“Approximately 3,500 years ago the climate began to change, gradually turning Inner Mongolia into an area of vast grasslands. The nomadic tribes active on the steppe were truly complex and diverse, and were identified by dwellers of the agricultural culture in the south by a multitude of different names. Some of the names found in classical Chinese historical literature include Kuei-fang, Hsien-yun, Jung-ti and Hsiung-nu (known in the West as the Huns). Excavated artifacts such as the gold hawk-shaped hat ornament and other metal ornaments with motifs of ferocious birds and animals signify the brave and fierce nature of these northern tribes. \=/

“The early nomadic tribes active on the steppe were truly complex and diverse. They were identified by dwellers of the agricultural culture in the south with such names as Kuei-fang, Hsien-yun, Jung-ti and Hsiung-nu. Excavated ornaments with patterns of fierce birds and animals suggest the nature of these northern tribes. After the decline of the Hsiung-nu domination, a host of other nomadic groups rose to prominence in China's northern frontier. \=/

“Artifacts of the tribes known as Wu-huan, Hsien-pei, Turks, Khitans, Jurchens and Mongols, who were but a few of the peoples on the Mongolian steppe, have been found and are displayed at museums. Some of the tribes entered the Central Plains and set up imperial rule. Other groups held power over both the steppe and the agricultural regions of the south. Generally speaking, though, cultural exchange in Inner Mongolia over the last two thousand years or so has been a constant and common force regardless of whether the region was ruled by the Han Chinese or by the northern tribes. \=/

“More often than not the history of such cultural exchange is told through the archeological finds themselves as an examination of artifacts from different historical periods and from various tribal cultures so demonstrates. After all, the northern tribes had over time absorbed the legacies of neighboring areas in the west and in the south directly into their cultural domains. The Great Wall of China was erected as a definite border to keep the nomads of the pastoral north away from the farmers of the cultivated south. Traditionally, the Chinese have viewed their history only in terms of the regions south of the Great Wall. However, if we were to remove this fence in our perception, what kind of picture of the world would emerge?” \=/

Links Between the Early Chinese and Early Turkic and Mongol Tribes

Khitan horseman

Ping-Ti Ho, the late Chinese-American historian at Columbia University, wrote: “From the standpoint of sinicization, China's long imperial age (221 B.C."A.D. 1911) may be conveniently demarcated by the end of the Turk-dominated Five Dynasties and the inception of the Sung in 959-960. Prior to this watershed, the polyethnic empires of Han (206 B.C-A.D. 220) and T’ang (618-907) were the outcome of Chinese expansion and conquest. After 960 it was the aliens who succeeded in partial or total conquest of China. Although the alien dynasties of conquest-the Khitan Liao, Jurchen Chin, Mongol Yuan, and Manchu Ch’ing-have attracted most attention of Western students of Chinese history, the various pre-960 non-Chinese groups may have played a far more important role in the growth of China as a multiethnic state. [Source: Excerpted from Ping-Ti Ho, “In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski's “Reenvisioning the Qing," ” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 123-155]

“This may be partially shown statistically. The great steppe empire of the Huns (Hsiung-nu), which reached the height of its power around 200 B.C., boasted of between 300,000 and 400,000 horse-riding archers, not including a fairly large Wuhuan population enslaved by them for farm and sundry work. (Wu-huan was one of the Tung-hu, literally the “Eastern Barbarian," groups who belonged to the proto-Mongolic linguistic family.) This would mean a total Hun population of between 1.5 and 2 million. This figure takes on extra meaning when we realize that the then population of Han China probably did not amount to one-third of the peak former Han population of nearly 60 million in A.D. 2. In other words, the ratio of Hsiungnu to Chinese population is likely to have been 1:1O. We find a similar situation in the early seventh century: a total population of 2 million for the Turkish empire as compared to a total of less than 3 million registered households during the reign of T’ang T’ai-tsung (627-49); and the Turks were but one of a score or so of non-Chinese ethnic groups within and without T’ang China.

“The Han period initiated the policy of letting large non Chinese ethnic groups live along and within the northern and northwestern boundaries of the empire, a policy which in the long run familiarized them with the Chinese mode of sedentary rural life. It also brought about a surprisingly high degree of sinicization, at least in terms of knowledge of Chinese classics and history and acceptance of Confucian values and norms, of members of the ethnic aristocracy-a factor which might have mitigated the cultural shock of the Chinese during the fourth century A.D., when interethnic mingling and blending was intense and persistent amidst severe decimation of Chinese population. This century and the following fifth and sixth centuries A.D. seem to constitute a special chapter in which the blending of various streams of ethnicity in the bodies of the “Chinese” of entire North China may have reached an extent never equaled in subsequent Chinese history.

“What intrigues me the most is the situation in the fourth century, certainly the most chaotic in Chinese history. The incessant wars among various ethnic groups, devastation of large tracts of farm land, forced mass migrations, and recurrent famines and epidemics all exacted the heaviest toll on Chinese lives. On the other hand, all the major non-Chinese ethnic groups were of considerable size. There were well over 100,000 sinicized Huns who had been allowed to live along and within the Great Wall and who were the first to revolt against the Chin Dynasty and to establish a regional regime. The western part of the Chin empire, from Kansu, Kokonor, southwards to Sichuan and Yunnan, was teeming with Ti farmers and Ch’iang herdsmen, both of Tibetan stock. The one non-Chinese ethnic group destined to unify North China was the Hsien-pei, a major Tung-hu group. After groups of Northern Huns fled westwards to the Urals and beyond in A.D. 91, the Hsien-pei conglomerate had the numerical and military strength to incorporate some 500,000 or 600,000 Huns stranded on the steppe and also to absorb large numbers of their ethnic kin, the Wu-huan people previously subjugated by the Huns (Lin 1983, 152-53; Ma 1962a, 27). In A.D. 258, when the To-pa Hsien-pei subnation began to become powerful, it boasted of “more than two hundred thousand horse-riding archers." In 308 the whole Hsien-pei conglomerate had more than 400,000 archers, which means an aggregate population of 2 million [Wei Shu, chap. 1, passim}. It is my conjecture that during this century of serious decimation of the Chinese population and of intense intermingling of peoples in North China, the ratio of major non-Chinese ethnic groups to the Northern Chinese might have been as high as one to five.


Pazyrik Horseman

The Mongols, Turks, Huns, Tartars and Scythians are the best known of horsemen groups that have roamed the steppes of Central Asia and the ones that were most successful expanding beyond their native realm and impacted the worlds they touched. The Mongols created the largest empire the world have ever known. The Huns sacked Rome and forced European to build castles for protection. The Turks drove the last Christians empire out of the Middle East and came close to Islamicizing Europe.

Horseman groups originated about 2,500 years ago and continue in various forms today. Throughout their long run they have maintained many of the customs, characteristics, martial arts and methods of organization that evolved millennia ago such spending living in yurt-style tents, drinking fermented mare's milk, fighting from horseback and creating art forms that celebrate horses and animals of the steppe.

Horse riding's origins are uncertain and could date to at least 4,000 years ago, archaeologist Margarita Gleba of University College London told Science News. Victor Mair, a China and Central Asian expert at the University of Pennsylvania, suspects that horse riding began about 3,400 years ago in wetter regions to the north and west of the Tarim Basin in western China. [Source: Bruce Bower, Science News, May 30, 2014]

First Horsemen

The first domesticated horses appeared around 6000 to 5000 years ago. The first horseback riders may have been people from the Sredni Stog culture, who lived east of the Dnieper River, in what is now Ukraine, between 4200 and 3500 B.C. Evidence for this claim are scraps of bone and horn that may have been the cheek pieces of bridles. Archeologist David Anthony of Hartwick College in New York have examined horse teeth found at Sredni Stog sites, looking for signs of wear from metal or rope bits. [National Geographic Geographica, June 1989].

The first hard evidence of mounted riders dates to about 1350 B.C. Uncovering information about ancient horsemen is difficult. They left behind no written records and relatively few other groups wrote about them. For the most part they were nomads who had few possession, and never stayed in one place for long, making it difficult for archeologists — who have traditionally excavated ancient cities and settlements of settled people — to dig up artifacts connected with them.

For similar reasons it is difficult to work out how different horsemen groups interacted and how individuals within the group behaved. What little is known about group interaction has been learned mostly from the work of linguists. Most of what is known about their behavior is based on observations of modern groups or a hand full of descriptions by ancient historians..

Based on these sources, scholars believe that early nomadic horsemen lived in small groups, often organized by clan or tribe, and generally avoided forming large groups. Small groups have more mobility and flexibility to move to new pastures and water sources. Large groups are much more unwieldy and more likely to generate feuds and other internal problems. On the steppe there generally was enough land for all so the only time horsemen needed to unite was to face a common threat.

Botai Horsemen

Murong horseman

Some archeologist believe that horses were first domesticated by the Botai, a group of people that dressed in marmot furs with the feet still attached and lived in pit houses half dug into the ground in northern Kazakhstan about 6,000 years ago. Excavations from a site called Krasny Yar indicate that people were quite fond of horsemeat. Around 90 percent of the bones found in their homes were from horses.

Many archeologist believe the Botai simply hunted all these horses. Archeologist Sandra Olsen disagrees. She argues the horses were herded, and thus domesticated, and may have been ridden. Her evidence is largely circumstantial. She has noted for example that there are roughly equal numbers of male horse bones and female horse bones founded at Bontai sites. Hunter sites have mostly female bones because females are easier to hunt.

More persuasive is her argument based on the fact that large numbers of full skeletons were found at the Botai sites. She reasoned the horses were herded to the site and slaughtered. Wild horses killed out on the steppe have to be chopped up in pieces to transported back to the site. She has also founded wear and tear on the jawbones similar to that founded on horses who use bridles.

In 2009, scientists announced that pastoral people on the Kazakh steppes appear to have been the first to domesticate, bridle and perhaps ride horses — around 3500 B.C., a millennium earlier than previously thought. The discovery was made near a settlement called Botai in northern Kazakhstan, where the steppes of Central Asia begin to give way to the forests of Siberia. John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “Evidence for the earlier date for equine domestication is described in the journal Science by an international team of archaeologists. The report's lead author is Alan K. Outram of the University of Exeter in England. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, March 5, 2009 +++]

“The archaeologists wrote of uncovering ample horse bones and artifacts from which they derived “three independent lines of evidence demonstrating domestication” of horses by the semi-sedentary Botai culture, which occupied sites in northern Kazakhstan for six centuries, beginning around 3600 B.C. The shape and size of the skeletons from four sites was analyzed and compared with bones of wild horses in the region from the same time, with domestic horses from centuries later in the Bronze Age and with Mongolian domestic horses. The researchers said the Botai animals were “appreciably more slender” than robust wild horses and more similar to domestic horses. +++

“Dr. Outram said in an interview that it was not clear from the research if the breeding of the tamed Botai horses had by then led to the origin of a genetically distinct new species. But their physical attributes were strikingly different, he added, and this made the animals more useful to the people as meat, sources of milk and beasts of burden and locomotion. The second pieces of evidence were the marks on the horses’ teeth and damage to skeletal tissue in the mouths. The researchers said this was caused by the wearing of mouthpieces, bits, inserted for harnessing with a bridle or similar restraint to control working animals." +++

“Other archaeologists, digging at other sites, have detected similar traces of what they said was bit wear, but this has been disputed as support for domestication. Dr. Outram said that some of the damage to the Botai teeth and jawbones could have been caused only by bit wear. Botai pottery yielded the third strand of evidence. Embedded in the clay pots were residues of carcass fat and fatty acids that “very likely” came from mare's milk, the researchers said. This “confirms that at least some of the mares of Botai were domesticated," they concluded." +++

Early People from Russia and Siberia

The oldest of the far northern people of Eurasia were Neolithic hunters of wild reindeer. Archeological evidence of their existence has been dated to the 5th milleneum B.C.. Small scale reindeer herding is believed to have evolved around 2,000 years ago with large scale herding developing in the lasted 400 years.

The earliest known Siberians were early stone age tribes that lived around Lake Baikal and the headwaters of the Ob and Yenisey rivers. Later stone age sites have been found all over Siberia. Many tribes were still in the stone age when they were discovered by Russians. When the Greeks dominated Europe, Siberia was inhabited largely tribes that originated in the Caucasus. After the 3rd century B.C. it was occupied by a secession of horsemen—Huns, Turkic tribes and Mongols.

The earliest inhabitants of the tundra and the taiga are believed to Mongolian-descended hunters and reindeer herders. Little is known about them because they had no written language and left behind few artifacts. A 5,000 year-old Siberian rock engraving shows a stone-age man on skis trying to have sex with an elk.

Many Siberian groups used tepees and had religious beliefs similar to those of native Americans. Many scientists believe they may be related to the first people to cross the Bering Strait even though soe of these groups lived more 2,000 kilometers from the Bering Strait. The spear points found at the Yana River site in Siberia resemble those of the Clovis People, who lived in North America at least 12,000 years ago.

In the April 2008 issue of Science, University of Oregon professor Dennis Jenkins said that he found some fossilized pieces of excrement in the Oregon dated to be 14,300 years old. Using a new technique called polymerase chain reaction — which allows researchers to “unzip” minute fragments of DNA and make millions of duplicate so they can be tested — he was able to determine the excrement was human and was linked genetically to native Americans and Asians.

Early Aboriginals in Australia

Little is known about the earliest inhabitants of Australia. They migrated from Asia in numerous waves and are categorized into two distinct groups: "Robust" and "Gracile." Robust people are believed to have arrived first. Aboriginals are believed to have descended from Gracile people.

The earliest inhabitants of Australia may have been the descendant s of Negrito tribes that live today in Malaysia, the Philippines and some Indian Ocean islands. Some anthropologists believe they are descendant of wandering people that "formed an ancient human bridge between Africa and Australia.”

People were living in the Lake Mungo area, near Melbourne, 38,000 years ago. The skulls of these people had thick walls ("Robust"), while those found elsewhere are thin ("Gracile"). This finding has led scientists to believe there may have been two migrations of people to Australia.≤

By 35,000 years ago, people had spread throughout Australia, as well as Tasmania and New Guinea, both of which were connected to Australia by land bridges. One of the oldest sites in Tasmania, Parmerpar Meethaner, was occupied beginning around 34,000 years ago.

Around 13,000 to 11,000 years ago the last land bridges disappeared and cultures in Tasmania and New Guinea became isolated from those on the Australian mainland. More advanced "microlthic" stone-tool technology appeared on the mainland between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago but never spread to Tasmania. Neither did the dingo, a dog introduced from Southeast Asia about the same time.

20120207-australia Anbangbang_gallery_Mimi_rock_art_cropped.jpg
Aboriginal painting

Early Aboriginal Lifestyle

The early Aboriginals were hunters and gatherers. They did not farm or build permanent settlement. They didn't use the wheel. Many, it is believed, wandered around barefoot and completely naked. They lived in lean-tos and cooked over open fires. Tools included tertiary-tipped stone tools, grove-edged axes, and boomerangs (the ancient Egyptians also used boomerangs).

Early Aboriginals set bush fires to flush game for hunting. In the process they encouraged the growth of new shoots, the food fancied most by animals. They also gathered witchetty grubs from overturned logs, impaled gouanas, and hunted wombats and kangaroos. Early Aboriginals living on the coast ate a lot of mollusk. Evidence of this are huge piles of shells.

Aboriginals made most of their tools and dwelling from plant material, and thus most of the remains rotted away thousands of years ago. Most Aboriginal archaeological sites reveal stones tools and fireplaces and little else. A necklace made from kangaroos teeth was unearthed from a 12,000-year-old tomb in Kow swamp in northern Victoria. A necklace made from Tasmanian devil teeth was unearthed from a 6,500-year-old tomb at Lake Nitchie in western New South Wales.

The distribution of major archaeological sites all over Australia indicates how widely dispersed the early Aboriginals were. They include Malanangerr, a rock shelter in Arhem Land in Northern Territory; Mirium, a rock shelter on the Ord River in Kimberley in Western Australia; Mt. Newman in the Pilbara region of in Western Australia; the Devil's Lair, near Cape Leeuwin in southwest Australia; Koonalda Cave in the Nullarbor Plains of South Australia; Mootwingee National Park in New South Wales; and the Early Man Shelter near Laura in northern Queensland.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Jwalapurum, Researchgate

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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