Human Evolution in India: A Review
Department of History,
Faculty of Social Sciences,
Banaras Hindu University,
Varanasi - 221 005
"History, if viewed as a repository for more than anecdote or chronology, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by which we are now possessed." (Kuhn, 2012, 1)
There are some front-runner researchers (Dennell, R., Mellars, P.A., Pappu, S. et al, Reich, D. et al) understanding whose work is central to this enterprise of evaluating the status of human origins research in India. Research on the earliest human or hominin presence (Kennedy, Pappu) must not be confused with research on the evidence related with the presence of earliest modern humans in India (Mellars, Reich).
We shall turn first to assess the archaeogenetic evidence. This is mainly since this is in India a still emerging field or approach and true to its worldwide reputation it is yielding some astounding and archaeologically most relevant conclusions, insofar as Human Evolution in India is concerned. Thereafter, as proposed we shall consider the archaeological evidence to see if if this corroborates to any extent the archaeogenetic model of Reich et. al. Finally, we shall consider the skeletal fossil evidence of South Asia (studied first by those such as Kennedy and Lukacs).
The very first point I would like to make in this regard, as a preface, is that this is a very novel piece of work as it takes an archaeogenetic route to identifying and possibly remedying genetic diseases (recessive ones) inherent in the Indian population, arising from our ancestry, over tens of thousands of years ago, both in northern and southern parts and populations of India.
Why do I say so? As an Indian Archaeologist, who has been looking at our Indian Archaeology and Indian Prehistory in particular, since 1979, I find that the issue of human origins on the Indian Subcontinent is a much neglected subject, the plethora of archaeological evidence notwithstanding. From the discovery of the earliest Soan Valley Acheulean Assemblages discovered by De Terra and Patterson (the famous Yale-Cambridge Expedition) of 1930s, to the more recent ones at Attirampakkam, we have heard about the discoveries of Acheulean stone-tool assemblages ad nauseum.
Ad nauseum, because, as with me, even though Professor K. Paddayya, Professor M.K. Dhavalikar, Professor V.N. Misra and Professor M.L.K. Murty laboured us ceaselessly to believe that after all India too had a distinct Acheulean tradition, in the absence of clear evidence, such as of the archaeogenetic type evidence present in this research article at hand, it was indeed very difficult to buy this argument. There is K.A.R. Kennedy's paper (here uploaded, and by the way for the umpteenth time here on this Blog I feel pushed to raise again the issue of whether the Harvard Citation System has sought to include a citation system for Blog-writing? no doubt, I shall also go through the above post and the urls indicated to find an answer) which deals with the fossil human skeletal remains of South Asia, however, even this suggests that the relevant fossil human remains pertaining to Homo zinjanthropus, Homo habilis and ultimately Homo erectus are clearly not found in appreciable quantities in south Asia. Therefore, as M.A. students, we generally had to walk away from such lectures, assuming that such Acheulean assemblages as are found in India must all have been somehow imported stone tool-technology from Africa to India. These could not possibly have been the product of genuine early hominids/hominins that produced these locally, which is to say in the Soan Valley and elsewhere.
If you read Professor H.D. Sankalia's monumental work the Pre and Proto-History of India and Pakistan, and this work is very rightly regarded as a bible for Indian prehistorians, then you would no doubt notice that the very earliest of stone-tool technology of the Old Stone Age, the Lower Palaeolithic, are not only abundant in India, but they are also very evenly spread all over this continental shelf, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Thus it is that prehistorians like us, some thirty years after the 1970s, come to a dead-stop, a cul-de-sac, wondering why it has taken this long to think that the earliest of the humans did actually exist on this continent. However, that is another story. Let us return to discussing the paper at hand.
As a teacher of Ancient India History at the Banaras Hindu University, of approximately nine years standing, and constantly on the look-out for new material to be discussing in the B.A. Part I class, mentioned before in this post, I distinctly remember that one of the English Language Dailies of Banaras carried a news item which caught my attention, very squarish-ly, some four or so years ago. It was titled "Not Much Difference between Aryans and Dravidians" or some header to that effect. I read and re-read that and even discussed it with my departmental colleagues ad nauseum, and then proceeded to lecture the then class of my Ist Year students about the most remarkable paradigm-shift which had occurred in our understanding of the ancestry of the human groups of Indian, thus far quite incorrectly classified into "Races", by 18th and 19th century anthropologists, historians, geographers and many scholars of a most diverse range of callings, and most of which provide an extremely mirthful corpus of readings today. Of course, you may well like to ask me why then there still exist in India many most scholarly journals devoted to Craniometry and Dermatoglyphics; however, I should then like to say, that most certainly I am in no way responsible for all of this world's ills.
Leaving aside then this debate about which parts of Physical Anthropology hold still relevance today, and just how much inherent sociobiology and socio-politics informs Physical Anthropological Research in this 21st century...this review of the article above would now like to move onto more substantive issues. Nearly the only valid opening idea of this article which we find admissible is "that India contains deep-rooted lineages which share no common ancestry with groups outside of South Asia for tens of thousands of years." However, tens of thousands of years sort of turn of phrase means nothing in particular as it is more rhetorical and therefore quite imprecise, chronologically speaking.
If the above point deals largely with the opening para of this most learned of articles, then the two subsequent ones, to my mind, reveal, in the final or ultimate analysis that the authors here, of this learned article are trying to grapple with the truth-content of the hypothesized theory of discrete racial structure of the Indian Population, which was an idea largely advanced through nearly two centuries of colonial physical anthropological assays of the Indian Population which (H.H. Risley, W.W. Hunter etc.) always categorized into the Aryan, Mongoloid or Proto-Mogoloid, Austro-Asiatic, Australoid, Caucasian, Proto-Australoid and such discrete groups based on measures such as Dolichocephalism and Brachecephally, the nasal index measurements, dermatoglyphic variations, hair-types, which is to say largely outward appearance of various linguistically and culturally distinct groups of Indian peoples. Clearly then, the approach of the present authors is at a great remove from the earlier approach to racial classification enshrined in such great works as Risley's on the Races and Cultures of India and W.W. Hunter's classic work The Annals of Rural Bengal.
The following section on page number 489 reports on the results of the hypotheses which are but very briefly posed in the concluding para of the previous section, which we have been discussing until now, in an explicatory mode for the benefit of my B.A. Part I students. It would seem from the questions enumerated in the para that the authors would like to see if there is specific genetic or DNA signature caste-wise and tribe-wise, from a sample of the Indian population.
The following para begins to elucidate the results of such genetic sampling of assumedly or presumably discrete cultural groups such as castes and tribes. Here, in my most humble opinion, there is Dear Students, absolutely no need whatsoever, to get daunted by such terms as Principal Component Analysis and Fst etc. What is basically, and most fundamentally being said in the para on the right-margin of page 489 is that the authors did find significant genetic signatures to the DNA types extracted from such groups as they have discussed. In the Siddi case, for instance, it has been hypothesized even ethnographically that they have been migrants from Africa, and lo and behold the authors have detected that their genetic signatures correspond with an African sort of ancestry. In the case of Nyshi, Ao and Naga tribes they have found that their genetic or DNA signatures correspond with or have ancestry links with the Chinese type but then again I have myself had the chance to see a book edited by Drs. J.P. Singh and G. Sengupta on the ethnohistory of the culture-groups of the North-East of India where their South-East Asian cultural links are demonstrated not only in terms of their oral tradition and extant historical records, but there is also, as Singh and Sengupta discuss, an affinity in the stone tool-kits of North-Eastern India and those of South-East Asia with sites like Ban-Chiang and Knon Knok Tha. Minimally, therefore, and as you may well see, how the work of the present authors has served most scientifically to corroborate what were, some would say, previously only archaeological and ethnohistorical hypotheses. Finally, and still sticking to the parameters this post has set for itself, we have to suggest that for all that you may learn about principal component analysis from the URL given above in this post, this method in statistics is one which helps you sort out the distinct components of a system, whichever type of system it is. Finally, as it is said in Systems Theory, and it would be useful, Dear Students, to re-capitulate that here: the sum of the parts of a system is greater than the whole! Try reading David L. Clarke's Analytical Archaeology, for instance.
We now move to consider the further parts of this most learned of article. The remainder of page 480 and the table and the first para on the following page 481 lead us to behold a fantastic claim. This is that the present authors seem to think that caste lineages which were sampled seem to have founder events which go back to earlier than 30 generations (pp. 480). I am inclined to take a generation at 100 years so the product regarding the antiquity of a majority of caste and tribe groups' founder events rests at around 3,000 years (Vysya being an exception to this rule!). The authors state that this could be possible only because of endogamy which leaves, according to them, distinct genetic signatures in the Allele.
As I have had the benefit of having heard one of the above authors namely Dr. Lalji Singh, in his Inaugural Lecture, at the Swatantrata Bhawan, BHU, and to have listened very carefully to this lecture, I wish here to add that in that lecture he had posited that the origin of Caste and Tribes in India may well go back to the end of the last Ice-Age, which is the Terminal Pleistocene. As Climate Change ensued and a warmer climate started with the Holocene perhaps changes in Biota caused faunal migration and a largely Upper Palaeolithic sort of Indian Society at the time , which then were largely all Tribes and forest-dwelling, found it reasonable to migrate into River Valleys, hunt out the last of the mega and other fauna and then as they were busy doing this say between c. 10,000 BCE to about the c. 4,000 BCE, which is the Mesolithic, of which there are more than enough sites in the Mid-Ganga-Plains, they gradually, and due to the paucity of any further fauna, domesticated wild species of plants and animals, and started, that is with the Neolithic, a sedentary-farming lifestyle. To sum up, he added that those who chose to remain in the hills and forests, and the rock art from the Vindhyas does suggest that people had lived up there right into the Iron-Age, which would be well past the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic too, became in due course Tribes, and those that migrated down from the Vindhyas at the start of the Holocene at around c. 10,000 BCE in due course became the Caste Society. In a sentence therefore, it is implied here by the author's that Caste and Tribe are a) Social Constructs, b) There is no genetic basis to Caste or Tribe, c) However, due to demographic segregation and endogamy, acting in conjunction with such social processes of status and rank differentiation as was unleashed by the faunal and human dispersal, that Caste and Tribes all as social entities came into being entirely due to social processes and not genetic ones!
You may like to check my website www.rockartofindia.webs.com where I have just uploaded an album containing some human activity depictions in the Rock paintings of the Vindhyas. I tend to think that there are amongst these rock-art depictions which suggest that from the Upper Palaeolithic through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and the Iron-Age, people continued to live in the Vindhyan Uplands. Subsequent disappearance of fauna such as is depicted and of people is entirely due to the climatic change engendered by the onset of the Holocene. Of course, if you have read Ester Boserup's The Conditions of Agricultural growth (ref. to be cited!) then in this book she has argued that in the course of agricultural growth population tends to act as an independent variable. I am here and therefore suggesting that the out-migration of people from the Vindhyas was also as a consequence of population growth. archaeologically speaking
What then, in my view, are the evident weaknesses of this article, archaeologically speaking. In a sentence, we are left wondering if the archaeogenetic evidence marshalled in this paper is actually borne-out by any sort of archaeological corroboration by way of material culture remains which would confirm such a theory, or, as the case may be, refute it? For in the long-run such a theory may not stand at all without archaeological corroboration which are too simplistic to state just yet, in this review.
My main observations in such a regard are:
Consider that if an Out of Africa, and eventually into India, model of Modern Human populations has been accepted by the authors, as does seem to be the case, then even if archeogenetics supports such a theory or a hypothesis, then where indeed is the archaeological evidence which would support such a claim? If, as has been proposed by the authors, the ASI (the Ancestral South Indian group) arrived here some 75,000 BP, and following a part sea part land route out of eastern Africa through West Asia and into Southern Asia then with which Middle Pleistocene archaeological assemblages and industries would the authors connect such a migration? A bit tricky this but it must be said that in Philosophy of Science only phenomena which are observable are indeed admissible as scientifically existing. Thus, and therefore, without an or any archaeological corroboration as to its observability from an independent quarter, such as an archaeological one, as in stone-tool industry sort of correlate to this archaeogentic model, in my view as as a prehistorian, then such a syllogism really stands only on one leg.
It has been stated that both the ANI (the Ancestral North Indian) and the ASI populations are genetically radically different from other groups such as the Chinese and the Europeans. This is very well. However, it has been stated that the Hominin migrations out of Africa passed through India, most likely northern and central India, onwards to South East Asia and the Far East. Where are the archaeological traces of the modern humans having taken such a route, or at least their presence in northern and central India, during middle to late Pleistocene? Perhaps the authors might consider including such evidence in a future publication.
An alternate route, to resolving this seeming impasse is to take a look at Paul Mellars's article given above. By virtue of being an archaeologist who has almost ceaselessly worked on the issue of Human Evolution or Human Origins and the archaeology connected with it, Professor Mellars has made many splendid contributions in such a direction. I have here uploaded a key article which throws some light on our debate at hand: why and how did the first of modern human groups find it necessary to migrate out of Africa, and why and how did they possibly come to the South Asian region and populate it. Let us read this important paper together.
Insofar as India is concerned Professor Mellars has this to say:
"Large areas of...India in particular are at present largely blank areas on the archaeological map (Surprise! I would have thought the reverse to have been the case!!) over the critical range ~50,000 to 60,000 B.P. in question. And of course, all the coast-lines of this period are now deeply submerged below the rapidly rising sea levels of the past 15, 000 years." (This is true!). (Pp. 797, Parentheses mine).
The arrows showing routes of modern human migration on the accompanying map, on this page, seems to enter India from the North-West, lead along or near the West Coast line, across Patne, and then still continuing almost in a straight-line it heads ostensibly into Madras Territory (Attrampakkam?). A distended or broken or a fresh line now emanates a little distance away from where the previous ended just a little before Jwalapuram (where microliths have been found in a strata below the Ash and other debris deposits from the eruption of the South East Asian volcano and the term Toba Ash has been preferred for this by Indian archaeologists. This volcanic eruption is estimated to have taken place some 75,000 years ago!) and then the line of modern human migrations (let's call this the LMHM), continues along or near the East Coast this time across the Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal Territories from where it turns from either the Seven Sister States or the Sunderbans Delta into Bangladesh, then Myanmar across Thailand (again its East Coast line) into territories further South. However, Mellars is too thin in marshalling the archaeological evidence to support this claim other than Patne and Jwalapuram (pp. 797).
Now it is my pleasure to discuss an article by my colleague Dr. Shanti Pappu, Director of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education, Pune, as also a Professor of Prehistory at the Department of Archaeology, Deccan College, Pune, who has just published a fantastically well-researched paper, on her excavations of a Paleolithic site in Tamil Nadu called Attirampakkam. Just look at the wonderful plates of hand-axes which she suggests in this article may be as old as 1.5 MYA, and therefore connected with the Homo erectus ancestor.
However, and in her own words "The Acheulian is a phase of the Lower Paleolithic typified by assemblages of large cutting tools primarily composed of bifaces. So far, evidence from Africa suggests that it emerged around 1.6 million years ago (Ma). Determining when hominin populations routinely crafting these Acheulian stone tools inhabited India is critical for understanding the dispersal of this distinctive technology across Eurasias. Limited evidence has suggested that Acheulian hominins appeared in India substantially later than in Africa or southwest Asia." (PP. 1596)
The accompanying map provided by the authors on this page shows the location of ATM (Attirampakkam) at the coastal confluence of the tributaries of the River Kortallaiyar (the Kortallaiyar Basin) which from this map seems to drain itself into the Indian Ocean, which by the scale of this map seems some 1200 kilometers from ATM.
The South Asian Skeletal Human Fossil Record
Subsequently, we have a more recent and interesting piece of research done by Patnaik et. al. in the Narmada Valley which deserves mention as a very significant piece of research done by way of trying to correlate the human or hominin fossil record (Homo erectus) of the Narmada Valley, with broad spectrum investigations into the palaeontology, palaeobotany and the archaeology in the Narmada Basin. I have read this article thoroughly and do tend to like it sufficiently enough as to be uploading it here (copy courtesy: Parth S. Chauhan).
J.R. Lukacs's and J.N. Pal's work dates to about 2003 and is earlier than this, and deals with modern humans (Mesolithic skeletal record) properly speaking. (Hunt for a PDF version is currently on! Kindly bear with me!)
Agrawal, D.P., Bhatt, D.K., Kusumgar, S., Pant, R.K. 1981. The neogene/quaternary boundary in India: a review. Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Science. 90(2): 111-13.
Boserup, E. Conditions of Agricultural Growth. Chicago. Aldine.
Reich, D., Kumarasamy, T., Patterson, N., Price, L. A., Singh, L. 2009. Reconstructing Indian Population History. Nature 461 (24): 489-94.
Singh, J.P., Sengupta, G. (Eds). 1991. The Archaeology of North Eastern India (NEHU History Series). Delhi: Sangam Books.
Mellars, P. 2006. Going East: New Genetic and Archaeological Perspectives on the Modern Human Colonization of Eurasia. Science. 313 (5788): 796-800.
Pappu, S. http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/pappu297/
Pappu, S., Gunnell, Y. Akhilesh, K. Braucher, R., Taieb, M., Demory, F., Thouveny, N. 2011. The Pleistocene Presence of Acheulian Hominins in South Asia. Science 331: 1596-1599.
Sonakia, A. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/the-narmada-fossil-files/996409/
Sankhyan, A.R. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9034953
Rajendran, P. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=emoMAQAAMAAJ&q=P+Rajendran+human+fossil+find&dq=P+Rajendran+human+fossil+find&hl=en&sa=X&ei=pilRU5e5CI-IrAeHuIGYAw&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAg
Cavalli-Sforza, L.L. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5313.html
Dennell, R. 2008. The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
Kennedy, K.A.R. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=W6zQHNavWlsC&pg=PA416&lpg=PA416&dq=K.A.R+Kennedy+archaeology&source=bl&ots=E3RgeF0Y3W&sig=X3vdyEZKcvayvj1xfq4bJgwMm88&hl=en&sa=X&ei=diZRU7MRyZSuB_7BgYgF&ved=0CDoQ6AEwBA
Patnaik, R., Chauhan, P.S., Rao, M.R., Blackwell, B.A.B., Skinner, A.R., Sahni, A., Chauhan, M.S., Khan, H.S. 2009. New Geochronological, Paleoclimatological, and Archaeological Data from the Narmada Valley Hominin Locality, Central India. Journal of Human Evolution 56: 114-133
Lukacs, J, R., Pal, J.N. 2003. Skeletal Variation among Mesolithic People of the Ganga Plains: New Evidence for Habitual Activity and Adaptation to Climate. Asian Perspectives. 42(2): 329-351.
Kuhn, T.S. 2012. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.
Glossary of terms:
Human Genome Diversity Panel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Genome_Diversity_Project
Allele frequency differentiation: http://userwww.sfsu.edu/efc/classes/biol710/amova/amova.htm
Principal component analysis (PCA): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal_component_analysis
Single nucleotide polymorphisms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-nucleotide_polymorphism
Genetic signatures: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_signature
Gene flows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_flow
Genetic ancestry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogical_DNA_test
Genetic clusters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_cluster
Founder event or effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founder_event