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Homo sapiens may have reached India 74,000 yrs ago

Last updated: 03 March, 2010
Kalyan Ray New Delhi, Mar 3, DHNS 22:51 IST

Pushing the clock backwards, archeologists have dug up ancient stone tools in Andhra Pradesh, suggesting arrival and survival of modern human beings in India as early as 74,000 years ago.

Discovery of ancient tools suggests the presence of modern humans much before all the timeline set by genetic clocks.The discovery suggests the presence of modern human beings — Homo sapiens — in India much before all the timeline set by genetic clocks.

Cutting edge genetic analysis has established human presence in India — out of Africa —between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.

These stone tools are indicative of even older antiquity of Indians, at least by another 15,000 years.

“The middle Paleolithic (300,000 to 30,000 years ago) archeology is older than most genetic coalescence dates, ranging from 70 to 50,000 years ago. This is why our discovery is so significant,” Michael Petraglia from Oxford University, principal investigator of the project, told Deccan Herald.

Even more telling is the survival skills of those early Indians. They survived the colossal Toba volcanic eruption — possibly the most catastrophic event the human species has ever endured.

Many scholars believe that the Indonesian super-eruption nearly drove humanity to extinction.

But seven years of excavation and removal of layers of ash —a fall out of the volcanic eruption — at the Indian sites by the British archeologists and their colleagues in Karnataka University in Dharwad and the University of Allahabad, have unearthed contradictory evidence.

The fact that ancient stone tools of similar styles are found above and below the ash suggests that the people who survived the eruption were the same population, using the same kinds of tools, says Dr Petraglia. The tools are being dated. Moreover, the evidence suggests that the Toba eruption was not as damaging to the environment as thought off in the past. Of course, ecological damage took place, but there is no evidence of a “dramatic destruction of the environment.”

The digging sites are in Jwalapuram village and bilasurgam caves in Kurnool and Dhaba village in middle Son valley.

In both the places, layers of volcanic ash has kept site well-preserved — same as the famous Roman city Pompeii which perished in 79 AD because of the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

“We have beautifully preserved occupation surfaces. We can trace occupation surface across the buried landscape, where we see that the tools are lying on surfaces above wetland areas. The ash has helped to preserve that living surface,” he said.

A recent review held in Oxford showed that stone tools are most similar to those made by modern humans in Africa. “We, therefore, infer that modern humans were in India before Toba, that is, before 74,000 years ago, which would be much earlier than anyone had suspected,” Petragalia said.

None of the evidences are definitive. The team is on the look out for a human fossil which will prove that modern humans are around in India since the last 74,000 years.

“We need fossils to be absolutely certain, and that is why we are working in the caves, which have fossilised animal bones,” he said, adding that they wanted to dig for another five years.

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