Stone age human habitation site spotted in Kachchh

Tanged point from the 114,000-year-old Middle Palaeolithic site of Sandhav. DH Photo

Archaeologists have found one of India's oldest stone-age sites that gives a new dimension to the complex story of human migration out of Africa, in the Kachchh region of Gujarat.

Located at Sandhav in the Naira Valley, 15 km from the shoreline, the Paleolithic site with an antiquity of 114,000 years provides new insight on the expansion of modern humans into south Asia following their dispersal from the African continent.

There are two main models for human migration from Africa to India. One model suggests early men and women used a coastal highway after 60 thousand years ago to disperse while the other suggests multiple inland routes of dispersal between 128,000-71,000 years ago.

The stone age tools found at Sandhav fits with the older, inland route models rather than the young coastal route.

“There is a big global debate around human dispersal from Africa, but a range of evidence from across Asia suggests human populations began expanding out of Africa by 120,000 years ago, reaching China before 80,000 years ago, and Australia before 65,000 thousand years ago. The site at Sandhav fits with this wider evidence,” Jimbob Blinkhorn, lead author of study from the Royal Holloway University of London told DH.

Blinkhorn and his colleagues from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany undertook survey work across Kachchh in the past to look for evidence that might support coastal dispersal models – but found nothing that matches with the predictions.

Subsequently, they decided to revisit the sites for a re-look and stumbled upon the evidences from Sandhav. The study finds no evidence to support coastal dispersal, but better matches with the model of earlier dispersal through inland corridors.

One of the interesting findings is the discovery of what could be the earliest signs of “hafting practices" – a way of making a tool with multiple components such as a metal knife with a wooden handle, or a stone tip attached to a wooden spear.

Among the stone tools recovered from the spot, the authors report a distinctive tanged point that may have been used as the tip for a spear or attached to a handle and used as a knife. Such tools are found among the oldest Middle Palaeolithic tool kits across India, which have now been attributed to modern human populations.

Published in a recent issue of the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, the study also offers a clue to why people might have chosen Sandhav as a place to live.

“The strong presence of plants that thrive with higher levels of summer rainfall at the time of occupation at Sandhav suggests there was a strong monsoon regime in place at the time, which would have made the currently arid landscapes of Kachchh much greener, and may have helped humans expand into the region,” Blinkhorn added.

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