1. Prehistoric India: Evolution of Modern Humans and Society

A brief summary of Modern Humans evolution and their arrival in India. Various Subspecies in Homo lineage and their features.
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“It is not a tree but a braided river; streams weave in and out of each other.”

-Ed Young

Evolution of Modern Humans

During the tertiary period and Oligocene epoch, we see the rise of various anthropoid ape species approximately 30 million years ago. These are known as ancestors of different homo lineages, of which only Homo Sapiens have survived till now.

During the last epoch of the Tertiary period, in the Pleiocene (5 to 2 MYA), we see the evolution of various hominin species, which had certain human-like features & could be distinguished from their ape ancestors.

Some of these are:

1. Sahelanthropus (7 to 6 MYA)

  • These are one of the first upright hominins.
  • Remains of them are found in Central Africa.
  • His brain was even smaller than a Chimp.
Sahelanthropus - By Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10709964
Sahelanthropus – By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10709964

2. Ardipithecus Species (5 to 4 MYA)

  • Remains are found in the region Ethiopian region of Africa.
  • ‘Ardi’ means Complete Skeleton.
  • They prove the ape ancestry of humans.
Ardipithecus - By William Daniel Snyder - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78965261
Ardipithecus – By William Daniel Snyder – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78965261

3. Australopithecus Species (4 to 3 MYA)

  • They were the first hominin species who lived in the savanna region, and all earlier were wooded forest dwellers.
  • The Skeleton of Lucy (A. Afarensis) is the most famous specimen of these species.
  • They had a larger brain as compared to the previous species.
Autralopithecus - By Neanderthal-Museum, Mettmann - Pressebilder Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, https://www.neanderthal.de/de/urmenschen.html, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Autralopithecus – By Neanderthal-Museum, Mettmann – Pressebilder Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, https://www.neanderthal.de/de/urmenschen.html, CC BY-SA 4.0,

4. Homo Hibilis (2.3 to 1.4 MYA)

  • Also known as the ‘Handy Man’ due to their skills.
  • Their first fossil was found in Tanzania.
  • They had the least similar appearance to humans in all species in the genus, yet, they are believed to be the common ancestor of all coming species.
Homo habilis - Encyclopædia Britannica - Encyclopædia Britannica - Url - https://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-habilis#/media/1/270419/73035 - Access Date - 5 April 2022
Homo habilis – Encyclopædia Britannica – Encyclopædia Britannica – Url – https://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-habilis#/media/1/270419/73035 – Access Date – 5 April 2022

5. Homo Ergasturs (1.8 to 1.3 MYA)

  • They are also known as ‘Workman’.
  • They had fewer body hairs than others, which may be due to climate change-induced evolution.
Homo Ergasturs - By Neanderthal Museum - https://www.neanderthal.de/de/urmenschen.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94729481
Homo Ergasturs – By Neanderthal Museum – https://www.neanderthal.de/de/urmenschen.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94729481

6. Homo Erectus (1.8 Million to 2 lac years ago)

  • They are also known as the ‘Upright Man’.
  • They also had fewer body hairs.
  • We see the presence of the vestibulocochlear apparatus (for balancing & movement organs).
  • They also learned to make fire.
Homo Erectus - By Mauricio Antón, published with Alan Turner - Africa – the Evolution of a Continent and its Large Mammal Fauna, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98851598
Homo Erectus – By Mauricio Antón, published with Alan Turner – Africa – the Evolution of a Continent and its Large Mammal Fauna, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98851598

7. Homo Heidelbergensis (7 to 2 lac years ago)

  • They were the hunters and tool makers.
  • Thus, they were the first to hunt large animals.
  • Their approximate height was 163.6 cm.
  • They had bigger brains than modern humans.
  • They made the early fireplaces.
  • They may be the first to bury their dead and to use some proto-language.
Homo Heidelbergensis - By Emőke Dénes - kindly granted by the author, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78678876
Homo Heidelbergensis – By Emőke Dénes – kindly granted by the author, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78678876

8. Homo Neanderthal (4lac to 40K years ago)

  • They were our closest extinct human relatives.
  • We found their first evidence in the Neander valley in Germany.
  • ‘Thal’ means Tal or Valley.
  • They had equal brains size to modern humans.
  • They were skilled hunters and craftsmen.
  • They also controlled fire.
  • They, too, buried their dead.
  • They also had a materialistic society.
  • They make up 4% of Non-African human DNA today, which may be due to interbreeding.
Homo Neanderthal - By Neanderthal-Museum, Mettmann - Pressebilder Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, https://www.neanderthal.de/de/urmenschen.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94895244
Homo Neanderthal – By Neanderthal-Museum, Mettmann – Pressebilder Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, https://www.neanderthal.de/de/urmenschen.html, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94895244

9. Homo Denisovan (7lac to 48K years ago)

  • Remains of them are found from Siberia to Indonesia.
  • They had a common ancestry with neanderthals.
  • They make up 6 % of Melanesian and Australian aboriginal DNA.

10. Homo Floresiens (? to 50K years ago)

  • They inhabited the islands of Indonesia.
  • They had a dwarf brains and stature.
  • They are also known as the ‘Hobbits’.

11. Homo Rhodesiens (4 to 1.25 lac years ago)

  • They are also known as the ‘Rhodesian Man’ or ‘African Neanderthal’.
  • They show intermediate features between homo neanderthal and homo sapiens.
  • They might be the ancestors of homo sapiens.
Homo Rhodesiens - By Amédée Forestier (1845 – 1930) - http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20417/20417-h/20417-h.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4387989
Homo Rhodesiens – By Amédée Forestier (1845 – 1930) – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20417/20417-h/20417-h.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4387989

12. Homo Sapiens (3 lac to present)

  • They are the Modern Humans and the only surviving homo lineage.

First Settlers of India

According to findings, the earliest inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent were Ape like primates, also known as Ramapithecus and Sivapithecus. They roamed the subcontinent around 12.3 million years ago. (Reference: thebetterindia.com)

India had archaic hominins such as Homo Erectus 1.5 million years ago. Fossils of H. Erectus were found near the banks of the Narmada River, therefore popularly known as the ‘Narmada Man’, which is around 6 lac years old.

But, Homo sapiens, as discussed earlier, evolved around 2 lac years ago in the African continent. Except some sporadic earlier migrations, we see a significant migration of modern humans from Africa to the different parts of the planet around 70,000 years ago.

There is an ongoing debate on the appearance of modern humans in India. There are two conflicting views; one is based on material evidence found in and around the subcontinent, and the other is based on genetic studies. (Reference: thehindu)

These are as follows:

The Early Version (120,000 to 74,000 years ago)

This is based upon the different objects found in the Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia and Australia. These objects include mortars & pestles, ground-edged axes and painting materials.

According to this view, Modern Humans, i.e. Homo sapiens, could have been in India as early as 120,000 to 100,000 years ago.

The Late Version (60,000 to 50,000 years ago)

It says that modern humans arrived in India much later and around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.

Today, we can attribute 50 to 60% of the genetic ancestry of the subcontinent’s population to these first settlers and the rest to the later migrants from West Asia.

This goes in sharp contrast to the commonly held belief that only the tribal population consists of the genes of original settlers.

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