Archaic India

We know that archaic humans of some sort lived in India before anatomically modern humans (AMH) arrived, probably for more than a million years. But we know little about them, because we don’t have the required fossils. Plenty of stone tools have been found, but the fossil record is very meager.

India should have been a relatively friendly environment during the Ice Age, at least compared to Europe, most of which was uninhabitable at the glacial maximum. It could have sustained relatively large populations (except after Toba, perhaps). This seems to have been the case after occupation by AMH: mtDNA diversity suggests fairly large populations during the last ice age.

So who were these archaics? Might have been Neaderthals. Maybe Denisovans. Or, maybe, there was a hominid lineage there that had been largely isolated for a long time. Indian is somewhat geographically isolated today, but the degree of past isolation depends on past climate patterns. I don’t know what the Thar Desert was like 20,000 years ago.

If India did have a significantly isolated archaic population, it would not surprise me if we found evidence of admixture from that source in modern people. There have been some calculations that suggest more archaic admixture in Eurasians than is explained by known sources like Neanderthals and Denisovans – India might be part of that story.

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20 Responses to Archaic India

  1. ckp says:

    So – what kind of beneficial genes might prehistoric AMH Indians have picked up from this introgression?

  2. Try Homo narmadensis.

    And some Neolithic South Asians still presented a H.erectus-like angular torus. Though admixture so late seems unlikely, for chronological reasons.

    • engleberg says:

      If Elaine Morgan and Poul Anderson were right, there might be human/dolphin or mermaid’s children bones somewhere in India, from when it was an underwater island.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I personally favour the mer-children hypothesis strongly, myself.

        Didn’t it ever strike you as odd that new born babies know instinctively how to swim? It’s obvious – introgression from archaic mer-people.

  3. Acres of Statuary says:

    “I don’t know what the Thar Desert was like 20,000 years ago.”

    Some global climatic reconstructions of that period have been done. Here’s one from wiki

    I find it hard to distinguish some of the similar colors on the map (click to enlarge) but the Thar Desert area looks like it is classified as either ‘savanna’ or ‘tropical semi-desert’, either of which would be more hospitable than the conditions there today.

    Here is another site with some global reconstructions over a longer period of time

    but, frustratingly, I couldn’t find the key for color vs vegetation types.

  4. Sandgroper says:

    Homo living east/south of Toba may not have been that badly impacted. We know erectus survived in Indonesia until at least 30,000 years ago, and floresiensis until 17,000 years ago. Repopulation of India by back-migration from some archaic population in SE Asia does not seem impossible.

    Or even survival within parts of India by archaic populations.

    This seems not impossible:

    Or this:

    Tsk, you always post the interesting stuff when I’m busy.

    Separately, this made me fall off the chair laughing: “Parks and wildlife service run by halfwits.” Hey, they’re not that dumb – they got mega-funding to eradicate non-existent foxes.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Nice links, thanks again. We whom are seriously interested in our past have a problem. Almost no bones survive of our archaic ancestors. Dr Ian Tatttersall stated in 1995 that all of the bones of all the archaic humans ever found could fit in one coffin. I doubt that this is any longer true thanks to the discovery of 32 Homo Heidelllbergensis skeletons discovered tossed down the back of a cave in Atapuerca Spain. But what it illustrates is that unless our ancestors died in freakishly rare locations, like a limestone cave, their bones are gone. This is particularly true of our ancestors that lived in the tropics. I have read that all the bones ever found that belonged to ancestors of today’s great apes can be held in one hand. So Asia, being a combination of tropical and vastly less explored is basically represented by one big question mark even though places like India in all likely hood supported large archaic populations. Somewhere out there in Asia are limestone caves with more tiny fragments of archaic humans waiting for the geneticists to fill in our lost past. It is the genes preserved in small specks of bone left behind in caves that are ice cold that will tell us the most, much like the cave in Denisova. I think it incredibly interesting and important, I wish more people did.

  5. The eradication of non-existent foxes was motivated by Good Motives (that territories should have good fauna) while the fox introduction program was motivated by Bad Motives (that innocent fauna were being threatened) so it is only right that public money was spent. The absence of foxes confirmed how devious the foxes were being. All in all. a good day out. If only the money had been spent eradicating Satanic Rituals.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Hunting foxes is really difficult – I mean, they really are crafty, wary, sensitive, fast moving little buggers, they don’t sit up nicely waiting to be shot like herbivores. No wonder they use hounds and chaps with red coats and odd trumpet things on horses. Around where I lived on the Australian Mainland was crawling with introduced foxes, but no one was paying me to kill them, so I didn’t try (mostly preying on chicken farms and probably feral kittens, so who cares). But I had to admit I would have seen it as a really difficult job without the necessary dog pack (horse, red coat etc optional).

  6. Foxes walk or lope along the field behind me. I don’t want to shoot them, but wouldn’t be too difficult with a dog or two for company. Would leave the trumpets at home.

    • Sandgroper says:

      That’s what I mean – behind you.

      I was so keen on Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone when I was a kid (yes, I know they were Americans, but Australia only had Ned Kelly, and I was damned if I was going to walk around with a metal trash can over my head), that I got my mother to turn my grandmother’s mouldy old fox fur stole into a ‘coonskin’ cap, with the fox’s tail hanging down the back. It was a bit of a trial wearing that thing around during the Australian summer, though.

      I was quite distressed to learn from Greg that Daniel Boone seems to have been cuckolded by his brother. One’s childhood heroes are not supposed to be dishonoured in that way.

      • gcochran9 says:

        I remembering reading an account by an anthropologist about something that happened in Australia, back in the late 50s or early 60s. He had contacted a tribe of Australian Aboriginals that lived deep in an apparently uninhabitable desert. They were the last group to be contacted by Europeans. They had contact with some other tribes, and had heard of Europeans, but had never actually met any. A fascinating opportunity – made more even more interesting when he heard some of the children singing. Kids have their own subculture, their own games and songs and jokes: this was an opportunity to study such a subculture before it was crushed by outside forces, one that might have been developing independently for tens of thousands of years.

        But there was an eerie familiarity to the tune. Even the words almost made sense. After a bit he recognized it, even though the words were pretty distorted in the mouths of children who knew zero English.

        “Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!”

      • Sandgroper says:

        I remember news of that encounter – the last desert Aboriginal people to meet white men, it was a big deal at the time. I was a kid then.

  7. Sandgroper says:

    I assume you’ve seen this:

    From the time depths, they’re talking about introgressions into the common ancestors of AMHs and Neandertals from other archaic lineages.

  8. No, no, it was the Tasaday who were the last uncontacted people. We were assured of this at a super-special film the anthropology department insisted we see in around 1973 or so. They didn’t sing “Davy Crockett” at all.

    Vermont Republicans are the current least-contacted people. They exist, but only in the shadows.

    • Anonymous says:

      He meant last contacted in Australia.

      There are still, to this day, uncontacted peoples. The Sentinelese are one of them.

      • Sandgroper says:

        He was joking.

        Yes. They were Pitjantjatjara in the Central Australian Desert, and from (distant childhood) memory it was they who sought contact (unlike the Sentinelese). There’ll no doubt be revisionist versions of that floating around, though.

      • Anonymous says:

        i got that he was joking. and i know the tasaday were a fraud.

        but i can imagine it hard to believe for some that there are still uncontacted peoples outside amazonia.

      • Sandgroper says:


        There is something useful to learn about cultural diffusion from Greg’s story. It suggests one way that Pama Nyungan languages could have spread quite rapidly. It is not unusual for Aboriginal kids to communicate with one another using a different language from the language they use to communicate with adults.

        Before my daughter began kindergarten, she had a neighbouring playmate who she used to play with every day, but they lacked a common language to communicate for the purpose of play, so they created their own. I needed to witness this to believe it. I wish I had recorded them, but didn’t think of it. Once they started attending kindergarten together and began learning each other’s languages, the need for their own special language ceased and they just dropped it and forgot it, and communicated in a mixture of their own two mutually intelligible languages, switching repeatedly from one to the other. They are still friends, now adults, and still do the same thing – switch back and forth repeatedly between languages. Neither of them has any recollection that they once created their own 2 person language that sounded nothing like either of their ‘parent’ languages.

        The stupidity of the pots vs people argument is that it’s not always only one thing or the other. Pontus Skuglund et al.’s latest paper demonstrates that in Scandinavia at least, some hunter-gatherers were absorbed into farming populations; not total replacement. It’s a mixture of some replacement with some assimilation.

  9. Pingback: Narmada Man: What was he? | Peron Rants

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