The Indian palaeoanthropological record, although patchy at the moment, is improving rapidly with every new find. This broad review attempts to provide an account of
Around 13 Ma ago (late Middle Miocene) Siwalik forests saw the emergence of an orangutan-like primate Sivapithecus. By 8 Ma, this genus disappeared from the Siwalik region as its habitat started shrinking due to increased aridity influenced by global cooling and monsoon intensification. A contemporary and a close relative of Sivapithecus, Gigantopithecus (Indopithecus), the largest ape that ever-lived, made its first appearance at around 9 Ma. Other smaller primates that were pene-contemporaneous with these apes were Pliopithecus (Dendropithecus), Indraloris, Sivaladapis and Palaeotupia. The Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene witnessed northern hemisphere glaciations, followed by the spread of arid conditions on a global scale, setting the stage for hominids to explore ``Savanahastan”. With the prominent expansion of grassland environments from East Africa to China and Indonesia in the Pliocene, monkeys and baboons dispersed into the Indian subcontinent from Africa along with other mammals. Though debated, there are several claims of the presence of early hominins in this part of the world during the Late Pliocene, based primarily on the recovery of Palaeolithic tools. Fossils of our own ancestor and one of the first globe-trotters, early Homo erectus, has been documented from the Early Pleistocene of East Africa, Western Asia and Southeast Asia, thus indirectly pointing towards Indian subcontinent as a possible migration corridor between these regions. The only definite pre-Homo sapiens fossil hominin remains come from the Central Narmada Valley and are thought to be of Middle to late Pleistocene age, and the cranium has been shown to be closely linked to archaic Homo sapiens/H. heidelbergensis of Europe. Around ∼74,000 yrs ago, a super volcanic eruption in Sumatra caused the deposition of Youngest Toba Tephra, that covered large parts of the Indian peninsula. Just around this time anatomically-and-behaviorally modern humans or Homo sapiens possibly arrived into India as evidenced by the so called Middle and Upper Palaeolithic assemblages and associated symbolic evidence. The available genetic data reveals that the gene pool to which modern Indians races belong was extremely diverse and had variable mixed links with both European and Asian populations.
Volume 45, 2020
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