Did Homo Sapiens really come to India from Africa?

Identity is an idea and a reality that one may despise the whole life but can never live without. We are taught in schools to look beyond identity. Our history classes injected the chemical of Aryan migration (through invasion and various means) and whenever we read or heard the word “Arya”, the first image that would come to our mind was that of invaders who came to India and occupied the subcontinent. As I grew older, my inquisitiveness grew too, to understand and know: Who am I? And where do I come from? With the latest works (archaeological and genetic) in and around Rakhigarhi, Sinauli, etc, the Aryan invasion hypothesis surely died its deserved death. But another theory became prevalent that said that Homo Sapiens first emerged in Africa and by around some 70-50,000 years ago, a small group (possibly as few as 150 to 1,000 people), crossed the Red Sea. They travelled along the coastal route around the coast of Arabia and Persia until reaching India. This proposition was popularly called the Post Toba Theory. The Out of Africa Theory This theory that Homo Sapiens landed in India from Africa appeared too convincing for me until a few questions crossed my mind. In fact, I came across peer reviewed papers in field of palaeo-anthropology and archaeology which raised serious debates to see the Modern Humans to have originated in Africa ( Petraglia et al., 2010 , Appenzeller, 2012 , Blinkhorn and Petraglia, 2017 ). The scholars raised the red flag considering the absence of fossil remains from the key regions along the dispersal route. As per the existing models, the modern human dispersals are primarily based on lithic assemblages, a few fossil remains and genetics. According to the most popular model (MIS 5), the modern humans left Africa around 120,000 years ago and colonised the rest of the whole world by 40,000 years ago. But the recent studies tell us that as per the fossil evidence from Apidima Cave in Greece ( Harvati et al., 2019 ) and Misiliya cave in Israel ( Hershkovitz et al., 2018 ) the modern human existence outside Africa goes older than 210,000 years ago. However, these findings do not yet ascertain the dispersal to South Asia earlier than 120,000 years ago. The scholars of the field attribute the Middle Palaeolithic technologies’ presence in India and the rest of South Asia to the modern humans that arrived from Africa between 120,000 and 70,000 years ago ( Petraglia et al., 2007 ). This conclusion came from a very interesting finding from the 74,000-year-old Toba Tuff deposits at the Jwalapuram site. These were the Middle Palaeolithic artefacts and resembled almost the African Middle Stone Age artefacts ( Petraglia et al., 2007 ; Haslam et al., 2012 ). And that is how the Pre-Toba model ( Petraglia et al., 2007 ) became popular to explain the initial modern human colonisation of India. Next the luminescence age testing was further carried out in various sites, and they further reinforced the pre-Toba model. The Middle Palaeolithic assemblages from Katoti in Rajasthan and Sandhav in Kutch, were found to be around 96 ± 13 and 114 ±12 thousand years old respectively ( Blinkhorn et al., 2013 ; Blinkhorn et al., 2019 ). Even the research from a site in the middle of the Son Valley called Dhaba showed out middle Palaeolithic assemblages dating to around 80,000 years, thereby bringing more buttresses for pre-Toba model ( Clarkson et al., 2020 ). These studies utilising reliable chronometric ages of Middle Palaeolithic assemblages ranging from 120 to 40 thousand years ago, hint to the notion that the South Asian Middle Palaeolithic expertise was familiarised by the modern humans as a part of the Eurasian colonisation after having branched out of Africa. Then we have the studies which show that the youngest age for the Late Acheulean assemblages from Patpara going to 137 ± 10 thousand years ago and 131 ± 9 thousand years ago in Bamburi respectively ( Haslam et al., 2011 ). These studies corroborate the notion about the existence of archaic hominins just before the appearance of modern humans in South Asia, as understood by the Out of Africa theory. But there is something beyond those studies which somehow has not been taken into academic consideration. At Attirampakkam Middle Palaeolithic assemblages were found which dated to around 385 thousand years ago ( Akhilesh et al., 2018 ). As per the latest studies, it has been understood that Middle Palaeolithic technology in South Asia goes way older than academic consensus on the footprint of modern humans outside Africa ( Devara et al., 2022 ). But just the presence of Middle Palaeolithic assemblages is not enough to decide for the existence of Homo Sapiens in India a lot before the alleged dispersal around 75,000 years ago from Africa and at least simultaneous existence. Narmada Man Then some finding which came to light almost six years before my birth caught my eyes. It was a fossilised skull in the Hathnora village of the central Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh — discovered on 5 December 1982 by Arun Sonakia, Senior Geologist of Geological Survey of India, Central Region. The announcement of the discovery took place only on 21-22 July 1983 in news media and only after a couple of days a notice appeared in the newsletter of the Geological Survey of India, Central Region. The report stated that a skull was found in association with Middle Palaeolithic fossils of Stegodon, Bos, Cervus and Equus along with stone implements of flint, quartzite and chert shaped as choppers, scrapers, and hand axes. The existence of Equus is also a setback to the propagators of the idea that horses didn’t originate in India. Not to forget that they are the compatriots of the Aryan Invasion school of thoughts. The very next year, in 1984, appeared a detailed report by Sonakia in the “Records of the Geological Survey of India” in which he assigned the discovered Calvaria to the taxon Homo Erectus Narmadensis . His decision was based on the procedures practised by Dudley Buxton in 1925 and Franz Weindenreich in 1943. In the summer of 1985 Sonkia was associated with Marie-Antoinette de Lumley at the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine in Paris for more dedicated studies on the original specimen discovered in the valley. They published their studies in French in L’Anthroplogie ( M.A. de Lumley and Sonakia, 1985 ) which coincided with an article in English in the American Anthropologist ( Kennedy 1985; Sonakia 1985b ). Dr Marie-Antoinette de Lumley was quick to recognise that some physical features of the calvaria were no match to those typically found in Homo erectus fossils from southeast Asia, China, and Africa. The explanation was summed as below: “ The cranial capacity of these Early and Middle Pleistocene specimen averages 1,000 cm 3 but estimates for the Narmada cranial vault fell between 1,155 and 1,421 cm 3 which very well falls in the range of anatomically archaic Homo sapiens.” Dr Lumley stated that the Narmada Man was an “evolved Homo erectus”. In this paper Sonakia and Henri de Lumley dated the deposit in which calvaria was found to middle Pleistocene, based on the fossils of Stegodon Genesa and an archaic form of Elephus Hysudricus with the specimen ( Such form of Elephants has been discussed and talked about in Hindu Itihasas ).  According to them, the hand-axes and cleavers were from the period of late Acheulian . But it must be noted that according to Badam, the late Acheulian Tradition can’t be placed anything beyond 150 thousand years ago while he places the boulder conglomerate deposit in which tools and calvaria were found to be early late Pleistocene age ( Badam, 1979 ). Then came the investigation by the team from the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad which placed the date for it to be between middle and late Pleistocene based on artifact’s typology and stratigraphic dating of the deposit, thus making the timeframe of around 250 thousand years ago ( Kennedy, 1991 ). Several studies followed but most of them laid emphasis upon stratigraphic and archaeological contexts ( Wolpoff, 1986 ). Most palaeontologists who had examined the cast of Narmada Man at the Ancestors Conference or had come across the published sources which vouched for it being classified as Homo Erectus had been quite critical of this analysis. While all this was done, in the early 1990s came in the detailed works of the American researcher, Dr Kenneth AR Kennedy. He maximised the horizon of Lumley’s work of 1985. He did an extensive examination of the calvaria running measurements, morphological analysis and statistical procedures that vindicate the hypothesis that Narmada Man is actually an early Homo-Sapiens ( Kennedy, 1991 ). In process of studies, he compared the specimen with the crania of other hominid fossils of the Middle Pleistocene (Bodo, Dali, Kabwe, Ngandong, Petralona, Sambungmachen, Saldanha, and those from other sites in Africa, Asia, and Europe). The specimen did show a significant number of anatomical similarities. In his paper Kennedy concludes by stating as below: “Those who are convinced that Narmada Man is an Indian Homo Erectus will find support among others who accept the validity of this taxon for widely distributed hominid populations of the middle Pleistocene, some calling it an “evolved” form under an assumption that Homo Erectus is ancestor to all modern humans. However, the present study assigns Narmada Man calvaria to Homo Sapiens. (…) It is not appropriate to assign Narmada to a new taxon beyond the trinomial designation of Homo Sapiens Narmadensis.” Inference Coming across this paper by Kennedy written long back in 1991 changed my initial notion that Homo Sapiens indeed migrated into India from Africa via the Red Sea around 75 thousand years ago. Homo Sapiens were in India long before that. However, many studies followed the works of Kennedy trying to refute it, but only through archaeological data. The archaeological data don’t rule out the possibility that Homo Erectus had lived in the subcontinent, but the bait fails the test of other sciences. We have not found a single fossil remains to prove the claim of Homo Erectus residing here. Most importantly the Narmada Calvaria does reflect that the world that lies between the sites highly rich in Hominid fossils in South-East Asia, Far East and Africa had the practice of the tradition of Acheulian tool by the early Homo Sapiens. This piece may end up inciting debates as most still wish to subscribe to the belief and faith in the notion that the Narmada Man is a Homo Erectus, but should they like to contest it, they must come with refutation of observations done by Kennedy with respect to merit of the procedures he followed. The author is an architect and an author. Views expressed are personal. Read all the Latest News , Trending News ,  Cricket News , Bollywood News , India News and Entertainment News here. 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