View of excavation site of Katoati in Thar Desert, India. Courtesy J. Blinkhorn
Topic:Ancient stone tools, and amaranth
The surprise for me in this article is the mention of amaranth, which is a grain I don’t usually associate with India. I did find a reference to its use in India, via Wikipedia:
In Maharashtra state of India, it is called “rājgīrā” (राजगीरा) in the Marathi language. The popped grain is mixed with melted jaggery in proper proportion to make iron and energy rich “laddus,” a popular food provided at the Mid-day Meal Program in municipal schools.
Finds could have implications for dispersal of early modern humans out of Africa into southern Asia.
The subject of how and when the earliest dispersal of modern humans out of Africa into Eurasia occurred has long been in dispute among scholars. A number of recent studies have raised new finds with different interpretations and sometimes conflicting results.
Now, scientists investigating a site in the Thar Desert of northeastern India have uncovered stone artifacts that indicate the presence of humans, possibly modern humans, as much as 95,000 years ago in an area that once was wetter than it is today. Their analysis and conclusions, published June 12, 2013 in the scientific journal, Quaternary Science Reviews, have added new fuel to the debate about the timing and route of dispersal of humans out of Africa into southern Asia, including the even bigger question………What species were they?
The international team of scientists, led by James Blinkhorn, Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Université Bordeaux in France, excavated a 3 meter wide step-trench to a depth of 4.48 meters at the site of Katoati, a site where previous surveys indicated the presence of stone artifacts and the potential for stratified sediments for detailed archaeological investigation and study. Their excavation revealed eight sedimentary strata, most of which were dated using the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating technique, a methodology for measuring doses from ionizing radiation, most often applied to dating ancient materials in geological sediments. Stone artifact assemblages were recovered from most of the sediment layers, including comparatively large collections from three of the layers, including the two earliest (oldest) layers in age, going back to as much as 95,000 years ago.
“Overall, the lithic (stone) assemblages appear to have been produced following periods of fluvial (water) activity in a predominantly C4 habitat”, report Blinkhorn, et al. This means that humans were living and working in an area, now desert, that featured plants such as sorghum type grasses and amaranth. Moreover, reports Blinkhorn, “the Katoati findings corroborate the archaeological evidence from 16R Dune, indicating the presence of hominin populations in the Thar Desert between 80 and 40 ka”. The site known as “16R Dune”, another archaeological site on the eastern edge of the Thar desert, was excavated years ago but a recent revisiting of the data and application of updated dating techniques revealed a range for artifacts at the site between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago.*
But dating of the oldest layers at Katoati pushed the timeline back even further. “The archaeological findings clearly extend the occurrence of Middle Palaeolithic hominins in South Asia to MIS (Marine Isotope Stage) 5c, or ca 95 ka (95,000 years ago)”, Blinkhorn adds.*
Another significant result of their analysis of the finds showed that the artifacts bore characteristics very similar to those exhibited by artifacts found in Arabia and the Sahara in Africa. The African artifacts have been assigned to the Middle Stone Age (280,000 years ago to about 50-25,000 years ago), a lithic type and time period that has been associated by scholarly consensus with both anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) as well as archaic Homo sapiens, sometimes referred to as Homo helmei.
The findings have also upset the traditional consensus model of the dispersal of early modern humans out of Africa based on identification of the emergence and dispersal of Homo sapiens with a certain type of stone tool industry — namely, what has been described as Upper Paleolithic (or Later Stone Age in Africa) technology, a more sophisticated technology consisting of such stone artifacts as thin, retouched bifacials, blades and bladelets.
“The presence of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in the Thar Desert at ca 60 ka (60,000 years ago) clearly occurs within the timeframe that have been suggested by genetic studies for the arrival of H. sapiens in South Asia,” writes Blinkhorn et al. “This contradicts the hypothesis that modern humans arrived in South Asia using small crescentic forms that are markedly similar to those that define the so-called Howiesons Poort (bladelet type) technology. Comparable technologies, principally based around microblade production, are not observed in South Asia until 40 -30 ka, or after the Last Glacial Maximum in the Thar Desert. Instead, the Katoati evidence is consistent with arguments for the dispersal of H. sapiens populations using Middle Palaeolithic technologies.”*
July 12, 2013