Peopling of India

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The peopling of India is a contentious area of research and discourse, due to the debate on topics such as the Indo-Aryan migration hypothesis.[1] Some anthropologists hypothesize that the region was settled by multiple human migrations over tens of millennia, which makes it even harder to select certain groups as being aboriginal.[2]

Early hominins of Acheulean period[edit]

The presence of intelligent hominins in the subcontinent may stretch as far back as 1,500,000 ybp to the Acheulean period.[3]

Humans and the Toba catastrophe[edit]

It has been hypothesized that the Toba supereruption about 74,000 years ago destroyed much of India's central forests, covering it with a layer of volcanic ash, and may have brought humans worldwide to a state of near-extinction by suddenly plunging the planet into an ice-age that could have lasted for up to 1,800 years.[4] If true, this may "explain the apparent bottleneck in human populations that geneticists believe occurred between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago" and the relative "lack of genetic diversity among humans alive today."[4]

Since the Toba event is believed to have had such a harsh impact and "specifically blanketed the Indian subcontinent in a deep layer of ash," it was "difficult to see how India's first colonists could have survived this greatest of all disasters."[5] Therefore, it was believed that all humans previously present in India went extinct during, or shortly after, this event and these first Indians left "no trace of their DNA in present-day humans" - a theory seemingly backed by genetic studies.[6]

Research published in 2009 by a team led by Michael Petraglia of the University of Oxford suggested that some humans may have survived the hypothesized catastrophe on the Indian mainland. Undertaking "Pompeii-like excavations" under the layer of Toba ash, the team discovered tools and human habitations from both before and after the eruption.[7] However, human fossils have not been found from this period and nothing is known of the ethnicity of these early humans in India.[7]

The Negrito migrations[edit]

A Human migration map based on mitochondrial DNA. Note the route of the mtDNA haplogroup M through the Indian mainland and the Andaman Islands, possibly on to Southeast Asia.

One narrative, describes Negritos, similar to the Andamanese adivasis of today, as the first identifiable human population to colonize India, likely 30-65 thousand years before present (kybp).[8][9] This first colonization of the Indian mainland and the Andaman Islands by humans is theorized to be part of a great coastal migration of humans from Africa along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and towards Southeast Asia, Japan and Oceania.[8]

60% of all modern Indians share the mtDNA haplogroup M, which is universal among Andamanese islander adivasis and might be a genetic legacy of the postulated first Indians.[10] A 2010 study by the Anthropological Survey of India and the Texas-based Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research identified seven genomes from 26 isolated "relic tribes" (sic) from the Indian mainland, such as the Baiga, which share "two synonymous polymorphisms with the M42 haplogroup, which is specific to Australian Aborigines." These were specific mtDNA mutations that are shared exclusively by Australian aborigines and these Indian tribes, and no other known human groupings.[11]

Hypothesized Australoid migrations[edit]

Some anthropologists theorize that the original Negrito settlers of India were displaced by invading Austroasiatic-speaking Australoid people (who largely shared skin pigmentation and physiognomy with the Negritos, but had straight rather than kinky hair), and adivasi tribes such as the Irulas trace their origins to that displacement.[12][13] The Oraon adivasi tribe of eastern India and the Korku tribe of western India are considered to be examples of groups of Australoid origin.[14][15]

Caucasoid and Mongoloid migrations[edit]

Subsequent to the Australoids, some anthropologists and geneticists theorize that Caucasoids (including both Elamo-Dravidians and Indo-Aryans) and Mongoloids (Sino-Tibetans) immigrated into India: the Elamo-Dravidians (called such, so as to distinguish them from the modern Dravidian populations of India, which are of predominantly Australoid racial stock) possibly from Iran,[16][17][18] the Indo-Aryans possibly from the Central Asian steppes[17][19][20] and the Tibeto-Burmans possibly from the Himalayan and north-eastern borders of the subcontinent.[21]

None of these hypotheses is free from debate and disagreement. In particular, the caucasoid feature of Indians have been explained by Disotell.[22] This is the authors conclusion, "The supposed Aryan invasion of India 3,000–4,000 years before present therefore did not make a major splash in the Indian gene pool. This is especially counter-indicated by the presence of equal, though very low, frequencies of the western Eurasian mtDNA types in both southern and northern India. Thus, the ‘caucasoid’ features of south Asians may best be considered ‘pre-caucasoid’— that is, part of a diverse north or north east African gene pool that yielded separate origins for western Eurasian and southern Asian populations over 50,000 years ago."

Crossovers in languages and ethnicity[edit]

While people of predominantly Caucasoid racial origin generally speak Indo-Aryan languages and people of predominantly Australoid racial origin generally speak Dravidian languages,[23] it nevertheless remains true that ethnic origins and linguistic affiliations in India sometimes do not correspond. For example, Khasis and Nicobarese are considered to be Mongoloid groups,[24][25] yet both groups speak Austro-Asiatic languages.[24][25] The Bhils are frequently classified as an Australoid group,[26] yet Bhil languages are Indo-European.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edwin Bryant and Laurie L. Patton (2005), The Indo-Aryan Controversy, Routledge, ISBN 0-7007-1462-6, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... we now exist in an era where one's use of evidence is inevitably suspect of being linked to nationalist, colonialist, or cultural agendas ... No issue is more illustrative of this impasse than the debate about Aryan origins ..." 
  2. ^ Ludwig Gumplowicz and Irving Louis Horowitz (1980), Outlines of Sociology, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 0-87855-693-1, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... The Negritos were the earliest inhabitants of India ... The Proto-Australoids who followed them had their type more or less fixed in India and therefore may be considered to be the true aborigines. Thereafter the Austro-Asiatic peoples came ... the Indo Aryans came and settled in India; so, too, did the Dravidians ... This being the state of our knowledge regarding the peopling of India, it would be hazardous to look upon one particular section of the population as the aborigines of India ..." 
  3. ^ Early Pleistocene Presence of Acheulian Hominins in South India
  4. ^ a b "Supervolcano Eruption - In Sumatra - Deforested India 73,000 Years Ago", ScienceDaily, Nov 24, 2009, retrieved Mar 1, 2011, "... new study provides "incontrovertible evidence" that the volcanic super-eruption of Toba on the island of Sumatra about 73,000 years ago deforested much of central India, some 3,000 miles from the epicenter ... initiating an "Instant Ice Age" that - according to evidence in ice cores taken in Greenland - lasted about 1,800 years ..." 
  5. ^ Stephen Oppenheimer, Out of Eden: the peopling of the world, Robinson, 2004, ISBN 978-1-84119-894-1, "... The Toba event specifically blanketed the Indian subcontinent in a deep layer of ash. It is difficult to see how India's first colonists could have survived this greatest of all disasters. So, we could predict a broad human extinction ..." 
  6. ^ Michael D. Petraglia, Bridget Allchin, The evolution and history of human populations in South Asia: Inter-disciplinary Studies in Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, Linguistics and Genetics, Springer, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4020-5561-4, "... had H. sapiens colonized India before the eruption? The majority of genetic evidence seems to suggest that the initial colonization of India took place soon after the Toba event. It should be noted, however, that on the basis of this evidence, the hypothesis that modern human populations inhabited India before ~74ka and underwent extinction as a result of Toba cannot be ruled out. If population extinction occurred, there would be no trace of their DNA in present-day humans ..." 
  7. ^ a b New evidence shows populations survived the Toba super-eruption 74,000 years ago, University of Oxford, Feb 22, 2009, retrieved Mar 1, 2011, "... Newly discovered archaeological sites in southern and northern India have revealed how people lived before and after the colossal Toba volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago. The international, multidisciplinary research team, led by Oxford University in collaboration with Indian institutions, has uncovered what it calls ‘Pompeii-like excavations’ beneath the Toba ash ... suggests that human populations were present in India prior to 74,000 years ago, or about 15,000 years earlier than expected based on some genetic clocks,’ said project director Dr Michael Petraglia ..." 
  8. ^ a b Spencer Wells (2002), The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-11532-X, "... the population of south-east Asia prior to 6000 years ago was composed largely of groups of hunter-gatherers very similar to modern Negritos ... So, both the Y-chromosome and the mtDNA paint a clear picture of a coastal leap from Africa to south-east Asia, and onward to Australia ... DNA has given us a glimpse of the voyage, which almost certainly followed a coastal route va India ..." 
  9. ^ Jim Mason (2005), An Unnatural Order: The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature, Lantern Books, ISBN 1-59056-081-7, "... Australia's "aboriginal" peoples are another case in point. At the end of the Ice Age, their homeland stretched from the middle of India eastward into southeast Asia and as far south as Indonesia and nearby islands. As agriculture spread from its centers in southeast Asia, these pre-Australoid forager people moved farther southward to New Guinea and Australia. ..." 
  10. ^ Revathi Rajkumar et al., Phylogeny and antiquity of M macrohaplogroup inferred from complete mt DNA sequence of Indian specific lineages, BMC Evolutionary Biology 2005, 5:26 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-5-26
  11. ^ Satish Kumar, Rajasekhara Reddy Ravuri, Padmaja Koneru, BP Urade, BN Sarkar, A Chandrasekar, VR Rao (22 July 2009), "Reconstructing Indian-Australian phylogenetic link", BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:173 (BioMed Central), "... In our completely sequenced 966-mitochondrial genomes from 26 relic tribes of India, we have identified seven genomes, which share two synonymous polymorphisms with the M42 haplogroup, which is specific to Australian Aborigines ... direct genetic evidence of an early colonization of Australia through south Asia ..." 
  12. ^ K.V. Zvelebil (1982), The Irula language, O. Harrassowitz, ISBN 3-447-02247-7, "... into the low jungles of the Nilgiris (such movement might have been instigated eg by the advancing Australoids pushing out an earlier pre-Australoid ...)" 
  13. ^ Stephen Fuchs (1974), The Aboriginal Tribes of India, Macmillan India, "... Guha thinks that the Negritos were the earliest racial element in India. He believes that the Kadar, Irulas and Panyans of south India have a Negrito strain, even though he admits that they are not pure Negritos ..." 
  14. ^ S. Neeta and V.K. Kashyap (January 2004), Allelic variation at 15 microsatellite loci in one important Australoid and two Indocaucasoid groups of Chhattisgarh, India 49 (1), Journal of Forensic Sciences, ISSN 0022-1198, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... Among the studied population groups, Oraon is a tribal group, conventionally agriculture-based, ethnically Australoid. They are confined to the small villages and do not prefer to marry outside their community maintaining the genetic make-up without any admixture. ..." 
  15. ^ N. Saha and H.K. Goswami (1987, Vol. 37, No. 5), Some Blood Genetic Markers in the Korkus of Central India, International Journal of Human and Medical Genetics, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... A sample of 102 individuals from the Korkus tribe, an Australoid race inhabiting Central India, was studied for the distribution of haemoglobin and ten red cell enzyme types ..." 
  16. ^ Tamil Literature Society (1963), Tamil Culture 10, Academy of Tamil Culture, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... together with the evidence of archaeology would seem to suggest that the original Dravidian-speakers entered India from Iran in the fourth millennium BC ..." 
  17. ^ a b Namita Mukherjee, Almut Nebel, Ariella Oppenheim and Partha P. Majumder (December 2001), "High-resolution analysis of Y-chromosomal polymorphisms reveals signatures of population movements from central Asia and West Asia into India" (PDF), Journal of Genetics (Springer India) 80 (3), retrieved 2008-11-25, "... More recently, about 15,000-10,000 years before present (ybp), when agriculture developed in the Fertile Crescent region that extends from Israel through northern Syria to western Iran, there was another eastward wave of human migration (Cavalli-Sforza et al., 1994; Renfrew 1987), a part of which also appears to have entered India. This wave has been postulated to have brought the Dravidian languages into India (Renfrew 1987). Subsequently, the Indo-European (Aryan) language family was introduced into India about 4,000 ybp ..." 
  18. ^ Dhavendra Kumar (2004), Genetic Disorders of the Indian Subcontinent, Springer, ISBN 1-4020-1215-2, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... The analysis of two Y chromosome variants, Hgr9 and Hgr3 provides interesting data (Quintan-Murci et al., 2001). Microsatellite variation of Hgr9 among Iranians, Pakistanis and Indians indicate an expansion of populations to around 9000 YBP in Iran and then to 6,000 YBP in India. This migration originated in what was historically termed Elam in south-west Iran to the Indus valley, and may have been associated with the spread of Dravidian languages from south-west Iran (Quintan-Murci et al., 2001). ..." 
  19. ^ Frank Raymond Allchin and George Erdosy (1995), The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: The Emergence of Cities and States, Cambridge University Press, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... There has also been a fairly general agreement that the Proto-Indoaryan speakers at one time lived on the steppes of Central Asia and that at a certain time they moved southwards through Bactria and Afghanistan, and perhaps the Caucasus, into Iran and India-Pakistan (Burrow 1973; Harmatta 1992) ..." 
  20. ^ Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund (1998), High-resolution analysis of Y-chromosomal polymorphisms reveals signatures of population movements from central Asia and West Asia into India, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-15482-0, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... During the last decades intensive archaeological research in Russia and the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union as well as in Pakistan and northern India has considerably enlarged our knowledge about the potential ancestors of the Indo-Aryans and their relationship with cultures in west, central and south Asia. Previous excavations in southern Russia and Central Asia could not confirm that the Eurasian steppes had once been the original home of the speakers of Indo-European language ..." 
  21. ^ Richard Cordaux , Gunter Weiss, Nilmani Saha and Mark Stoneking (2004), "The Northeast Indian Passageway: A Barrier or Corridor for Human Migrations?", Molecular Biology and Evolution (Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution), doi:10.1093/molbev/msh151, PMID 15128876, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... Our coalescence analysis suggests that the expansion of Tibeto-Burman speakers to northeast India most likely took place within the past 4,200 years ..." 
  22. ^
  23. ^ David Reich, Kumarasamy Thangaraj, Nick Patterson, Alkes L. Price & Lalji Singh (2009), "Reconstructing Indian population history", Nature 461, retrieved 24 September 2009, "... . ANI ancestry is significantly higher in Indo-European than Dravidian speakers (P = 0.013 by a one-sided test), suggesting that the ancestral ASI may have spoken a Dravidian language before mixing with the ANI ..." 
  24. ^ a b R. Khongsdier, Nandita Mukherjee (2003, Vol. 122, Issue 2), "Growth and nutritional status of Khasi boys in Northeast India relating to exogamous marriages and socioeconomic classes", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... The Khasis are one of the Indo-Mongoloid tribes in Northeast India. They speak the Monkhmer language, which belongs to the Austro-Asiatic group (Das, 1978) ..." 
  25. ^ a b Govinda Chandra Rath (2006), Tribal Development in India: The Contemporary Debate, SAGE, ISBN 0-7619-3423-5, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... The Car Nicobarese are of Mongoloid stock ... The Nicobarese speak different languages of the Nicobarese group, which belongs to an Austro-Asiatic language sub-family ..." 
  26. ^ U. Shankarkumar (1(2): 91-94 (2003)), "A Correlative Study of HLA, Sickle Cell Gene and G6PD Deficiency with Splenomegaly and Malaria Incidence Among Bhils and Pawra Tribes from Dhadgon, Dhule, Maharastra" (PDF), Studies of Tribes and Tribals, retrieved 2008-11-25, "... The Bhils are one of the largest tribes concentrated mainly in Western Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Eastern Gujarat and Northern Maharastra. Racially they were classified as Gondids, Malids or Proto-Australoid, but their social history is still a mystery (Bhatia and Rao, 1986) ..."