July 12, 2013

Middle Paleolithic industries of African affinity of the Thar Desert go back to c. 96 Ka ago

Again Team Petraglia revealing fascinating evidence on the Middle Paleolithic dispersal of Homo sapiens, and one that fits well the genetic data (speculative "molecular clock" excluded), as well as with the climatic data.

James Blinkhorn et al., Middle Palaeolithic occupation in the Thar Desert during the Upper Pleistocene: the signature of a modern human exit out of Africa? Quaternary Science Reviews, 2013. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2013.06.012]

Abstract

The Thar Desert marks the transition from the Saharo-Arabian deserts to the Oriental biogeographical zone and is therefore an important location in understanding hominin occupation and dispersal during the Upper Pleistocene. Here, we report the discovery of stratified Middle Palaeolithic assemblages at Katoati in the north-eastern Thar Desert, dating to Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 5 and the MIS 4–3 boundary, during periods of enhanced humidity. Hominins procured cobbles from gravels at the site as evidenced by early stages of stone tool reduction, with a component of more formalised point production. The MIS 5c assemblages at Katoati represent the earliest securely dated Middle Palaeolithic occupation of South Asia. Distinctive artefacts identified in both MIS 5 and MIS 4–3 boundary horizons match technological entities observed in Middle Palaeolithic assemblages in South Asia, Arabia and Middle Stone Age sites in the Sahara. The evidence from Katoati is consistent with arguments for the dispersal of Homo sapiens populations from Africa across southern Asia using Middle Palaeolithic technologies.

Possibly the most strikingly unmistakable evidence for a Homo sapiens affiliation of these findings is the Aterian-like tanged point, which is almost identical to another one found previously in Jwalapuram:

Fig. 4. 1) Tanged point from Jwalapuram 22 (adapted from Haslam et al., 2012); 2 & 3)
Tanged point from Katoati.


Not just Aterian: the, visually less obvious, Nubian technology is also present:
Two Levallois cores from S4 and one from S8 exhibit a mixture of distal divergent and lateral preparation of the flaking surface to produce a distale medial ridge resulting in the removal of prepared points (Fig. 3). These reduction schemes are consistent with descriptions of Nubian Levallois technologies (Rose et al., 2011; Usik et al., 2013).
...
A single flake from S4 presents a combination of distal divergent and lateral removals on the dorsal surface and a prior removal of a pre-determined pointed flake,indicative of the use of Nubian Levallois strategies (Fig. 3).

Table 2. I added at bottom (red) median OSL ages from table 1.

Zhirendong jaw
In synthesis: groups of unmistakably Homo sapiens with obvious African techno-cultural heritage were already within the modern boundaries of the Indian Federation around 96,000 years ago (CI: 109-83 Ka). This totally debunks Mellars' and Mishra's recent claims, the usual "molecular clock" nonsense (that so many people seems willing to believe at face value), and widens significantly the earliest plausible dates for the colonization of Asia (beyond Arabia-Palestine-Persian Gulf) making findings like Zhirendong jaw (the oldest non-Palestinian H. sapiens remains out of Africa, dated to c. 100,000 BP) much more credible.

Until today I was very much in doubt about accepting dates of c. 100,000 years ago for the Asian colonization but since right now I am adopting this model as the most likely one. In other words: it seems clear that the people already settled in Arabia and the Persian Gulf "oasis" did not wait for climatic pressure at the end of the Abbassia Pluvial to send them out in search of new lands: they did it when the pluvial period was still holding the arid gates of Asia open for them.

All the evidence adds up well now. 


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Note: the full paper was available at Academia.edu at the time of writing this:  HERE and HERE.

2 comments:

  1. "In other words: it seems clear that the people already settled in Arabia and the Persian Gulf "oasis" did not wait for climatic pressure at the end of the Abbassia Pluvial to send them out in search of new lands: they did it when the pluvial period was still holding the arid gates of Asia open for them."

    That's been my point, all along. Why would an expanding population, one in a very suitable environment, wait to explore other, neighboring, similarly-favorable environments until both its homeland and thousands of kilometers beyond turned into arid deserts that could not be crossed?

    The Thar "desert" also has the benefit of preserving the past, which is why I have been waiting for results from it for ages.

    As a side comment, my follow-up hypothesis from this has always been a two-pronged expansion: (1) people moving +- along the coast or along river systems in S India, and (2) people moving up the Thar desert and then populating N India and parts of nowadays Pakistan and all-the-way along the Himalaya's foothills to the East. This would later, with the desertification of much of India, cause two distinct "local" populations, and would also lead to different populations in the N vs. SE - as still observed today.

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    Replies
    1. Well, my point was that: "this is the data, therefore this is the reconstruction", with the philosophical questions, the whys and hows after that. I have been open to the 100 Ka migration since long ago but also unable to justify it sufficiently until now. Although the identification of Zhirendong positively as H. sapiens by Wu Liu in 2010 was already a big evidence, it was an isolated piece of evidence, with all the rest (Liujiang, "blades" in Indian MP, etc.) systematically bombarded with gun machines of doubt and uncertainty, so it was only logical to be cautious. Open but cautious.

      What I had very clear was that 80 Ka (Jwalapuram, Petraglia 2007) was a minimal secure date. Something that two papers in just a month were putting in doubt brazenly but with very weak support (and largely based on "modern human behavior" and "molecular clock" prejudices). So I am just SO GLAD about this study because it doesn't just shut that windy door up but goes well beyond into conciliating the techno-cultural data with the human remains, essentially settling the matter for good, excepted surely the fine detail.

      "The Thar "desert" also has the benefit of preserving the past, which is why I have been waiting for results from it for ages".

      There are several Thar Desert sites in fact, just that Indian archaeology is not well known. Certainly it is very difficult to find materials online that are not the latest research, surely a key reference is Harrod's 'Synopsis of Palaeo-India' but it is just a list and would require a dedicated expert to review all the references in any detail.

      In order to get the situation even more confused, a recent paper by Biagi and Starnini argued for "Mousterian" (without dates because its a review of emergency digs from the 1970s) in Sindh, Pakistan, which is right in the simplest route from the Persian Gulf. However they talk more of Levalloisian than of Mousterian, what really leaves the matter totally open because the MSA and everything before UP is also often Levallois (some Mousterian is Levallois, other isn't, etc.: Levallois means almost nothing).

      ... "my follow-up hypothesis from this has always been a two-pronged expansion: (1) people moving +- along the coast or along river systems in S India, and (2) people moving up the Thar desert and then populating N India"...

      It is very much possible but I wouldn't adhere to any conclusion without some more data. Petraglia is actually arguing for the opposite: for riverside routes, although I think that's just part of the picture: the one that remains above sea level.

      We can only use the available data but, for example, when I have to link up Belgian Proto-Aurignacian with Pyrenean one (notably Isturitz but also other sites), it seems apparent that neither inner France nor Northern Italy are supported as corridors for such early migration and settlement, what leaves as a very likely possibility that the actual migration route was along the Atlantic coast, now fully submerged. But then of course, coastal routes were not exclusive and coastal peoples would quickly colonized the interior as well (and vice versa), so we can indeed use non-coastal emerged sites as proxy for the coastal ones (with the unavoidable uncertainty).

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