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Thursday, January 3

Pygmy sized human ancestor in Central Narmada Valley a missing link in evolution chain, reveals new study

During a recent exploration in the Central Narmada Valley, researchers have unearthed skeletal parts of hitherto unknown archaic humans that have inhabited Central Narmada valley in India during late Mid Pleistocene.

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Hominin femur fossil  found from Central Narmada Valley
Image Courtesy: Current Science
According to a research communication published in the Current Science Journal, a partial humeral piece (bone which extends from shoulder to elbow), a fragment of the left femur (bone that extends from pelvis to the knee) and other stone artifacts collected from Netankheri, located 3 km away from Hathnora on the banks of Narmada River, shows that Central Narmada Valley had two different archaic human races.

While one was large robust hominins who used to hunt down large mammals with heavy duty weapons, the later developed pygmy sized one which was hitherto unknown to science, used to hunt smaller animals with lightly refined tools. The pygmy sized race could be the real ancestors of all short-bodied populations in South Asia, says the study.

Anatomical differences
Though the humeral piece was 84 mm in length, scientific estimations reveal that the maximum possible length could be 240mm. In that case, it is shorter than that of the known archaic mainland Eastern Indian races. According to the researchers, the humeral piece has more similarities with that of Chaurite Nicobarese populations.

Hominin humerus, Netankheri fossil, hominin fossil, fossil from India, Indian hominin, India fossil, Narmada fossil, Narmada valley popualtions
Hominin humerus from Netankheri
Image Courtesy: Current Science 
Though it is not easy to confirm if the fossil belongs to modern humans or archaic hominins, the mineralization and the artifacts recovered along with the fossil suggest the period could be Upper Palaeolithic.

Similarly, the femoral piece is different from that of modern humans. The newly discovered femur, according to researchers, has scarcely developed medial and lateral lips while they are prominently developed into ridges in modern humans. A comparative analysis, according to the research communication, makes it more similar to femur of the Neanderthal man or late archaic hominins.

Thus the newly unearthed humeral fossil may belong to a connecting link between the short statured archaic humans to the early modern homo sapience during the late Pleistocene, says the study.

Culturally different race
Excavations at Hathnora earlier have revealed the existence of archaic hominin populations on the Narmada banks dating back to mid- Pleistocene age. However, the present findings, when compared with that from Hathnora, reveal that the races were culturally and physically distinct.

Substantiating the findings, the study points out that the faunal fossils and the types of artifacts recovered from the two sites are different, which in turn suggest that the races were culturally different.

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a. Bone and stone implements associated with human humerus at Netankheri and similar sites. b, Small mode 3 lithic implements excavated at Hathnora clavicle site; such tools were also recovered from Netankheri humerus site.
Image Courtesy: Current Science 
During the excavation at Hathnora, researchers have unearthed a complete mandible or lower jaw of Equus namadicus, a pre-historic era horse like mammal of Narmada valley. Interestingly, a portion of its lower jaw had a pre-historic tool struck in it, pointing out that the animal was contemporary with the man who made these tools.

 Similarly, current excavations at Hathnora partial skull level have yielded a large cache of heavy duty artifacts, many of them associated with large mammalian fossils, suggesting that the Hathnora populations known by the skull were large robust humans and they used to hunt down large mammals also.

However, excavations at Netankheri at the same level yielded very few large mammalian fossils and very few heavy duty artifacts. Researchers were able to unearth some lower jaw remnants of Stegodon insignis ganesa, a pre-historic elephant known for its longer tusks, and very few heavy duty artifacts from Netankheri. While the artifacts at Hathnora contained Picks, chopping tools, cleavers and hand axes, not many similar tools were present at Netankheri. However, the picks recovered from Netankheri at femur level were culturally similar to those of Hathnora skull level and connect the two robust fossil findings.

Central Narmada valley map, fossil map, fossil cites in india
Map of a portion of the Central Narmada valley
Image Courtesy: Current Science 
All these signs, point to the fact that the races were physically and culturally different, to the point that the short-statured race used to hunt only smaller mammals and used more refined tools, than the robust humans in Hatnora. “The fossil and archaeological evidence from Hathnora represent two types of culturally and physically distinct, anatomically archaic hominin populations in the Central Narmada Valley.”, says the paper.

Connecting link to modern human populations on Narmada Valley
These findings throw more light into the evolution of human race in South Asia region. According to the research communication, the humeral piece of fossil belonged to a type of human race which could be a connecting link between short statured archaic human races in Narmada Valley during later Middle Pleistocene to the modern Homo sapiens in the evolutionary chain.

Possibly, the present short bodied South Asian populations could be descendants of this ancestral root. According to the study, the present Munda settlements in Narmada Valley who have phylogenetic similarities with Andaman Pygmies, can be the present continuation of this short statured human race who inhabited the place during late Pleistocene.

According to Dr. A R Sankhyan, the lead author and a retired palaeoanthropologist with Anthropological Survey of India,   the short and stocky people can even be the ancestors of African pygmies. In a media statement, Sankhyan said that the race "could be the ancestors of the short-bodied people of south Asia, those found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and African pygmies".
Early human populations in Narmada Valley
Excavations and palaeontological explorations in the Central Narmada Valley have given valuable insights into the prehistoric age with faunal fossils and stone-age artifacts since 1830s. However, the first direct door of knowledge to the archaic human populations here was opened when a partial hominin cranium was found in 1980s. Later, two clavicles and a partial 9th left rib also were recovered from Hathnora.

However, the mismatching nature of the recovered fossils has always suggested the chances of presence of more than one human race in Central Narmada valley.  The present study also points out that the archaic human settlements extend to other places on the banks of Narmada like Netankheri which calls for more studies to unravel the mystery of Central Narmada Valley ancestors. 


  1. Very interesting and informative blog post... due to science background, I'm less aware of our history and all such...thank you so much for sharing. :)
    Your have a very neat n nicely written blog!

    1. Kitty,
      Glad to know that you liked our blog. Being a budding a blog, we need valuable support from readers like you. Thanks for your visit and comment. We expect suggestions in the future also.

  2. It is a great piece of research. We knew India as a very ancient land or land of very ancient civilization, but whether it can also tell something very very old of mankind's origins is really interesting. India is turning out a land of great mysteries.

    1. Manju, India is indeed incredible, right? Thanks for your comment.

  3. Dear Readers,

    We have slightly edited the contents of the post on 21st January 2013, based on the suggestion made by Dr. A R Sankhyan who is the lead author of the study reported in the post. We are grateful to him for his valuable suggestions.

    Indian Biodiversity Talks Team

  4. It seems you have a great insight and passion for the topic on human ancestry as you have reproduced a greater and the best general part of the research. Human fossils are extremely rare in South Asia;I am really very very lucky to get some. But, to come to this level, I had to put lots of time and energy in the field, lab, in comparing and writing and then in answering the comments of the expert referees.Thanks for incorporating the corrections which will give the right message to scholars.

    1. Sir,

      Your work is very important to the whole human race since it sheds light to the life of hitherto unknown ancestors.

      Thanks for your suggestions and comments on our blog post.

  5. Hello, meticulous work and accurate reporting! Thank you! Has any DNA work been done on this?

    1. raniyer,
      Thanks for the comment and glad to know that you liked the story. So far, as per our knowledge, no DNA work has been done on this.

  6. This is a wonderful piece of research and well done for sharing it with the world, I've linked it on Facebook and I hope others take the time to read it. Negrito people were once very widely dispersed and in addition to the Narmada finds and the present day Andaman Island Adavasi they were also known in Sri Lanka as Nittaewo, which the 38,000 year old Balangoda fossils confirm their appearance. Similar people exist in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and in the highlands of Papua Province in Eastern Indonesia. The Hobbits of Flores Island must be connected with this and another tiny skull was found on Palau in 2006. Until recently Negritos were also living in my country, Australia, near Cairns and in Tasmania. The highlands of Espiritu Santo Island in Vanuatu still has them and they were also seen in New Caledonia until the start of the 20th century. There are some theories that they made it to the Americas and the two oldest skeletons found there, Luzia of Brazil and Eve of Narahon in Mexico, look like Negritos as did the Yamana people of Tierra del Fuego and the Pericu of Baja California. Stories of Little Black Men are told in Taiwan, Japan and even Hawaii. It is most likely the Vazimba of Madagascar were Negritos and therefore the proposition that African Pygmies descend from Indian Negritos is absolutely valid. These are the people that most likely first brought plantain bananas to Central Africa, which are now the staple crop of the area. Negritos are absolutely fascinating people and I think the fact they are called Orang Asli or First Men in Malaysia is very appropriate.

  7. The smaller bone should be compared to Homo floresiensis. It is also suspect as near the "denisovan" genes found in modern humans in Southern Asia, for which there would be no comparative material at this time.


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