Letter | Published:

Early Middle Palaeolithic culture in India around 385–172 ka reframes Out of Africa models

Nature volume 554, pages 97101 (01 February 2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Luminescence dating at the stratified prehistoric site of Attirampakkam, India, has shown that processes signifying the end of the Acheulian culture and the emergence of a Middle Palaeolithic culture occurred at 385 ± 64 thousand years ago (ka), much earlier than conventionally presumed for South Asia1. The Middle Palaeolithic continued at Attirampakkam until 172 ± 41 ka. Chronologies of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in regions distant from Africa and Europe are crucial for testing theories about the origins and early evolution of these cultures, and for understanding their association with modern humans or archaic hominins, their links with preceding Acheulian cultures and the spread of Levallois lithic technologies2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20. The geographic location of India and its rich Middle Palaeolithic record are ideally suited to addressing these issues, but progress has been limited by the paucity of excavated sites and hominin fossils as well as by geochronological constraints1,8. At Attirampakkam, the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component all highlight a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies9. These findings document a process of substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385 ± 64 ka and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe2,3,4,5,6,7,8,10,11,12,13. This suggests complex interactions between local developments and ongoing global transformations. Together, these observations call for a re-evaluation of models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125 ka19,21.

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Acknowledgements

S.P. and K.A. thank the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, the Earthwatch Institute, the Homi Bhabha Fellowships Council (S.P.: 2000–2002; K.A.: 2014–2016) and the ISRO-GBP program for funding various aspects of the research project, and the Archaeological Survey of India and Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu, for issuing licenses. Y.G. benefited from an Institut Universitaire de France grant for field and analytical work. A.K.S. acknowledges the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Atomic Energy, India, for a J. C. Bose national fellowship and for Raja Ramanna fellowships, respectively. H.M.R. was supported by the contingency grant of the J. C. Bose fellowship awarded to A.K.S. S.P. and K.A. thank M. Taieb for his encouragement.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, 28 Ist Main Road, C.I.T. Colony, Mylapore, Chennai 600004, Tamil Nadu, India

    • Kumar Akhilesh
    •  & Shanti Pappu
  2. Department of Physics, Electronics and Space Science, Gujarat University, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad 380009, India

    • Haresh M. Rajapara
  3. AMOPH Division, Physical Research Laboratory, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad 380009, India

    • Haresh M. Rajapara
    •  & Ashok K. Singhvi
  4. Université de Lyon, Department of Geography, UMR 5600 Environnement Ville Société, 5 Avenue Pierre Mendès-France, F-69696 Bron, France

    • Yanni Gunnell
  5. Geosciences Division, Physical Research Laboratory, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad 380009, India

    • Anil D. Shukla

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Contributions

K.A. and S.P. direct the project, are researching ATM and neighbouring sites and analysed the lithic artefacts; H.M.R., A.D.S. and A.K.S. were responsible for the luminescence sampling and dating; Y.G. analysed the geomorphology and palaeoenvironmental evidence at the site. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shanti Pappu.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks K. Fitzsimmons, M. Petraglia and E. Rhodes for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25444

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