South Asia as a Geographic Crossroad: Patterns and Predictions of Hominin Morphology in Pleistocene India
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2011, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. Current models of Asian Pleistocene hominin evolution are based on finds that represent a small portion of the geographic expanse of that continent. This is due to the sparse nature of the fossil record as well as varying traditions of paleoanthropological inquiry in these countries. As a result, models of hominin evolution that have emerged for Asia as a whole are not necessarily appropriate characterizations for individual regional populations. The Indian subcontinent in particular is expected to be distinct from China and Indonesia, based in part on genetic studies that suggest this was one of the first regions to be occupied by dispersing African populations. This study evaluates patterns of hominin morphology through a morphometric comparative analysis of the Hathnora specimen found along the Narmada River, and the only fairly complete Pleistocene fossil from South Asia. This fossil is compared to a sample of Old World Pleistocene specimens as well as Early Holocene South Asians and Andaman Islanders to elucidate patterns of variation both across space and through time. The results indicate that the Narmada hominin from Hathnora exhibits a mix of Southeast Asian and sub-Saharan African features. These results are consistent with Indias location between these two regions. A unique evolutionary model for Pleistocene Homo in India is proposed, incorporating the fact that this region was at a geographic crossroads, and predicting that the morphology found there will not conform to patterns found in other parts of Asia. Rather, morphological evolutionary trajectories for Pleistocene South Asian hominins are expected to reflect a blend of African and Asian traits.