A Multidisciplinary Study of Early Homo Sapiens in India: Re-evaluating “Anatomical Modernity
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Most studies of human evolution have been based on fossils from Europe and Africa. This project broadens the representation of understudied regions in paleoanthropology by analyzing early humans from the Indian subcontinent. Researchers will analyze burials from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bhimbetka in India, where painted rock shelters date back to approximately 40,000 years ago. They will analyze the skeletal remains, ancient DNA and stone tools of these people to reconstruct their ancestry and establish their relationship to other early human populations. Understanding human evolution in this relatively poorly understood region will contribute to a greater awareness of our biological and behavioral diversity, since our inception as a species. The project will also support graduate student training and international research collaborations, as well as diverse voices and regions in research on modern human origins. A multidisciplinary team of paleoanthropologists, archaeologists and geneticists will examine the skeletal and archaeological remains from Bhimbetka and another site in India, Jwalapuram rock shelter in South India, where fragmentary and partially cremated remains were excavated from securely-dated Late Pleistocene levels of a rock shelter. This project will 1) directly date the remains and establish a solid chronological framework for both hominins and Paleolithic artifacts; 2) analyze the skeletal remains to determine whether they are most similar to contemporaneous Asian, European, or African populations; 3) extract and analyze ancient DNA from the specimens; and 4) correlate the genetic and morphological data with the stone tool remains to determine what technology is associated with early Homo sapiens in India. The results will help to clarify the evolutionary processes that shaped the skeletal morphology, genomes and material culture in South Asia in the Late Pleistocene. This integrative approach to understanding human evolution in a relatively poorly understood region will contribute to a greater awareness of the regionally variable patterns that characterized early H. sapiens throughout the Old World. This award reflects NSF''s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation''s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.