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1 January 2006
3,800-year-old Indian skeletons throw light on evolution

A team of members led by Superintendent Archaeologist of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai Circle, T Satyamurthy, has recently unearthed nearly 169 clay urns containing human skeletons, dating back to around 3,800 years, which form part of the Adichanallur's pre-historic civilisation.
     "The world's largest three-tier pre-historic cemetery is found along the coast of Tuticorin at Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, the pre-historic settlements remained in the dark for past many centuries before being discovered by a German scholar in 1866," says Dr Pathmanathan Raghavan, a bio-anthropologist working at the Australian National University at Canberra. "I had a chance meeting with Professor Satyamurthy and a team of experts was formed to study various aspects including the skeletal biology and anatomy, genetic traits, bone pathology, altered skeletal mechanism, burial customs, traditions, ancient malnutrition and other matters relating to other bio-cultural significance," Dr Raghavan said.
     Dr Raghavan also says "These pre-historic members show many abnormalities or altered skeletal features, which had influenced the bio-mechanical processes of the population. Interestingly, by and large the recovered reconstructed skeletons through mechanical as well as software methods have exhibited tall statures contradictory to the old hypothesis on the short pre-historic Indians. The lower jaws show mandibular prognathism (outward projection). In many cases the third lower molar is poorly developed or absent. On average, the mandible angle is almost 90 degrees than over 100 degrees in modern humans," added Raghavan.
     Throwing more light on the recovered skeletons, he says the teeth are average in size and depth of the mandible is shallow "which indicates the intake of refined food during the Adichanallur civilisation. Prominent cheekbones and the projected frontal head bones indicate the influence of the genetic transmission of Southern Mongoloid (Mongolia) in the form of a genetic drift, indicating a probable sea trade between east coast of south India and South East Asia," he says.
     Referring to the skull of one of the skeletons recovered, he says, "It shows fascinating pathologically abnormal features, very thick skull bones and what looks like a third eye socket but what actually may have been a tumour". Raghavan, whose research areas include skeletal biology focusing on cranial architecture, geographic and ethnic variations among the fossil and recent populations of the Indian sub-continent, says he is now trying to extract the DNA of the skull to further study its "pathological abnormality which has created a third eye socket. Despite its abnormality, this male human went on to live beyond 60 years of age".
     Coming back to the study on recovered skeletons, he says the team will conduct detailed study based on ancient burial patterns such as primary and secondary burial traditions and their similarities with the other pre-historic cultures which had existed during the same period. "This will focus on the pre-historic transitional stages of the funeral customs," Raghavan says and adds the team is also trying to decode the hidden messages of Adichanallur as certain scripts have been found from the site where the skeletons were discovered.

Source: The Times of India (1 January 2006)

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