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17 July 2013
Earliest Middle Palaeolithic stone tools in India

Scientists investigating a site in the Thar Desert of northeastern India have uncovered stone artefacts that indicate the presence of humans - possibly modern humans - as much as 95,000 years ago. Their analysis and conclusions have added to the debate about the timing and route of dispersal of humans out of Africa into southern Asia, including the bigger question - What species were they?
     The international team of scientists, led by James Blinkhorn, Post-Doctoral Fellow with the University of Bordeaux in France, excavated a trench at the site of Katoati, revealing eight sedimentary strata. Stone artefact assemblages were recovered from most of the layers, with comparatively large collections from three of the layers, including the two earliest, going back as much as 95,000 years.
     Blinkhorn and his colleagues report that humans were living and working in an area wetter than it is today, that featured plants such as sorghum-type grasses and amaranth.
     Another significant result showed that the artefacts bore characteristics very similar to those found in Arabia and the Sahara. The African artefacts have been assigned to the Middle Stone Age (from 280,000 to about 50,000 to 25,000 years ago), a type and period associated with both anatomically modern humans as well as archaic Homo sapiens.
     The findings have upset the traditional consensus model of the dispersal of early modern humans out of Africa based on the emergence and dispersal of a certain type of Upper Palaeolithic (or Later Stone Age) technology - sophisticated stone artefacts such as thin, retouched bifacials, blades and bladelets.
     Blinkhorn states that the presence of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in the Thar Desert circa 60,000 years ago occurs within the timeframe suggested by genetic studies for the arrival of Homo sapiens in South Asia, concluding, "The Katoati evidence is consistent with arguments for the dispersal of Homo sapiens populations using Middle Palaeolithic technologies."

Edited from Popular Archaeology (11 July 2013)

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