Tools Found in TN Push Back Date When First Humans Reached India

Tools unearthed near Chennai could mean the first humans reached India much earlier than we have thought so far.

3 min read

A new discovery, unearthed from Attirampakkam in Tamil Nadu, could change the way anthropologists have been looking at the history of technological advances. Based on a study of over 7,200 stones, the discovery could also help shed light on the first time modern humans migrated from Africa.

Situated 60 km northwest of Chennai near a meandering tributary of the Kortallaiyar river, Attirampakkam is an open-air Palaeolithic site. The site has been under excavation for 20 years.

The tools recovered from Attirampakkam date back almost 3,85,000 years.

Researchers were able to estimate the time the tools were recovered as this technology is thought to have been developed by archaic or possibly modern humans in Africa around the same time.


These tools were made with the Levallois and blade technologies, that were, at the time, used to make sophisticated tools.

The discovery pushes back the date of when the Middle Palaeolithic culture began in India by thousands of years. It pushes it back to around the same time when Homo Sapiens migrated to the region.

This discovery challenges the prevalent theory that this technology came to India only around 1,25,000 years ago.

Titled 'Early Middle Palaeolithic culture in India around 385–172 ka reframes Out of Africa models', the study was published in the Nature journal.

"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 technologies," the authors write.

"These findings document a process of substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385 ± 64 ka (kilo annum, thousand years) and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe. 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 Paleolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125 ka," they state.

Since the researchers did not find any bones, they could not accurately identify which ancient human species developed the tools.


Shanti Pappu, an archaeologist and one of the co-authors, said that the discovery could have many implications.

"Theories that say that this particular Middle Paleolithic culture came to India only around 1,25,000 years ago possibly needs to be rethought. Elements of this culture were present far earlier in India," she said.

"It has many implications as to how this culture arose in India – whether population from Africa came much earlier than expected or whether it was a development from within India. This has thrown up a number of new questions," she added.

The discovery also raises questions about the migration of modern humans from Africa.


Patrick Randolph-Quinney, Reader/Associate Professor in Biological and Forensic Anthropology, University of Central Lancashire, writes in The Conversation, "The new findings could mean that archaic humans in India developed such technology all on their own, which some researchers have previously suggested.”

However, it could also mean that modern humans left Africa much earlier than recent archaeological and palaeontological evidence on Africa’s doorstep suggests. In fact, they could have left Africa shortly after evolving, making it as far as the east coast of India in perhaps a few tens of thousands of years.
Patrick Randolph-Quinney, Professor, University of Central Lancashire

(This story was originally published in The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)

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