A sense of identity begins with curiosity. The questions that are fundamental to human life often do not have one precise answer. Yet, the same questions such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘Where do I belong?”, ‘What’s my past?’ are shared by humanity. There are a large number of forces that shape the answers to such questions. What’s the history of Indian people? How has it shaped their thoughts? The answer to such questions requires a detailed account of studying history in the first place.
Charles Darwin in his book ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ states that small inherited variations that are meant to increase the competitiveness of species shaped by forces that preserve the favoured species in the struggle for life are the key to understanding the evolution of species. Common biochemistry of DNA, RNA, the same set of enzymes, and an identical genetic code in life forms suggests a common ancestor. All life forms could have evolved from single-celled organisms that came into existence some 3.8-4 billion years ago. These single-celled organisms continued to evolve into simple organisms until the event called the Cambrian explosion happened some 541 million years ago. This led to the evolution of the vertebrates such as fishes and in the subsequent millions of years led to the evolution of Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals, and Birds.
Fishes → Amphibians → Reptiles → Mammals and Birds
The below table illustrates the probable timeline of the cosmological and evolutionary events.
|Timeline (Years ago)||Event|
|13.8 billion years||Big Bang|
|12.6 billion years||Formation of Milky Way Galaxy|
|4.6 billion years||Formation of our Solar System|
|4.4 billion years||Formation of Earth’s water and atmosphere|
|3.8 billion years||Single-celled Prokaryotes|
|3.5 billion years||Earliest atmospheric oxygen|
|1.5 billion years||Eukaryotes, Meiosis (Reproduction)|
|670 million years||Worms and Jellyfish|
|500 million years||Jawless conodonts|
|330 million years||Amniote-Egg laying vertebrates|
|200 million years||Mammals with fur and warm-blood|
|65 million years||Extinction of dinosaurs|
|55 million years||Primates such as lemurs|
|36 million years||Primates such as monkeys|
|25 million years||Primates such as apes|
|4.2 million years||African Hominids (Bipedal)|
|2.5 million years||Quaternary ice-age, earliest stone tools|
|2.1 million years||Homo habilis (tool makers)|
|1.5 million years||Homo erectus (upright posture, probable use of speech)|
|1.2 million years||Extinction of Australopithecus (probably due to the effects of ice-age)|
|1 million years||Migration of Homo erectus from Africa to Europe and Asia|
|300 thousand years||Homosapiens in Africa (wise man, fire use)|
|130 thousand years||Neanderthals in Europe and Asia|
|90 thousand years||First modern man (Cro-magnons)|
Hominids evolved from hominoids
Skeletons of the ape superfamily (Hominoids)
|Smaller brain size||Larger brain size|
|Quadrupeds (Walk on four legs)||Bipedal locomotion|
|Hands lack precision grip||Specialized hands used for tool making|
Hominoids → Hominids → Hominins → Australopithecus → Homo (Erectus, Sapiens, ..)
As evolution happened, the size of the brain, weight of jaws, teeth size changed with time.
For example, Australopithecus (the southern apes) have a smaller brain, heavier jaws, and larger teeth than the Homo.
Australopithecus Homo Habilis Homo Ergaster Homo Erectus Homo Sapiens
There is evidence of Homo Habilis (the tool-making man) occupying the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania (East African Rift Valley) some 1.9 million years ago. In 1982, a skull cap belonging to Homo Erectus (Narmada Man) was discovered in Madhya Pradesh, near Hathnora village. It was about 0.5-0.6 million years old. Although, it is contentious that the fossil may not be of homo Erectus but Homo Sapiens. Many stone tools were also discovered in Hunsgi and Kibbanahalli in Karnataka, Attirampakkam in Tamil Nadu.
Bipedal locomotion freed the hands of early ape-humans and gave them a greater field of vision to detect dangers. The freed hands can now make tools, lift objects. Also, they can now walk longer distances on the ground and would become hunter-gatherers until agriculture would bring a transformation in their lifestyle.
African Migration and the Toba Explosion
About 74,000 years ago, a supervolcanic eruption took place near Lake Toba in Indonesia. It was so huge that it deposited a 15 cm thick ash layer almost all over South Asia. The explosion brought about a thousand-year-long cooling period in the world’s climate. As a consequence, the early-human population vastly diminished.
In Jwalapuram, Andhra Pradesh, stone tools have been found both above and below the ash layer created by the Toba eruption. It suggests that even before the Post-Toba Southern Coastal dispersal, India could have been inhabited by migrants who might have come before the catastrophic event. Recent findings at Dhaba in the Middle Son River Valley also points to the same evidence.
However, it is widely accepted that the early humans (Homo Erectus) migrated from Africa to India along the coasts of the Red Sea, through Arabia and Persia post the Toba catastrophe which is supported by genetic evidence. The Neanderthals took the path of the Mediterranean coast (Levant) to settle in Eurasia. The changes in the climate might have had adverse effects and could have acted as one of the driving forces for the migration.
One possible reason for the differences in the genetic and palaeoanthropological evidence could be the absence of a surviving lineage.
Apart from the replacement model, there is another model which is known as the regional continuity model which asserts that the transformation of Homo Sapiens happened at a different pace in different regions of the world. However, the great homogeneity in the genetics of modern humans goes against this view.
One of the oldest paintings of animals (about 40,000 years old) were found in the limestone caves of Lubang Jeriji Saleh in Indonesia’s Borneo island. In the Altamira cave in Spain paintings of bison are found that are about 20,000 years old. The Chauvet cave in France has paintings of rhinoceros that are about 30,000 years old. Such paintings are also found in Russia, Mongolia, Namibia, Australia, India, and other parts of the world.
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka in India is a UNESCO world heritage site. It consists of seven hills and more than 750 rock shelters spread over ten kilometers situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh near the city of Bhopal. The paintings depict animals, dance, and hunting scenes that are as old as 10,000 years. From the Stone Age to Copper Age to even paintings dated to recent medieval times have been found. Cave paintings about 3,500 years old have been found in Tamil Nadu’s Kilvalai and Nehanurpatti. Paleolithic cave paintings are also found in Odisha’s Gudahandi and Yogimatha.
Painting on the limestone cave of Lubang Jeriji Saleh, Indonesia
End of the Last Ice Age
The Last Ice Age ended about 13,000 years ago. This led to temperatures and humidity suitable for agricultural crops. The grasslands expanded which meant fodder for the cattle, sheep, and goats. The fertile crescent region along the Mediterranean coast and the Persian Gulf in the Middle East (region drained by the Tigris-Euphrates river system) would see the rise of Mesopotamian civilization due to the evolution of farming and domestication of animals leading to a more settled life. It is also known as the Neolithic Revolution. Rivers played a major role as a source of water and irrigation and other major civilizations also originated alongside them. For example, the Ancient Egyptian civilization flourished along the river Nile, the Indus valley civilization flourished alongside the Indus river system and Ghaggar-Hakra river, the ancient Chinese civilization flourished alongside the Yellow and Yangtze river.
A comparison of the Mesopotamian civilization with the Indus valley civilization can be made as the two civilizations were quite contemporary and had trade relations.
|Mesopotamian Civilization||Indus Valley Civilization|
|Region: Tigris-Euphrates river system||Region: Indus river system and Ghaggar-Hakra river|
|Spread over 65000 square kilometers||Spread over 1.2 million square kilometers|
|Population: 2,90,000 in 2500 B.C||Population: Peak population of 5 million|
|Time period: 4500 -1900 BCE (Sumerian)10000 BCE (Pre-Pottery Neolithic)||Time period: 3300 – 1300 BCEMehrgarh: 7000-2000 BCE|
|Writing system: Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform (wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets)||Writing system: Undeciphered Indus script|
|Cities: Uruk, Akkad, Assur, Babylon, Nimrud, Nineveh, Persepolis||Cities: Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Dholavira, Ghaneriwala, Rakhigarhi, Mehrgarh, Kot Diji, Kalibangan, Lothal, Rupar, Banawali, Pabumath, Surkotada, Pathani Damb, among others.|
|First excavated by Paul Emile Botta in 1842||First excavated by Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni in 1921|
|Town Planning: groups of congested blocks with parting walls made the houses||Town Planning: Houses on both sides of the streets, drainage system made up of baked bricks, brick on edge platforms|
|Occupation: metal-smiths, potters, weavers, carpenters, and labourers||Occupation: Pottery and sculptures|
|Ornaments: rings and bangles||Ornaments: bangles and necklaces|
|Polytheistic religion||Polytheistic religion, Worship of nature, Pashupati|
|Trade: food, clothing, jewelry, wine||Trade: Imports: Silver and Sapphire Exports: Ivory works, combs, pearls|
|Agriculture: Wheat, Barley, Dates, Grapes, Figs, Apples, Beans||Agriculture: Wheat, Barley, Peas, Lentils, Cotton, Mustard, Rice|
|Animals: Sheep, Goats, Cows, Oxen, Donkey, Pigs||Animals: Sheep, Goats, Buffalo, Pigs, Elephant|
Horse bones have been rarely found in the Indus valley civilization and evidence of horse bones is only found in Surkotada.
Few Indus Valley Civilization sites and findings
|Amri, Sindh||Remains of rhinoceros|
|Balu, Haryana||The earliest evidence of garlic. Wheat, barley, green gram, wild rice, peas, among others.|
|Mohenjo-Daro||Great bath, Granary, Bronze Dancing Girl, Bearded man, Pashupati seal|
|Pabumath, Gujarat||Unicorn seal, beads|
|Surkotada||Bones of a horse|
|Chanhudaro||Lipstick, only Indus site without a citadel|
|Kerala-no-dhoro (Padri) in Gujarat||Salt production center|
|Kunal, Haryana||Copper smelting|
A timeline of Mesopotamian civilization
|7000-6000 BCE||Agriculture began in the northern plains of Mesopotamia|
|5000 BCE||Temples built in Southern Mesopotamia|
|3200 BCE||First writing in Mesopotamia|
|3000 BCE||Expansion of Uruk city, bronze tool|
|2700-2500 BCE||Early kings such as Gilgamesh|
|2600 BCE||Cuneiform script|
|2400 BCE||Replacement of Sumerian by Akkadian|
|2370 BCE||Sargon, King of Akkad|
|2000 BCE||The spread of Cuneiform writing to Syria, Turkey, and Egypt. Mari and Babylon emerge as important urban centers|
|1800 BCE||Mathematical texts composed|
|1100 BCE||Assyrian kingdom established|
|1000 BCE||Use of iron|
|720-610 BCE||Assyrian Empire|
|668-627 BCE||Rule of Assurbanipal|
|331 BCE||Alexander conquers Babylon|
|1850s||Cuneiform script deciphered|
- WHAT IS IDENTITY (AS WE NOW USE THE WORD)? James D. Fearon Department of Political Science Stanford University Stanford, CA 9430
- On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection – Charles Darwin
- Last universal common ancestor
- Common descent
- Vertebrate Evolution
- Evolution of fish
- Timeline of the human condition
- NCERT History Books
- PALEO ANTHROPOLOGY
- The loneliness of Narmada Human
- Toba catastrophe theory
- 75000-Year-Old Artifacts of Jwalapuram Demolish 11000 BC Mesopotamia Agriculture Theory!
- Who Were the First Humans in India
- Early Humans Lived in Northern India 80,000 Years Ago
- Human occupation of northern India spans the Toba super-eruption ~74,000 years ago
- Who Were the First Settlers of India
- Cave Paintings in India
- Mesopotamia and Indus Valley Civilizations
- Neolithic Revolution
- Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory by Brian M. Fagan
- Mesopotamia Relations