Current Strategies - Anthropological Survey of India

A Long wait for Human Fossils

It is only after over a century's long anticipation that human fossils could be discovered in 1980s and 1990s from Central Narmada valley. These are the only human fossil findings in South Asia:

(i) A right calvarium ( skullcap ) by Arun Sonakia,GSI

(ii)A right clavicle ( collarbone ) by A.R. Sankhyan. AnSI

And recently (iii) A partial left Clavicle and 9 th left Rib by A.R. Sankhyan. AnSI

And, these come from the basal cemented gravel called Boulder Conglomerate or Surajkund Formation at Hathnora

This modest beginning is a challenge for future since these human fossils have world wide interest and implications in understanding human origins. It is also acclaimed by notable scholars, like Kenneth A. R. Kennedy, that India has enormous field resources for the palaeoanthropological investigations where the Narmada basin and the Siwaliks are in particular of great significance.

And, we have tapped only a fraction of the same. Therefore, it is imperative that extensive and intensive systematic explorations and excavations of Central Narmada basin are of immediate concern. This is particularly very compelling in view of the inevitable submergence of the basin in the wake of Narmada Sagar Dam backwaters and monsoonal over flooding of Narmada River. So, we have the only option to salvage as many as possible the prehistoric lithic cultural artefacts and fossil remains of the early men and their associated fauna before these sink into the waters forever, and never be tapped again.

 Urgent Strategies for Palaeoanthropological Research in Central Narmada Valley
Hence, a special panel of the notable experts was formed to seriously discuss the matter involving the senior scholars in the field to evolve modalities for systematic work under the auspices of the National conference on Human Origins, Genome & People of India organised by the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) at the India International Centre, New Delhi from 22 nd to 24 th March 2004.

 Recommendations of Narmada Panel
The Panel was chaired by Dr. D.K. Bhatt, Deputy Director General, Geological Survey of India (Lucknow) and was attended by many eminent panellists comprising of palaeontologists, Quaternary geologists, prehistoric archaeologists, palaeo-ecologists, magneto-chronologists, palaeo-anthropologists, etc.

The panellists appreciated the concern of the AnSI and realised the urgent need for conducting palaeo-anthropological researches in Central Narmada basin to salvage the fossils and cultural artefacts of the prehistoric man. After a detailed discussion, the panellists unanimously resolved as follows:

 The Strategy
    A long-term sustained field investigation, initially at least for two years, should be undertaken as :

  • To begin with the Hathnora Hominid Fossil locality is to be selected. The field of investigation can be expanded later to other promising areas, if time and resources allow.
  • The study is to be undertaken by the Anthropological Survey of India.
 The Aims
  • Primarily to retrieve all type of fossils and lithic artefacts.
  • To ascertain the nature of the fossiliferous and implimentiferous deposits.
  • To document the process of data retrieval and investigation with the help of latest scientific methods and technological aids.
 The Methodology
  • Application of sedimentological, geophysical, geomorphological and archaeological principles and techniques with addition of geo-chronological processing of data as and when found.
  • Setting up of a semi-permanent Field Station close to the investigation area.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India has voluntarily joined to collaborate with the AnSI.
  • The Superintending Archaeologist Bhopal Circle with the assistance of one Asstt. Archaeologist will participate in excavation at Hathnora, to be done after the explorations.
  • They will impart orientation training in excavation techniques at Bhimbetka site before starting the excavation at Hathnora.
 The Field Working Group
    The Narmada field operation will be carried out under the supervision of the Project In-Charge (ARS) under directions from the Director AnSI. The field team shall be comprised of

  • Two-Senior Research Fellows
  • Three -Junior Research Fellows
  • Field Assistant
  • Skilled/Unskilled labourers – as per field requirement
  • Camera man
  • Draftsman/ Surveyor
  • Driver with Vehicle

  • The Senior Research fellow will co-ordinate with each team and monitor the progress, and shall also take up the responsibilities in the absence the Project In-Charge
 Recent Narmada Valley Findings
The Narmada team conducted three-month exploration during March to June, and made another brief trip to sites around Hathnora for a month during September-October 2007. The material thus far collected from 63 Paleolithic to Mesolithic and Palaeontological sites covered right from Handia near the western end of the Central Narmada valley unto its eastern end at Bhedaghat in Jabalpur District is under identification and systematic cataloguing. The lithic cultural artefact collection goes to around 2000 specimens besides a number of important faunal fossil remains reflecting the prehistoric ecology and environment of the early man. In addition, a little known and isolated prehistoric rock art site, the Boro Rani Cave, located deep in the thick forests of the Satpura Range, having rock paintings holds a great promise for a better insight in to the area, but the threat is from dangerous bears and hyenas.

A one week Narmada Workshop-cum Orientation Programme was organised from 30th January to 5th February 2008 in Bhopal. The workshop was hosted by Professor K.K. Basa, Director, IGRMS, Bhopal and chaired by Dr. V.R. Rao, Director-in-Charge, An.S.I. Dr Rao highlighted the importance of the Narmada Project, while A.R. Sankhyan, PI, presented an overview of the research conducted under the project followed by presentation by four research fellows attached to the project. In the afternoon session, invited noted scholars on Narmada Quaternary, e.g. Dr. G.L. Badam, Dr. S.B. Ota, Dr. Hamza Yusuf Bhai made their presentations. Mr. K.K. Mohammad (A.S.I.) Mr. Arun Sonakia and others were present. Dr. Shanti Pappu arrived later in the field. At the end of the workshop, a resolution was adopted and signed by the experts for the Archaeological Survey of India to declare Hathnora hominin site as a Protected Site.

After the workshop-cum-orientation programme, trial excavations were initiated at Hathnora and Nagwara (Burhi Narmada) on the suggestion of experts. Lithic and fossil finds recovered in situ in stratigraphic layers are documented. At Hathnora, water has filled up the trench even at a meager depth of 1.3 meters, excavations could not be continued.

 Paleo-Pathology of Ancient Skeletal Remains
Dr. Veena Mushrif-Tripathy, Visiting Fellow of the Anthropological Survey of India has submitted her year long work in the An.S.I. in the form of a report entitled ‘Human skeletal remains from the sites of Sarai Nahar Rai (Mesolithic) and Kumhar Tekri (Early Historic)’.

In the report, she made a strong case for a ‘National Facility for Human Skeletal Research’, a centre for research comprising the skeletal repository with in the Anthropological Survey of India.

The first part of the report deals with the skeletal collection from the Mesolithic site of Sarai Nahar Rai, which has two adult specimens from the site. Of the two adult specimens of this series, those are housed in the An.S.I. one is a complete one while the other is partially preserved. The second part concerns with the skeletal series recovered from a historic site, Kumhar Tekri. The main objective for undertaking this re-study is to cover the parameters that remained unreported earlier, and in a broader sense, to verify the need to restudy the other skeletal collections, to set-up a research approach, to appreciate the logistic problems that may come up and to estimate the time, money, and manpower requirements for a long term research plan for other skeletal collection in the repository. There are 57 individuals identified in the collection of which 23 individuals are represented by a few bones or teeth. This series present interesting data from the morphological and pathological perspective. Some uncommon morphologies like metopic suture, apical bones, wormian bones, parietal notch bone etc. It also provides information on the skeletal pathologies like trauma/fracture, joint diseases, localized arthritic lesions, in dentition carries, abscess, periodontal diseases, antemortem tooth loss etc. are also observed. Both male and female are represented. There are few sub-adults and most individuals come from the middle-aged and aged categories. In general the population from Kumhar Tekri is healthy while most of the pathologies are related to old age.

The third part of the report comprises cranial preservation charts and post-cranial preservation charts. All observations are conducted using the standard methodologies. It includes the skeletal parts preserved for individual, as well as the morphological and pathological remarks. This is basically a raw data which will be useful for further understanding of the Kumhar Tekri population.

Systematic categorization of the huge material collected from Narmada is in the process of documentation. The paleo-pathological findings of Sarai Nahar and Kumar Tekri is in the process of publication.

 Hominin Site
At the end of the workshop ‘Narmada Workshop-cum-Orientation Programme’ organised in Bhopal (30th January to 5th February 2008), a resolution was adopted and signed by the experts for the Archaeological Survey of India to declare Hathnora hominin site as a Protected Site.

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Dr. Jayanta Sengupta, Director, Anthropological Survey of India

Dr. Jayanta Sengupta, Director, Anthropological Survey of India.
Anthropological Survey of India
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