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Paleolithic Tools, Jwalapuram Valley, India Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Samir S. Patel

Paleolithic Tools • India


Sites in India's Jwalapuram Valley show the eruption of Indonesia's Toba Volcano 74,000 years ago covered the area in ash, but also reveal that the valley's Paleolithic inhabitants survived the devastation with their culture intact. (Courtesy Michael Petraglia)

South Asia isn't often part of the discussion regarding human origins, but a study published in July shows that early humans living in India were amazingly adaptive and resilient.

When Toba Volcano in Indonesia blew its top 74,000 years ago--the largest known volcanic eruption--it caused a "volcanic winter" and may have decimated human populations worldwide. So few early human foragers survived the event that it caused genetic bottleneck that researchers claim is still detectable in our DNA today. In addition to affecting climate, it blanketed the Indian subcontinent in four to six inches of ash. But new finds in south India's Jwalapuram Valley suggest that humans there endured. In deposits above and below the ash layer, archaeologists found similar sets of stone tools, suggesting that people there survived the massive catastrophe with their culture intact, despite being relatively close to the source of the devastation.

The tools do show minor changes, so the humans may have altered their behavior to cope. That these tools also closely resemble those made by modern humans in Africa implies that modern humans may have occupied South Asia thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

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