Was the first ‘Out of Africa’ settlement of Homo sapiens in India?

A project that bridged the disciplines of Anthropology, Archaeology and Genetics

Directed by Marta Mirazon Lahr & Kumarasamy Thangaraj


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Underlying rational

When, where and why Homo sapiens evolved remain some of the most fascinating research questions in both the sciences and the humanities. Genetic and palaeoanthropological evidence has established that our species evolved in Africa ~200,000 years ago, and subsequently dispersed around the world. This insight has given rise to a scientific revolution which forged a new relationship between the social and life sciences. Through our UKIERI project, we built on this relationship by asking the question “Was the first ‘out of Africa’ settlement of Homo sapiens in India?” from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Answering this question matters. Firstly, because understanding the origins and evolution of our own species has been a long-standing goal of modern science, and the particular historical pattern by which one population differentiated from another depends on establishing the first steps by which our gene pool was structured. Secondly, because understanding the evolutionary diversity between and within human populations, as well as its underlying genetic and behavioural features, is critical for understanding individual and populational patterns of disease susceptibility, pharmacogenetic responses, and dietary propensities. Finally, because our overarching question can only be truly answered through a collaborative effort by geneticists  and palaeoanthropologists, and although dyadic interactions between them do exist in both the UK and India, such multidsciplinarity rarely extends to the training of early career researchers or to the actual formulation of research strategies. 

This project aimed at generating a new partnertship that builds on this scientific revolution by creating a platform for the exchange of knowledge, ideas and skills not just across disciplines and disciplinary boundaries, but also academic traditions. By focusing on supporting UK and Indian doctoral students, our project helped built a new generation of early career scientists versed in both evolutionary genetics and biological anthropology and archaeology.

Our objectives were:

  1. to work towards a consensus between palaeoanthropological and genetic information in relation to the time-depth and evolutionary history of modern humans in South Asia
  2. to contribute to our understanding of the evolutionary and anthropological processes that shaped human diversity in India
  3. and to contribute towards building an inter-disciplinary scientific community to tackle questions in human evolution, both in India and the UK