A new museum in Kolkata tells the tale of how modern humans in the Indian subcontinent evolved from ancestors who arrived about 12.3 million years ago from Africa, during the Pleistocene era.
Set up by the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI), the museum traces the history of human evolution in this part of the world through displays of tools, replicas of artefacts and models. The story begins with the arrival of Ramapithecus , the oldest fossil primate found in the Siwalik Hills, about 12.3 million years ago. This first hominid and the gradual evolution later is depicted through a series of replicas of facial and skull variations.
Ancient stone tools
The original artefacts in the newly opened museum include stone tools from the Pleistocene era, about 70,000- 80,000 years old and microliths (tiny stone tools) dating back 10,000 years. Prehistoric animal remains from Nitenkheri and Hathnora sites in the Narmada Valley include rhino, elephant and buffalo molars.
Photographs and installations of cave paintings from Bhimbetka and Chambal valley of Madhya Pradesh, Singhanpur and Karmagarh in Chhattisgarh, along with the rock art of Jharkhand, also throw light on humans as hunter-gatherers.
Artefacts, pottery and other articles of everyday use from the Indus Valley Civilisation — around 5,500 years ago — are recreated.
“It is through this evolution that we have come to the present. However, the enormous cultural and linguistic diversity of contemporary India cannot be overlooked,” says Kakali Chakrabarti, Head, Eastern Regional Centre of AnSI.
Ms. Chakarabarti said AnSI has identified as many as 4,635 communities, of which 635 are indigenous.
A separate corner in the museum is dedicated to linguistic diversity, which comprises four major groups — Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman — and their spread. At present there are about 750 dialects in the four major groups.
Cultural attributes are reflected by, among other things, tools.
“For instance, bows and arrows used by indigenous people in the Andamans rely more on wood, because it is readily available, whereas tools from central India have more metal because the region is rich in minerals,” says Worrel Kumar Bain, Committee member of the Eastern Regional Centre of Anthropological Survey.
Jayanta Sengupta, director, AnSI, says the museum is an addition to the list of such national anthropological institutions.