Advances in Anthropology
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 125-131
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 125
New Postcranial Hominin Fossils from the Central Narmada
Valley, India
Anek R. Sankhyan1*, Giani L. Badam2, Laxmi N. Dewangan3, Sheuli Chakraborty3,
Shashi Prabha3, Suvendu Kundu3, Rana Chakravarty3
1Palaeo Research Society, Ghumarwin (H.P.), India
2Anthropological Survey of India (Indian Museum Campus), Kolkata, India
3Hermes Paras, Kalyani Nagar, Pune, India
Received May 12th, 2012; revised June 13th, 2012; accepted June 24th, 2012
Hathnora in Central Narmada valley (Madhya Pradesh) has earlier yielded a partial skullcap, and two
clavicles and a 9th rib of Middle Pleistocene hominins. Recent explorations have brought to light two
more hominin fossils—a humerus and a femur from a new locality, Netankheri. The femur is derived
from the Middle Pleistocene stratigraphic horizon as the Hathnora skullcap, and shares similar “archaic”
mosaic morphology of Homo heidelbergensis, also attested by new bio-stratigraphic and Palaeolithic data.
The humerus is derived from the pre-YTA (~75 Kya) Upper Pleistocene strata in association with unique
fossilized bone artifacts and documents the early emergence of anatomically modern Homo sapiens in
South Asia.
Keywords: Pleistocene; Hominins; Narmada Valley; Humerus; Femur; H. erectus; H. sapiens;
H. heidelbergensis
Since 1830s the Central Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh
has yielded innumerable Palaeolithic artefacts and Pleistocene
mammalian fauna. 150 years later, the year 1984 saw a discov-
ery of Middle Pleistocene hominin partial cranium (Sonakia,
1984), followed later by the discovery of two clavicles and a
partial left 9th rib (Sankhyan, 1997a, 1997b, 2005) from a layer
just above near the same site, Hathnora. These findings brought
Central Narmada valley to the forefront of human evolution in
South Asia and generated considerable debate on the taxonomic
status of Narmada hominin. The partial cranium received
greater attention from Lumley & Sonakia (1985), who con-
ceived it as of an “evolved” Homo erectus, the stand more re-
cently continued by another French scholar, Mallasse (2009).
This was followed by another study by Kennedy et al. (1991),
who highlighted several advanced traits and therefore referred it,
to an “archaic” Homo sapiens. Several scholars viewed the
cranium in the same manner on different grounds (Badam et al.,
1986; Sankhyan, 1999, 2006; Kennedy, 2000; Cameron, 2004).
Of late, the terms “evolved” Homo erectus “archaic” or “ar-
chaic” Homo sapiens cladistically received different connota-
tions, and therefore, Narmada partial cranium was referred to a
much wider Old World species, Homo heidelbergensis (Ken-
nedy, 2007; Athreya, 2007; Sankhyan, 2010).
Initially, the two clavicles and the rib fossils were thought to
have been derived from the same cranially known Middle Plei-
stocene hominin on grounds of stratigraphic proximity and in-
ferred female sex and similar estimated age at death (Sankhyan,
1999). But, they remained enigmatic mismatch (Pearson, 2000)
to the cranium, and therefore were ignored by notable scholars
like Kennedy (2000) in discussion on hominin evolution in
Narmada valley. Of course, they do not corroborate in the esti-
mated body dimensions of a single hominin, and appeared
morphologically distinct (Sankhyan, 2007), and therefore open
up a possibility of a hitherto unknown Pygmy-sized species or
archaic population in Narmada valley (Sankhyan & Rao, 2007;
Van Heteren & Sankhyan, 2009), strengthened by a recent
study (Sankhyan, 2010).
The New Findings
The present study reports two new hominin fossils from the
Central Narmada valley described here. They include a partial
left humeral diaphysis NTK-F-02-07 (Figure 1) and a distal
shaft fragment of the left femur NTK-F-07-05 (Figure 2),
housed at Kolkata in the Palaeoanthropology Repository of the
Anthropological Survey of India. These were derived from two
different stratigraphic levels of a new fossil locality, Netankheri,
located about 3 km upstream of Hathnora, along the northern
bank of River Narmada (Figures 3 and 4).
The Humerus
The specimen is fully mineralized and exhibits post-fossili-
zation linear cracks, especially on the medial border. The pre-
served portion below the radial sulcus (spiral groove) unto the
upper margin of the olecranon fossa measures 84 mm. The
specimen is cylindrical proximally, widening and turning pris-
matic distally. It is bounded by three borders and three surfaces,
and shows a medial bend on the posterior surface, where the
brachialis narrows upward and widens downward. Distally, the
posterior surface is flattened and covered by the lateral and
medial heads of the triceps brachia that give rise to part of the
*Corresponding author.
Figure 1.
Netankheri left humerus fossil: (1A) (anterior); (1B) (posterior); (1C), (1D), (1E) comparisons in different views with two modern chaurite.
Figure 2.
Netankheri distal femur fossil (2A) (anterior); (2B) (posterior) and comparison with modern; Neanderthal and Homo erectus femora (2C) and in cross
sections (2D).
Figure 3.
The humerus site (3A) and the stratigraphic position (3B) at U3 boulder conglomerate at Netankheri, right bank of
Narmada River. Lithosection at Bankheri (3C) on the left bank of Narmada River near Babai containing the YTA
layers in the Baneta Fm (3D).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Figure 4.
The site (4A) and stratigraphic position ((4B) & (4C)) of the Netankheri femur fossil in the U1 boulder conglomerate bed and
the area map (4D) in Central Narmada Valley.
brachialis. The anterior border is smooth and rounded. The
lateral border is sharp crest like and rough distally; upraises
obliquely medial ward with a broad shallow oblique depression
in the centre. The medial border is broken at its centre.
Comparative Assessment
It is relevant to know whether the NTK humerus is of an ar-
chaic hominin or of modern human. A recent study (Todd &
Churchill, 2006) shows that archaic vs modern human differen-
tiation could be established by the proximal end of ulna, and
not by the distal humerus. Nevertheless, fossilization and stout
morphology may indicate a “late archaic” character of the NTK
fossil humerus. Its 84 mm preserved fragment yields an esti-
mated total length of 240 mm (Table 1), which is even shorter
than the mean length of five Chaurite humeri (291.4 ± 13.43
mm) as well as from a larger sample of 33 mixed mainland
Indian including Chaurite (284.74 ± 27.19 mm). Interestingly,
the NTK and Chaurite Nicobari population is shorter and
stockier in the available comparative sample which includes
Omo Kibish and Cro-Magnon 1 (Carretero, 2009; Bermudez de
Castro et al., 2012, personal communication).
Thus, coupled with the earlier findings of two clavicles and a
rib, the NTK humerus suggests that the Central Narmada Val-
ley was continuously occupied by “short and stocky” early to
late archaic or early modern Homo sapiens populations during
Middle to Late Pleistocene of South Asia, and it is not unlikely
they included the ancestors of similar short-bodied ancient In-
dians/South Asians including the Andaman Pygmy.
The Femur
The specimen (Figures 2(A) and (B)) is fully mineralized, 81
mm distal-most shaft portion of the left femur, detached from
the condyles. The popliteal surface is well preserved while arti-
cular surface of the patella intercondylar fossa is eroded. Direct
comparisons with similar sized mammalian femurs ruled out its
non-hominin identity, and the specimen shows a typical cylin-
drical shape of the hominin femur body or corpus femoris,
which broadens and flattens distally near the condylar region
forming a distinct triangular popliteal surface on the posterior
aspect. When the femur is held with its body perpendicular, its
lateral surface looks larger and rounded compared to the rela-
tively narrow and slightly pinched medial surface above the
condyles, which flares more medially backward. This demon-
strates that it is a left femur.
Comparative Assessment
Comparative morphometrics of femur specimens are pre-
sented in Table 1. Although limited by preservation, the most
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 127
Table 1.
Metric comparison of the Narmada fossilized humerus and femur with modern mainland Indians and Chaurite Nicobari of Andaman-Nicobar Islands,
and other Pleistocene hominins. M-L = medio-lateral diameter or lateral pillar thickness; A-P = antero-posterior diameter or middle pillar thickness;
all measurements in millimeter.
Humerus Mid-Shaft Measurement
Skeletal Population N & Value M-L/LPT A-P/MPT GIRTH LENGTH
Netankheri Fossil (NTK-F-02-07) 1 18.3 18.7 67.5 84 = 240est
33 16.02 16.56 60.02 284.70
SD 2.65 2.43 5.82 24.19 Mainland Indians + Chaurite Islanders
SE 0.46 0.42 1.01 4.21
5 19.21 19.08 65.95 291.4
SD 3.15 1.20 4.75 13.43 Chaurite Islanders
SE 1.41 0.54 2.46 6.00
KNM-WT 15000F 1 17.3 11.8
Gombore IB-7594 1 15.6 11.61
ATD6-148 1 14.0 7.0
BOD-VP-1/2b 1 18.0 9.0
Kabwe 1 18.4 11.9
Skhul IV 1 18.6 14.2
Omo Kibish I-r (KHS-1-30) 1 19.9 11.5
Omo Kibish I-l (KHS-1-31) 1 20.6 12.0
Cro-Magnon 1 1 20.7 14.0
Dolní Vĕstonice 4 16.8 ± 1.7 9.1 ± 2.8
Sima de los Huesos 6/9 15.7 ± 2.0 8.6 ± 1.3
Neandertals 21/23 15 ± 2.2 7.7 ± 1.8
Femur Distal Mid-Shaft Measurement
NTK-F-07-05 (L) 1 44.85 38.05 125.5
Neanderthal (R )1 1 47.3 40.7 133.5
Homo erectus (L) (Java)1 1 37.65 34.15 114.5
Homo erectus (Tautavel)2 1 36.9 32.55 -
18 34.87 27.68 102.85
SD 34.87 28.11 104.65
Modern Indians
(Homo sapiens)3
SE 3.643 2.93 10.095
*Estimated, 1Measurements on replicas; 2On original at Tautavel, France taken in July 2009, access courtesy Professor Henry de Lumley; and 3On original in Anthropologi-
cal Survey of India Palaeoanthropology Laboratory, Kolkata.
notable feature of the NTK femur is its inconspicuous medial
and lateral lips resulting in a sub-circular/ovoid shape of the
diaphysis in cross section (Figure 2(D)). This is in contrast to
the modern human femora, where the two lips emerge into
prominent ridges, the linea aspera, which result in a posterior
pilaster or flatness. In this respect, the NTK femur is compara-
ble to the robust and rounded femur of the Neanderthal man
which lacks the pilaster (Figure 2(C)). Direct comparison with
the “late archaic” hominins (Trinkaus, 2007; Trinkaus & Ruff,
1999; Churchill, 2007; Weaver, 2009), e.g., Tabun 3, Qafze 9
and Skhul 5 was not possible, their cross sections (Figure 2(D))
look apparently similar. Nevertheless, striking metric similarity
is with the Neanderthal than Java Homo erectus (Table 1).
The Litho-Stratigraphy at Netankheri
The two specimens were derived from two different strati-
graphic levels exposed near the village Netankheri, located
(22˚5025N, 77˚536E) along the northern bank of the east-
west flowing River Narmada (Figure 3(A)), three kilometers
east upstream from Hathnora, 25 km east of Shahganj. The
Netankheri Quaternary litho-stratigraphic section (Figure 3(C))
is 19.2 m thick; its 3.7 m lower part is attributed to the Middle
Pleistocene Surajkund Formation and the upper to the Upper
Pleistocene Baneta Formation (Tiwari & Bhai, 1997). Like
Hathnora (Figure 3(B)), the Surajkund Formation at Netank-
heri is comprised of three distinct cemented pebble conglomer-
ate beds (Khan & Sonakia, 1992), denoted as U1, U2 & U3 with
Inter-layers of yellow sands. A striking feature here is that the
U2/U3 units of the Surajkund Fm cemented gravel beds are
collapsed and spread as a gravely sand bar for a longer distance
by the recent neotectonic anticlines and synclines, besides ero-
sional and re-depositional activities of River Narmada. The
collapsed segment contains the fragments of Vndhyan sand-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
stone, and other volcanic materials, like chert, jasper, agate, etc.
derived from the Satpura Hills. The lower portion of the Sura-
jkund Fm has sequences of yellowish brown coarse sand and
pebbles, and the cemented gravel. The Baneta overlays discon-
formably as fine brown calcareous clayey silt with grey sand
lenses, and thick brown siltyclay.
The Associated Palaeontological &
Archaeological Findings
The U1 yielded a heavy duty Acheulian pick and a few han-
daxes at Netankheri, but remarkably over hundred refined
heavy duty large Acheulian handaxes, picks, cleavers and
chopping tools were recovered in situ at Hathnora. At Netank-
heri the femur discovered at the U1 level of the Surajkund for-
mation was associated with heavy duty Acheulian implements
and a molar fragment of Stegodon insignis ganesa.
The U1 level at Hathnora however yielded a richer assem-
blage of complete crania and mandibles of Equus namadicus,
Elephas namadicus, Bos namadicus, Bubalis palaeindicus and
Hexaprotodon namadicus (Sankhyan, 2010). One complete
mandible of Equus namadicus was excavated in shallow waters
with an Acheulian tool embedded in the conglomerate matrix
that filled the mandibular ramii. This is a direct evidence of the
contemporaneity of the fauna and the cultural artifacts. The
fauna from the U1 level indicate a later Middle Pleistocene age
(Sankhyan, 2010; Badam & Sankhyan, 2009) to the hominin
skullcap as well as femur.
In addition, the Neanderthal-like archaic robust morphology
of the NTK femur is in concordance with the robust archaic
mosaic morphology of the Hathnora partial cranium; the rich
mega mammalian fossils as well as heavy duty Acheulian im-
plements recovered from this level (Sankhyan, 2010) also go in
line with this inference. Therefore, the Neanderthal-like femur
may best be regarded as Homo heidelbergensis since Hathnora
calvaria are also better identified with Homo heidelbergensis in
recent years.
The NTK humerus derived from the U2/U3 interface (Figure
3(D)) was found in association with typical Upper Palaeolithic
implements as well as the fossilized bone implements; an iso-
lated dentition of Equus hemionus khur was also found at this
level. The U1/U2 interface at Hathnora has yielded two hominin
clavicles and a rib of a Pygmy-sized short and stocky hominin
(Sankhyan, 1997, 2005). We recently excavated several light-
duty Late Acheulian and Middle Palaeolithic implements from
this level, (Sankhyan, 2010). Earlier workers (Badam et al.,
1986; De Lumley & Sonakia, 1985) also reported similar arti-
facts from this stratigraphic level and thought these associated
with the calvaria. Now, it is clear that they were likely the
handiwork of the Pygmy-sized short and stocky hominin
(Sankhyan, 2010).
The Chronology of the Findings
An electron spin resonance (ESR) date of >236 Kya (Cam-
eron et al., 2004) is concordant with the biostratigraphic and
cultural findings, though more recent attempts based on linear
Uranium uptakes show a wider range 40 to 280 Kya (Patnaik, et
al., 2009). Probably, the Hathnora calvaria and the Netankheri
femur may probably be of ~250 Kya old, whereas, Hathnora
clavicles and the rib specimen could be younger to ~200 Kya in
consideration of the totality of faunal and archaeological evi-
As the humerus specimen was discovered from the collapsed
U2/U3 interface (Figure 2(A)) of the Surajkund Formation,
below the Baneta Formation stratigraphic boundary, it is older
than the YTA date of ~75 Kya (Rose and Chesner, 1990;
Chesner, 1991) since so far only the Baneta and Hirdepur for-
mations of the Central Narmada Valley are known to contain
the Youngest Toba Ash layers (Acharyya & Basu, 1993; West-
gate et al., 1998; Ganjoo et al., 1996).
Discussion & Conclusion
Above observations indicate presence of two types of archaic
hominins in Narmada valley during Middle to Late Pleistocene
times. The “large-bodied” species was wide spread during Mid-
dle Pleistocene at lower Surajkund at U1 stratigraphic level and
hunted mega mammals with typical large-sized Acheulian im-
plements. The “short and stocky” archaic hominins appeared at
upper Surajkund level during later Middle Pleistocene time and
hunted relatively small game animals using Late Acheulian and
Middle Palaeolithic technology. The Netankheri humerus pro-
vides evidence for an adaptive continuity of the “short and
stocky” hominins during Upper Pleistocene, and they likely
formed the ancestral substratum for the later short-bodied popu-
lations of South Asia including the Pygmy.
Thus, the “short and stocky” mode 3 archaic hominins may
have been but an early (Pre-Toba) “African import” to South
Asia thought via Arabian Peninsula (Petraglia, 2007; Petraglia
& Alsharekh, 2003; James & Petraglia, 2005). They might have
survived the “Volcanic Winter” (Ambrose, 1998; Oppen-
heimer, 2002, 2003) due to unique cultural adaptations (such as
bonetool technology), which could have facilitated rapid at-
tainment of anatomical modernity as well (Sankhyan, 2010).
The recent mtDNA M signatures of >60 Kya likely attest con-
tinuity of the “short-bodied” populations indirectly, like the
Munda, inhabiting the easternmost fringe of the Narmada Val-
ley, who surprisingly, shares these signatures with the Anda-
man pygmy (Barik et al., 2008; Chandrasekar, 2009). Recent
archaeological studies have demonstrated wide-spread and south-
eastward expansions of technologically Narmada-like Late
Acheulian to Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hominins
(Sankhyan et al., 2011). Moreover, there is considerable ana-
tomical gap between the NTK humerus and later Pleistocene
(~30 Kya old) occupants of the Fa Hien cave of Sri Lanka
(Kennedy & Deraniyagala, 1989) and Darri-I-Kur of northeast-
ern Afghanistan (Angel, 1972) which would continue to fuel
debate on “Continuity” vs “Replacement”.
The senior author, being the Principal Investigator of the
Narmada Project sponsored by the Anthropological Survey of
India Kolkata, thanks V. R. Rao, the then Director-in-Charge
for facilities, and several notable experts, namely M. L. K.
Murty, V. Shinde, S. R. Walimbe, Subrata Chakrabarti, and S.
B. Ota, who examined the findings, as well as M. P. Tiwari and
Yusuf Bhai to discuss Narmada stratigraphy during field opera-
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