Synthesising, Reconstructing, and Understanding Late Pleistocene Environments and Hominin Adaptations in South Asia

Shashi B. Mehra1, Shailesh Agrawal2, Parth R. Chauhan1

1Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali, India

2Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, India

Understanding the Late Pleistocene period in the Indian Subcontinent is both necessary and difficult, as we have large spatial and temporal overlaps of different technologies ranging from Late Acheulean to microlithic. This paper provides 1) a general overview of Late Pleistocene environmental studies conducted to date, as well as the implications of those studies, 2) new palaeoclimatic data generated through stable isotope analysis (north-central India) to better understand the impact of palaeoclimate on hominin populations across north-central India. The available records suggest different climatic conditions: 125 to 80 ka – humid environments, 79 to 70 ka - mixed environments, 69 to 60 ka- arid environments, 59 to 30 ka - humid environments, 29 to 20 ka (LGM) mixed conditions and periods of aridity from 19 to 11 ka. Additionally, a total of 23 late Pleistocene mammalian teeth (species of Cervid, Bovid, Sus, Hippopotamus, Canis, Equus) from Gopnath in Gujarat, and nine separate localities from the Narmada Basin in Madhya Pradesh were analysed for δ13C and δ18O values to understand the palaeoclimatic conditions and associated dietary habits of mammals during the Late Pleistocene. The δ13C values in the sample fractions of Gopnath and Narsinghpur range from −3.1 to 2.3 ‰, and−3.2 to 1.33‰, respectively. The higher δ13C values in these specimens suggest a predominantly C4-based dietary pattern. However, a relatively lower and large range of δ13C values from Nehlai (-11.1 to -3.45 ‰) suggest a predominately C3 based dietary pattern. The relatively higher δ18O values in Gopnath (−4.1 to −3.1), Nehlai (−4.74 to −2.09) and Narsinghpur (−4.0 to 1.93) point towards hot and humid climatic conditions. The regional contexts are dominated by Late Pleistocene geological records and associated Middle Palaeolithic evidence, and the preliminary isotope results indirectly hint that contemporary hominin groups were adapted to hot and humid environments.