Farming took root in India only 10,000 years ago, study finds

By Snehal Fernandes

Mumbai : Farming came to India 10,000 years ago, and it was only much later that grains such as rice, wheat and millet — considered diet staples today — were grown in most parts of the country.

A wave of migration from Central Asia led to the spread of agriculture across the Indian sub-continent, a new study by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) suggests. The study says the migrants started farming in the Indus-Ganga region and their farming techniques spread as the group moved to the east and south of the country.

A four-member TIFR team simulated the prehistoric movement of people in India and modelled the spread of crops to find early humans encountered wild varieties of two food grains, rice and millet, in the Indus-Ganga region.

“Pre-historic humans in India depended on hunting small game, scavenging or forest produce for food. Several groups migrating from Central Asia or Iran brought farming with them to India as they practised it around that time,” said Mayank Vahia, lead investigator, TIFR. “While these groups came with crops they knew of, they came across rice and millets in the Indus-Ganga region for the first time and started cultivating them too.”

Previous studies have shown early humans started migrating to India 60,000 to 40,000 years ago from Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan) via the Khyber Pass, from Iran through Bolan Pass or the coastal route. These migrants formed three distinct groups – Ancestral North India (ANI), Ancestral South India (ASI) and Autro-Asian Indians (AAI).

The latest study now shows that farming took root in India much later.

As populations became very large, researchers said hunting-gathering was not enough and moving around was not possible.

“And, therefore they found farming as a good alternative. The idea that farming could be done and would be useful came from elsewhere, but these specific plants were identified in India,” said Vahia.

The results of their simulation matched with past studies based on archaeobiological data – study of the biology of ancient times with archaeological materials – from the Indian sub-continent.

Previous studies show Indian rice was initially grown in east India, in the Ganga – Brahmaputra valley. The region also recorded the first spread of the water buffalo and chickens. According to work by Dorian Fuller, a professor of archaeobotany at the University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, the western region largely survived on millet and wheat. These reached eastern India only around 4,500 year ago. Those who first occupied the Gangetic plains 9,000 years ago consumed fish.

Studies have also found people inhabiting Orissa started growing tubers, millet, vigna (flowering plant) and pulses only 5,000 years ago. Much later – 2,500 years ago – cattle and black buck became the staple diet in Gujarat.

Rice, the staple food of the south, reached the region much later. Until then, people depended on cattle, sheep and goat for food.

“Archaeological and archaeo-botanical data from the subcontinent is patchy because these are based on field work. This simulation study gives smooth distribution of people across the country, over time-periods, and one can do many more experiments with history than what was allowed so far,” said Vahia.

In their paper published last month, the TIFR team used the same model to simulate prehistoric population dynamics which showed that early humans entered the Indian subcontinent through three entry points – along the coast about 65,000 years ago, from Iran via the Bolan Pass around 45,000 years ago, and along the Khyber Pass 40,000 to 30,000 years ago. Their results matched with genetic maps from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

“Around 30,000 years ago, internal pressures seem to have stimulated migration, and over the next 20,000 years or so, this resulted in encounters with other population groups. Upon introduction of farming, the populations were once again precipitated into isolated, localised groups capable of sustaining themselves through agriculture,” states the paper co-authored by Uma Ladiwala, and Deepak Mathur.

Source: Hindustan Times

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