Neanderthals and Modern Humans in the Indus Valley? The Middle and Late (Upper) Palaeolithic Settlement of Sindh, a Forgotten Region of the Indian Subcontinent

  • Paolo BiagiEmail author
  • Elisabetta Starnini
Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)


This paper discusses the Middle and Late (Upper) Palaeolithic sites of Sindh (Pakistan), a region of the Indian Subcontinent of fundamental importance for the study of the spread of both Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) in south Asia.

Most of the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages known to date were collected during the geological surveys carried out during the 1970s in Lower Sindh by Professor A.R. Khan, and the short visits paid to Upper Sindh by B. Allchin. More finds were discovered by the Italian Archaeological Mission during the last 30 years mainly at Ongar, near Hyderabad (Lower Sindh), and the Rohri Hills, near Rohri (Upper Sindh).

The presence of characteristic Levallois Mousterian assemblages at Ongar, and other sites west of the Indus River, opens new perspectives to the study of the dispersal of Neanderthal groups, whose south-easternmost spread has systematically been avoided by most authors.

Although the presence of typical Levallois Mousterian assemblages attributed to Neanderthals has been recorded from Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and former Soviet Central Asia, the presence of similar complexes in the Indian Subcontinent is very scarce. The occurrence of typical Levallois cores, flakes, blades, points, Mousterian scrapers and one Mousterian point at Ongar is suggested to mark the south-easternmost limit of this cultural aspect. In contrast, the Middle Palaeolithic of the Indian Subcontinent is mainly characterized by unretouched flake assemblages and scrapers. Levallois points and flakes have already been described as a minor component of the so-called “Late Soan” complexes of the Punjab along the same western bank of the Indus in north Pakistan.

Even more complex is the definition of the earliest Late (Upper) Palaeolithic assemblages in the study region. In contrast with what previously suggested, Late (Upper) Palaeolithic sites are quite common in some areas of Lower Sindh, among which are the Mulri Hills (Karachi) and Jhimpir (Thatta). The assemblages from Karachi region sites are characterized by subconical cores with bladelet detachments, curved, backed points, bladelets, lunates of different shape and size, and, in a few cases, a high percentage of burins. The situation in Upper Sindh is absolutely different. The Rohri Hills yielded evidence of an impressive number of Late (Upper) Palaeolithic flint workshops, characterized by subconical bladelet and bladelet-like flakelet cores, and impressive amounts of debitage products. A similar situation has been recorded also from Ongar (Milestone 101), where modern limestone quarrying still underway has destroyed all the archaeological sites.

To conclude: Sindh is a very important region for the study of the Palaeolithic of the Indian Subcontinent and its related territories. It is unfortunate that our knowledge of this important territory is very scarce, and its archaeological heritage is under systematic destruction.


Indus Valley Thar Desert Levallois Mousterian Blade and Burin Assemblages Neanderthal and Modern Human Dispersal 



The surveys at Ongar and Jhimpir were carried out in collaboration with the Institute of Sindhology, Sindh University (Jamshoro, PK) between 2005 and 2011. One of the authors (PB) is very grateful to the former Vice-chancellor, Mr. Mazharul Haq Siddiqui, and the former Institute’s Director, Mr. Shoukat Shoro for all their help before and during his permanence at Sindh University Campus. Many thanks are due to Mir Atta Mohammad Talpur, Mir Farooq Ahmed Talpur, Mir Ghulam Rasool Talpur and Mir Abdul Rehman Talpur, who took part in the Ongar and Daphro surveys, for all their help and assistance. Thanks are due also to Professors A.R. Khan, B. Talat and S. Akhtar of the Department of Geography, Karachi University, who allowed the author to study the collections from Ongar, the Mulri Hills, and other Karachi basin sites stored in the Museum of Prehistory and Palaeogeography of the same University, to Dr. M. Spataro (British Museum, London, UK), who helped analyse the collections from the above Museum, Dr. C. Franco (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, I), who took part in the 2008 fieldwork season at Ongar and Daphro, Dr. R. Nisbet (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, I) for his assistance during the 2009–2011 surveys at Jhimpir and Ranikot. Furthermore the authors are very grateful to all the members of the Joint Rohri Hills Project who took part in the surveys and excavations carried out on the Shadee Shaheed terraces.

The researches were carried out thanks to the financial support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) (Rome, I), Prehistoric Society (London, UK), National Geographic Society (Washington, USA), Ca′ Foscari University Archaeology Funds (Venice, I), Ligabue Foundation (Venice, I), and the CeVeSCO (Ca′ Foscari University, Venice, I).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Asian and North African StudiesCa’ Foscari UniversityVeneziaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Historical StudiesUniversity of TurinTorinoItaly

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