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Who lived in India first?

India has a long, complex history, with modern humans inhabiting the region as early as 75,000 years ago. Determining who lived in India first requires looking back to the very earliest human settlements on the subcontinent.

Earliest Humans in India

Archaeological evidence indicates that modern humans first arrived in India around 75,000 years ago, likely migrating from Africa via the Middle East and Persia. These early hunter-gatherer groups spread across the subcontinent over thousands of years.

Some of the earliest human fossils found in India date back to between 30,000-40,000 years ago. Notable discoveries include the fossil remains of two Homo sapiens individuals found in a rock shelter in Madhya Pradesh, dating to around 38,000 years ago.

Other important Paleolithic sites indicating the presence of early modern humans include:

  • Attirampakkam, Tamil Nadu – Stone tools dating to 385,000 years ago
  • Bhimbetka rock shelters, Madhya Pradesh – Cave art and stone tools from 30,000 years ago
  • Paisra, Maharashtra – Microlithic tools from 45,000 years ago
  • Kurnool Caves, Andhra Pradesh – Stone tools from 30,000 years ago

Genetic analysis indicates that these early hunter-gatherer groups mixed with another early human population, the Ancient Ancestral South Indians (AASI), around 65,000 years ago. The AASI were likely descendants of an early human migration out of Africa prior to 75,000 years ago.

Mesolithic Period

The Mesolithic period in India, from around 30,000 to 11,000 years ago, continues to show evidence of hunter-gatherer groups across the subcontinent. However, new types of stone tools begin to emerge, indicating cultural and technological changes.

Notable Mesolithic sites showing advanced tools and a transition toward more settled lifestyles include:

  • Bagor, Rajasthan – Rock paintings from around 6000 BCE
  • Sarai Nahar Rai, Uttar Pradesh – Remains of huts, hearths, stone tools from around 8000 BCE
  • Koldihwa, Uttar Pradesh – Microlithic tools, semi-permanent hut remains from 7000 BCE
  • Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh – Rock shelters occupied from 30,000 BCE to 1000 BCE

During this period, evidence also emerges for the first domestication of plants and animals in India and the beginning of early agriculture.

Neolithic Period

The Neolithic period in India spans from around 11,000 to 3,500 years ago and is characterized by the emergence of farming and more permanent settlements. Some key Neolithic sites include:

  • Mehrgarh, Balochistan, Pakistan – One of the earliest farming communities in South Asia, occupied from 7000 BCE to 2500 BCE.
  • Chirand, Bihar – Remains of Neolithic dwellings, pottery, grinding stones from 2500 BCE.
  • Burzahom, Kashmir – Pit dwellings, tools, ornaments from 3000 to 1000 BCE.
  • Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh – Continued occupation of rock shelters with hunter-gatherer and early farming remains.

During the Neolithic period, regional cultures and styles of pottery also began to develop across different regions of India.

Indus Valley Civilization

One of the most influential and extensive early civilizations to emerge in India was the Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization. Flourishing from around 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE, it was centered in the Indus River valley but also spread to encompass most of present-day Pakistan and northwest India.

The Indus Valley Civilization is marked by large, planned cities like Harappa and Mohenjo Daro as well as specialized crafts and long-distance trade. Some key features and innovations include:

  • Advanced urban planning, hygiene systems, and public sanitation
  • Impressive dockyards, fortifications, granaries, and water supply systems
  • Standardized systems of weights and measurements
  • Impressions of cloth and early forms of cotton cultivation
  • Artifacts indicating long-distance trade with Mesopotamia and Central Asia

The Indus Valley Civilization slowly declined around 1900 BCE, likely due to climate changes affecting agriculture as well as immigration by new populations. However, it laid important foundations for later South Asian societies.

Genetic Origins

Genetic analysis provides important clues into the ancestral origins of the diverse populations that inhabited ancient India. Key findings include:

  • The earliest modern humans in India descended from an African exodus around 75,000 years ago.
  • These early hunter-gatherers mixed with the distinct Ancient Ancestral South Indians around 65,000 years ago.
  • Neolithic farmers from West Asia migrated to India around 9000 years ago, mixing with local hunter-gatherer groups.
  • Dravidian language speakers originated with Neolithic farmers and hunter-gatherer mixtures around 4000 years ago.
  • Indo-European speakers migrated from the Steppe around 4000-3500 years ago, spreading languages like Sanskrit.

This complex intermingling of diverse groups over tens of thousands of years led to the ethnically and linguistically diverse populations of ancient India.


In summary, modern humans first inhabited India around 75,000 years ago, mixing with earlier human populations. Hunter-gatherer groups occupied the region over millennia. Around 11,000 years ago, agriculture emerged, leading to more settled existence and regional cultures. Major civilizations like the Indus Valley developed around 2600 BCE. Successive migrations of Neolithic farmers from West Asia and pastoralists from the Steppe added to the diversity of ancient India. This long, rich history of multiple cultures and peoples interacted to create the complex foundations of Indian civilization.