A Relic Population of Pleistocene Man (Homo sapiens) on North Sentinel Island

Homo sapiens first left Africa about 60,000 years ago.  Most of the original tribes that left Africa either perished in the harsh environments of Asia or were replaced by later arriving tribes that had developed superior technology or subsistence strategies.  The people who eventually conquered Asia look and behave quite differently from the initial African colonizers.  However, there is a relic population of early Homo sapiens on the Andaman Islands located in the Bay of Bengal near Malaysia.  Scientists believe a land bridge connected the Andaman Islands with Malaysia during Ice Ages and early Homo sapiens walked there.  Rising sea levels isolated the Andamanese and protected them from being killed or assimilated by groups that later conquered Asia.  Genetic evidence suggests the Andaman Islanders diverged from the rest of humanity 60,000 years ago.

Andaman Islands.PNG

Location of the Andaman Islands.  They were connected to Malaysia during Ice Ages due to lower sea levels.

The Andaman Islanders are related to African pygmies but are considered negrittos–people smaller than average in size but larger than pygmies.  This smaller stature probably helps them survive on islands where they have less food.  It’s an evolutionary advantage to have lower caloric intake needs on islands, and dwarfism is common among large species of mammals that became trapped on islands.  People on 1 particular Andaman Island known as North Sentinel have been isolated longer than any other Andaman Islanders.  Their language is far different from the 2 languages spoken on the other Andaman Islands, and they have incredibly primitive technology.  All attempts to communicate with them have failed because no one in the outside world understands their language. The North Sentinelese kill outsiders on sight, explaining why they have been isolated for so long.  They have no agriculture, and some believe they depend on lightning strikes for fire, though I doubt this.  I think our evolutionary ancestors (H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus) had fire, but who knows–maybe the North Sentinelese forgot fire-making knowledge.

Image result for North Sentinel

The unfriendly North Sentinelese attack outsiders on sight.  Here, they are about to shoot arrows at a passing helicopter. Note the red-ochre painted faces.

There are only 40-400 North Sentinelese living on the 24 square mile island.  The island vegetation prevents an aerial survey of the population.  They eat wild pigs, fish and shellfish, and wild plant foods.  The Indian government (owners of the Andaman Islands) abandoned attempts to contact the tribe and outlawed other outsiders from visiting the island.  It’s unsafe for outsiders because they will be attacked, and introduction of infectious diseases would probably wipe out North Sentinelese because their immune systems have been isolated from other humans for so long.  The North Sentinelese recently murdered 2 drunken fishermen who drifted too close to shore.  Also not long ago, a typhoon wrecked an oil tanker on a coral reef off the island, and the crew had to fight for their lives before being rescued.  The North Sentinelese stripped the ship bare.  They shoot arrows at all passing helicopters.

The North Sentinelese represent what Pleistocene man was like 60,000 years ago.  Pleistocene people were small of stature and dark-skinned.  Genetic evidence of a 10,000 year old skeleton in Britain suggests even some Europeans were dark-skinned during the Pleistocene.  They had primitive technology and were hostile to strangers.  The descendants of these small violent humans conquered the world.

Reference:

Endicott, P. et. al.

“The Genetic Origins of the Andaman Islanders”

American Journal of Human Genetics  72 (1) 2003

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3 Responses to “A Relic Population of Pleistocene Man (Homo sapiens) on North Sentinel Island”

  1. ina puustinen-westerholm Says:

    Blessings upon those good people. May they..inhabit..their small world..and cause the rest of us..who live..in so many worlds apart..to think. To wonder. Who knows what scientific wonders..will be found/unearthed..in the generations..yet to come. Stripping the ship bare..suggests that..the ‘wonderment’..within the little peoples ranks..will..inevitably..lead them..forward. Thank you for this segment of..our world.

  2. Zach Matthews Says:

    You can tell just by looking at the map that they were able to walk to their island during the last glacial maximum. But their cousins somehow jumped the Torres Strait. I hope some day one of these people comes in from the cold and submits their DNA for analysis.

  3. swineflooo Says:

    I believe that photo is taken from an isolated tribe in Brazil, not the Sentinelese

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