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Reviewed by:
  • God-Apes and Fossil Men. Paleoanthropology in South Asia
  • Lynne A. Schepartz
God-Apes and Fossil Men. Paleoanthropology in South Asia. Kenneth A. R. Kennedy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. 480 pp.; figures, maps, references, indices.

Every paleoanthropologist worth their tenured position knows the intricacies of the archaeological and fossil records for Africa, Europe, Southwest Asia, and China. Yet [End Page 311] how many have more than a passing familiarity with South Asia? With the publication of this work, they can no longer excuse their ignorance.

In the preface to this impressive encyclopedic work, Kennedy writes that he is examining the established hypotheses regarding Asian prehistory and population history. Most notably, these are the view that Asia is the cradle of humanity (especially topical now as Chinese researchers reassert claims for the earliest Asian hominid sites); the assignment of different stone tool technologies to specific "races" with ties to living populations; the idea that the origins of the Bronze Age Harappans can be traced to Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent; and the notion that a sweeping movement of Indo-European-speaking Aryans coincided with, and probably caused, the decline of Harappan civilization. Underlying all of these ideas is the view that cultural advances and events in South Asia ultimately had their roots elsewhere—and primarily to the west. South Asia was merely the cauldron where diverse peoples and traditions met, clashed, and mingled.

Kennedy is one of the leading palaeoanthropologist/ skeletal biologists working in South Asia today, with a research record spanning almost 40 years. With expertise ranging from the early pongids to modern populations, he is eminently qualified to synthesize the palaeoanthropology of the region. The book is strongest where he steps back from the factual coverage and provides his own views on the issues. This is especially true in the latter sections dealing with food-producing populations and the Aryan question.

God-Apes and Fossil Men's organization is straightforward and largely chronological. Chapter 1 provides a useful geographical introduction. Chapters 2–4 examine the development of prehistoric, evolutionary, and biological studies in Europe and how those frameworks were imposed on South Asia. While an understanding of these interactions is important, this portion of the book could have been shorter and better integrated. Chapter 5 covers the god-apes of the title: the Rama-, Siva-, Brahma-, and other -pithecines. Kennedy provides a clear discussion of their complex and fluid taxonomy and explains how they weathered the changes in hominid origins research. Only three illustrations are provided, and one of these (Fig. 22) needs an anatomically descriptive caption. More photographs would have enhanced this chapter.

The remaining portions of the book detail the human occupation of the region. Geological, archaeological, and faunal information is given first, followed by separate chapters on the human remains, for the earlier time periods. This arrangement has some minor disadvantages because the provenience and burial context are either repeated or given separately from the morphological descriptions.

The discussion of the earliest South Asian sites (Chapters 6–8) highlights how little we know from this vast area bridging Africa, Europe, and eastern Asia! While the Potwar Plateau is yielding evidence for some of the earliest stone tool traditions outside Africa, only the Narmada calvaria emerges as a well-documented premodern fossil find. The possibility of the earliest anatomically modern South Asian Homo sapiens coming from sites on Sri Lanka (c. 25–35,000 B.P.) is intriguing but difficult to evaluate without photographs and a more critical examination of the dates and the contexts of the discoveries.

The archaeological and human skeletal records expand exponentially for the later time periods, and the richness of South Asian adaptations is apparent. Chapters 9– 11 cover the Holocene hunter-gatherer evidence, and Chapters 12 and 13 describe early farmers and pastoralists. Kennedy rightly highlights the diversity of synchronous developments across the subcontinent, in contrast to earlier accounts that emphasized the role of migration and broad-ranging cultural systems. His thorough examination of the biological and archaeological records reveals little evidence of population replacement, warfare, or aggression. Instead, we are provided a picture of populations who adapted a wide range of technological and economic components...