The Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earlier archaeological evidence yet documented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and linguistic isolation studies point to habitation going back 30,000 – 60,000 years, well into the Middle Palaeolithic. In the Andaman Islands, the various Andamanese people maintained their separated existence through the vast majority of this time, diversifying into distinct linguistic, cultural and territorial groups.
By the 1850s when they first came into sustained contact by outside groups, the indigenous people of Andamans were:
- the Great Andamanese, who collectively represented at least 10 distinct sub groups and languages;
- the Jarawa: the jungle (or Rutland Jarawa);
- the Onge;
- and the Sentinelese (the most isolated of all the groups).
The indigenous peoples of the Nicobars (unrelated to the Andamanese) have a similarly isolated and lengthy association with the islands.
There are two main groups:
- the Nicobarese, or Nicobari living throughout many of the islands;
- the Shompen, restricted to the interior of Great Nicobar.