The Most Isolated ‘Stone Age’ People Still Around

“Do not separate yourself from the community.” —Hillel the Younger

In A Nutshell

The isolated Indian Ocean islands known as the Andamans and Nicobars are home to some of the remotest tribes on the planet. While some, like the Jarawa and the Nicobarese, have been in contact with the rest of the world and have suffered dearly for it, the Sentinelese remain mysterious and isolated. They’re known to kill any outsiders who come close, and when helicopters flew overhead to check on them after the 2004 tsunami, the would-be rescuers were greeted by a familiar hail of arrows.

The Whole Bushel

To countless people living in the developed world, it may be a shocker to hear there are still plenty of places on Earth that go without things like indoor plumbing and Netflix. In 1971, rumors started circulating that a group of people living in the Philippines had been discovered still living in the Stone Age.

That turned out to be a hoax, but we have actually discovered a tribe of people who have maintained their distance from the rest of the world, who use only the most basic of tools, and who kill anyone who gets near enough to them to try to check them out.

We’ve called them the Sentinelese, and we think there are 50–400 people living in absolute isolation on North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean. In 2006, two fishermen found their boat drifting onto the island and were killed by members of the tribe.

Others fishing nearby tried to warn them of the danger, but their boat continued to drift nearer to the island. They were fishing there illegally, and they ended up being killed and buried in shallow graves.

Attempts to recover the bodies ended when crews in helicopters were showered with arrows and chased away.

It’s not the first run-in outsiders have had with the group, as a series of encounters in the 1980s and 1990s ended with the deaths of countless Sentinelese. The conflicts, which started when salvagers attempted to reclaim the remains of a shipwreck, kick-started a campaign to leave them alone.

There have been other attempts to make contact, and some were even friendly.

Anthropologists landed on the island and left gifts as a peace offering for the tribe, but when the tribe slaughtered the pig that had been left, they sent a clear message. Several ships have been attacked for coming too close to the island, including the Primrose in 1981 and the Nineveh in 1868.

The 2006 incident happened a few years after anthropologists feared the entire tribe had been wiped out by the devastating tsunami that swept across the entire area and hit more than 500 little islands. After the waters had settled, they headed out in helicopters to see if the local populations had been wiped out by the disaster. They were met with the now-familiar hail of arrows.

It’s thought that the Sentinelese have been on the island for up to 60,000 years, and they’ve likely perfected the art of reading signs of impending danger in everything from the behavior of animals to changes in the sea and sky. That gave them enough time to head inland to safety, as they’d undoubtedly done countless times before when the ocean waves threatened.

The Sentinelese are one particular group within the tribes that live on the islands. Some, like the Jarawa, have opened themselves up to contact with the outside world, and they’ve paid a price.

In 2014, reports were published on the “human safaris” where tourists were escorted through the peoples’ island homes and the abuses that went on there. From alcohol and drug abuse to sexual abuse, the tribe has been devastated by all sorts of diseases brought to their island paradise.

Similarly, the Nicobarese have largely been converted to Christianity, changed to an agricultural lifestyle, and lost much of their traditional way of life. Now, a 5-kilometer (3 mi) exclusion zone has been established around the perimeter of the island to protect the tribe and prevent conflict.

Show Me The Proof

Telegraph: Stone Age tribe kills fishermen who strayed on to island
SF Gate: Inhabitants of untouched North Sentinel Island known to attack outsiders
National Geographic: Did Island Tribes Use Ancient Lore to Evade Tsunami?
The Guardian: Jarawa tribe now face sexual abuse by outsiders on Andaman Islands
KnowledgeNuts: The Filipino ‘Stone Age’ Tribe Of Dubious Origins