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Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Too early to settle the Aryan migration debate?


K. Thangaraj

With genetic data currently available, it is difficult to deduce the direction of migration either into India or out of India during the Bronze Age 

On June 17, The Hindu published an article by Tony Joseph (“How genetics is settling the Aryan migration debate”) on current genetic research in India and stated that “scientists are converging” on the Aryan migration to the Subcontinent around 2000-1500 BC. This conclusion was mainly based on the results obtained from the paternally inherited markers (Y chromosome), published on March 23, 2017 in a scientific journal, BMC Evolutionary Biology, by a team of 16 co-authors including Martin P. Richards of the University of Huddersfield, which compiled and analysed Y chromosome data mainly from the targeted South Asian populations living in the U.K. and U.S. However, anyone who understands the complexity of Indian population will appreciate that Indians living outside the Subcontinent do not reflect the full diversity of India, as the majority of them are from caste populations with limited subset of regions.


A recent paper by Dhriti Sengupta and colleagues (‘Genome Biology and Evolution 2016’; 8:3460-3470), showed that the South Asian populations included in the “1000 Genomes Project” under-represent the genomic diversity of the Subcontinent. Tribes are one of the founding populations of India, any conclusion drawn without studying them will fail to capture the complete genetic information of the Subcontinent.

Marina Silva/Richards et al. argued that the maternal ancestry (mtDNA) of the Subcontinent is largely indigenous, whereas 17.5% of the paternal ancestry (Y chromosome) is associated with the haplogroup R1a, an indication of the arrival of Bronze Age Indo-European speakers. However, India is a nation of close to 4,700 ethnic populations, including socially stratified communities, many of which have maintained endogamy (marrying within the community) for thousands of years, and these have been hardly sampled in the Y chromosome analysis led by Silva et al., and so do not provide an accurate characterisation of the R1a frequencies in India (several tribal populations carry substantial frequency of haplogroup R1a).

Equally important to understand is that the Y chromosome phylogeny suffered genetic drift (lineage loss), and thus there is a greater chance to lose less frequent R1a branches, if one concentrates only on specific populations, keeping in mind the high level of endogamy of the Subcontinent. These are extremely important factors one should consider before making any strong conclusions related to Indian populations. The statement made by Silva et al. that 17.5% of Indians carry R1a haplogroup actually means that 17.5% of the samples analysed by them (those who live in U.K. and U.S.) carry R1a, not that 17.5% of Indians carry R1a!

Genetic affinities

Indian genetic affinity with Europeans is not new information. In a study published in Nature (2009; 461:489-494), scientists from CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, and Harvard Medical School (HMS), U.S., using more than 5,00,000 autosomal genetic markers, showed that the Ancestral North Indians (ANI) share genetic affinities with Europeans, Caucasians and West Asians. However, there is a huge difference between this study and the study published by Silva et al., as the study by CSIR-CCMB and HMS included samples representing all the social and linguistic groups of India. It was evident from the same Nature paper that when the Gujarati Indians in Houston (GIH) were analysed for genetic affinities with different ethnic populations of India, it was found that the GIH have formed two clusters in Principal Component Analysis (PCA), one with Indian populations, another an independent cluster. Similarly, a recent study (‘Neurology Genetics’, 2017; 3:3, e149) by Robert D.S. Pitceathly and colleagues from University College of London and CSIR-CCMB has analysed 74 patients with neuromuscular diseases (of mitochondrial origin) living in the U.K. and found a mutation in RNASEH1 gene in three families of Indian origin. However, this mutation was absent in Indian patients with neuromuscular diseases (of mitochondrial origin). This mutation was earlier reported in Europeans, suggesting that these three families might have mixed with the local Europeans; highlighting the importance of the source of samples. Another study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics (2011; 89:731-744) by Mait Metspalu and colleagues, where CSIR-CCMB was also involved, analysed 142 samples from 30 ethnic groups and mentioned that “Modeling of the observed haplotype diversities suggests that both Indian ancestry components (ANI and ASI) are older than the purported Indo-Aryan invasion 3,500 YBP (years before present). As well as, consistent with the results of pairwise genetic distances among world regions, Indians share more ancestry signals with West than with East Eurasians”.

We agree that the major Indian R1a1 branch, i.e. L657, is not more than 5,000 years old. However, the phylogenetic structure of this branch cannot be considered as a derivative of either Europeans or Central Asians. The split with the European is around 6,000 years and thereafter the Asian branch (Z93) gave rise to the South Asian L657, which is a brother branch of lineages present in West Asia, Europe and Central Asia. Such kind of expansion, universally associated with most of the Y chromosome lineages of the world, as shown in 2015 by Monika Karmin et al., was most likely due to dramatic decline in genetic diversity in male lineages four to eight thousand years ago (Genome Research, 2015; 4:459-66). Moreover, there is evidence which is consistent with the early presence of several R1a branches in India (our unpublished data).

The Aryan invasion/migration has been an intense topic of discussion for long periods. However, one has to understand the complexity of the Indian populations and to select samples carefully for analysis. Otherwise, the findings could be biased and confusing.

With the information currently available, it is difficult to deduce the direction of haplogroup R1a migration either into India or out of India, although the genetic data certainly show that there was migration between the regions. Currently, CSIR-CCMB and Harvard Medical School are investigating a larger number of samples, which will hopefully throw more light on this debate.

Tony Joseph responds:

There is a technical point in suggesting that the South Asian populations included in the “1000 Genomes Project” under-represent the complete genomic diversity of the Subcontinent and, therefore, the 17.5 % R1a frequency the ‘BMC Evolutionary Biology’ study arrived at may not be precise.
That a sample under-represents the complete genomic diversity of India could be said of virtually any study whatsoever, including the studies that the authors of the rejoinder have done. The point about the Marina Silva/Martin P. Richards et al. study is that its conclusions about the chronology of multiple migrations into South Asia are not dependent upon the precise percentage of R1a population — they remain robust whether the R1a percentage is 12.5 % or 17.5% or 22.5 %. The precision of the percentage or the impugned under-representation would have been an issue if the study were to make detailed conclusions about, say, how the Bronze Age migrations spread across different regions in India. Since it is not doing that, under-representation ceases to be a material issue.
In an email to me on May 29, weeks before my article was published, this is what Prof. Richards said about the sample: “It’s true that some of the 1000 Genomes Project (1KGP) sequences that we analysed for genome-wide and Y-chromosome data were sampled from Indians in the U.K. and U.S., and lack tribal groups, which might well be an issue for a detailed regional study of the subcontinent (our mtDNA database was much larger). But we are simply looking at the big picture across the region (what was the role of Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement, primarily) and the signals we describe across the five 1KGP sample sets are clear and consistent and also fit well with the lower-resolution data that has been collected in the past (e.g. for R1a distributions). By putting everything together, we feel the sketch of the big picture that we propose is very well supported, even though there will certainly be a huge amount of further analysis needed to work through the regional details.”
The second argument that the rejoinder makes, as summed up in its last paragraph, is that ‘Out of India’ is a possible explanation for the genetic spread that we observe. This is helpful insofar as it accepts that the genetic spread that we observe does need an explanation. But the problem with proposing ‘Out of India’ as that explanation is the following: it is not as if the ‘Out of India’ hypothesis is new; it has been around for decades. But the rejoinder makes no reference to a single peer-reviewed genetic study that makes a serious case for ‘Out of India’.
If the hypothesis were tenable at all, shouldn’t there have been many peer-reviewed papers by now making the case and fleshing out the details?

 K. Thangaraj is with the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and G. Chaubey is with the Estonian Biocentre in Tartu, Estonia

Tony Joseph is a writer and former editor of ‘BusinessWorld’. Twitter: @tjoseph0010


See also :
Genetics and the Aryan invasion debate 

Monday, 26 June 2017

Ancient City of Kasi: Archaeological Evidence

Great finds from Kashi and Sarnath  . 


 А.А. Семененко
 Gymnasium No 2, Voronezh, Russia
Abstract: The article deals with all descriptions of cereals as  food in Rigveda. The author demonstrates that references to cereals as food already in the most archaic cycles of the Samhita point to  sedentary and agricultural (grain growing) economy of Rigvedic  society from the very beginning of its development.  Key words: Rigveda, Indo-Aryans, cereals, food. 

We get the earliest textual evidence of Indo-Aryans (further IA) from the Rigveda Samhita (further RV) [1] composed at least several   hundred years before 2600 BC [2]. RV includes four chronological layers: 1. Family Books II– VII, the most archaic core of the collection + the IXth Mandala (or cycle)— which is most probably a result of the extraction of all the Soma hymns from the Family Books; 2. the VIIIth Mandala or Book of song-like hymns added to the emerging Samhita (cycles II– VII + IX); 3. the Ist Mandala or Introduction and 4. the most modern Xth part or the Conclusion [3]. It is crucial for the establishing of the economy type of the RV-edic IA (whether  predominantly nomadic cattle-breeding or sedentary and complex cattle-breeding and agricultural) to know the source of nutrition of the authors of the Samhita in each of the four periods of RV creating.

Already during the process of composing hymns of the most ancient Family Mandalas of RV grain was used to feed drawing animals (úpo nayasva vŕ  ̥ṣaṇā | grásetām áśvā ví mucehá śóṇā divé-dive sadŕ  ̥śīr addhi dhānā ́ḥ (III.35.3), kr  ̥tā ́ dhānā ́ áttave te háribhyām (III.35.7)). It was also consumed by people as food (dhānā ́vad juṣāṇáḥ (III.43.4), yéna tokā ́ya tánayāya dhāníyam bī  ́ jaṃ váhadhve (V.53.13), sánti dhānā ́ḥ (VI.29.4)). It could be fried (bhr  ̥ jjā ́ti dhānā ́ḥ) (IV.24.7),boiled as gruel (karambhíṇam) or baked as (a small loaf of) bread(apūpávantam) or as a cake (puroḷā ́śam) (dhānā ́vantaṃ karambhíṇam apūpávantam juṣasva (III.52.1), dhānā ́ḥ puroḷā ́śam kr  ̥ṣvehá cā ́rum (III.52.5), dhānā ́ḥ puroḷā ́śam ā ́hutam māmahasva naḥ (III.52.6), te cakr  ̥mā karambháṃ dhānā ́ḥ apūpám addhi (III.52.7), práti dhānā ́  bharata tū ́yam asmai puroḷā ́śaṃ (III.52.8)).

To some extent more modern Mandala the VIIIth contains pleas to grant grain (tuváṃ na indra āsãṃ háste dāváne dhānā ́nãṃ ná sáṃ gr  ̥ bhāya asmayúr) (VIII.70.12) and mentions corn, gruel and (a small loaf of) bread as food (dhānā ́vantaṃ karambhíṇam apūpávantam) (VIII.91.2).

Much later Mandala the Ist makes it clear that fried grain was served with melted butter (imā ́ dhānā ́ ghr  ̥tasnúvo) (I.16.2). The most modern Mandala the Xth tells us about eating corn (jakṣīyā d dhānā ́) (X.28.1) and describes the sowing of seeds and growing of grain (vápanto bī  jam iva dhāniyākŕ  ̥taḥ) (X.94.13).

References to gruel (karambhá) can be found in all chronological layers of the RV (I.187.10; III.52.1, 7; VI.56.1; VI.57.2; VIII.91.2), as well as the to the melted butter-soaked (apūpáṃ ghr  ̥távantam) (X.45.9) (loaf of) bread (apūpá) (III.52.1, 7; VIII.91.2), baked (puroḷā ́ pacatás (III.28.2), puroḷā ́śam pacatíyaṃ (III.52.2)) cake (puroḷā ́(śa))(I.162.3; III.28.1, 3, 4, 5, 6; III.41.3; III.52.3, 4, 5, 6, 8; IV.24.5; IV.32.16; VI.23.7; VII.18.6; VIII.2.11; VIII.31.2; VIII.78.1) and  barley mixed with milk and Soma (soma gávāśiro yávāśiro (I.187.9), yávāśiraṃ sómam (II.22.1), gávāśiraṃ yávāśiraṃ sutám (III.42.7), índor yávāśiraḥ (VIII.92.4)).

Notably grain as food and food made of grain appear mostly in the Family cycles of RV, much less so — in the later Mandala the VIIIth and they almost disappear in the latest (I and X) parts of the Samhita. This textual fact totally disproves the widely spread (Aryan Invasion/Immigration Theory rooted) pseudoacademic concept of RV-edic IA being nomads in the earliest period of RV composition. All  points to the conclusion that grain growing was crucial to RV-edic economy from the most archaic phase of its recorded existence.

Yog (Page 254).

See also :

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Biomolecular Prehistory of South Asia Project

Biomolecular Prehistory of South Asia Project

This project applies a novel, multi-proxy approach, incorporating stable isotope analysis, dental calculus, proteomics and aDNA, to elucidate changes in diet, demography, and ecology across major cultural transitions in South Asia.
There is also the upcoming presentation on some aDNA data : 
Title: E-P18.02 - Reconstructing the human population history of the Indian subcontinent using ancient population genomics.
Keywords: Ancient DNA; population Genetics
Authors: N. Rai1, K. Thangaraj1, V. Shinde2; 
1Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India, 2 Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune, India.
Abstract: The more than 1.3 billion people who live in Indian subcontinent correspond to several large ethnic groups who are highly diverse and complex. Importantly, India’s genetic past remains a subject a great debate due to numerous hypotheses surrounding population origins and migrations within and from outside India. In order to reconstruct and explain the patterns of genetic diversity evident in modern humans, an understanding of both past and present population dynamics is crucial. Several studies have shown that genetic data from ancient individuals are indispensable when reconstructing past population histories. We for the first time use the ancient genomics approach in South Asia to reconstruct the complex human population history of Indian Sub continent. We are exploring the recent technological advancement to directly test these hypotheses using ancient and modern human DNA in India. We have collected several ancient skeletal remains from different time scale of human civilization ranging from early Mesolithic, Neolithic, Harappan (Indus Valley civilization) and Megalithic culture. With the whole/partial genome NGS data, we are reconstructing the prehistoric peopling and migration of modern human in the Indian subcontinent. We are also testing the pervasive founder events and gradient of recessive genes accumulation by comparing the ancient genome with the modern human population of India.
Presentation Time: Sunday, May 28, 2017, 9:00 AM - 5:45 PM 

See here and also here
This is something that we are all waiting for a long time . We can be confident, that the data will be very important regarding the Aryan controversy . Although without the clear cut decipherment of the SSVC/IVC script , a decisive knowledge is still a bit far . 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Vaishali bricks throw up posers on Harappa last leg

Krishnendu Das
The discovery of some Harappan-type bricks from Raghopur Diara of Vaishali district near Patna (report published in The Telegraph on April 8, 2017), is of immense importance to the country from both archaeological and historiographical perspectives. The findings may not only answer many hitherto unsolved questions that shroud the last phase of the great Harappan civilisation, but may force us write our early-period history afresh as well.

The director of Bihar's state archaeological directorate, Atul Verma, visited the place some six months ago and collected two bricks. He examined the bricks himself and also showed it to the former joint director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India, K.N. Dikshit. Dikshit confirmed the Harappan identity of the bricks after checking their thickness, width and length ratio which is 1:2:4, a typical "mature Harappan" trait.

Scholars have divided the entire Harappa era broadly into three phases - early, mature and late. The early phase spans from 3500 BC to 2800/2700 BC (from the beginning of village farming to the beginning of urbanisation). Mature phase was from 2700 BC to 2000/1900 BC (from the beginning of urbanisation to the starting of the devolution of the urbanism). The late phase spanned between 2000/1900 BC and 1400/1300 BC (post-urban Harappan).

In the mature phase, there was a standard ratio of the Harappan bricks as mentioned above. The kiln-fired bricks which were recovered from Raghopur Diara were exactly of the same size and nature as the mature Harappan bricks. This is startling as mature Harappan kiln-fired bricks were never found in east India so far. Till date, the easternmost Harappan site has been identified as Alamgirpur of the Ganga-Yamuna doab area of Uttar Pradesh. Other prominent Harappan sites which were situated in the vicinity of Alamgirpur are Hulas, Mandi, Sanauli and so on.

Alamgirpur and Hulas are late-Harappan sites though some mature Harappan materials - mud bricks, burnt brick (burnt bricks were not found in Hulas though unearthed in limited numbers from Alamgirpur), pottery pieces, stone and bone implements and some Harappan mud and mud brick structures have been excavated from there. The earliest dates, measured through the C14 method (a method to ascertain the date of an organic material using the radioactive isotope of carbon) of those sites go back to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Though some mature Harappan materials were found from these sites, any sign of mature Harappan urban prosperity has always eluded these areas.

Sanauli is a late-Harappan burial site. Some 125 graves have been discovered here. The site is very important because of the scarcity of the late-Harappan burial sites. Mandi is famous for its Harappan jewellery hoard. The hoard was found accidentally in the course of a ground levelling operation.

After the discovery, the villagers there began a hunt for more jewellery which continued for the next four to five days. The news reached the Uttar Pradesh archaeology department only after a few more days. Some 10 kilograms of jewellery were recovered from the site when the Uttar Pradesh state archaeology department and the Archaeological Survey of India sent teams to survey the village.

Archaeologists identified Mandi as a late-Harappan site. The treasury consists of two copper containers and a large number of beads made of gold, banded agate, onyx and copper. These types of materials were found earlier in sites such as Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Lothal, Kalibangan, Allahdino, Chanhudaro, Surokotada and Kunal, though not in hoards.

Scholars are yet to come to a conclusion as to how this jewellery hoard could be related to an otherwise "unimpressive" late-Harappan site as Mandi. However, what is strikingly significant here is that in none of the above mentioned eastern Harappan sites did archaeologists ever recover large numbers of Harappan kiln burnt brick as found at Raghopur Diara.

The late phase of the Harappan civilisation has long been a subject of scholarly debates and theories. What were the causes of the decline of the Harappan civilisation? Where did the Harappans go after the decline of the civilisation? Scholars such as Mortimer Wheeler and Gordon Childe believed that the invasion of the Aryans caused a civilisational downfall in Harappa. Primarily because Wheeler discovered some scattered human skeletons at Mohenjodaro. But this theory lost its validity after a close scrutiny of those 37 scattered skeletons of Mohenjodaro by archaeologist G.F. Dales of the University of California at Berkeley. Dales, one of the co-directors of the ground-breaking Harappa Archaeological Research Project, published his theory in the journal Expedition (May 1964 issue) describing the whole issue as a "mythical massacre".

Floods in the river Indus and several other natural calamities such as drought, earthquake and decline in the external trade of the Harappan civilisation are various other theories propagated by various scholars that dot scholarly materials regarding the decline of the Harappan civilization. In recent times, the most discussed theory on the decline of Harappa has been that of the drying up of the Ghaggar-Hakra rivers which are often identified with the Rig Vedic Sarasvati river.

Now, many archaeologists feel that we should look at the decline of Harappa from an altogether different angle. They believe that instead of the downfall of the civilisation, we could perhaps simply call it a process of gradual de-urbanisation of the Harappan civilisation. Whatever may be the cause behind this de-urbanisation, scholars have always remained sure that a group of Harappan people had migrated towards the east. The discovery of late-Harappan sites such as Alamgirpur, Hulas, Mandi, Sanauli and so on is nothing but examples of eastward migration of the civilisation.

But the unique case of finding of mature Harappan kiln-fired bricks at Raghopur Diara, about 1100 kilometres southeast of Alamgirpur, is sure to perplex archaeologists. The main question doing the rounds is that if the sites in Uttar Pradesh are known as late-Harappan sites, how can mature Harappan civilisation travel further eastward?

Therefore, scholars may now have to trace the entire course and span of Harappan civilisation anew if more associated Harappan materials are excavated from Raghopur Diara or its surroundings that authenticate the importance of the primary finding. The context of a finding is of utmost importance in archaeology. The findings have sent archaeologists across the country in a tizzy and many of them are already set to go to Raghopur Diara to survey the area in search of more clues.

If Raghopur Diara is established as a mature Harappan site, it will not only throw in the bin many theories on the civilisation and its decline but will also warrant a great deal of rewriting of the course of the civilisation, and therefore our history. But for now, we will have to wait for the results of the explorations which are going to be conducted by archaeologists.