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Saturday 29 July 2017

Aryan Migration – From Academics to Politics: An Unfortunate Journey

Krishnendu Das
(Research Scholar, Department of Archaeology, University of Calcutta) 

In his 1947 article “Harappa 1946 : The Defences and Cemetery R -37” British archaeologist Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler declared that “ The Aryan invasion of the Land of Seven Rivers, the Punjab and its environs, constantly assumes the form of an onslaught upon the walled cities of the aborigines
….On circumstantial evidence, Indra stands accused''. 1 And it was for the first time a linguistic theory found its backbone in archaeology. The theory of a common ancestor of the north Indian languages and the languages spoken in Europe was taking its shape when in the 18 th century Sir William Jones discovered striking similarities between Sanskrit and the European languages. This simple observation gave birth to a theory that some Aryan speaking people invaded the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC and demolished the Harappan  people and its civilization. But archaeological evidence was still wanting until Sir Robert issued his aforementioned fatwa.
He found a scatter of some 37 unburied skeletons from Mohenjodaro which led him to speculate a slaughter by the Aryan god Indra. In no time, the theory found wide acceptance in the scholarly world. But the situation took a new turn when archaeologist G.F. Dales of the University of Pennsylvania published his ground-breaking findings titled The Mythical  Massacre at Mohenjo-daro in Expedition magazine in 1964
Dales, who would later become one of the co-directors of Harappa Archaeological Research Project, showed that these skeletons belong to different stratigraphical levels and were not recovered from the uppermost level of the site. This evidence goes against the Aryan invasion theory because if there were any kind of massacre by some intruders they should have belonged to the uppermost level or the final phase of Mohenjodaro, which was definitely not the case. Moreover some of the skeletons  bore cut-marks which had been healed and it amply proved that the injuries had got nothing to do with their death. And except Mohenjodaro, no such evidence was found from any other site of the Harappan civilization which would establish Sir Robert’s arguments

When the Aryan invasion theory lost its validity, the Aryan migration theory gradually started taking its place. A group of scholars still assume that after the decline of the great Harappan civilization, a group of Indo-Aryan speaking people migrated from central Asia and entered the Indian subcontinent in several waves.2 3 4 The theory says that these Indo-Aryan people pushed Dravidian speaking Harappans towards south India. And the entire north, west and eastern spans of the Indian peninsula were gradually Aryanised within a few centuries. This age-old theory was also based solely on the linguistic assumptions and not properly evidenced by the archaeological parameters. Just like the Aryan invasion theory, the Aryan migration theory also faced stiff challenges since its inception by scholars from as diverse fields as archaeology, anthropology, geology, genetics, linguistics and so on. Recent studies in the above mentioned fields have decidedly showed the utter inharmonious nature of this theory. But the biased minds seem not to care about that. To make things worse, the battle between the invasionist/migrationist and the non-invasionist/migrationist scholars gradually took a shape and form of a  political duel. While Marxist scholars started vouching for the migration theory, the scholars belonging to the nationalist school are upholding an altogether antithetical theory. And a sheer academic debate lost its identity and dignity in the noose of different political agendas. We know that only archaeological evidence can securely unfurl the petals of the remote pasts. Because archaeology gives out the ground reality of the ancient ages from the core of the ground. That is why our history should be written according to the archaeological findings. But in the case of the Aryan migration theory, the whole process that followed was just set upside down. After the proposition of the theory, some illustrious scholars attempted to fit the new archaeological findings in consonants to the Aryan migration theory. To be true, there is nothing in Indian archaeology around 1500BC time period that displays the evidence of any kind of mass migration or several waves of population movement towards South Asia from outside. It was the time when the Harappan civilization was tilting towards its de-urbanised phase. The population movement, which is archaeologically attested during this time period, was from the north-west Indian Harappan territory to the inner India. If the Harappans were Dravidian-speaking people and they were pushed to the modern day south Indian region by the intruding Aryans, one should expect some late Harappan sites in the said region. But the archaeological reality says otherwise as there is no Harappan site beyond Daimabad, which is a late Harappan site of Maharashtra. And this archaeo-reality flings the migrationist scholars to a point of absolute uncertainty.

However, the argument is not enough to combat the enthusiasm of the migrationists. They stick to some old arguments and perhaps intentionally try to give the whole issue a political overtone.
I used the word “intentionally”, because the recent archaeological findings point towards a continuous development and transformation of the Indian civilization and not any kind of invasion/migration. But there is a more specific reason for using this term that warrants some elaboration. It is widely accepted in the scholarly world that the use of the horse was not known to the Harappans and that the horse was introduced in the Indian subcontinent by the invading/migrating Aryan folks. In their 2000 book The  Deciphered Indus Script , Natawar Jha and N. S. Rajaram claimed that they had discovered a lone broken seal with the depiction of a horse from the plethora of the Harappan seals and sealings. But after a close scrutiny it is translucently clear that it was the computer of the claimants which pieced a horse head together with a hind part of a Harappan seal animal. This incident offered a golden opportunity to the migrationist scholars to portray every horse evidence from the Harappan sites as a mere assiduous nationalist or Hindutva endeavour. But in reality, true horse bones were recovered from several Harappan sites belonging to the mature Harappan levels which were securely dated between 2700 BC to the 2000 BC and which had nothing to do with the so called migrations of some fictitious Aryan tribes. Every evidence of horse that was unearthed from a Harappan site dated  before 2000 BC was doubted and the competency of the scholars who identified them were also questioned. A significant incident can be cited in this connection. In a 1974 article 5, A.K. Sharma, an expert in faunal studies, identified the remains of true domesticated horse from the mature Harappan level of Surkotada, a  prominent Harappan site of Gujarat. But Sharma’s claim lacked widespread acceptance as migrationist scholars stamped the specimens as onager or wild ass. After some 20 years, a renowned archaeologist and horse specialist of Hungarian origin, Sandor Bökönyi, came to India and confirmed Sharma’s identification after examining the said specimens.6 The aggrieved Sharma then reacted: “This was the saddest day for me as the thought flashed in my mind that my findings had to wait two decades for recognition, until a man from another continent came, examined the material and declared that ‘Sharma was right’. When will we imbibe intellectual courage not to look across borders for approval? The historians are still worse, they feel it is an attempt on the part of the ‘rightists’ to  prove that the Aryans did not come to India from outside her boundaries.”7

 However, the unrelenting controversy does not end here. Richard Meadow of Harvard University and Ajita Patel were still in very much doubt about the identification, though they failed to convince the Hungarian master Bökönyi.8And for historians and archaeologists in our subcontinent, crying a political conspiracy is perhaps the easiest thing to do when the fault lines of one’s theory get exposed. Even Amartya Sen argued in The Argumentative Indian  citing the example of the attempt of Jha and Rajaram that if a textbook of history displayed the evidence of horse in the Harappan civilization, then it was nothing but a  process of saffronisation. However, one may perhaps expect a scholar of Sen’s stature to be more focused in academic discussions, rather than taking political sides. In reality, scholars having different political inclinations try to interpret a fact in a way that suits their respective political agendas. That’s why migrationist scholars refuse to understand a simple archaeological fact that horse evidences were also very meagre up to the early historical times as in the Harappan civilization sites. And if the remains of the horse had anything to do with the so called Aryan migration, it should have increased immediately after the said incident which is not the case. The other arguments about the Aryan migration were also treated somewhat in an identical manner. Here what is really regrettable is that a purely academic debate was pulled down to a dirty game of politics. We should be more open-minded to accept the archaeological evidences, in whatever form they  present themselves before us. Even today, we don’t know for sure the true nature of the language that was used by the Harappans. It may be the so called Indo-Aryan or Dravidian or an altogether different one, but we have to find the solution in a purely unbiased academic way and not with any kind of preconceived notion. The need of the hour is to safeguard academics from the vicious political interest which tends to take unfair advantage of it and attempt to provoke people in one way or the other. Recent archaeological and anthropological studies point towards a conclusion that there was no incident of any kind of mass migration or a continuous wave of migrations into the Indian subcontinent during the time  period of 2000 to 1500 BC. But we should remember that this theory does not establish the claim of a group of people to be more Indian because of their indigenousness. The criteria of being Indian have been clearly laid down in its constitution. Anyone fulfilling those criteria are Indian and enjoy the rights  provided by it. Our history has no doubt shaped our present, but our present should not be coloured by what happened in the remote past. That is a pure academic concern. Let academics speak for itself.


Thursday 20 July 2017

Tracing the Vedic Saraswati River in the Great Rann of Kachchh

Nitesh Khonde, Sunil Kumar Singh, D. M. Maurya, Vinai K. Rai, L. S. Chamyal & Liviu Giosan

 (a) Regional drainage pattern for the western continental margin of the Indian plate. Dotted lines are the paleochannels of the Vedic Saraswati River after Ghose et al.11 and Kar and Ghose48. The box represents the area shown in b. Location of the Dhordo core site and river sediment samples analyzed are also shown. (b) Geomorphic setting of the Great Rann of Kachchh (GRK) basin with surrounding hinterland and core locations. NPF- Nagar Parkar Fault, IBF- Island Belt Fault, KMF- Kachchh mainland Fault, KHF- Katrol hill Fault, NKF- North Kathiawar Fault, SWF- South Wagad Fault, P- Pachham Island, K-Khadir Island, B- Bela Island and C- Chorar Island. Core location: DH- Dhordo core raised from central GRK basin. Maps were prepared using a licensed copy of Ocean Data49 View (

The lost Saraswati River mentioned in the ancient Indian tradition is postulated to have flown independently of the Indus River into the Arabian Sea, perhaps along courses of now defunct rivers such as Ghaggar, Hakra and Nara. The persistence of such a river during the Harappan Bronze Age and the Iron Age Vedic period is strongly debated. We drilled in the Great Rann of Kachchh (Kutch), an infilled gulf of the Arabian Sea, which must have received input from the Saraswati, if active. Nd and Sr isotopic measurements suggest that a distinct source may have been present before 10 ka. Later in Holocene, under a drying climate, sediments from the Thar Desert probably choked the signature of an independent Saraswati-like river. Alternatively, without excluding a Saraswati-like secondary source, the Indus and the Thar were the dominant sources throughout the post-glacial history of the GRK. Indus-derived sediment accelerated the infilling of GRK after ~6 ka when the Indus delta started to grow. Until its complete infilling few centuries ago, freshwater input from the Indus, and perhaps from the Ghaggar-Hakra-Nara, probably sustained a productive marine environment as well as navigability toward old coastal Harappan and historic towns in the region.

Yog  .

See also :
The Chronology of Puranic Kings and Rigvedic Rishis in Comparison with the Phases of the Sindhu–Sarasvati Civilization
Michel Danino on Sarasvati  

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