Who brought the Zebu in the Near East ?

If folks over here are not already aware, a major ancient DNA paper on cattle came out last week in the Science magazine. It had an unprecedented 67 ancient cattle samples.

Here’s the abstract,

Genome-wide analysis of 67 ancient Near Eastern cattle, Bos taurus, remains reveals regional variation that has since been obscured by admixture in modern populations. Comparisons of genomes of early domestic cattle to their aurochs progenitors identify diverse origins with separate introgressions of wild stock. A later region-wide Bronze Age shift indicates rapid and widespread introgression of zebu, Bos indicus, from the Indus Valley. This process was likely stimulated at the onset of the current geological age, ~4.2 thousand years ago, by a widespread multicentury drought. In contrast to genome-wide admixture, mitochondrial DNA stasis supports that this introgression was male-driven, suggesting that selection of arid-adapted zebu bulls enhanced herd survival. This human-mediated migration of zebu-derived genetics has continued through millennia, altering tropical herding on each continent.

Well the widespread Zebu presence in the LBA Near East is not exactly a new discovery. It has been known for quite sometime now among archaeologists. This article gives a good overview on the subject.

(Syrio-Hittite Terracota Zebu, source)

(Hittite Bronze Zebu, source)

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Nevertheless, with this new study, we now have conclusive evidence that the widespread Zebu admixture in the Near Eastern cattle did indeed start around 2000 BCE.

 

Illustration of the proportion of Zebu ancestry over time in domesticated cattle of Eurasia. From Verdugo et al. 2019

(figure courtesy : twitter/johnhawks)

As can be seen from the above figure, after 4000 YBP, there is a sudden spurt in indicine or Zebu admixture across nearly all the ancient samples of Near Eastern Cattle including cattle samples from Central Asia, Iran, the Caucasus, Levant, Mesopotamia & the Balkans.

Again quoting from the paper,

…despite archaeological evidence for contact between civilizations of the Fertile Crescent region and the Indus Valley (9), the influence of the zebu genome is detectable in ancient Southwest Asian cattle only 4000 years later (Fig. 2). However, after ~4000 yr B.P., hybrid animals (median 35% indicine ancestry) are found across the Near East, from Central Asia and Iran to the Caucasus and Mediterranean shores of the southern Levant (table S2 and fig. S1). During this period, depictions and osteological evidence for B. indicus also appear in the region (9, 13). In contrast to autosomal data, but similar to earlier work (14), we find persistence of B. taurus mitochondria, suggesting introgression may have been mediated by bulls (Fig. 2).

As the bolded portions note, the indicine admixture in the ancient cattle samples from the Near East post 4000 YBP, show on an average 35 % indicine admixture but that this mostly through the Indicine bulls as there is indicine mtDNA in these admixed samples. This widespread and major admixture in the Near Eastern cattle post 4000 YBP, is clearly a major turning point in the history of the Near Eastern cattle.

What lead to this major turning point ?

It is now widely accepted that there was a major 4200 YBP climatic event that brought about a prolonged phase of drought perhaps extending to several centuries which affected all major civilizations of the Near East extending all the way to the Indus civilization. This event is also considered a major reason for the apparent ‘collapse’ of the Indus civilization.


The Large Harappan Footprint across Middle Asia

 

Most if not all movements of cattle across large distances in prehistory are usually associated with movement of humans. Did the large influx of Zebu autosomal DNA into the Near East cattle also result due to South Asian population expansion into the Near East post-4000 YBP ?

What we do know from archaeology is that the Harappans were operating across a vast landscape and their presence and influence can be detected in Central Asia, Eastern Iran( Jiroft & Helmand), the SE Arabian coast (Oman & Bahrain) and in Mesopotamia already in the 3rd millenium BC. The Harappans even had their own colonies in these different regions.

It appears that a minority but nevertheless a significant and arguably influential community of Harappans were present in most of these regions away from the Greater Indus region as far as atleast Mesopotamia. Infact, in a lot of these places, the Harappans were apparently living in those places for many generations. It is conceivable that they would have brought and maintained the Zebu cattle in their new homelands.

Therefore, already in the 3rd millenium BC, it is quite probable that the Zebu cattle was already a minor but regular feature of the Middle Asian landscape.

However, after the onset of the 4.2 kya event, with the onset of aridity, it is believed that the Harappan civilization finally collapsed around 3900 kya (1900 BCE). One of the consequences of this collapse is apparently the end of Harappan trade and interaction across Middle Asia.

So the questions is – how did the Zebu admixture in the Near East shoot up all of a sudden in a period when we are led to believe that the Harappan or Indus civilization ceased to interact with this region ?

And it is not just Indian cattle admixture that becomes widespread into the Near East during this post-4000 kya period. As the authors of this paper state,

Westward human migration has been documented around  this time(19,20) along with archaeological evidence for the appearance of other South Asian taxa such as water buffalo and Asian elephants in the Near East(21), suggesting the movement of large animals by people.

Infact, the presence of Asian Elephant in the Near East dates to from the end of 3rd millenium BC to the 8th century BC and is centred around Syria and hence this ancient elephant population is also known as the Syrian Elephant.

The authors of the study cited on Asian Elephants in our cattle aDNA paper above state something very interesting,

…ancient accounts indicate that live elephants roamed and were hunted in the Orontes Valley, the Upper Euphrates Valley and the Middle Euphrates Valley around modern Ana in Iraq, at least between the end of the 16th and 9th centuries BC, possibly into the 8th century BC (Breasted 1906–07; Gardiner 1964: 179, 201; Moorey 1994: 117; Scullard 1974: 28). The core of this region comprises the area of influence of the Mitanni Kingdom, the main local political player in LBA northern Syria…

The Mitanni were an Indo-Iranian, possibly Indo-Aryan elite ruling over the native Hurrian population in present day Syria in the mid 2nd millenium BCE. And we observe that Asian Elephants, most likely imported from the Indus civilization, only appear in the Near East during the 2nd millenium BC and in a geography that was under the political control of the Mitanni. Is this merely a co-incidence ?


A New Interaction Horizon in Middle Asia in the LBA ?

It is quite probable that with the collapse of the old Bronze Age empires all across the Near East and South Asia, this entire Middle Asian region entered into a new era of interaction which is archaeologically not so well-defined. The widespread Zebu admixture in the Near Eastern cattle along with the presence of Asian elephants as also the first attestations of the Indo-Europeans such as the Hittites & the Mitanni and the associated horse-drawn chariots are evidences of this new horizon.

But while the Zebu and the Asian Elephant came from South Asia, one may argue that the Hittites, Mitanni and the horse drawn chariot must surely come from the steppe.

Well, the strong correlation of the geography of the LBA ‘Syrian’ Elephant population with the boundaries of the Mitanni empire, does suggest some sort of interaction of the Mitanni with South Asia.

And if this is not all, we have now possibly a very strong evidence of the presence of chariots in South Asia which is as old and probably older than the Sintashta chariots in the steppe.

It maybe noted that before the discovery of the chariots in Sintashta which gave the steppe chariot the distinction of being the oldest known one, it has been argued for long that the invention of chariot is mostly likely in the Near East and not in the steppe due to several factors inimical for the use of chariots on the steppe. You can read more about it here.

The discovery of the Sanauli chariots is likely to revive that debate. Along with this, we also have the prospect of horse aDNA from the Mature Harappan Phase no less.

So could the appearance of the Zebu, the Asian elephant, the Buffalo as well as the Hittites & Mitanni and their horse drawn chariot in the 2nd millenium BC in the Near East have a common cause in their probable migration from South Asia after the Indus civilization collapse.

Certainly some food for thought !

 

 

 

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Remembering Peterloo and Jallianwala

I recently participated in an interaction on policy, democracy and reform movements in the light of a major event in British history – the Peterloo Massacre, 1819, in the Palace of Westminster, London, in the evening of 17th July 2019. The Massacre took place at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry mainly comprising of the 15th The King’s Hussars (who had been pivotal in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly the Battle of Waterloo) charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. They were led by the fiery radical reformer Henry Hunt. After the stunning barbarism on the part of the administration, 18 were reported died while hundreds were injured.

[…]

Following the Peterloo Massacre, the government of the United Kingdom acted to prevent any future disturbances by the introduction of new legislation, the so-called Six Acts aimed at suppressing any meetings for the purpose of radical reform. Even though the regressive Pittite Acts were struck down over two centuries (with the most recent repeal being as recently as 2008), what fascinates me is how the Rowlatt Act that led to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab, India, a century later has resonances with the Six Acts.

Read more on this here: https://lincogle.wordpress.com/2019/07/18/peterloo-and-jallianwala/

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A Struggle for True Liberation

India attained its independence from the British Raj on 15 August 1947. Curiously, within less than a decade, it was back in shackles. The white sahab was replaced by the brown babu. The Viceregal Palace was renamed Rashtrapati Bhavan. Names of a few cities were desi-fied. Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta became Kolkata and strangely Madras became Chennai! But certain structures of oppression and hierarchy in society still remained. Certain ideas of what it meant to be Indian remained. Ideas that created conceptual constructs that created philosophies and even politics. India was birthed in a chaotic backdrop, with Partition and its after-effects. Even as a fledgling country trying to make sense of itself, India never quite had a problem with the diversity of its constituents. Unity in diversity became a catchphrase and a cornerstone of what it meant to be Indian. Tolerance and pluralism came to India as easily as breathing was to man. Spontaneous. Simple. Founded on centuries, nay millennia, of assimilation and churning of cultures, philosophies, ideas and people.

And then the undercurrents of differences burst forth, breaking the dams of reason, tearing asunder the fabric of Indian society.

Read more about a Dharmic take on identity politics here: https://lincogle.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/a-struggle-for-true-liberation/. #Solidarity

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Episode 57: Indian Politics Podcast

Another BP Podcast is up.

It was our crew of usual suspect; Vidhi, Kushal, MJ, Jahanara and myself. We spoke about Ms. Mahua Moitra; who is, to my mind, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reimagined as Lady Durga.

I frankly find the anti-elitist elements expressed in the podcast to be rather disconcerting. Even though V and I don’t necessarily agree; we are probably united in our interest in aesthetes.

I find Ms. Moitra to be enchanting and alluring in a way I don’t find Smirti, Sonia or Sushma. It helps that Mahua speaks with a Convent school-liberal arts-Investment Banker mannerism; makes her even more compelling.

You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. Razib is toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

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The Brown Pundits on whatsapp

There has been some fairly intense conversation on the WhatsApp group, which has grown substantially over the weekend. I mention this as I’m also looking at the qualitative mix of people who engage with BP.

It tends to be cerebral, caste Hindu males with Diasporic connections & English fluency. We have a broader readership than that but these are the most consistent commentators and evangelists of the site.

My perspective is that if BP is going to somehow breaking the mainstream it now needs to feed into the Social Media Universe and also transform its demographic.

The blogosphere was eviscerated by Facebook and Twitter; it’s time we now find ways to cooperate with it just as many bloggers cooperated with each other to survive.

Also the “post and comment format” doesn’t account for how people usually spend their time on mobile. For some reason my WordPress app has stopped working so I can only really use BP on a desktop.

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Podcast Updates

I have taken the morning off after a particularly intense week at work so I thought I would catch up at BP.

I’ll be doing three monthly podcasts (that’s the idea).

One is a monthly Indian Linguistics podcast, the other is on Indian Politics and finally the last on Indian History.

I simply use India as a shorthand for anything between the Hindu Kush, Himalayas and the Indian Ocean.

As an aside what is the eastern mountain range that defines Akhand Bharat, I’m trying to figure out if the Himalaya (or some subsidiary range) slopes south into the Burmese-Bangladeshi border. Something like the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox’s Bazaar, which delineate some sort of civilization border.

Our next podcast is going to be on “Were the Mughals good for India.”

One thing that I’m proud of in my podcasts, I can check my biases as a moderator. I have the ability (if I say so myself) of jumping all over the spectrum and I suspect that has to do with the fact that, like most Baha’is, temporal questions don’t vex me much. Even my linguistic jingoism is more concerned about the status that Persian, Arabic & Urdu would have in a New World Order.

So please do recommend anyone/everyone for a fair panel.

 

 

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Super30, Casteocracy & Blacked Up Hrithik Roshan

We did a late night viewing of Super30.

The movie was inspirational and was pretty much in line with the recent theme of how uplift the lower castes of India. This followed through from Daughters of Destiny and our very own CAMbFIRE launch.

I found the idea of Hrtithik Roshan, who has the colourings a Greek deity, blacking up to play an OBC to emblematic of India’s Casteocracy.

The idea that an education system, designed by dead white men and then rapidly disseminated to all traditional elites in the world, can somehow uplift the masses is deeply problematic. The template of the IIT/IIM system suits rural and poor upper castes, who have a culture of education and enough urban access to understand how the system works.

It’s similar to Oxbridge & the Ivy Leagues, which are geared towards the aspirational segments of the petty bourgeois (the aristocrats don’t really need educational pedigree).

Other than that the movie had very interesting motifs; it was downright anti-Hindu. It quote a segment in the Mahabharat where the tribal Eklava, who was a better archer than Arjuna, had his thumb cut off by their teacher so that Arjuna could remain the best.

Every caste Hindu is a product of Casteocracy just as a white American is a functionary and beneficiary of the Republic’s early origins. This isn’t necessarily an indictment but merely a reflection of fact. We all carry privileges embedded within us.

As India Westernises and follows trends emerging in the West; will it too suffer the ongoing racial convulsions in the West. The idea of a white actor blacking up to play a role is now simply unthinkable.

I’m extremely involved in BAME activities in Cambridge; in fact I’m co-founder to two initiatives that are rapidly catching the University’s attention.

A lot of the Upper Caste Hindus are involved in BAME because they can’t tolerate being the equivalent to Dalits in the West.

In some ways I think Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal’s mistake was that they didn’t fuse their valid demands with linguistic representation. It’s very obvious that the replacement of Persian with English and the evisceration of Urdu into Hindi only reinforced the dramatic caste divides.

The idea of English as the elite language binding together South Asia creates an effective barrier to the rest of the classes. In Pakistan learning English doubles one wage immediately.

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Why Cambridge University needs a central Asian Kitchen

We threw a hugely consequential event last night in Cambridge. The University sent very senior reps to participate in the discussion and change is in the offing.

It’s interesting that I’m directly involved in the two great BAME initiatives that are emerging from Gown (which is what we call the University); BREAD and CAMbFIRE.

The university needs to do more to alleviate the intense alienation that is there in Cambridge. However I’m the sort of the person that I’m not confrontational but rather conversational.

I also follow the wisdom of my Parsi kinfolk when they first came to India. A good immigrant is “sugar in the milk“; we should be sweetening society where we can rather than simply transforming it.

So it’s a two way process however the host society must also make accommodation for the new arrivals.

I realise that with the BAME community, the silent humiliations and mockery builds up until it bursts the dam and the angry activists come through with these demands. Then the stereotype of an angry immigrant emerges.

My suggestion is that if we stop otherising “the other” (both host and guest) then we can deal with each other as human beings. That’s why I focus on these conversational and cultural initiatives; as a Baha’i I work towards unity.

However throughout the University there happens to be 30 college formals happening every evening. They serve Western food and usually people have to wear gowns to them.

If the University were to repurpose one of its old building in town and make an Asian Mess (with proper Asian chefs); it would do so much to serve the BAME community. One could argue why not Latin American or African but the Asian community is now 10+% and Asian cuisine is very particular (I would define Asia as per the US Census, Pakistan to Pacific).

Integration is not assimilation and it would be nice to have a less stuffy space that would cater to a growing community.

 

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When Brownz don’t stand together; the Coloniser wins

https://m.facebook.com/32040/posts/10108032923882941?s=32040&sfns=mo

It’s a sad day for the Subcontinent as the Cricket World Cup is now all-white even though the majority of the participating nations are not.

I wrote a few screeds after India’s defeat to England but thankfully they went unpublished.

My spidey sense told me that India conspired to keep Pakistan out of the World Cup and I felt quite betrayed by it.

This parable of the World Cup disaster reminds me of the Indian obsession with Pakistan. India is so keen to be “Western”, at any cost, that it sometimes forgets itself.

Australia, Canada & New Zealand are the “Old Dominions”, not South Asia, and I think India would do a lot better by seeing Pakistan as a friend rather than a foe.

Peace in the Subcontinent will only come about when we stop “otherising” one another. Surely one can understand why Pakistanis wanted to avoid the fate of Dalits and Muslims in India?

The jingoistic upper caste nationalism that seeks to Saffronise and purify everything in its wake has been hugely destructive (and frankly a bit nauseating; vegetarian biryani is not tasty) to the post-1857 South Asian political landscape.

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