Here is my take on the significance of South Asian aDNA from Eastern Iran and Central Asia during the Bronze Age –
The Chalcolithic contacts between South Asia and regions immediately to its East & North i.e. Eastern Iranian cultures such as Jiroft or Halil Rud (from sites such as Jiroft & Konar Sandal) & Helmand (Shahr-i-Sokhta) as well as Central Asia (from sites such as Geoksiur or Sarazm) are not so well documented. This is an unfortunate lacunae that needs to be filled up in the near future because the Chalcolithic appears to be a critical phase where the communication channels within this vast region are likely to have become more intensified leading to a process of urbanism and continuing well upto the downfall of these urban civilizations.
Nevertheless, there are some tantalising and very important clues for this period that can have larger repurcussions as more research is done but I will come to that later.
Let me first point out the archaeological and genetic evidence we have for the 3rd millenium BC.
First let us note the evidence of interaction between the Helmand civilization (exemplified by sites such as Shahr-i-Sokhta & Mundigak)
A series of artefacts found at Shahr-i Sokhta and nearby sites (Iranian Seistan) that were presumably imported from Baluchistan and the Indus domain are discussed, together with ﬁnds from the French excavations at Mundigak (Kandahar, Afghanistan) that might have the same origin. Other artefacts and the involved technologies bear witness to the local adaptation of south-eastern manufactures and practices in the protohistoric Sistan culture. While the objects datable to the ﬁrst centuries of the 3rd millennium BCE fall in the so called “domestic universe” and reﬂect common household activities, in the centuries that follow we see a shift to the sharing of luxury objects and activities concerning the display of a superior social status; but this might be fruit of a general transformation of the archaeological record of Shahr-i Sokhta and its formation processes.
The above is part of the abstract from this paper –
Let me quote a few more paras from the same paper which are important and relevant to our topic –
In general, the cultural relationships between the Helmand centres and the Subcontinent appear to have been ephemeral and sporadic, had a secondary economic impact, and probably do not justify the use of the term. The links, anyhow, are well-established archaeological facts. Some classes of ceramics, tools and ornaments, throughout the whole sequence, seem to be the local versions of artefacts and habits more ﬁrmly rooted beyond the south-eastern frontier. Interestingly, at Shahr-i Sokhta we can recognize at least three technologies that may have been adopted from Indus ones: the possible evidence of local steatite disk bead production, the still unknown technology involving the making and use of terra- cotta cakes, and the import of Turbinella pyrum for a local, scarcely standardized bangle industry; the habit of impressing stamp seals onto terracotta cakes or marking them with incised signs points to a local adaptation or transformation of the original functions of these cheap objects. The carnelian abundantly present on the surface of Shahr-i Sokhta would ,b>appear to have been ﬁred in order to enhance its colour, according to the traditional Indian technology…
… Although these activities cannot be considered as economically very relevant, and possibly involved just a minority of the population of Shahr-i Sokhta, the city, particularly in Period III, appears quite per- meable to the inﬂuence of Indus habits and fashions, deﬁnitely more than any other early urban centre of eastern Iran so far excavated.
In Period II, both for the items presumably imported and those locally produced with stylistic or technical features comparable to the Subcontinent, the links include basic domestic equipment (seals, pottery, terracotta ﬁ gurines, mouse-traps,terracotta cakes). In contrast, when one moves to Period III, the connections shift to a different functional realm, ornamentation and status display: we encounter steatite, ivory and carnelian beads, shell inlays and bracelets, gaming pieces. The use of terracotta cakes, as we have seen, continued and might even have increased. It is hard to say whether, or to what extent, this peculiar pattern reﬂ ects an actual cultural process (a growing cultural interaction between the elites of the two cultures)
Read these above extracts from the paper and especially keep note of the bolded part.
Moving on, let us also go over similar observations made by scholars from the sites of the Jiroft civilization in Eastern Iran which is situated in the Kerman province and thus immediately to the east of the Sistan province where the Helmand civilization existed.
This paper presents a detailed analysis of the iconography carved on a cylinder seal found in a metallurgical site within the archaeological complex of Konar Sandal South, near Jiroft, in the Halil river valley of the Kerman province, south-eastern Iran. This seal is made of a whitish marble and – even if heavily worn by use – it retains traces of diﬀerent animal ﬁgures. These animals represent the translation into local style of a rare but characteristic iconography found in the seal production of the Indus Civilization. The merging into a single seal of diﬀerent animals, some of which clearly belong to the standard animal series of the Indus seals, might have provided the owner with a special authority that allowed him/her to hold diﬀerent administrative functions. Moreover, the discovery at Konar Sandal South of a cylinder seal bearing an Indus-related iconography might further testify to the direct interest of Indus merchants and probably craftsmen in trade exchanges with a major early urban site in south-eastern Iran
This is the abstract from the paper.
Now let me quote a few extracts of interest from the rest of the paper –
Regardless of its manufacturing tradition, this seal from Konar Sandal South seems in fact to re-elaborate and adapt to the local style an original and peculiar iconography of the Indus Civilization, respecting also a series of rules at the basis of the Indus seal production. In the impression, all animal images face (in this case, one could also say ‘rotate’) right, as they are normally arranged in the Indus seals once stamped on clay. Interestingly, zebu 3.1 is the ﬁrst animal of the procession. This order seems to match the prominence that most scholars ascribe to the seals showing zebus in the standard Indus stamp seals
Even if the depiction of a zebu bull would not necessarily imply a Harappan aﬃliation of the complex imagery of this seal, this animal being physically present in south-eastern Iran at the time and well-represented also in the local art tradition, the association of three distinctive Indus animal icons – zebu, unicorn, and buﬀalo – almost certainly does.Moreover, the pars pro toto synoptic principle fully belongs to the Indus iconographic tradition, as demonstrated by the several composite animal ﬁgures present in the corpus of Indus stamp seals. Considered all together, these animals may symbolize something more than a simple list or procession, representing instead the physical disembodiment of a concept represented on two similar Indus whirl-like images on stamp seals
In general, the Halil Rud animal imagery more directly linked to the iconography of the Indus civilization suggests a precise knowledge of very important eastern symbols , but also a strategic will of subverting their original implications, adapting them to the local style and tradition
These bleached beads and cylinder seal from the copper-processing area can be added to a consistent series of other Indus-related artefacts discovered at Konar Sandal South: animal ﬁgurines with human faces on exhibit at Jiroft Museum,one cubical and twelve spherical weights related to the metrological system of the Indus Valley,the metal stamp seal with typical Indus animal icons already discussed for its manufacturing technique,ﬁred steatite disk-beads found in both the settlement area and the pilfered grave- yard of Mahtoutabad,and the local processing of a limited amount of unmistakable chert from the Rohri Hills in Pakistan, including an over-exploited ‘bullet’ core reduced by indirect pressure techniques. Most probably, a systematic editing of the excavation reports of Konar Sandal South will add more evidence of the direct presence of Indus traders in the most important civilization core of south-eastern Iran.
Here is another article which dwelves on the above same subject –
Unfortunately at present this article is not freely available online as it was apparently earlier (I have a copy).
Not let us look at Indus influence in BMAC.
I am quoting from the concluding section of the below paper –
The detailed study of the substantial collection of artifacts made from the ivory of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758) discovered at the Oxus Civilization site of Gonur Depe, in southern Turkmenistan, demonstrates that most of these objects were probably manufactured in Central Asia according to the local artistic tradition and did not arrive as ﬁnished items from sites in the Indus Valley. In fact, almost all ivories excavated at Gonur Depe show a marked degree of functional and stylistic separation from the contemporaneous pro- ductions of ivory objects in the Indus Civilization. A few ivory objects may have occasionally arrived in Central Asia from the greater Indus Valley as ﬁnished items. However, considering the sources of elephant ivory available for Gonur Depe, the discovery on site of the large unworked section of an elephant tusk, and the evidence for reworking of ivory objects at Gonur Depe and possibly also at other sites in the Oxus basin, it seems more likely that tusks of male Asian elephants were traded to Central Asia, whole or in large sections, by merchants who might have provided also the skilled craftsmanship necessary to transform them into ﬁnished objects. The highly specialized skills and expertise required to carve ivory objects comparable to the ones found at Gonur Depe suggest that they were manufactured by local wood carvers or most likely by Indus-trained ivory carvers.
If one goes through all of these extracts, there is an unmistakable pattern. There is an attempt to imitate objects or materials that are originally from the larger Indus civilization region. It is also speculated by the authors that Indus traders were likely involved.
However, we now have the genetic evidence from the Narasimhan et al paper that clearly show that there were migrants from the Indus civilization living in both Eastern Iran and in Central Asia from 3100 – 2500 BC. The preprint only had 3 of these InPe samples as Razib calls them. But now it seems, there are 15 more InPe samples that have been discovered by the Harvard team with specific Indian origin mtDNA and y-dna as well. It is also evident that almost samples from Bronze Age Shahr-i-Sokhta and BMAC have South Asian admixture.
So we see a very substantial genetic imprint in Eastern Iran and Central Asia during the Bronze Age which is preceded by a lot of South Asian migrants into these regions between 3100 – 2500 BCE.
Why was there such a large migration from South Asia outwards ? In my opinion, this migration co-incides with the onset of the Mature Harappan phase. The mature Harappan phase is characterised by a high degree of uniformity and urbanism over the Greater Indus region which was lacking earlier. Some archaeologists have even argued that this represented a political empire.
So, just maybe, around 3000 BCE, one political tribal group among the several regional polities in South Asia began to extend its political power over other entities ultimately leading to the vast scale uniformity and unity of the mature Harappan phase. This perhaps forced these other regional political entities to flee into more distant regions. This may have led them to migrate into Eastern Iran and Central Asia. These migrants may have then created or catalysed the formation of urbanism in these regions.
This could also mean that the larger Indus civilization region as well as the Eastern Iranian and Central Asian civilization were genetically, culturally and quite possibly linguistically brought into unity by this process starting in the early 3rd millenium. Let us bear in mind that it is this very region that historically was the classical Indo-iranian linguistic region.
There is also evidence that the materials excavated from the sites of the Jiroft civilization have Zoroastrian iconography such as the Vara – the enclosure of Yima where all living beings were safe from calamity, already in the 3rd millenium BC adding further credence to my proposition that the roots of Indo-Iranian culture were already laid by the cultural transformation that came about in the Greater Indus, Eastern Iran and Central Asian regions through an impetus from Indus migrants.
Protohistory of the vara. Exploring the Proto-Indo-Iranian Background of an Early Mytheme of the Iranian Plateau
In this article I propose, after the original inspiration of a paper by A. Panaino (2012), that a peculiar architectural motif, quite common on a class of carved softstone artifacts produced in south-eastern Iran in the 3rd millennium BC, mirrors a mythological theme linked to an archaic flood or cataclysm legend. The stone vessels I discuss were funerary in character, and I argue that perhaps they were used to contain and distribute sweets during funerals. It seems that in south-eastern Iran, during the the 3rd millennium BC, one or more versions of flood myths were deeply rooted in the local cultural substrata. In a unknown later moment, a version would have been absorbed into the official Zoroastrian religious literary corpus, retaining important correspondences with the iconography of the middle Bronze age.
There is also evidence from several Harappan sites where the Indian archaeologists have argued that the funerary customs mirror those described in Vedic texts and that at sites such as Kalibangan & others there is actually evidence of fire altars just as in Vedic sacrifices.
In contrast, let me quote about the archaeological evidence of the so-called steppe migration into Central & South Asia which suppossedly brought Indo-Iranians into South Asia.
This survey of the archaeological and biological record of southern Central Asia yields four important findings. First, contacts between the sedentary food-producing populations of the Namazga culture populations residing in Kopet Dagh piedmont and Geokyur oasis of southern Turkmenistan who likely established the outpost at Sarazm had little to no contact with populations residing in the southern steppe zone. Second, contacts between Bronze Age steppe populations and NMG V and BMAC populations appears to have been one in which the dynamic of cultural influence was stronger on the side of the well-established sedentary food- producing populations, and this resulted in the partial assimilation of these initial newcomers to the region both culturally and, to a lesser degree, biologically as well. Third, not all of those who emigrated from the north turned to farming but may have continued a semi-nomadic existence in the highlands, which were unsuitable for the kind of intensive farming practiced in the BMAC homelands or in the regions of Khorezm. Fourth, if there was any Central Asian influence on South Asian populations, that influence likely long predated any development of Iranian, let alone Indo-Aryan, languages, and most likely occurred during the late NMG IV to early NMG V period (ca. 2800–2300 BCE) and even earlier during the Eneolithic from Kelteminar culture groups (4000–3500 BCE).
This last paper shows that the influence of steppe migrants was limited to the northern periphery of the BMAC civilization and that most likely these steppe migrants assimilated into the culture of the BMAC than vice-versa.
And there is no archaeolgical evidence of any influence on South Asia.
And based on this flimsy evidence, we are asked to believe that some steppe people migrated into South Asia and transformed the religi0-cultural and linguistic landscape of Iran, Central Asia and a very large portion of Central Asia. Do you find this argument convinving ?
I would say that the hypothesis I have put forward is more convincing. The fact that steppe groups interacted with the BMAC may infact have lead to the formation of nomadic Iranic Scythian culture but to suggest this was the beginning of a process which transformed the linguistic landscape of the entire urbanised regions of Central Asia, Iran and South Asia in favour of the languages of the steppe nomads is stretching it a bit too much.
Let me end by quoting none other JP Mallory, one of the foremost proponents of the PIE steppe theory
This is indeed the problem for both the Near Eastern and the Pontic-Caspian models and, fol- lowing the logic of this analysis, the Bouckaert model appears to be in the same boat. All of these models apparently require the Indo-European languages (including their attendant agri- cultural vocabulary) to be superimposed/adopted by at least several major complex societies of Central Asia and the Indus… In any event, all three models require some form of major language shift despite there being no credible archaeological evidence to demonstrate, through elite dominance or any other mechanism, the type of language shift required to explain, for example, the arrival and dominance of the Indo- Aryans in India. …all theories must still explain why relatively advanced agrarian societies in greater Iran and India abandoned their own languages for those of later Neolithic or Bronze Age Indo- Iranian intruders.
Admittedly, what I have proposed does not explain how Indo-Europeans reached Anatolia and Europe. The genetic evidence for that is not evident at present but I can certainly show some archaeological evidence and linguistic support for such an argument. But that shall be in a later post.