Tony Joseph’s Early Indians

My review of Tony Joseph’s new book, Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From, is now up at India Today.

In general, I liked the book, and have only minor quibbles with Joseph’s reportage of the genetic results. He has very particular interpretations of results on some questions, but his core audience of Indians will be focused on this, not the minutiae of D-statistics. For example, it seems to me that he gave a great deal of emphasis to the aboriginal heritage of South Asians in quantity and impact. This is a defensible stance, but it’s not a necessary one dictated by the results from the data.

The non-genetic assertions I had less background on, and so did some literature review by following Joseph’s copious citations. In these “fuzzier” fields it is harder to establish a consensus from what I can see (the number of opinions of linguists on any topic seems to equal the number of linguists!). The downside is certain conclusions are not there yet. The upside is there is still scholarship that will be done.

Overall, get Early Indians. But read with some caution and use it as a sourcebook for follow-up queries.

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57 thoughts on “Tony Joseph’s Early Indians”

    1. Mr. Joseph can take the cake away from Rudyard Kippling of the “White Man’s Burden” in(fame) in a racism context. The

      http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5478/

      The cover of his new book features a dark skinned naked (supposedly aboriginal girl) waiting for the superior light skinned races of (only men, no women!) from West Asia (once again a loosely defined term), Central Asia (ditto) and Europe to bring civilization in the form superior genes, language and culture.
      https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/leisure/story/20190107-early-indians-tony-joseph-review-1419016-2018-12-28

      Such blatant and hateful racism is ok as long it comes from the leftist/Marxist wing of India.
      Show less

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      1. The cover image is of the dancing girl of Mohenjodaro, one of the most famous artifacts from the Indus Valley Civilization, which is probably why it was chosen. Not sure exactly what is racist about it.

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      2. his rationale for choosing the girl is that her dominant aboriginal ancestry is the largest component in modern south asians. he actually explains IN THE BOOK (which you likely won’t read).

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  1. Thanks Razib!

    You’ve finally given me an opportunity to express a view on this topic; I’ve been wanting to say something about certain sections of this book. I have no issue with a lot of his opinions but there is a certain section in this book that has got me thinking for the past week or so.

    Let me quote the bit I wish to talk about here and then I’ll go ahead and express my opinion –

    “In fact, in one instance, the contrast between the Rigvedic principles and Harappan practice is quite striking. The Rigveda denounces “shishna-deva” (literal meaning: phallus god or phallus worshippers), while Harappan artefacts leave no one in doubt that phallus worship was part of its cultural repertoire. The archaeologist RS Bisht, who excavated the most visually stunning Harappan site in India at Dholavira, says there is clear evidence of deliberate destruction of phallic symbols and idols both in Dholavira and other sites after the civilisation declined. Book 7, 21.5 of the Rigveda says “may not the ‘shishna-deva’ approach our holy worship”, and Book 10, 99.3 describes how Indra slew them. Some authors have used “lustful demons” as the appropriate translation for “shishna-deva” in this context, but the literal meaning of the original text – and, of course, the animosity – is quite clear”

    I must say this is absolutely baseless. Bisht might have observed a relic left over from a fight between the followers of Siva and Vishnu but it is not at all correct of Joseph to imply a link between the Vedic people and a hatred for phallic worship.

    Let me explain where I’m coming from on this issue in greater detail. If the existing theorists are correct and those who came into India were indeed Yamnaya related Steppe pastoralists and horsemen, then I can give Joseph more than sufficient evidence for phallic worship in parts of the Slav (all Yamnaya descendants) world right up to the 15th century, yes, not more than 500-600 years before present.

    So, what he is trying to pass off as a scholarly opinion can either imply he doesn’t support Aryans coming in from the Steppes or else they came in from elsewhere, learnt Lingam Pooja in India and then went to Yamnaya. I don’t really know if he even thought deeply about this particular issue before writing what he did

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    1. Hmm……..probably he should have steered clear of such religious speculation. If this sort of stuff figures prominently in the book (rather than the scientific evidence), his thesis will be panned by the usual people for the usual reasons. “Destruction of symbols and idols” smacks of what many Muslim invaders actually did in more recent history, and implies that foreigners brought in the Vedic religion and colonized the natives. This implication is precisely why so many people are vehemently anti-AIT.

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      1. Like what people are vehemently anti ait? His core audience ( South Indians + bengalis + Muslims, Christians and liberals from the north ) support the AIT. This makes his view the majority view

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  2. More such books are needed to drive the point home re the sheer pigheaded idiocy that is OIT.

    That said I think people *really* need to understand that the Arya-s did not bring in Sanskrit with them, anymore than Latins brought French to France or ape mothers had human babies. And Joseph makes this textbook error.

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  3. Tony Joseph a BUSINESS journalist has no reason or qualifications to write about anyone’s ancestry except his own may be. Case dismissed.

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    1. Would you trust David Reich instead? I think Joseph may just be channeling Reich, at least on the genetics.

      And are you suggesting that it it illegitimate to write about the history of other peoples’? (Though in this case, unless I’m missing something, Joseph is writing about the history of his people too, regardless of his Christian name.)

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  4. “But read with some caution and use it as a sourcebook for follow-up queries.”

    I see this comment meaning different things to different people. For all the usual OIT-wallahs, it is a license to let loose on this blog (which I suspect Razib will not even allow to come near GNXP), but I think what is intended is: some of the religious/lingual discussion pertaining to ancient India in the book is unnecessary, and the precise admixtures and dates of steppe/Iranian Farmer/ Ancient south Asians (among other things) is yet to be resolved, awaiting additional Mehrgarh/IVC or any ancient DNA.

    However, the following by TJ is important:

    “You can stand in the middle of a crowded market in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai or Kochi and say that the common ancestor of the languages Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam was brought to India by migrants from West Asia some 8,000 years ago, and no one is likely to care or protest. You could stand in the middle of Jharkhand and say that Austroasiatic languages such as Mundari, Santali and Ho came to India from Southeast Asia around 4,000 years ago, and no one is likely to raise a finger against you. You could go to Manipur and tell them that their language, Meitei, belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family and was brought to India from East Asia and they aren’t likely to be too bothered. You can stand anywhere in India and say that the earliest Indians were Out of Africa migrants who reached South Asia some 65,000 years ago and no one would really mind.

    But if you were to say that an early version of Sanskrit was brought to India from central Asia by pastoralists who called themselves ‘Aryans’, expect the skies to open and pour condemnation down on you. Thundering articles will be written and published three at a time on right-wing websites; trolls will hound you; and there will be calls for you to be expatriated, excoriated or even exterminated.”

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      1. That is nonsense. No one would lynch anyone for questioning those kooky theories in chennai. However, you could get lynched if you are a dalit speaking to a upper caste Tamil girl. Thats the most disturbing thing in Tamil Nadu.

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        1. The question is what people consider ‘kooky’ . Tamil primordialism is not seen as kooky by many people even educated ones, including academia. What is written in Tamil is more important to them than what is discussed in English, which the mind simple ignores except when it supports what is thought in Tamil

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      2. NO, over the last 51 years of Dravidan party rule,the streets of TN are littered with bodies hung from lamp posts after making comments on the origins of Tamil (from West Asia) or comments on the truthfulness of Lemuria.

        Also, I am now firmly convinced that T.J.Joseph’s propaganda book(s) will only destroy the fabric of the country in which he HIMSELF resides.

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        1. Lemuria/ Tamil as the mother of all languages theory is at the core of Dravidian ideology and worldview. You can’t rubbish it with one hundredth the gusto with which Hinduism was/is rubbished .

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    1. The point I don’t understand is why are South Indians( non genetist) so concerned about what North Indians think about aryans etc at all. I hardly see North Indians( business editor or otherwise) cornecning themselves about the origins of Tamils or the Mundas or the north eastern people.

      The funny part is people genuinely believe that the reason why he wades Into ideological / religious debate and comments in his book is due to some genuine curiosity and not due to pre conceived notions.

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      1. The point is not ” I don’t understand is why are South Indians( non genetist) so concerned about what North Indians think” . The point is what SI themselves think about themselves. Don’t conflate political froth in Tamilnadu with ‘south Indians’

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  5. “You can stand in the middle of a crowded market in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai or Kochi and say that the common ancestor of the languages Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam was brought to India by migrants from West Asia some 8,000 years ago, and no one is likely to care or protest.”

    TJ is wrong. The Dravidian Nationalist movement would definitely object to that. The modern nation state of India has five or six language families and they are ALL likely to object to be labelled as immigrants and foreigners. Its human nature. TJ is operating under a simple logic that only Indo Aryan speakers (or the so called OIT walas and Hindu Nationalist) can be thuggish.

    “You could go to Manipur and tell them that their language, Meitei, belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family and was brought to India from East Asia and they aren’t likely to be too bothered. ”

    That is again absolutely false. If the Indian army tries to round these people up and send them to their “homeland” they ARE going to object.

    So if TJ is trying to rally support of all non Indo Aryan language speaking peoples, writing such propaganda books will only destroy the fabric of the country in which he HIMSELF resides. As far as the genetics is concerned there are many qualified geneticist on this blog who can analyze the Reich’s lab’s work.

    If TJ was a true scholar he would really examine the unscientific methods used by philologist to break up languages into families. The leftist in India have not learned anything from Trump’s dramatic rise to power. India Today is going to be labelled as “fake news” lose readership and advertising revenue. TJ as a business journalist should know this better than anyone else, one would think.

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    1. “The Dravidian Nationalist movement would definitely object to that”.

      Nonsense again. I have never seen a ‘Dravidian’ nationalist question the West Asian origin. If anything they revel in the sumerian comparisons etc because of the antiquity.

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      1. That is because ‘west asian ‘ origin theories are fairly new and not available in Tamil. AS far as possible, the dravidian ideology wallahs don’t get into discussing latest scientific theories written in English. They stick to books and propaganda written in Tamil. Peruse that to see where they stand.

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    2. Surely 3000 years is long enough not to be labelled as a foreigner? The history and the inferences we draw from the evidence aren’t the problem; it’s the attitudes that regards people partially descended from 3000-year old settlers as interlopers.

      The world has been moving away from such atavistic attitudes for a while. Time for Indians to do the same.

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      1. Who is a foreigner/local depends on demographic of the area. It’s a political question not strictly am academic one The Turkish are not foreigner to turkey nor are the Hungarians to Hungary. Nor is the Assamese is Assam. No one thinkgs Babar as foreigner in Pakistan but in India he is seen as one

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        1. Also, on the education.
          Pretty sure that till about 10 years ago before Ram Mandir became a big issue on SM, most CBSE educated urban kid wouldn’t have called Babur a foreigner.
          He came from Afghanistan and Afghanistan was practically India. So how can he be a foreigner?

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          1. Urban kids don’t call babur foreigner even today. And the reason is not because he/she thinks that Afghanistan is India. It’s because for them Mughals are Indians just like Delhi sultanates are Indians and so on so forth.

            In CBSE No one is foreigner since In the very same chapter you teach South as cholas and vijayangar and for north you teach sultanates and Mughals which gives the impresssion that they are as Indian as their southern counterparts

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          2. Urban kids don’t call babur foreigner even today. And the reason is not because he/she thinks that Afghanistan is India. It’s because for them Mughals are Indians just like Delhi sultanates are Indians and so on so forth.

            In CBSE No one is foreigner since In the very same chapter you teach South as cholas and vijayangar and for north you teach sultanates and Mughals which gives the impresssion that they are as Indian as their southern counterparts

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        2. I’m not impressed by this analogy. Babar WAS a foreigner. But Bahadur Shah Zafar wasn’t. Nor, for that matter, was Aurangzeb, whatever many of us might think of him.

          A nomad from the steppe migrating to the Indus Valley in the 2nd millenium BC was likewise a foreigner. But his descendants (you or me) aren’t.

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          1. Indus valley is not a well defined area , now or then. A nomad migrating 50 miles may take a few generations. By that time whole idea of ‘foreigners’ vs ‘locals’ is meaningless.

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          2. @VijayVan:

            True, I was just trying to make a point.

            It’s exceedingly unlikely that there ever existed a person who grew up in the Sintashta area and died on the banks of the Indus. 🙂

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          3. @Numinous

            Even a more improbable nonsense called ‘Volga to Ganges’ was written , I think as a fiction. Many people, usually ‘progresive’ kind take it as true.

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  6. Only comment published by India Today so far was the MMK’s comment from this blog. My comment from 15 hours ago was censored although I only asked some basic questions and made suggestions for future research (Who were Aryans, which language they spoke, etc) and congratulated the author for making a step forward in a current scholarship. I believe that some other comments were censored as well.

    I am pretty disappointed because in spite of my sympathies for OIT proponents because I see them as Indian patriots and in spite I have different opinion from them, they become to behave as a sect where the truth, which is becoming more and more obvious, is not important. They have internal political agenda called OIT and they try to find supporting evidence for this while ignoring exact evidence such as genetics. I remember that Malhotra in British Parliament was asking for help in fighting any different theory. That is so shame and very humiliating. Those people are doing extremely bad service to own people and own country.

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  7. The basic highlights of Indian’s ancestry is understood: ASI, Neolithic Iran, Bronze age Steppe. I think it’s important to acknowledge no one knows the details. The details are really important. Without, the details of how they contributed to Indian ancestry all there are are broad categories.

    The least is known about ASI. Whatever it really represents is unique to India so is maybe the most important feature of Indian ancestry.

    It is very broad to say it arrived 60ky (we don’t know if it did) and then skip forward to 8ky when Iranian farmers arrive & mix with them. It shows how little we know about Indian’s Paleolithic ancestry. At moment uniparental markers can tell the most about it. But really only ancient DNA can give the answers.

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  8. Summary of the book.
    “pastoralists from the Central Asian Steppe 2000 and 1000 bce”

    Andronvo is called “Central Asian” but really they were European settlers in Central Asia. Genetically speaking, they were a similar Steppe/farmer mix as most Bronze age northern Europeans contemporary to them.

    Not just that but they had light skin, mostly blue eyes, and lots of blonde hair. Looking at modern Tajik who trace 40% of their ancestry back to them this is hard to believe but Ancient DNA has shown that pigmentation can change quickly for in in-explainable reasons.

    And, iron age samples form the Asian Steppe show they mixed a lot with the diverse array of people who lived in Central Asia (ANE-rich, Lokomotiv-rich, IranNeo-rich) and this mixture probably happened immediately when they arrived.

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    1. Have those northern European (what was their name?) brought Sanskrit to Hindustan? What about their religion? Have they brought any toponym from their old homeland? Where they lived (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, China, Sri Lanka…??? ). What was the name of the territory where they lived? Are there any modern nation in Europe which is genetically and linguistically close to these guys i.e. they have common origin? Thanks.

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    2. Andronvo is called “Central Asian” but really they were European settlers in Central Asia.

      Not just that but they had light skin, mostly blue eyes, and lots of blonde hair.

      Evidence?

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      1. Someone checked the pigment data from samples in this study for me. There’s dozens from Andronovo in central Asia.

        Narasimhan 2018
        The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia
        https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2018/03/31/292581

        An earlier study from 2009 on Andronovo in Siberia showed the same results.
        https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00439-009-0683-0

        David Reich refers to Andronovo as a direct descendant of Yamnaya. But Andronovo was really derived from a mixture from similar Pontic-Caspien Steppe and European farmers just as the bulk of modern Europeans do but with more PC Steppe in the mix.

        It’s inevitable, South Asians won’t like this information. It’s possible to remove the uneccesary baggage and see it as it is.

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        1. I don’t really care for the “European” moniker attached to Yamna people. European periphery may be more accurate. Also, European farmers had their origins in the Fertile Crescent, no? So would we call them, say, “Syrians”?

          As for the phenotype, blue eyes and light skin are not uncommon in India. Your assertion about blonde hair was what I was surprised by. If you claim that blonde hair was very common in Andronovo, how come there isn’t any in modern India? Is hair color that recessive? (Asking the question as a layperson.)

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          1. i think SIA overdoes the pigmentation stuff. looks like there has been in situ selection in northern europe >4000 years BP for lighter pigmentation. some of the altai samples are pretty light…though even there only a subset of alleles are known.

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          2. Actually, it was Vinca (Danube civilisation, where the most ‘Europeans’ originated) and you can call them Serbs. Although, they also lived in Fertile Crescent, too – in Palestine (before Jews and Arabs), in Sinai (i.e. Serbal), founded Babylon, ruled Assyrian kingdom, in Egypt before they were expelled together with Jews and Greeks, etc.)

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  9. Simply unbelievable! India Today published only one previously mentioned OIT comment for 24 hours. My, and probably many other comments, were censored. Maybe Razib can explain this.

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  10. RE: Aryans in Sri Lanka? (with phonetic names)

    Serbika (or Serika) was the name where Aryans lived in India. It probably originated immediately after the first Aryan expedition. Ammien Marcellin in his Histoire says that Serbika was one of 20 satrap-regions in Persian kingdom. It occupied very large space. Ammien cites 10 Serbian tribes and 4 largest towns: Asmira, Esedon, Asparata and Sera Metropolis (p.207). Under Himalaya were cities which remain on Sere: Sirinagor, Seharempur and Sirhind. On the river Sirdaria was a Serbian place, Serhend, from its town Serinda was brought silkworm to Europe during the reign of tsar Justinian. Most of these names are of Serbian origin.

    Today’s Sri Lanka, previously Ceylon, belonged to Serbika. Its name originated from Serbian name Serpska-dvipa (or shorter Serendib). Amien Markelin this island named as Seren-divus while Abu Rihan is Sirindib, what is Serendib for European navigators. A. Cunningham (The Ancient Geography of India) says that from this name became Arabic name Zilan, i.e. Ceylon (p.470).

    In Sanskrit it is mentioned as Ratna-dvipa, some read this as Gem Island, where is the word Dvipa=island. More likely that Ratna-dvipa is War-island (rat=war in Serbian). It is also mentioned as Sinhala-dvipa (or Sinhala-dipa). Sinhala means Lion’s or Lion’s origin. Serendib or modern Sri Lanka is considered that was populated with Aryans (some call them Vedas) and that in 504 BC the island experienced a massive immigration of Hindu. Pausania says that from this island was coming silk via ocean road. Over time, the size of Serbika got smaller and not so numerous Serbian tribes were melting within much numerous Hindu people. Serbika the longest persisted in Punjab.

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  11. Top it all with the coincidence that ANE clades better with AASI than with any other ancient component. I think we need to sequence the full genome of the 30k ybp Sri Lankan to understand what’s really happening

    At the moment, the picture that is visible to the public is quite hazy. Only some guys like David Reich really understand what’s happened at a deep down level

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  12. When others are on vacation time I have to work.
    I’ll do a detailed post after around 5th Jan or so.

    The oldest name for Sri Lanka is Tambapanni (pali), i.e. Copper colored sands. (name derived from Tāmraparṇī or Tāmravarṇī (in Sanskrit). The bright brown earth one sees as you approach Kudiramalai (near Mannar) the purported landing point of Vijaya. A derivative of this name is Taprobane (Greek)

    Sinhala. One interpretation is that it is from Sihala, ie Siu (4 ) Helas (Yaksha, Naga, Deva and Raksha) the four tribes that were supposed to have existed in Sri Lanka.

    Proper grammatical Sinhala is derived from Pali. Many rules, in some ways similar to Latin, with its declensions etc. Proper grammatical Sinhala is heavy reading and just a few basic rules adhered to in newspapers and novels.
    I “think” when Sinhala is referred to as an Indo-Aryan language they are referring to strict grammatical Sinhala.

    And extract from the Introduction, in the Dipavamsa translation by Oldenberg (thanks VijayVan for the link to the digital version)

    Each work represented, of course, their common subject in its own way, the Dipavamsa following step by step and almost word for word the traces of the original, the Mahavamsa proceeding with much greater independence and perfect literary mastership. The Dipavamsa,
    as regards its style and its grammatical peculiarities, betrays the characteristics of an age in which the Sinhalese first tried to write in the dialect of the sacred texts brought over from India; there are passages in the Dipavamsa which remind us of the first clumsy attempts
    of the ancient German tribes, to write Latin.

    The Mahvamsa is composed very differently; its author masters the Pali grammar and style with a perfect ease which cannot have been acquired but after many fruitless attempts, and which may be compared with the elegant mastership of Latin composition by which the Italian poets and scholars of the renaissance excelled.

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  13. Ha-ha-ha, did someone mention: ‘India Today is going to be labelled as “fake news” lose readership and advertising revenue’ ? …

    In last two days IT published only TWO comments from the same person who made this fake news reference.

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  14. // Tony Joseph in his hurry to diss Hindutva theories makes his own errors //

    Everyone has their pet biases. But I would expect the person ostensibly writing/explaining Science to acknowledge them, at the very least. I don’t give a flying-f about Hinduism; but saying Sanskrit was a foreign import is just taking the piss…

    Calling the language of Arya before they entered South Asia as “Sanskrit” just betrays ignorance of what kind of speech Sanskrit is and why it cannot be a non-South-Asian language. Sanskrit has distinct South Asian *innovations* in its substructure, even in the earliest attested Vedic speech, that did not exist in Proto-Indo-Aryan or PIE.

    In other words, even the oldest attested Sanskrit we know is already a result of social intercourse between South Asians (whatever their provenance). Using labels like “old Sanskrit” or “ancient Sanskrit” for reconstructed IIr or PIE languages is unadulterated codswallop 🙂

    PS: saMskRto vaktArAryopamAH (The best among Arya are the speakers of Sanskrit)

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    1. Yeah, I really wish he had steered clear of the politics, or at least understated it. And the way he’s talking about the Hindu right is exactly how the Hindu right would talk about him: someone with evil motivations who is not to be trusted. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times on these fora, there are genuine reasons for concern about the AIT from a nationalist perspective, even in these modern times (there’s always a chance of fragmentation, with unpleasant consequences), and dismissing them for a “Hindu right are proto-Nazis” explanation will only invite an equal and opposite scorn from his targets.

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  15. Razib Khan — If the Early Indians (AASI hunter-gatherers) were similar to Onge (Andamaners), where do the Y-DNA Haplogroup H, L and R2 males fit in, and where did they come from? Weren’t they also part of the Early Indian groups who ‘admixed’ with the Iranians to form the ASI?

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