I get a fair amount of email related to questions about Indian genetics, as well as calls for me to adjudicate various controversies. A major problem with any “Aryan invasion theory” or its descendants, which posit non-trivial gene flow from the Eurasian steppe, is the possibility that the Indo-Aryan ancestors of nearly all South Asians (albeit, in extremely varied proportions) were a thousand men with the bright faces, azure eyes, and flaxen locks. Paul Bettany times a thousand astride chariots.
The anachronistic neocolonialism obviously makes Indians uncomfortable. Or that’s my psychoanalysis. I don’t care much either way. What does Lord Indra’s scion care? We are the unbroken lineage, grasping Eurasia’s heart, from the Baltic to the Bay of Bengal!
The flip side of this is people of European ancestry, some of whom are white nationalists, do come close to making this claim. That is, that the Aryans were white Nordic people. The genetics from the Sintashta and Andronovo cultural complexes do indicate that they resemble many of the contemporaneous European populations. Their ultimate locus of origin probably is the Pontic steppe, which is in the geographic boundaries of Europe, as such. Finally, these steppe peoples exhibit genetic signatures of reflux from Europe. That is, they’re not just Yamna-descendants but derived from Yamna-like people who moved west, mixed with local indigenous Europeans, and moved back east along the Eurasian steppe corridor.
Looking at some of the ancient forensic DNA some of these individuals have suggested that I must admit that the Indo-Aryans were genetically like Europeans, and phenotypically like Europeans as well. They know that I won’t lie like some people, and just want me to admit this.
To be frank, I have gone back and forth on this question several times. The data is not thick on the ground, and each publication adds nuances and details. But I have now taken a tentative, and provisional, but definite, step toward concluding that the Indo-Aryans did not physically resemble white Europeans in the most salient of characteristics: they were not white. At least not white in a way that would please the sensibilities of the average frog-man.
There are two points I will make here. One of them is outlined at length on my other weblog: Inventing The Whites, What Hath Fog Wrought?. The evidence is starting to come together for me that several populations of Europeans whose present genetic character overall were assembled during the Bronze Age simultaneously and in parallel underwent depigmentation. And, that this selection process continued down into the historical era. The point with a South Asian relevance is that these selection processes were occurring long after the Indo-Aryans arrived in the subcontinent. I peg the arrival in the period between 1800 BC and 1400 BC, with a weighting toward a more recent date. Selection in far Northern Europe for the flaxen-haired archetypical Nordic coloring seems to have been occurring into historical time, well after the Christian Era began. To be fair, the physical description of Celts and Germans by Classical authors leaves no doubt that much of the process was already complete by the Iron Age. But this is well after the ancestors of the Sintashta will have separated from their European kin.
The second point is that I looked at the pigmentation alleles in the Reich lab’s merged data set. Specifically, I looked at Europeans, South Asians, and ancient populations. It is clear from this that Bronze Age Indo-Europeans, including the Sintastha, did not have the pigmentation profile of Northern Europeans today.
What did the Indo-Aryans look like? I didn’t run the HIrisPlex, but I’m 95% sure that Winston Churchill would have called them “wogs.” That being said, in the South Asian context, they would have been on the light-skinned. A pale golden shade perhaps?
And, they did bring the alleles for characteristics such as lactase persistence, as well as blue eyes, and much lighter skin (though some of this may have come with Iranian farmers as well, the alleles for light eyes was segregating at low frequencies across much of Western Eurasia it seems). It is simply that selection had not “fixed” these alleles in the same way that it did their distant cousins’ descendants in Northern Europe. The migrations of Indo-Europeans and the mixing of these people with the indigenous people of Europe resulted in a mix of variation which natural selection was able to use to produce a pale people indeed over thousands of years. But that is not how they were created on the open steppe under the eyes of the Sky-Father.
But what Razib gives, Razib takes away. I do think it will turn out that the Indo-Aryans are predominantly of the same genetic stock as the Corded Ware Culture of North Central and Eastern Europe. This will discomfit some dishonest Hindu nationalists, who have lied and shaded the truth for the past few years (here’s looking at you Sanjeev!), hoping that the forebears of the Indo-Aryans were Yamna people, who were only liminally European, and had little intercourse with the peoples of Europe. The Sintasha emerged out of a broader set of forest-steppe societies which likely spanned the whole zone from the modern Hungarian plain to the Altai. This is not surprising. The Scythians, and later the Turks created long-distance cultural complexes across this latitudinal zone. as well.
And, it seems that the genetic evidence is converging on the reality that a major thread of Sintashta ancestry comes from a back-migration of agro-pastoralists from Europe, into the Asian steppe.
But though their origins were European, many unique elements of their culture seem to have emerged in interaction with various peoples in Inner Asia and later on in Central Asia (e.g., the soma cult). Here on the edge of their world, facing the arid steppes of Asia, the Sintashta pioneered the light war chariot. This innovation spread like wildfire, reaching Egypt and China in a few centuries. And, it is likely that in various forms the scions of the Sintashta spread out across the Eurasian oikumene, with mixed results.
That is what I see now. The future may update my conclusions. But I am less and less sure confident that will happen. We are converging upon the truth.