Our history is serious and not a game

Some of you are probably not amused by the jokes I try to make about AIT and Lord Indra. I hope it’s pretty clear I’m not serious about all of this…it’s just that people take these issues so seriously.

I’ve changed my mind on the “peopling of India” question several times since I began to take a genetic interest in the topic around the year 2000. That’s because the genetic and archaeogenetic technology and data has gotten better and better with every passing year. We can answer questions with power and precision that we couldn’t even imagine asking a few years ago.

Some of you are asking questions that are already answered in the supplements of the Narasimhan paper. From page 260:

With respect to South Asia, our key finding is that people with ancestry like the Kushan individuals can be excluded as important sources of the Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry that is widespread in South Asia today. In particular, the East Asian-related admixture (via Steppe_LBA ancestors) that characterized the Kushan individuals is nearly absent in South Asia. We formally confirmed this inference through qpAdm modeling that excludes the Kushan individuals, as well as nearly all the other Iron Age and historical period individuals from other cultural contexts that were published in two recent studies (29, 30) as plausible sources for the Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry in South Asia (Fig S 50).

Though culturally and historically significant, like the Muslims, the earlier steppe people that are prominent in Indian history don’t seem to have made a major genetic impact.

The question has been answered. And that’s good.

In the comments below some readers are asking about whether arguments have been won. Knowledge and science proceed through argument. But let me be clear here: I am not invested in a particular outcome, I am haunted by the possibility that we can know the truth of things. As a child, I was fascinated by history, but I always knew that I was going to go into science, because science progresses, while history circles in argumentation. What ancient DNA has done has been to illuminate the darkness of the demographic past. This is not the totality of human history, but it serves to provide a critical and precise scaffold on the questions we ask and the answers we come to.

The American Academy is so ideologically blinkered and biased that I am not going to throw stones any longer when I see people in other nations engaging in this sort of behavior. This is the world we live in. Knowledge is not furthered through institutions in anything more than a proximal manner. The results, the data, are out there. We need to grasp them and interpret them for ourselves. The truth is ours. If we choose to take it.

34 thoughts on “Our history is serious and not a game”

  1. With respect to South Asia, our key finding is that people with ancestry like the Kushan individuals can be excluded as important sources of the Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry

    I will take researchers word for it. But I am still curious why did Hunnic/Scythian/Kushan invasions not leave any discernible genetic imprint on Indian population.

    Hunnic and Scythian(Saka) invasions were a major interruption in India’s history. They destroyed the Gupta empire. Saka and Huna kingdoms got established as far south as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. So massive was the impact of their invasion that historians have noted that no living Indian tradition goes beyond the Huna/Saka period. No Indian dynasty goes farther than this period.

    It is common sense to think that these polities will give rise to a male-mediated admixture event in the general population. Isn’t it common that foreign conquerors will take local women as consorts. The absence of such an admixture event is in fact a bigger mystery for me.

    1. Only a slight correction, the Guptas themselves destroyed the last vestiges of the Shakas and the Kushans, during Samudragupta. The white huns which came later did overwhelm the Guptas at first but the Guptas and the surrounding forces did drive them away and in terms of territory the White Huns only controlled parts of Punjab and Pashtun territory for some amount of time.

      Even the post Gupta and pre Harsha period did not have any significant Saka imprint in mainland India and most of them were ruled by native Indian kingdoms. Therefore the last Saka -Indian power of any consequence was in 4th century.

  2. they said ‘important sources’.

    the steppe admixture is 10-25% in the indo-gangetic plain. it is possible a few percent is due to these people, so that the 10-15% (or more) east asian signal is lost. but it can’t be that much. muslims left a few percent in muslims too. but it’s small.

    similarly, the avars and magyars reordered all of eastern europe. but their genetic impact is very small.

  3. I’d honestly rather have people hold unsubstantiated views on who moved where 4000 years ago…than have people hold unsubstantiated views on what men and women are. The former only matters in an online bull session, the latter…matters to life in 2019 in a much more proximate way.

  4. Still, the IVC had a population in the millions. The question can be asked: is running these studies on a few hundred ancient DNA samples good enough to conclude anything? Any thoughts on this?

  5. Still, the IVC had a population in the millions. The question can be asked: is running these studies on a few hundred ancient DNA samples good enough to conclude anything? Any thoughts on this?

    sample size is less important than the representativeness. genomics allows one to infer genealogy, so one good sample represents thousands of points of data.

    second, we started off with a few hundred mtdna to make a conclusion about the whole human species 40 years ago. and it turned out to be good enough. (‘out of africa’)

    basically, we almost certainly have enough samples to make pretty good guesses and boundaries. on the margins sample size matters, but only on the margin (for modern populations we have samples of millions, and we haven’t gained much power beyond thousands).

    finally, population character is due to much smaller numbers of ancestors.

  6. I dont understand how come all this AIT-OIT thing is still a matter of debate. Shouldn’t it be a open and shut case by now. Like pre Indus DNA has no steppe, post Indus DNA has steppe , that should be it. Like what exactly is the wriggle room here? I think its just both sides are now enjoying the fight too much to give up on it.

    And in the middle is the shitshow called Indian media, which i think is either plain retarded or now putting an act of being retarded.

    1. Think the current working OIT theory is that steppe DNA may have arrived in the 2nd millenium BC (and after too) but didn’t leave any cultural or linguistic impact. They assimilated into a native Indo-European-speaking Vedic culture.

      OIT doesn’t seem particularly bothered about why Norwegians and Irish speak IE languages. Default assumption is that they are descendants of the Vedic Anu and Druhyu.

      (At least this is what I can glean.)

      1. I am like even if they accept that all this happened pre 2nd BC, i dont get what (how) are they loosing. There is no pre Vedic India,India is their construct. Either there is India or there is nothing. There are no native Indus Indians who can claim that they were colonized.

        Who are they fighting ? For whatever its worth the religion, linguistic and cultural milieu of India is Aryan. Even if someone came after IVC , its still eons on ages ago. People who came in post christ have established themselves in the land and call themselves natives and son of the soil and call others foreigners (Magyars, Turks, Assamese) . If 2nd BC is the cut off date perhaps 90 percent of world pops would amount to non native.

        There is delusional on other side too. The left thinks that it would somehow sully “Hindu ownership” of India ,if AIT is proved. These people are the perhaps the only people more delusional than the OIT folks.

        1. They’re fighting the Dravidian nationalists and some Dalit thinkers who claim exclusive continuity with the IVC. Also, they’re trying their hardest to lengthen the age of Indian (ie, Hindu in their eyes) civilisation in order to make it the “oldest” and therefore “best”. That bit is a colonial hangover that’s still going on…

      1. Why? What does Chandrayaan have to do with “craziness” in other areas?
        And this was a mission that had a 40% probability of success.. Israel and others also have had failures in final stages of space missions..

        Or are you just using the opportunity to take potshots at the Right (that they deserve a lot of those is another matter)?

        1. Take it easy pal. I was responding to the above comment about media turning even more nationalistic/jingoistic (as it’s been so over Kashmir for the past month.)

          The Chandrayaan failure is disappointing to all of us, whatever our political stripe, but it was still a great engineering achievement to the extend that it worked; folks at ISRO should be proud of their efforts and build on it.

          (Also, why would Chandrayaan failure reflect on the right? Unless you assume a success would also have been attributed to the right?)

      2. Chandrayaan-2 is a qualified failure.
        The fine-breaking descent of the lander was unsuccessful, and the lander is quite probably lying damaged* on the lunar surface. Yet much of the actual science payload (including American experiments) is in the orbiter, which is in a stable lunar orbit. This is the third successful orbital insertion carried out by India (after C-1 and M-1) on the trot.
        [*] Actually we still have no evidence of that, so total damage is a guess. The lander is still communicating with the orbiter so not all’s lost on it.

      3. Seeing the Pakistani science ministers mocking India’s efforts and popularizing #IndiaFailed was a bit pathetic. Not a fan of him but props to Modi for his decency. Glad his speech was bilingual, I guess he read the situation well given the demography there.

        And this is random but with respect to ISRO chief Sivan… Makes me so happy to see a dark skinned Indian occupy such a high position. All this bullshit pride in how much steppe this or that some have and this guy, AASI af, is a boss.

          1. This reminds me of a joke. A North Indian and a South Indian are boarding the same train compartment. The South Indian is pretending to struggle to lift his trunk into the top berth. The NI tells him to stand aside and puts the trunk up by himself. “Eat more wheat rotis” He tells the SI “It builds muscle”.

            After he walks away the Si turns to his wife and taps his head. “Eat more rice” he says “It makes you smarter”.

  7. @Rackam

    >Still, the IVC had a population in the millions.
    I have heard of estimates anywhere between 1 to 5 million, but do we have any reason to believe the upper end of this range? What if they weren’t as densely populated as expected?

  8. I’m not terribly surprised if the Kushans, Sakas, and Hunas left only a minimal impact on the subcontinent. The Romans ruled Britain longer the US has been a country and their genetic impact was minimal, apart from a significant influx of people from the Rhineland noted by David Reich (which is corroborated by ample historical and archaeological evidence)

  9. The problem is while there is no denying that steppe people did come in & left their marks on Indian genes but to then stretch it to the extent of bringing Indo-european language seems a stretch since these people were already in contact atleast via trade so they must both {IVC, Steppe etc.} have had some understanding of each other’s language.

    The second problem is that they are made responsible for introduction of Caste system which again seems a stretch considering some Tribes having genetic makeup of Y haplogroups similar to other highly endogenous Aryan communities. Aryans arrival did not coincides with caste system thus to attribute Caste system to them alone is more politics than what we can deduce from data & texts.

    Also adding sociology to the mix one can postulate ‘Elites among masses’ would generally have more diverse genetic makeup than the rest of the population as the ‘codes of communities’ has been an essential strategy of negotiation for power since ancient times & elites always have had the first to it.

    Is there any possibility of comparing genetic data from other parts of the world where nobles or aristocrat families can be compared with the genetic profile of the rest of the population from a certain time frame ?

    I am more interested in migration, language, spread of ideas & cultural narrative rather than debating about AIT or OIT theory as ancient world was divided because of technology & human limitation while modern world is divided because of creation of modern ideas of nation state, citizenship etc.

    1. If you don’t think steppe people brought Indo-Euopean languages, how do you propose those languages got to Europe? And why do we not see IVC related DNA in European populations that speak those languages?

      1. // If you don’t think steppe people brought Indo-Euopean languages, how do you propose those languages got to Europe? //

        That’s not what i am saying instead i am stating that the clear differentiation that we have of language is recent while going that far back we can not make claims about the languages of the people back then & the changes it incurred. Remember we are talking about language evolving from spoken only period to development of language into languages with written scripts.

        Then the second question is of – How languages evolve esp. when they come in contact with completely different language & culture ?

        For e.g. When Muslims came to India they preferred Persian but ultimately they had to compromise with the existing languages of the region & communities leading to the formation of Hindustani or Hindavi {precursor to Hindi & Urdu} where written form was Persian but with loads of existing words & ideas from existing Indian culture.

        Now here the claim is that since Steppe people who have similar language to Indo-Aryans so when moved into Indian subcontinent they brought the language & Hindu Caste system {as termed & understood mostly in various international studies}.

        But the above claim ignores all the other possibilities of language transmission via contact due to trade, endogamic profile of tribals & lower caste people in India which matches the endogamic profile of supposedly elite caste or classes like Brahmins etc.

        One of the papers with a probable theory of emergence of Sanskrit –
        Jan E.M. Houben*
        Linguistic Paradox and Diglossia : the emergence of Sanskrit and Sanskritic language in Ancient India
        Received December 1, 2017; accepted February 20, 2018

        https://www.academia.edu/37740094/Social_Life_Issues_of_Var%E1%B9%87a-J%C4%81ti_System – Paper that shows the emerging complexity {due to development of agriculture and later on development of specialized arts & crafts with certain communities who claimed them as a source of power struggle} within stronger & larger empires.

        So while Steppe people may have contributed genetically as ‘Aryan’ but to then stretch that possibility to them becoming the sole authority over all the other people ignores all other possibilities & is used mainly as political tool to project them as the sole progenitor of everything that is wrong within India & to make Hinduism as the imperial enemy of the greater & higher “Magadha Culture” {source of Sramana culture – Precursor of Buddhism & Jainism}.

        // And why do we not see IVC related DNA in European populations that speak those languages ? //

        Because even while living in proximity tribalism has been strong throughout the world & hence we find strong genetic marker within certain spatial regions & communities. This also meant that most communities were not looking to move from the region they have settled in & only a few did like Steppe people {due to emergence of new technologies – Farming, Wheel, Domestication etc. or due to climate or natural change forcing the communities to find new settlements}.

        Also last but not least – As i said Tribalism has been prevalent throughout human expansion & thus segregation has been natural. What is the genetic profile of Romani people vis a vis to the rest of European population ? It many also explain the lack of IVC contribution in European societies.


        IVC have not contributed beyond Indian subcontinent as their external contact seems mostly restricted to trade & they developed methods best suited to the region like development of dam structures or to use the water of temporary water bodies & when they faced natural disasters they probably moved downward to the central & South India and that seems to be the most probable reason why they have not contributed to regions beyond Indian Subcontinent.



        I hope this post clears my position to you.

      2. Hey Paulie, maybe the new strand of rakhigarhi iran like ancestry will be a good fit as a source population for some ancients in europe. one never knows. AASI in rakhigarhi is very small anyway.

  10. I think a lot of difficulties arise in people’s mind because they can’t grasp the idea of multiple sources of ancestry. It is already proven beyond doubt that Indians are a mixed population. So what if the rakhigarhi sample did not have any steppe ancestry. She still had plenty of Indian_HG and Iranian_HG ancestry, which together still form the majority of ancestry of modern Indians. In fact I will not be far off the mark if I claim that this particular individual, this venerable lady called I6113 was probably a direct great_great_(raised to the power of n) grandmother of some of the readers of this blog. So it is plainly an academic exercise to determine when exactly each strand of ancestry got woven into the fabric of modern Indian population.

    1. Dude, you can see how our current politics of resentment is being driven by the Islamic and British conquests which left their cultural imprints on us. People in power are animated by the idea of extirpating those “foreign” influences (which is why defending liberal ideas in India is a hard sell, not because they are bad ideas but because they are foreign.)

      I’m not entirely unsympathetic to their motivations, as those conquests did create divisions in India; lots of Muslims claim both foreign cultural and genetic inheritance as a matter of pride, sometimes to feel superior to the rest of us (this is more evident in Pakistan.) And our Anglicized elite has always felt superior to the proles, and has been a separate caste in all but name,

      So, however long ago our last “foreign” influence came, even if it was 4000 years ago, it would be a bad thing in their minds because it is foreign and can create new divisions today. Since we have visible diversity (we are not homogeneous as English or Germans or even Russians are), some people will choose to gain political mileage by claiming to be more indigenous than others; and others may claim superiority owing to their foreign ancestry, however primordial that ancestry may be.

      1. Numinius you say – “Since we have visible diversity (we are not homogeneous as English or Germans or even Russians are)…..”.

        This comparison is not really valid. India’s population has rivaled that of all of Europe for many millenia. The diversity comparison should be made at the same scale.

        1. Didn’t understand your point. I was comparing India’s diversity to each of the European nationalities, not Europe as a whole.

          And there’s a reason Europe is not one country, and the EU experiment seems headed for uncertain times. Europeans value their distinctiveness, or divisions if you will. Indian nationalists want to under-emphasize or eliminate those divisions, keeping Indians together in a country.

    2. “this venerable lady called I6113 was probably a direct great_great_(raised to the power of n) grandmother of some of the readers of this blog.”

      Is there any way to ascertain this? I’m U2b2 (i think Razib is also).

      Maybe if someone uploads the MtDNA to public DNA matching services like gedmatch and this:


  11. Razib you say – “Though culturally and historically significant, like the Muslims, the earlier steppe people that are prominent in Indian history don’t seem to have made a major genetic impact.”

    I am surprised by that observation. Political Islam was brought to North India primarily by Turks and Afghans. Did you mean to say that there does not seem to have been a major genetic impact from Turks and Afghan during their rule – variously 1000 – 1700 AD?

    Historical accounts suggest that millions of Hindus were enslaved and taken to Afghanistan and Central Asia. One would expect some genetic impact from this, even if this were marginal. BTW, there is some evidence that the “Maratha Bugti” tribe’s (Balochistan) origins trace back to Maratha soldiers and dependents enslaved after the 1961 Battle of Panipat. Not sure if any genetic evidence exists for this.

  12. Well, it was a pretty busy day or two. Let see some highlights:
    Patel: Razib, why don’t you block Milan? His so annoying. I had enough of his Serbian nonsense. (7+)
    Hoju: Aww he’s just eccentric (1+)

    Pretty unusual bunch in a joining effort, isn’t it? Bravo! Grandpa’s doodlebug ? (btw. he may know that ‘sardar’ is a Serbian word, meaning the name of old military rank, something as a ‘duke’?), taqiyyaman and …uhm…err…a ‘concentric’?

    Not bad, I must say, Hoju gives us some more, at least one example, I am genuinely curious, and I like to lough even if I am a butt of the joke. Taqi, you are currently superseded by the BPMan, move aside and stay quiet for now.
    All – you may individually or as a syndicate assignment go through my 6-points logic exercise and come back with your results.

    Maybe BP is not the intellectual blog but, if it is, you should know that in a polemic you must not be personal, never attack the person, discuss his/her assertions and, optionally, after that you may make a joke. Never try to forcefully shout someone’s mouth (this is so primitive and not cool), try to win the argument. Of course, unless you are trying to crash the blog.

    Do you need one example how to lead an intellectual polemics? Here we go – acclaimed, cited and frustrated, the BPMan, truly and personally:

  13. 1) Reich and his team are not saints. So, stop this BS!
    2) He knows more than any of you idiots. (Note: Not bad at all Rackam, keep doing good work!)
    3) Don’t try to malign all and sundry.
    4) You are Nincompoop idiot. A good for nothing ignoramus. (Note: Karan, congrats, you’ve got the Top Award for earning this and couple others)
    5) So, if you still want to spew venom get the hell out of here.
    6) If you want to criticise some scholar do so with some class and decency (Note: ? ?).
    7) Don’t act like a foul-mouthed donkey.
    8) And what is your qualification to pass judgement on them?
    9) Hope this clears it and people from now on would stop attacking him & others.
    10) You are an old AIT proponent and you really do enjoy mocking Indian researchers who do not support the AIT. (Note: Congrats, Francesco, for you – the Rookie Award)
    11) You are not an unbiased individual by any stretch.
    12) While the bombast of Sxxx is not something I am comfortable with, you talk a lot of rubbish.
    13) You might just find that yours truly has been referred to (?)
    14) Indeed, I have no hope now. May the Almighty show some mercy!

  14. @ Francesco Brighenti

    Thanks for the links, Francesco. Excellent commenting, concise, to the point, no mucking around, I would say the best in this blog. Come more often (only! – Yavanas are NOT Indo-Greeks). Forza Milan!

    >> Niraj Rai seems to have gone full OIT now: https://twitter.com/NirajRai3/status/1169687037122793477

    !!! Dr. Niraj Rai, formerly with CCMB, Hyderabad. I don’t know much about him but, for me, it is interesting Hyderabad. Wiki says for both, India’s and Pakistan’s Hyderabad that means “lion city”.
    Wiki does not say what was the old name of the Hyderabad?

    The old name was – Sardaksana. On the north from this city and east from the river Ind (MMK is currently searching for the old name of the river Ind) there was the city of – Sarbana!
    No further comment.

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