22 thoughts on “The ancient Indo-Iranians”

  1. I listened to the podcast. Patrick Wyman does a “Clive Cussler” style narration of events on the grasslands. Listeners might be convinced into believing that the archaeological record matches the narrative.

    1. And there are other trained archaeologists who have disputed that trained archaeologist! Main points of dispute –

      Sintashta chariots are no chariots. Littauer and Crouwel disputed Anthony on this one. In fact – their discussion happened pre-Sinauli, which further skews the picture in favor of the war chariot’s origin in South Asia .

      No evidence for languages on the Steppes until the 5th century AD. Only three BA civilizations in Eurasia display material evidence for this (Shinde, Kenoyer).

      The primary Indo-Iranian God (Indra – Vrtragna – AryaDeva) is a rain-god and all rites stem from propitiation for agricultural cycles. Patrick needs to explain how does his mobile warrior narrative transmogrify into a rain-worshipping textual tradition. I mean….what happened here? The Puritans started worshipping Ahone, the provider of elk-meat??

      1. They probably got the rain god and maybe even the earth mother from the EEF.
        And are you saying that the lack of material evidence for languages is evidence of the lack of languages or am I misunderstanding you? Many languages aren’t written down.

        1. “…lack of material evidence for languages is evidence of the lack of languages..”

          Absolutely…thats how archaeology works! The principal cardinality of archaeology is the “material dataset”. The intellectual basis of archaeology is the material landscape and its relevance to applied anthropology.

          Theorizing in the absence of material evidence is not archaeology. I mean it can be a valid form of hypothesizing (linguistics, for example) but it cannot be a archaeological narrative.

          “…..they probably got the rain god and maybe even the earth mother from the EEF…”

          There is no archaeological evidence of an agricultural surplus at Fatyanovo-Balanovo, Abashevo or Sintashta. Anthropological context demands a surplus in order for a society to organize its rites and rituals around that surplus. The primary economy drivers were foraging, animal grazing, hunting, metal working and raiding.

          1. 1- We know that people were living in that region before 500 AD and to think that they weren’t speaking languages is absurd. You can say that their habitation was limited. As for material evidence- there is the expanding Sintashta culture so that is material evidence for a type of culture. You could dispute whether they were Indo-European or not, but to say no languages in the presence of this culture, or humans for that matter is absurd because all humans speak some kind of a language.

            2- People pick up influences without the whole material package just like how in south Asia people kept on with certain older material traditions like pottery even after the migration of a new genetic group (again, you can dispute their identity, but there was an input). In the case of Indo-Europeans, or rather the ancestors of even the proto-Indo-European stage, they would have a few thousands of years of exposure to people who had an agriculturally-inclined thunderer. The figure would have been mapped on to the recipient PIE group which then altered it to suit their needs. Specifics differ but the generalities of a subsistence-driving/vigor embodying deity (going from providing plant growth in EEF to ensuring bountiful livestock in PIE) remains similar.

          2. @ DaThang

            The narrative of Sintashta/Abashevo/FB people coming into South Asia is not backed up by fieldwork. You can convince me by posting archaeological papers showing field evidence.

            The leading archaeologists of South Asia today, Shinde and Kenoyer, have not published any papers that show intrusion into South Asia.

            ..all humans speak some kind of a language..

            To make those kind of generalist and vague claims, one does not require a PhD. Patrick is claiming that these people spoke a very specific language. Do you understand the difference? Specificity requires proof.

          3. Yeah as I said you can dispute their identity. As for the arrival into South Asia there is clear proof of genetic contribution. The date hasn’t been pinned down yet, more South Asian samples from 2000 bc to 1000 bc are needed.

          4. ….there is clear proof of genetic contribution…

            There are seven recorded waves of intrusion into South Asia that have been archaeologically proven – Achaeminids, Yavanas (Greek), Hunas, Sakas, Kambojas, Paratas and Daradas.

            These incursions have left epigraphy, coinage, intrusive art forms (Hellenic) and deep legacies that convulsed the political life – eg: Chanakya’s lament about foreigners.

            My conjecture is that – each of these seven proven (textual and archaeological) incursions contributed iteratively to the 30% Steppes component seen in modern Indians.

            That is the reason why we are at loggerheads – you wish to pin the entire Steppes component on one mythical invasion alone. While ignoring the real archaeologically proven incursions.

            @DaThang – just for my clarification, is your position that the 7 incursions I have stated above did not contribute anything to the modern Indian gene pool?

          5. These invasions didn’t contribute nearly as much as the steppe invasion did. There are proxies for most of these populations and you can see how much they have contributed to south Asians. In doing so you will have to control for the pre-steppe base or else there will be too many things changing at once. I haven’t found much contribution outside of the far northwest like Afghanistan and Afghan-like populations of Pakistan. Within India and Pakistan (non-Afghan populations) the Sintashta contribution is almost always several fold greater than any later post-Sintashta wave. Kashmiri Pundits don’t follow that trend for whatever reason. And are you still holding on to possible Greek contributions? They contributed to one or two percent in Pashtuns and none in South Asians south of Afghanistan.

          6. @DaThang

            Narasimhan’s 2019 paper gives some indications that the Steppes component in modern Indians might be a “stack” of successive enrichments. I am putting my comments in a fresh post downstairs. Please reply there.

  2. “Listeners might be convinced into believing that the archaeological record matches the narrative”

    Possibly because both the archaeological and genealogical records match the narrative.

  3. I am quite certain now that the steppe had little to do with the spread of Indo-European languages. It is just a piece of glorified wasteland – glorified mostly in the last few decades by people living in their ivory towers.

    The most likely scenario is the expansion of Indo-European languages from the Bronze Age Indo-Iranian societies spread in the Harappan, Helmand, Halil Rud (Jiroft) & BMAC cultures, after the 4.2 kya climatic catastrophe, which among other things dried up the Saraswati river, the lifeline of the Harappans.

    The steppe had no Indo-Europeans before the Cimmerians. If you hypothesize that they were there show us a single piece of evidence. Otherwise this is just the power of propoganda.

    You repeat a lie a thousand times by abusing the power of authority and the gullible non-discerning folks keep falling prey to it.

    Yet truth has a way of coming out. And it is gradually coming out. It is only a matter of time.

  4. Ugra,

    Shinde and Kenoyer are not the only archaeologists who have worked on Harappan sites. B B Lal (he excavated Kalibangan among others) & D K Chakraborty are far more eminent archaeologists as compared to Shinde. R S Bisht, who excavated Dholavira and V N Prabhakar are also other eminent Indian archaeologists. S R Rao, discover of Dwarka and LS Rao, who discovered Bhiranna, both deceased now, are also quite senior and eminent.

    Among western archaeologists, besides Kenoyer, we also have Cameron Petrie, Gregory Possehl (deceased), J F Jarrige (discoverer of Mehrgarh, now deceased), Massimo Vidale, Dennys Frenez, Victor Sarianidi (discoverer of BMAC) and so on.

    Ofcourse, none of them have argued for a steppe incursion. Even J P Mallory, the other major proponent of Steppe hypothesis besides Anthony, and an archaeologist himself, clearly admits that the archaeological evidence of Indo-Iranians migrating from the steppe into Central & South Asia is clearly lacking.

    Yet it fails to make the propagandists a little circumspect in their claims.

    1. Absolutely!! Kenoyer and Shinde have logged the most number of field excavations among the current crop of South Asian archaeologists. I did not mention the others because they are either retired or deceased.

      I have great hopes for Sanjay Manjul. He has made a breakthrough that many dream for their entire careers.

  5. @DaThang

    Narasimhan’s conclusion in his paper is quite definitive – “….nevertheless, the fact that traditional custodians of liturgy in Sanskrit (Brahmins) tend to have more Steppe ancestry….for a Bronze Age Steppe origin for South Asia’s Indo-European languages.”

    There are a couple of logical underpinnings to this conclusion – one he states and references quite clearly – the lack of a Steppes or Anatolian component in the Indus Periphery Cline from Rakhigarhi and the outliers at Gonur/Shahr-i-Sokta. Therefore it’s presence in the Modern Indian Cline has to be explained – especially where the Steppes component peaks in Tiwari Brahmins and Bhumihars. So through this small logical window, Narasimhan drives his AMT truck in.

    But there is another unstated logical assumption – that he slips under the radar and leaves the reader to figure it out. It’s quite important – in fact it is the one that is most susceptible to falsification. Should we understand that the entire Steppes component in modern Brahmins was the sole result of a Bronze Age input (his implied assumption)? What about the other attested invasions of the Indian sub-continent – Yonas, Yavanas, Hunas, Kidarites, Sakas, Achaeminids – did they contribute nothing at all to the Indian gene pool in the medieval era? Under what attenuating circumstances should we consider a zero genetic influx from the Northwest of India after the Bronze Age? If one adds up all the incoming genetic components during the Iron Age and the Medieval – they may significantly subtract from the contribution during the Bronze Age.

    A second source of misalignment reinforces my earlier point – “The strongest two signals were in Brahmin_Tiwari (Z = −7.9) and Bhumihar_Bihar (Z = −7.0).” Narasimhan fails to explain to the reader as to why Bhumihars and Tiwaris (among all castes of Brahmins) exhibit this peaking of the Steppes component. What historical episode caused this? A Western reader who doesn’t know the geographical and historical distribution of Brahmins might be inclined to fly with it.

    The two states with the highest proportions of Brahmins as a percentage of their populations are Uttarakhand (22%) and Himachal Pradesh (18%). Within Hindu traditional stories, they are frequently referred to as Dev-Bhoomi (Land of the Gods). A logical expectation is a geographical convergence of the “Steppes-peak” castes and the distribution of Brahmin percentages within a region’s population. Remember, Uttarakhand is twice the area of Belgium!!

    Instead the peak occurs in the Gangetic plains only – places that were the stomping grounds for some of the most gargantuan empires (Magadh) that the world has witnessed in any era. The Steppes component peaking in these two Gangetic castes (specific geographical area) indicates that there might have been another reinforcement mechanism at work. Perhaps the result of foreign elites assimilated into Empire or the digestion of mercenary army ranks from India’s northwest. I do not discount the fact of an influx during the Bronze Age – but it is upto the researcher to reflect on the coincidence of the geographical locus of past Indian Empires and the Steppes peak in modern Indians.

    1. I don’t know if Narasimhan included this but you do realize that NE Brahmins like Nepali brahmins have at least as much steppe as gangetic brahmins right? On harappaworld they regularly get more of the ne euro component than gangatic brahmins. NE euro isn’t the same as steppe but it is a big part of it. Out of all HW components, the steppe populations’ largest component is NE Euro. I don’t know if they have been modeled using qpadm or global25 yet though.

      If you want examples of migrations, even those purported to have an important demographic impact not actually having much of an impact then you can look at the Islamic invasions. Barely any impact on average even in Muslim communities. The question regarding demographic impact of invasions such as Greeks has been settled long ago, it is barely visible even in Pashtuns. There might be a small impact from pre-Greek ones but as I said, with the exception of some Kashmiris, Afghans and Afghans in Pakistan, these post Vedic migrations have a much smaller input than Sintashta.

      1. ….If you want examples of migrations, even those purported to have an important demographic impact not actually having much of an impact then you can look at the Islamic invasions. Barely any impact on average even in Muslim communities.

        That’s my point as well. Even an invasion with insignificant contributions to the gene pool shows up on the archaeological record massively – art, coins, weapons, buildings, scripts – even plants!

        Yet here we are claiming a 30% input but zero material influence. Its literally zero – I am not exaggerating. You have to appreciate that zero to understand my point.

        Just show me any South Asian archaeological corpus showing material intrusion for that period – and I will cross over to your side.

        I even tried to reach a middle ground by proposing that the remnants of the IVC empires (already Sanskritic) indulged in slavery from the Steppes – therefore creating a eventual gene flow but no material or cultural flow. Razib thought it was silly.

        The other extreme scenario is that – the Steppes people came to India via a sea route. This is not that exceptional – they used riverine routes to migrate into European hinterland. But this should have created Steppes peaks in the coastal populations – not the interior ones.

        1. It’s more like 25% and the material culture remained largely local because they would have largely employed locals to make pottery and things like that. Razib has mentioned that it is possible that local females were largely involved in the production so there’s that.

          The presence of steppe ancestry is undeniable and the biggest later input or even all later inputs combined were much smaller than it.

        2. @DaThang
          You are very confused: Admixture of Steppe in Indians is only ~15% not 25%. As you yourself said each of the 7 invasions contributed a few percents, So, the admixture adds upto ~15%.
          You do know that Brahmins are not the only Indians, right?

          1. When Ugra is referring to 30% admixture and he was previously talking about Brahmins, I suspected that he was referring to admixture in Brahmins, and not all of Indians on average. So I corrected it to ~25%. I know that the admixture in south Asians in general is closer to 15% but it looked like his recent comment was in conjunction with his older one which did not stress all of south Asia. Generally, among the overall population, the contribution from later invasions is even smaller proportionally, I didn’t mention that because it wasn’t even brought up. I try to keep things on topic.

  6. I look forward to listening to this! Although I would argue that the steppe peoples were Indo-Europeanized from the farmer belt to the south- from Anatolia to the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor. Take a look at the supplements to Daamgard 2018 for example…200 pages documenting the ever-increasing Iran-Neolithic like ancestry in the steppes. They then conclude that these steppe peoples brought Indo-European languages south with them! Who knows what language(s) Sintashta folk spoke, but the BMAC were almost certainly Iranian.


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