Can Linguistics prove AMT & reject OIT ?

It is often argued by supporters of the Aryan Migration Theory, including academics, that the data obtained from the discipline of linguistics makes it impossible to posit the Indian subcontinent as a potential Indo-European homeland.

Map courtesy – Peterson (Fitting the pieces…)

We often hear and read such blithe dismissals,

Long before the IE proto-language was an issue, Friedrich Schlegel recognized the antiquity of Sanskrit and its parallels to related languages like Greek and Avestan. In his work Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (published in 1808) he praised the Old Indic language for its pureness and clarity and he implied that India alone must have been the origin of the later IE “colonies”. Today India can be ruled out as a homeland candidate with the utmost probability.

I am often bemused and at times annoyed by such absolutist statements. What exactly is that incontrovertible evidence that makes it most impossible for India (and the Indian subcontinent) to be even considered a potential PIE homeland ? Most often, these scholars never bother to explain how they are so sure. I doubt that they would be able to defend their statement if pressed further.

But rather than expect them to change and become more objective, it is better that we look for ourselves to see if their statements have any merit at all. And that is what I intend to do so in this piece.

We shall tackle this subject in two sections:-

1) Analyse the linguistic data from the subcontinent, Indo-European and non-Indo-European, and find out if there is sufficient evidence there to prove that Indo-Aryan languages are not native to the subcontinent.

2) Look at the nature of the linguistic evidence obtained from  the Indo-Aryan and Indo-Iranian languages in the subcontinent vis-a-vis the rest of the Indo-European languages and find out if that evidence argues against or for an Indian origin of the Indo-European languages.

Continue reading Can Linguistics prove AMT & reject OIT ?

Allies on the Right

Sarah Haider and Tanner Greer both responded to my “disavowal” of sorts of the online Hindu Right. The constitutive unpleasantness is just structurally unappealing. Some reasonable Hindutva people have messaged me that “well, you can’t really be surprised they’re triggered by you, your name is Razib Khan.” My response is of course simple: if you are against me, I am against you. That is all.

(I know Tanner and he has never expressed anti-Hindu views, and his anti-China position should clue you into possibilities of coalition. Sarah has personally expressed curiosity about Hinduism when we’ve talked online)

History Series Podcast: Episode 3 – All about IVC

Episode 3 of The History of the Indian Sub-continent series takes us to the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). Our panel journeys from the banks of the Oxus River to the Deccan plateau. We connect the genetic and archaeological dots, speculate about people whose scripts we are yet to decipher, talk about what they did for a living, their towns, and what are the missing blocks in our understanding of that age. The Dancing girl from Harappa makes an appearance as do textiles and we ask if the great bath of Mohenjo Daro was really the great bath or was it something else.
Joining Maneesh Taneja in this conversation are Razib Khan, Gaurav Lele, Mukunda Raghvan, and Shrikantha Krishnamacharya.

We look forward to your comments and feedback.

Speakers & their Twitter handles: Razib Khan – @razibkhan, Gaurav Lele- @gaurav_lele, Mukunda Raghvan- @raghman36, Shrikanth Krishnamachry – @shrikanth_krish and Maneesh Taneja- @maneesht

Episode 3 – All about IVC

You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Links to the previous podcasts: Episode 1; Episode 2;

Also, find this supplementary blog post: Some miscellaneous points about Indian Prehistory

Links to Sources/Reference Material:

Harappa.com is arguably the best source of all information about the IVC.

Some miscellaneous points about Indian Prehistory

This blog post may serve as episode nodes for some points discussed in episode 3 of the History podcast- All about IVC.

Origins of early Harappan urbanization and further integration:

We know from Mesopotamia that civilization over there did not arise in the agriculture-friendly geographies which had basic irrigation in the fertile crescent but it rose in the deep marshy south around Eridu (Ubaid period). We can think of similar models to explain the emergence of Harrapan urbanization.

Sarasvati was an active glacier-fed river in the Pleistocene (pre 10000BCE) and not the Holocene(post 10000 BCE). Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilization suggest a slight decline in monsoons by 3000BCE (Piora oscillation?) before the accelerated decline after the 4.2 kiloyear event. Hence it seems unlikely that the period of integration was aided by to conducive climate – rather as in the case of South Mesopotamia, it seems to be a response to the vagaries of climate, especially in the non-glacial-fed Sarasvati channel.


Social Structures in IVC:

The article Killing the priest-king addresses some of the issues with visible social structures (or lack thereof) in the IVC. The kinship/occupation-based heterarchy is a cool model to explain some of the things we witness in IVC. Also, a model like the Gana-Sanghas (Proto Kshatriya republics) known from the eastern Mahajanapadas around 600 BCE seems to be a good model to explain the lack of centralized authority. Given what we know about the existence of efficient trade-in IVC, a trade oligarchy of merchant guilds would also fit the model.

Anthropologist Irawati Karve in her book “Hindu society” was one of the earliest to claim that the Jati system was a pre-Aryan reality upon which the abstraction of the Aryan Varna system was imposed. The hundreds of excavated IVC villages point to sophisticated trade/occupational specialization. If both the sexes work in their ancestral trades per se, it would naturally result in tribal endogamy as it makes occupational sense. Maybe we can also entertain the idea of some sort of Jati-Kinship-based social structure in IVC. I have explored this issue in more detail in the following blogpost –  Early Hinduism — the epic stratification


Mechanisms of Indo-Aryan spread out of Sintasta and the Mitanni:

We know both from genetics and linguistics that the impact of proto-Indo-Aryans on Anatolia during the centuries of Mitanni dominance is extremely limited (thought superstrate is preserved). So if Indo-Aryan “Maryannu” elites could impose themselves on complex Anatolian civilizations, it is also very reasonable to extrapolate that such warriors could impose themselves on the BMAC or the remnants of collapsed IVC. A good proxy could be the later Indo Iranian – “Sakas” who were treated as mercenaries and warriors by the kingdoms of Central Asia, Iran, after 400 BCE.

Chapter 16 of Anthony’s – Horse, the wheel, and the language compiles a sound foundation (of trade, warrior bands, and kingdoms) for which such models make sense.


Agriculture and the AASI:

Shinde et al 2019 made it clear that agriculture developed in the Indus valley without demographic impact from the west (in the Holocene). However, the Neolithic tool kit from IVC is clearly derived from the Fertile Crescent tool kit with substantial local supplements like Zebu domestication, rice, cotton, and legume cultivation (possibly local domestication of barley ?).

Given that rice was cultivated in IVC and the earliest rice cultivation (date is still contested) is from Lahuradeva and Koldihwa in Uttar Pradesh, it is reasonable to assume agriculture also began somewhere in the east and expanded westward potentially meeting with Agricultural expansions from Mehrgarh->Bhiranna. Also recent findings in Bhirrana that point to earlier cultivation (yet contested) than Mehrgarh. In essence, the simplistic model of Agriculture beginning in Mehrgarh and leading onto IVC can be questioned.

Another circumstantial evidence that points to such dynamics is the mixing ratios of Indus periphery-related ancestry and AASI in IVC (6:1 to 3:2) as well as the overall high proportion of AASI in the country. It is fair to say that after Indus periphery-related ancestry, the AHG related ancestry is the second contributor to Indians broadly. Broadly in recent discussions about genetics, the AASI are considered as “hunter-gatherers”. In my opinion, this claim is highly unsubstantiated. In general, we know from Europe that when farmers mix with Hunter gathers, the farmer’s ancestry tends to dominate overwhelmingly (though it did make some come back centuries later). That doesn’t seem to be the case in India (if we assume AASI are hunter-gathers). Thus it is fair to assume that these eastern sites were initially settled primarily by the AASI and they had developed some form of cultivation in those regions (maybe cut and dash agriculture). But unless we get some ancient DNA from the east, it’s speculative at the best.

Also, the proxy ASI  – which consisted of the majority AASI may be attested in the Neolithic sites from Deccan around 3rd-4th millennium BCE onwards in agro-pastoral cultures of the south (Ash mound culture, etc). Of course, before Iron Age, most of the country outside the Indo Gangetic plain would not have supported high population densities or complex societies but implying that these communities were “Hunter-gatherers” as done regularly in these topics is unsubstantiated in absence of evidence.


The religion of IVC:

Among academia, there is a tendency to dismiss attempts to link motifs of IVC to Vedic culture. Asko Parpola and Mahadevan have written extensively about it, but their work tends to be dismissed by Indologists like Michael Witzel and co. Though I am an admirer of Witzel’s methods on Vedic texts in general I do not agree with his dismissals of these works. While these works are highly speculative, they are not unfounded IMO.

Professor Dandekar of BORI had written extensively about this. In his essay titled “Proto-Historic Hinduism”, Dandekar makes many claims about Harrapan origins of Shiva. While as some scholars have pointed out, Shiva is clearly a form of Vedic Rudra who has many Indo-European parallels. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any Harappan projection on classical Hindu Shiva. Of the various claims made by Prof Dandekar, the one about Shiva’s ithyphallic nature which matches with the seal cannot be dismissed easily. The Gundesrup cauldron and other parallels are drawn to dismiss linking the Pasupati seal with Shiva are irrelevant as the claim isn’t that the figure denoted in Pasupati seat led exclusively classical Hindu Shiva, but that it may have contributed certain aspects which differentiate Rudra from Shiva.

Anyways but this topic is extremely speculative and any claims about religions at IVC are tenuous at best.


Amy Wax on “Asians”

Amy Wax Redux – Another round in the immigration and culture debate. Glenn Loury hosts a debate that has gotten some attention because Amy Wax said something in relation to “Asians.” Her interlocutor is an East Asian American, and Wax’s original comments were particularly targeted at Indian women. So this has spun a bit out of control.

I’ll say some quick things.

In Amy’s favor:

– Many people have noticed the overrepresentation of “market-dominant minorities” in particular activist groups, and the visible presence of South Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani) women is hard not to notice. Joe Biden’s statement that “Indians taking over” reflect Indian American power in Democratic politics in particular.

– Nations have a right to determine what they want to be. At least in theory. This is most explicit in Israel, founded as a homeland for the Jews. Hindu nationalists want India as a homeland for Hindus. While many Muslims view Muslim-majority nations as societies organized around Islam, and so they believe law and tradition should favor that religion. In the USA this was clear as well, with a 1790 law that allowed only for the naturalization of whites, later expanded to blacks and eventually other non-white races. The National Origins Act of 1924 aimed to keep the US a mostly Northwest European nation. And so forth.

The idea that America, or any nation, exists simply as an institutional transaction device between consenting adults and organizations that are bounded by particular borders is not realistic, though sometimes open and open borders adjacent people talk like that. American is a nation. A people. It will change. But how?

– Americans are going to be uncomfortable when “visible minorities” take all leadership roles due to their educational success. That’s a fact. I think people should get over it though. But that’s my opinion. Most people care a lot more about race and visible phenotype than I do from what I can tell.

– Immigrants bring their culture. Their culture impacts our culture. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. We can make decisions.

Against Amy:

– She talks about it like a Boomer who doesn’t really understand the landscape. She was born in the early 1950s in a black and white America, so when talking about Asians and Latinx she’s encountering new things to her experience.

– She elides in a sloppy way different groups of Asians. Indian Americans are politically very different than Vietnamese Americans. They are socially very different. Arguably Amy should want more Vietnamese Americans, who lean Republican and are educationally more similar to the average American. 30-40% of Vietnamese are also Catholic. Who are these “Asians” she speaks of? Not people she knows personally from what I can tell (I’ve met Amy, she’s charming and blunt at the same time), so she should read more stats.

– She elides the distinctions even among “Indians.” Most of the obnoxious woke Indians are 1.5 and 2nd generation people born and raised in the US. And yet 90% of Indian Americans are foreign-born immigrants, more than 50% arriving after 2000. Perhaps these new immigrants will also have woke children, or perhaps they won’t.

– Amy’s generalizations of Asian, and Indian, cultures is weird, and not too scholarly. If she’s going to offend (I know about this), you need to know your shit.

History Series Podcast: Episode 2 – Indian Prehistory through Genetics

The History Podcast continues and this week we present Episode 2.
We take a detour and talk to Razib Khan, founder of the Brown Pundits blog and the BrownCast. Razib is a Geneticist by profession and publishes a sub-stack on what genetics tells us about our past. We look at the people who inhabited the Indian Sub-continent through the lens of genetics and ancient DNA and talk about what that tell us about the strands of origins, migrations, invasions, and
assimilation amongst the people of who have inhabited the sub-continent for millennia.
Apart from the usual suspects, the Mitannis, the ancient Greeks and graves in Kazakhstan make an appearance. So do Agent K and Agent J from the movie Men in Black. Joining Maneesh Taneja in this conversation are Gaurav Lele, Mukunda Raghvan and Shrikantha Krishnamachry.
We look forward to your comments and feedback.

Episode 2: Indian history through genetics

You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms).

Speakers & their twitter handles:

Razib Khan – @razibkhan Gaurav Lele- @gaurav_lele, Mukunda Raghvan-  @raghman36, Shrikanth Krishnamachry – @shrikanth_krish and Maneesh Taneja- @maneesht

Links to Sources/Reference Material: