Why Scythians, Sakas, and Kushanas, are NOT the source of “steppe” ancestry

Razib Khan

This is a common question/assertion in the comments pretty much every other week: why couldn’t the documented incursions of nomadic people in the first millennium A.D. be responsible for the steppe ancestry? There is actually a good explanation in The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia, so I’ll quote it:

By the Late Bronze Age, ESHG-related admixture became ubiquitous, as documented by our time transect from Kazakhstan
and ancient DNA data from the Iron Age and from later periods in Turan and the Central Steppe, including Scythians, Sarmatians, Kushans, and Huns (29, 52). Thus, these first millennium BCE to first millennium CE archaeological cultures with documented cultural and political impacts on South Asia cannot be important sources for the Steppe pastoralist–related ancestry widespread in South Asia today (because present-day South Asians have too little East Asian–related ancestry to be consistent with deriving from these groups), providing an example of how genetic data can rule out scenarios that are plausible on the basis of the archaeological and historical evidence alone (13) (fig. S52). Instead, our analysis shows that the only plausible source for the Steppe ancestry is Steppe Middle to Late Bronze Age groups, who not only fit as a source for South Asia but who we also document as having spread into Turan and mixed with BMAC-related individuals at sites in Kazakhstan in this period. Taken together, these results identify a narrow time window (first half of the second millennium BCE) when the Steppe ancestry that is widespread today in South Asia must have arrived.

There is now a large database of Scythian, etc., ancient DNA, thanks to the preservation conditions on the Eurasian steppe. Most of their ancestry derives from the same broad group as the Andronovo horizon of which the Sintashta were part. But, unlike the earlier steppe populations, these groups are highly variable in ancestry, as well as usually having substantial minority East Asian components. The Indian groups with a lot of steppes, such as Jatts and Northern Brahmins, lack this.

There are two objections. The weaker one is that they didn’t have statistical power to detect the admixture. I haven’t run simulations, but I’m sure they have. If you have Jatts who are perhaps more than 30% steppe they would have detected trace East Asian (as you can find in many Muslim individuals from Pakistan).

The stronger objection is that there is unsampled structure on the steppe, and groups without East Asian admixture that are direct descendants of the Sintashta without dilution. This is not entirely unreasonable or implausible, though at this point I’d say this is unlikely for two reasons:

  1. Central Eurasia is pretty well sampled due to interest and conditions
  2. The steppe ancestry in South Asia is pretty widespread. Hard to imagine it percolating so far in 1,500 years

Also, the statistical tests I’ve done show Bengalis got East Asian admixture 1,500 years ago. 10-20% of the ancestry. The steppe percentage in Bengalis is 10-15%. But I never get any hits using older less sensitive methods of admixture. That means that it has to be way older a mix than 500 AD.


The (Original Brown) Pundits: Spies, Explorers and Scholars during the Great Game

London Observer

Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake, Karakoram Pass, Doklam Plateau, Mishmi Hills. These obscure geographical features and landmarks in the high Himalayas separating India from China have suddenly made their way back into the public consciousness. The catalyst this time is the increased friction between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India. I use the phrases “way back” and “this time” deliberately. To scholars and enthusiasts of the Great Game, these names and the surrounding context are eerily familiar: shadow boxing between an ascendant, assertive superpower (Tsarist Russia) trying to throw its weight around in its immediate neighbourhood and an ostensibly weaker but rising middling power (British India) trying to protect its interest in its backyard.

The original Great Game, which played out over the course of the nineteenth century between the British Indian and Russian Empires in South and Central Asia, had all the characteristics of a bestselling novel, filled with action, adventure and intrigue. It also had its set of glamorous characters: Sir Alexander ‘Sikunder’ Burnes- the famous British spy with oodles of charm and dashing good looks to boot- was the James Bond of his era. He was matched on the Russian side by Captain Yan Vitkevich, the enigmatic Polish-Lithuanian orientalist and explorer. Mercifully, there was very little by way of direct bloodshed between the principal protagonists, although things did come close to getting out of hand on a few occasions. No wonder the Russians evocatively called the contest “The Tournament of Shadows”.  It was compelling drama and the public- in Britain, India, Russia and beyond- lapped it up. The romance and zeitgeist of the times was captured by the great Victorian author Rudyard Kipling in his famous novel, Kim.

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Browncast: Akshay Alladi, Indian Conservative

Omar Ali

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!

In this episode we talk to Akshay Alladi, an Indian conservative. We talk about what it means to be an Indian conservative and Indian cultural and political issues in general. Check it out.


Browncast: Tim Mackintosh Smith, author of “Arabs”

Omar Ali

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!

In this episode (split into two parts) we talk to Tim Mackintosh Smith, author of “Arabs; a three thousand year history of peoples, tribes and empires“. We talk about his book and about Arab history and contemporary reality. Check it out..

Travel Writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith on Why Seventh and Eighth Graders Should Read These Classic Arabic Travel Tales – ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly


Stark Truth About Aryans: a story of India (part 1)

Razib Khan

My Substack piece is up, Stark Truth About Aryans: a story of India. I’m pretty proud of this, as it wasn’t a single-sitting blog post, but something I worked over several times. Since it’s for paid subscribers I’ll post the first few paragraphs below, with an infographic that I think illustrates a lot of what’s going on.

Continue reading “Stark Truth About Aryans: a story of India (part 1)”


The Sindhi homeland of the “Dravidians”

Razib Khan

Peter Bellwood in First Farmers presents a hypothesis for the expansion of the Dravidian languages into southern India in the late Neolithic through the spread of an agro-pastoralist lifestyle through the western Deccan, pushing southward along the Arabian sea fringe. At the time I was skeptical, but now I am modestly confident that this is close to the reality.

There is always talk about “steppe” ancestry on this weblog. But there are groups that seem “enriched” from IVC ancestry, as judged by the Indus Periphery samples. The confidence is lower since we don’t have nearly as good a sample coverage…but I think I can pass on what we’ve seen so far: groups in southern Pakistan, non-Brahmin elites in South India, and some Sudra groups in Gujarat and Maharashtra, seem to be relatively enriched for IVC-like ancestry. Then there is the supposed existence of Dravidian toponyms in Sindh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. And, their total absence in the Gangetic plain.

There have been decades of debate about Brahui. I’ve looked closely at Brahui genetics, and they are no different from the Baloch. Combined with evidence from Y chromosomes (the Baloch and Brahui have some of the highest frequencies of haplogroups found in IVC-related ancient DNA), I doubt the thesis they are medieval intruders (if they are, their distinctive genes were totally replaced).

Genetically, we know that some southern tribes, such as the Pulliyar, have some IVC-related ancestry. But other groups, such as Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, have a lot more. How does this cline emerge? My conjecture is that there were several movements of “Dravidian” people from Sindh and Gujarat into southern India, simultaneous with the expansion of Vedic Aryans to the north into the Gangetic plain. The region the Vedic Aryans intruded upon, Punjab, was not inhabited by Dravidian speakers. Like Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley Civilization was probably multi-lingual, despite broad cultural affinities developed over time.


The scions of the priest kings

Razib Khan

I was talking to a person of South Indian Brahmin origin today about their genetics. Over the course of the conversation, he showed me Y and mtDNA haplogroup types amongst his jati. The vast majority of the Y haplogroups were not R1a.

Brahmin groups in India seem to be about 15% to 30% steppe in their overall genome. But their Y chromosomes are usually 50% or so R1a1a-Z93. The lineage associated with Indo-Iranian pastoralists.

So what’s going on with the other haplogroups? For example, J2, L, C, G, and H?

From what I can see J2 and L are the next most frequent haplogroups after R1a1a-Z93. This tells us something. These are haplogroups found in ancient “Indus Periphery” samples. And, these two haplogroups are found at high concentrations in the northwest of the subcontinent.

It doesn’t take a {{{Brahmin}}} to connect the dots here. Some of the gotra as early as the Vedic period were almost certainly derived from high-status individuals in the post-IVC society. Warriors and priests in the fallen civilization of the IVC, which had likely degraded itself to a level of barbarism by the time the Indo-Aryans became ascendant.

I like to make jokes about “sons of Indra.” But let’s give the dasyu credit where it’s due: those Indians carrying J2 and L almost certainly descend from the men who build the great cities of yore. Their dominion was lost when their civilization fell, but they integrated themselves into the new order.


Open Thread – 1/16/2021 – Brown Pundits

Razib Khan

What’s going on?

I have a 6000-word piece on Indian genetics coming out on my Substak in the next few days (waiting on some maps that were commissioned).

Update: The pieces (had to break into two) are ready to go. Part 1 today and part 2 tomorrow. I commissioned some simple maps and created an infographic. Since these will be “paid” (you have to subscribe), I’ll post the infographic for people here:

Continue reading “Open Thread – 1/16/2021 – Brown Pundits”