Open Thread – Brown Pundits

How are things in India right now? As many Indians now read this weblog as Americans (33% each). Mostly curious about the post-coronavirus world.

New podcast with Abhinav Prakash. More suggestions for podcast guests welcome.

One thing I had a mild disagreement with is the use of the term “genocide” in relation to what the Turkic Muslims did in the subcontinent to the Hindus. I agree that killings occurred, some of great brutality. But I am more and more convinced that the true obliteration was the cultural evisceration of public monuments and the repression of history. Perhaps a more accurate or precise term would be “cultural genocide.”

My wife suggested that we rename the Browncast the “Browncaste.” I nixed that.

Happy Birthday America!

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The Jats and Indo-Aryan expansion in South Asia

There is this belief that is held by many that the high steppe ancestry in Jats is based somehow on some latter steppe migrations into the region. But obviously there is no proof for it.  The association of Jats with some Central Asian migrants and more specifically the Indo-Scythians is a myth created in the 19th century and does not have any foundation whatsoever. However some people hold onto this myth and feel a vague sense of pride in it.

Nevertheless, there is a very easy and straightforward explanation for why the Jats have such a high steppe ancestry.  Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. The Haryanvi and Western UP Jats have apparently the highest ‘steppe’ ancestry among South Asians.
  2. This ‘steppe’ ancestry is associated with the spread of IE langauges in South Asia with Brahmins and Kshatriyas in any region having a higher share of this ancestry than the other groups within that region.
  3. The Vedic homeland was in Haryana and Western UP, the Kuru heartland from where the Vedic cultural influence spread into interior South Asia.

Let me quote Michael Witzel which is an avowed AMT proponent,

Kuruksetra, the sacred land of Manu where even the gods perform their sacrifices, is the area between the two small rivers Sarsuti and Chautang, situated about a hundred miles north-west of Delhi. It is here that the Mahabharata battle took place. Why has Kuruksetra been regarded so highly ever since the early Vedic period?…

…It can be said that the Bharata/Kaurava/Pariks.ita dynasty of the Kurus sucessfully carried out and institutionalized a large scale re-organization of the old Rgvedic society. Many aspects of the new ritual, of the learned speech, of the texts and their formation reflect the wish of the royal Kuru lineage and their Brahmins to be more archaic than much of the texts and rites they inherited. In this fashion, the new Pariks.ita kings of the Kurus betray themselves as typical newcomers and upstarts who wanted to enhance their position in society through the well-known process of “Sanskritization.” In fact, to use this modern term out of its usual context, the establishment of  the Kuru realm was accompanied by the First Sanskritization. Incipient state formation can only be aided if it is not combined with the overthrow of all inherited institutions, rituals, customs, and beliefs. The process is much more successful if one rather tries to bend them to one’s goals or tries to introduce smaller or larger modifications resulting in a totally new set-up. The new orthopraxy (and its accompanying belief system, “Kuru orthodoxy”) quickly expanded all over Northern India, and subsequently, across the Vindhya, to South India and later to S.E. Asia, up to Bali.

This procedure is visible in the Bharata/Kaurava dynasty’s large scale collection of older and more recent religious texts: In all aspects of ritual, language and text collection, these texts tend to be more archaic than much of the inherited older texts and rites. On the other hand, the new dynasty was effective in re-shaping society and its structure by stratification into the four classes (varna), with an internal opposition between ¯arya and ´sudra which effectively camouflaged the really existing social conflict between brahma-ksatra and the rest, the vaisya and ´sudra; further, the Bharata/Pariksita dynasty was successful in reorganizing much of the traditional ritual and the texts concerned with it. (It must not be forgotten that public ritual included many of the functions of our modern administration, providing exchanges of goods, forging unity and underlining the power of the elite.)

The small tribal chieftainships of the R°gvedic period with their shifting alliances and their history of constant warfare, though often not more than cattle rustling expeditions, were united in the single “large chiefdom” of the Kuru realm. With some justification, we may now call the great chief (raja) of the Kurus “the Kuru king”. His power no longer depended simply on ritual relationships such as exchange of goods (vidatha) but on the extraction of tribute (bali) from an increasingly suppressed third estate (vi´s) and from dependent subtribes and weak neighbors; this was often camouflaged as ritual tribute, such as in the a´svamedha.

In view of the data presented in this paper, we are, I believe, entitled to call the Kuru realm the first state in India.

Witzel also states elsewhere in the text,

The famous Videgha Mathava legend of ´SB 1.4.1.10 sqq. tells the story of the “civilization process of the East” in terms of its Brahmanical authors, and not, as usally termed, as the tale of “the Aryan move eastwards.For it is not only Videgha Mathava, a king living on the Sarasvatı, but also his priest Gotama Rahugana who move towards the east. Not only is the starting point of this “expedition” the holy land of Kuruksetra; the royal priest, Gotama Rahugana, is a well known poet of R°gvedic poems as well, and thus, completely anachronistic. Further, the story expressively mentions the role of Agni Vai´svanara, the ritual fire, in making the marshy country of the East arable and acceptable for Brahmins. All of this points to Sanskritization or rather, Brahmanization) and Ks.atriyazation rather than to military expansion.

The M¯athavas, about whom nothing is known outside the ´SB, may be identical with the m´athai of Megasthenes (c. 300 B.C.), who places them East of the Paz´alai (Pancala), at the confluence of the Erennesis (Son) with the Ganges. The movement of some clans, with their king Videgha and his Purohita, eastwards from the River Sarasvatı in Kuruksetra towards Bihar thus represents the ‘ritual occupation’ of Kosala(-Videha) by the bearers of orthoprax (and orthodox) Kuru culture, but it does not represent an account of the first settlement of the East by Indo-Aryan speaking tribes which must have taken place much earlier as the (still scanty) materials of archaeology indeed indicate.

According to Talageri,

…the geographical area of the Rigveda extends from westernmost U.P. and adjoining parts of Uttarakhand in the east to southern and eastern Afghanistan in the west. Strictly speaking, in present-day political-geographical terms, this includes the whole of northern Pakistan, adjoining areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, but, within present-day India, only the state of Haryana with adjoining peripheral areas of western U.P and Uttarakhand..

…The descriptions in the Puranas about the locations of the Five Aila tribes in northern India clearly place the Purus as the inhabitants of the Central Area (Haryana and adjacent areas of western U.P.), the Anus to their North (Kashmir, etc.), the Druhyus to their West (present-day northern Pakistan), and the Yadus and Turvasus to their South-West (Rajasthan, Gujarat, western M.P.) and South-East (eastern M.P. and Chhattisgarh?) respectively. The Solar race of the Ikshvakus are placed to their East (eastern U.P, northern Bihar). This clearly shows that the Purus were the inhabitants of the core Rigvedic area of the Oldest Books (6, 3, 7): Haryana and adjacent areas, and they, and in particular their sub-tribe the Bharatas, were the “Vedic Aryans”. Their neighboring tribes and people in all directions were also other non-Vedic (i.e. non-Puru) but “Aryan” or Indo-European language speaking tribes. The Puru expansions described in the Puranas explain all the known historical phenomena associated with the “Aryans”: the expansion of Puru kingdoms eastwards explains the phenomenon which Western scholars interpreted as an “Aryan movement from west to east” (the area of the Rigveda extends eastwards to Haryana and westernmost U.P., the area of the Yajurveda covers the whole of U.P., and the area of the Atharvaveda extends eastwards up to Bengal), and their expansion westwards described in the Puranas and the Rigveda explains the migration of Indo-European language speakers from the Anu and Druhyu tribes (whose dialects later developed into the other 11 branches of Indo-European languages) from India..

The evidence is unequivocal. Quite clearly, the Vedic culture spread into the Gangetic plains and later on elsewhere from its central locus of the Kuru realm which was in Haryana and Western UP.

So is it so outrageous that the dominant community living presently in the traditional Vedic heartland from where the Vedic culture, ritual, language and religion is suppossed to have spread across inner South Asia, also has the highest ancestry of the type which is usually today associated with the spread of IE or Indo-Aryan languages and culture in South Asia ?

So why hold onto the unsubstantiated 19th century colonial myths when the evidence is so clear and straightforward ? As Razib has pointed out, a latter steppe admixture into the Jats from groups like Scythians is also difficult to argue because the Jats lack the East Eurasian component which is present in very signficant proportion in steppe groups from Iron Age onwards.

Infact, the close ancestry sharing between the Kalash, Pashtuns, Pamiris and Jats indicates, as I have argued earlier in greater detail, that this shared ancestry with high ‘steppe’ component goes back to the days of Indo-Iranian unity within the northwest of the subcontinent because while Jats are Indo-Aryan and Pashtuns are Iranian speakers, the Kalash are representative of the Nuristani branch which is often taken as the 3rd branch in Indo-Iranian.

One question that is often asked is – why are Jats not at the top of caste heirarchy ?

There is also a good explanation for this. The Indo-Aryan expansion from its Haryana-Western UP heartland is a roughly 4,000 year phenomenon. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. Mahapadma Nanda, who established the first major South Asian empire is stated in the Puranas to have  destroyed the Kshatriyas, and attained undisputed sovereignty. The Kshatriyas said to have been exterminated by him include Maithalas, Kasheyas, Ikshvakus, Panchalas, Shurasenas, Kurus, Haihayas, Vitihotras, Kalingas, and Ashmakas.

As you can see, the Kshatriyas among the Kurus, along with those of other kingdoms, were already exterminated during the time of Mahapadma Nanda eons ago.  So it is no surprise that present day Jats don’t hold any special position in the caste heirarchy.

I end here by taking a detour with the beautiful story of Pururavas, who is the ancestral figure of all Vedic tribes and is most likely an Indo-Iranian ancestor from the remote past. Noticeable aspects of the story include the fact that the place of Kurukshetra, Haryana has a mention in the story as a place of action and that sheep herding appears to have been  a feature of this early nascent Indo-Aryan/Indo-Iranian period.

Pururava was a good king who performed many yajnas. He ruled the earth well. Urvashi was a beautiful apsara. Pururava met Urvashi and fell in love with her.

“Please marry me,” he requested.

“I will,” replied Urvashi, “But there is a condition. I love these two sheep and they will always have to stay by bedside. If I ever lose them, I will remain your wife no longer and will return to heaven. Moreover, I shall live only on clarified butter.”

Pururava agreed to these rather strange conditions and the two were married. They lived happily for sixty-four years.

But the gandharvas who were in heaven felt despondent. Heaven seemed to be a dismal place in Urvashi’s absence. They therefore hatched a conspiracy to get her back. On an appropriate occasion, a gandharva named Vishvavasu stole the two sheep. As soon as this happened, Urvashi vanished and returned to heaven.

Pururava pursued Vishvavasu and managed to retrieve the sheep, but by then, Urvashi ahd disappeared. The miserable king searched throughout the world for her. But in vain. Eventually, Pururava came across Urvashi near a pond in Kurukshetra.

“Why have you forsaken me?” asked Pururava. “You are my wife. Come and live with me.”

“I was your wife,” replied Urvashi. “I no longer am, since the condition was violated. However, I agree to spend a day with you.”

When one year had passed, Urvashi returned to Pururava and presented him with the son she had borne him. She spent a day with him and vanished again. This happened several times and, in this fashion, Urvashi bore Pururava six sons. They were named Ayu, Amavasu, Vishvayu, Shatayu, Gatayu and Dridayu.

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The Jat Gene!

About 10 years ago there was a defunct blog called the “Jat Gene.” Standard stuff. Nothing super amazing discovered, but the Jats do seem on one end of the pole. I happen to have half a dozen Jats which cluster together. You can see where they are on the PCA plots above.

– no surprise that the Jat are on the ANI end of the ANI-ASI cline

– Please note that Jat and Ror and other such groups are distinct from Pathans and especially Baloch in that the latter groups seem to have more and later gene flow/contact from West Asian groups. Perhaps this is the Islamic period? Or perhaps this is just contact due to proximity. The Baloch and Brahui in particular are distinct because they have very little AASI. The Pathan are arguably an Iranian group with South Asian inflection, but the Baloch are just plain West Asian.

– You can see at the admixture plot below. The Jat are less (marginally) European-like than the Ror, but the Treemix indicates the Ror may actually be a mix of a very European-like group with native Indian (ANI-ASI mix). The Jat are probably the same but I don’t have the samples.
Continue reading “The Jat Gene!”

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Maratha Mindset: How to Control Your History and Emotions to Grasp the Future on Your Terms


The film Panipat is on Netflix, and I watched a bit of mostly for anthropological reasons. It seems a typical melodramatic Bollywood gloss on this period, and I found the depiction of Ahmad Shah Durrani rather amusing.

But it brought to mind a broader issue that I’ve been reflecting on over the past few years: the re-pivoting of Indian historical imagination around the Maratha moment. Most recently my thoughts have been sharpened by the goings-on in the United States, as we reevaluate our own historical figures and events. History is what it is, but the interpretation is multi-layered, and the process of analysis is subject to an infinite chain of point and counterpoint.

For example, Ulysses S. Grant has been rehabilitated because broadly on the questions of racial justice he was on the “right side of history,” though ultimately his efforts failed. This, after a period in the 20th-century when Southern historians slandered his character and competence in a clever trick of defeating him long after his death through control of historical memory.

And yet, if you talk to a Native American their view of Grant is far less positive. This is due to the fact that Grant participated in and executed the American government’s wars against Indian tribes.

The final verdict on Grant and his legacy depends on where you stand. The elements of history which lead up to this judgment though are far more solid. The terminus of the analysis is conditional on the analyst, but the facts themselves are invariant.

So how should we view the Marathas and the Mughals? When I wrote Haunted by History I alluded to general issues I’ve noticed in Indians in relation to their past. I have read enough history to be aware of the Marathas as a factual matter. But my conscious understanding of what they meant to Indians, and what they could have been, was stimulated by the arguments of a Hindu nationalist friend of mine.

In the 19th and 20th century various nationalist movements rose up which recaptured the political system from cosmopolitan and/or alien elites. The Chinese took back their state from the Manchus. Across Europe, ethnic groups such as the Lithuanians and Hungarians, submerged, sublimated, or subordinated, rose up and asserted their national identity. Lithuanians and Hungarians, to give two examples, had great histories as nations in the past, but by the early modern period, their elites had become subordinated and assimilated. The Lithuanian nobility became totally Polonized after the Union of Lubin. The rise of Habsburgs, and the fall of the Hungarians to the Ottomans, resulted in a Magyar nation which was under German and Turkish domination for centuries. The Dual Monarchy period after 1868 allowed the Hungarian nobility more freedom and status, though ironically they continued to oppress and subordinate the ethnic minorities under their hegemony in the eastern part of Austria-Hungary.

The emergence of these new identities entailed a reinterpretation of the valence of historical events.

Before we get to that, let’s consider the Marathas, of all castes and persuasions. The debates I have seen often end up at two antipodes. On the one hand, the Marathas are depicted as proto-Hindu nationalists, defending themselves against Muslim oppressors, and giving their swords in the service of the broader pan-ethnic Hindu Rashtra. The contrasting position is that the Marathas were motivated by more prosaic concerns, and their Hinduism was a secondary or ancillary element to their identity. In fact, one might problematize what “Hindu” even meant in the 17th and 18th centuries. That is, they didn’t have a “Hindu identity,” but had a Maratha identity, and Maratha religious practices and beliefs.

Both of these views are I think wrong-headed in understanding this period and these people. Humans are complex, and not cartoons. Someone like Shijavi may have reimagined who he was, what he could become, over his lifetime. In the beginning, he fought to survive. By the end, he fought to conquer.

Certainly, it seems probable, to give a different example, that Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, reconceptualized his relationship to his new faith over the decades and also reimagined what it might mean for Rome. This is a different reading than that of those who assert that Constantine was never really a Christian because in the early years of his acceptance of the new faith he seems to still have nodded to aspects of the Solar cult which he was once a devotee, or of those who assert that he was a zealous Christian as they would understand it after he issued the Edict of Milan.

Where does this leave us? I have spoken earlier of the fact that to be frank, many people from Uttar Pradesh who are Hindu seem somewhat “broken.” Perhaps I should use a different word, as what I’m trying to get at is ineffable. But I believe that hundreds of years of continuous Turco-Muslim domination, and the historical predations upon their sacred geography, has left an imprint. Their land was the heart of the Mughal Empire, the shining exemplar of Turco-Muslim civilization. Though the Indian religion and self-identity maintained itself in a resilient fashion, it was subaltern. Though never sublimated as the Lithuanians were, it was subordinated.

Mount Rushmore means a very different thing to Native Americans than it does to white Americans. To many Hindus from the Gangetic plain, the apogee of the Mughals means something different than it does to Urdu-speaking Muslims. One man’s glory is another man’s shame. One man’s seduction is another man’s cuckoldry.

Which brings me to the “Maratha mindset.” What do I mean by this? I mean a self-assured, self-confident attitude. The sense that the arc of history bends toward the Dharma. The Maratha project failed in the end, but its ultimate failure was due to the reality of European hegemony and the rise of white supremacy across the globe. It seems possible in an alternative history where European domination occurred later, or in an incomplete fashion, the Maratha polities would have served as the ultimate basis for what became the Indian nation-state. This does not mean that Maratha would be the language of the Indian nation-state, or that the culture of the northwest Deccan would be hegemonic. An analogy here might be the role that elites from the Chūgoku region of western Japan played in driving modernization in the Meiji period, before eventually ceding ground to the resurgent Kanto region around Tokyo. Chūgoku was the nucleus, but only the beginning, the “starter.” The final product is always richer and more multi-faceted.

The moral of this post is that the Hindus of the Gangetic plain resisted Islamicization through a process of fracturing into localities, with a broader civilizational identity. But the resistance and centuries of Mughal domination crushed cross-regional asabiya, which is necessary for nation-building. Obviously the nation is built, and Uttar Pradesh in particular is politically central. But the psychology of the Hindus of this region has to move from negation, reaction, to positive action. They need to shake off their history and move forward into the future. They need to adopt the Maratha mindset.

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Religion and Science

There is a common theme in the popular view of religion(s) that they can be very different from each other. That religions founded in different eras and within different cultures make radically different demands on their adherents, shaping them to be well-nigh aliens to each other. This essentialist view of religion is not foreign to us brown folk as similar arguments were posited in the run up to the Partition of the subcontinent. However, this is not a peculiarly Indian trope either but quite widespread – indeed it remains a pet talking point of various modern movements including European and Hindu Right, Islamism, anti-religious new-Atheism among others. In all those cases I believe this essentialist difference of religions is quite overplayed and is often a function of what people would like to believe than what actually exists in practice.

Continue reading “Religion and Science”

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American caste! (?)

On August 4th a new book is coming out, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The author is a journalist who has published a substantial extract of the book at The New York Times Magazine, America’s Enduring Caste System: Our founding ideals promise liberty and equality for all. Our reality is an enduring racial hierarchy that has persisted for centuries:

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.

When shared on Twitter even Left-Indians, normally sympathetic to Left-American journalists and their Weltanschauung, recoiled. My main comment is simple: write what you know. From the extract, the author does not seem to know enough about the Indian social system and history to make informative and illuminating comparisons to the United States.

Also, though I personally am not positively disposed toward caste, comparing it to Nazi Germany seems needlessly inflammatory.

I will note a few things

– The latest surveys suggest intercase marriages in India are now at 10%

– In America, 20% of the marriage partners of black Americans are not black

In 300 years about 20% of the ancestry of black Americans is now of European origin. In contrast, there are villages in Andhra Pradesh where people of different castes (jati) are genetically more distinct than Scandinavians are from Italians. David Reich’s group has an estimated < 1% intermarriage rate between the groups, with a rough crystallization of caste boundaries 1,500 years ago.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents probably had its conclusion prewritten. The argument is something added on later.

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Browncast Episode 109: Abhinav Prakash: Indian culture, society, and politics

Another BP Podcast is up. 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!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

This episode Razib has a very wide-ranging discussion with economist Abhinav Prakash.

Topics includes:

– The culture of UP

– The economic policy of the BJP

– The role of Hindu identity in India culture

– The long-term prospects of Hindu-Muslim amity in UP

– Regional differences within India

– The “Maratha mindset”

– Now non-Brahmin/Bania Hindus are changing the nature of Hindu nationalism today from what it has traditionally been.

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On Being Hindu in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Most readers of this weblog will already know this story. Far more than I do at least: Construction work at Hindu temple site in Islamabad halted. This part jumped out at me:

The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), an ally of Prime Minister Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf recently opposed the construction of the temple by claiming that it was “against the spirit of Islam.”

Let’s be frank: isn’t this correct?

Religions are what people make of them, and there are some latitudinarian Muslims who would object to the assertion that the building of a Hindu temple was “against the spirit of Islam.” But historically this action, the obstruction of the building (and repairing) of religious buildings of minority communities has been normative in many Muslim majority societies. Egyptians Copts, for example, have long had to obtain very high level dispensations to repair their churches.

The basic theory from what I recall from Islamic jurists is that minority communities under the protection of Islamic rulers were tolerated, but they need not be encouraged. Their religious liberties were provided at sufferance, and that was enough.

The issue with Hinduism is even deeper: Hinduism is rather explicit in that it is a form of shirk. Whether you conceive of your Hinduism as fundamentally monotheistic or polytheistic, from a Muslim perceived it is polytheistic, and therefore an abomination. The Pakistani polity is illiberal in its behavior, but it is operating squarely within the orthodox parameters of Islamic accommodation to some level of religious pluralism, which combines subordination with delimiting the purview of minority religious beliefs and practices.

This is not limited to Islam, as some readers will be aware that Late Antique pagan practice slowly reconfigured its outline into a shape less offensive to Christianity as the price of toleration (e.g., public animal sacrifice disappeared). In Indonesia Buddhism and Hinduism are both explicitly monotheistic religions, so as not to offend Islamic sensibilities (though in Indonesia Muslims can also convert to Christianity or Hinduism legally, unlike many Muslim nations).

What’s the solution to this illiberality? In the long term, the only answer is greater secularization. As long as orthodox Islam, looking back to the past remains central to Pakistani identity I can’t see any other reaction to the attempt by Hindus to practice and express their religion in the public domain, as opposed to private practice.

Note: There is a long tradition in Abrahamic religions which believes that the gods of polytheistic faiths are actually devils and demons. This is one reason that Christians in Korea have attacked Buddhist statues, and Muslims in Pakistan are expressing horror at the building of a temple to Krishna, who they believe to be a demon who actually exists.

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The Arctic home of the Aryans


The Fatyanovo culture flourished between 2800 and 1900 BC. It seems they were part of a Central European “reflux” migration. That is, their forebears were related Yamna agro-pastoralists who migrated west out of the steppe and mixed with Central European farmers. Eventually, some of these people moved back east along the edge of the forest-steppe boundary.

The Fatyanovo is the name for a group of people who seem to have introduced agro-pastoralism to the region nearly up to the Urals in northeastern European Russia. A new preprint, Genetic ancestry changes in Stone to Bronze Age transition in the East European plain, confirms what we assumed:

Transition from the Stone to the Bronze Age in Central and Western Europe was a period of major population movements originating from the Ponto-Caspian Steppe. Here, we report new genome-wide sequence data from 28 individuals from the territory north of this source area – from the under-studied Western part of present-day Russia, including Stone Age hunter-gatherers (10,800-4,250 cal BC) and Bronze Age farmers from the Corded Ware complex called Fatyanovo Culture (2,900-2,050 cal BC). We show that Eastern hunter-gatherer ancestry was present in Northwestern Russia already from around 10,000 BC. Furthermore, we see a clear change in ancestry with the arrival of farming – the Fatyanovo Culture individuals were genetically similar to other Corded Ware cultures, carrying a mixture of Steppe and European early farmer ancestry and thus likely originating from a fast migration towards the northeast from somewhere in the vicinity of modern-day Ukraine, which is the closest area where these ancestries coexisted from around 3,000 BC.

The Fatyanovo culture seems to have given rise to the rival and later successor Abashevo culture, which flourished a bit further east (beyond the Urals in part). The Abashevo in their turn gave rise to the Sintashta culture, which flourished even further east, and somewhat south.

There are two things I want to highlight. First, the Y chromosome:

Then, we turned to the Bronze Age Fatyanovo Culture individuals and determined that their maternal (subclades of mtDNA hg U5, U4, U2e, H, T, W, J, K, I and N1a) and paternal (chrY hg R1a-M417) lineages…were ones characteristic of CWC individuals elsewhere in Europe…Interestingly, in all individuals for which the chrY hg could be determined with more depth (n=6), it was R1a2-Z93…a lineage now spread in Central and South Asia, rather than the R1a1-Z283 lineage that is common in Europe.

Here is the modern distribution of Z-93:

The reason Z283 is found where in ancient times Z93 was found is that over the past 500 years ethnic Russians have expanded eastward, retracing the biogeographic route of the earlier peoples along the forest-steppe frontier.

The steppe people seem to be highly patriarchal. Though there are some non-modal lineages, samples from a specific location are often dominated by a single haplogroup, indicative of a broader kinship-based society focused around descent from an ancestor. In contrast, the origins of females as evidenced by mtDNA, diversity seems to be rather catholic. Some of the mtDNA lineages above, and later in the Sintashta, seem to derive from farmer populations in Europe whose ultimate origins were in Anatolia.

Let me define gotra from Wikipedia:

In Hindu culture, the term gotra (Sanskrit: गोत्र) is considered to be equivalent to lineage. It broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor or patriline. Generally the gotra forms an exogamous unit, with the marriage within the same gotra being prohibited by custom, being regarded as incestThe name of the gotra can be used as a surname, but it is different from a surname and is strictly maintained because of its importance in marriages among Hindus, especially among the higher castes

The second point is to show this table:

This group has been assembling a lot of data on phenotypic SNPs over time transects in Northeast Europe. One has to take these results with a grain of salt because the predictions are trained on modern samples. I do not think, for example, that European hunter-gatherers had “black skin.” I suspect that the Mesolithic populations were genetically different enough that their “light alleles” may not be in our panels, though my suspicion is that they’d be of darker hue as Inuit people are. That being said, selection work aligns with these results that Europeans, in particular, seem to have been getting lighter in many areas down to the present.

The eye color prediction I somewhat trust since it’s quasi-Mendelian (~75% of the variance is due to one genetic location in Europeans). For the pigmentation, I would focus on the trend, not the absolute value. Anyone who has been to the Northeast Baltic (I have) knows that these are amongst the fairest people in the world. It is very unsurprising that these people have been getting paler over time.

There have been various arguments on this blog and elsewhere as to what the Sintashta people would look like.  I’ve posted the Narasimhan et al. data before. The results are broadly similar to the ones above for the Fataynovo.

The Fataynovo do not have the pigmentation genetic architecture that is similar to Nordic people. But, neither are they out of keeping with some European peoples. The Sintashta would be ~25% blue-eyed according to Narasimhan et al.’s data. In the 1000 Genomes about 10% of the alleles in Punjabis, Gujaratis, and Bengalis is the derived variant so common in Northern Europe, giving a recessive frequency ~1% of so blue-eyed, which is too high since other genes have an influence in these cases (though this allele is found in West Asia at appreciable frequencies, including in very old ancient DNA).

On the whole, these results confirm that the Aryans when they arrived in India were fair-skinned people. But, they were likely not as rosy-cheeked as the English who arrived thousands of years later, nor were their eyes quite often pale.

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A risk factor for COVID-19 in South Asians

The major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neandertals:

A recent genetic association study (Ellinghaus et al. 2020) identified a gene cluster on chromosome 3 as a risk locus for respiratory failure in SARS-CoV-2. Recent data comprising 3,199 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and controls reproduce this and find that it is the major genetic risk factor for severe SARS-CoV-2 infection and hospitalization (COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative). Here, we show that the risk is conferred by a genomic segment of ~50 kb that is inherited from Neandertals and occurs at a frequency of ~30% in south Asia and ~8% in Europe.

The highest frequency is in the 1000 Genomes Bangladesh sample. 60%. In a study of Europeans all things equal the risk allele at this locus increases odds of respiratory failure by a factor of 1.75. This isn’t really the major factor; age and hypertension, all the things you know, matter more. But, it’s not trivial either to increase risk by 1.75.

If you are on 23andMe and got tested before the summer of 2017, the older chips has a marker for the locus that’s informative (in LD with the haplotype). This link should take you there. I’m TT homozygote. Modern human. A C is for Neanderthals.

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The determinants of prosperity in South Asia

Do state capacity and policy really matter when it comes to wealth among regions in South Asia ? Or is prosperity today determined largely by a mixture of geographical and historical factors ? South Asia as a unit is a reasonable region to study because the introduction to modernity in this entire region was mediated by the British Empire.

Seen in the two figures below are GDP per capita ($ PPP) figures for smaller (< 20 million population) and larger (> 20 million population) regions. The entities include the nations of Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, states and union territories of India, and provinces of Pakistan. Some notes about the two figures:

  1. Green bars denote plains regions, red mountain regions and blue coastal regions.
  2. Bold x-axis labels indicate entities with major metro areas.
  3. Bold borders around bars indicate non-Indian entities.
GDP per capita ($ PPP) of smaller political entities (< 20 million) in South Asia. Indian states, Pakistani regions and nation of Bhutan. Bold x-axis label denotes presence of metro area. Bold border of bar indicates non-Indian entity.
GDP per capita ($ PPP) of larger political entities (> 20 million) in South Asia. Indian states, Pakistani provinces and nations of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Bold x-axis label denotes presence of metro area. Bold border of bar indicates non-Indian entity.

There are roughly five bands of wealth we can identify:

  1. Rich smaller entities of India: Goa, Delhi, Sikkim and Chandigarh. These have GDPs of around $20-25000.
  2. Richer large entities consisting of Indian states and Sri Lanka. GDPs are around $10-12000, and these are predominantly coastal regions.
  3. Succesful agrarian states of India (Punjab and Andhra), mountainous states of India (HP, UT, MZ), Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and country of Bhutan. GDPs between $8-10000.
  4. Interior Indian states and Odisha, along with all Pakistani provinces. This is the South Asian mean performance of around 4-6000$.
  5. Poor regions: Indian states of UP, Bihar, countries of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan’s remote area of FATA and India’s remote state of Manipur.

Clearly being on the coast and having a major city help in a major way. In this context, there are three regions which are major disappointments, India’s West Bengal, Bangladesh and Pakistan’s Sindh. All three are on the coast, have major metropolitan areas and even have rich agricultural lands. But their economic performance is significantly below potential.

On the other hand, the economic star of the subcontinent is the Indian state of Haryana. It defies every convention, its not on the coast, lacks a huge metro region and lacks abundant rainfall. But it excels in every aspect of economic activity, its agricultural productivity is second only to Indian Punjab, its industries are varied and well developed and its service sector is a leader in India along with Karnataka. Gurugram hosts genuinely innovative startups, home to at least 7 of India’s 30 unicorns.

An interesting comparison is that between the state of Punjab and the Pakistani province of the same name. Indian Punjab is richer despite lacking a metro area. But there is a convergence in certain aspects. These are rich agricultural areas, with strong remittance networks but they both might lack industrial entrepreneurs.

Bihar, Nepal and Eastern UP together continue to be home to the largest concentration of poor people on planet Earth.  This is an isolated region, with no major cities, neglected by every Indian political entity for many centuries now. The Modi government’s national waterway one has already connected the region upto Varanasi to the ocean, upstream will be a technological challenge. Nepal, can look to Indian states like Uttarakand and Himachal for an effective growth strategy.

Although geography and history play a major role, the example of Haryana shows that those factors can be overcome. Market access, aggregation effects and the presence of mercantile communities are the key variables that determine economic performance.

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