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 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.


Iran_N/CHG Ancestry and the Genetic Origins of the Proto-Indo-Europeans

This is a post I was writing a few months back but had abandoned midway. It is in response to  what Razib had argued in one of his posts. According to Razib while an Aryan Migration model, that suggests an entry of Indo-Aryans into South Asia, might not have textual and archaeological support, when looked at in a wider context, that necessitates explaining the origin and migration of all Indo-Europeans from a PIE homeland to their respective places of present or last known (e.g. Hittites & Tocharian) inhabitation, the steppe theory makes a far more compelling case as PIE homeland than an OIT.

Admittedly, we haven’t had a major attempt being made in the academia, Western or Indian, which tries to take stock of all available evidence, linguistic and archaeological, and uses that evidence to argue for the PIE origins in South Asia and the subsequent dispersals of the daughter languages to their known destinations.

It is beyond the remit of my present subject to ponder why this has been so but we may note that an elegant and solid linguistic case (1,2) for a spread of IE languages from a locus in the region of Bactria has been already made more than two decades back by Johanna Nichols. However, the linguistic community has chosen to sideline her work without a proper rebuttal.

Continue reading “Iran_N/CHG Ancestry and the Genetic Origins of the Proto-Indo-Europeans”


The Landmark Chola Invasion of Srivijaya

I found this video on the Chola invasion of Srivijaya and it is so well made and informative, about this little known but nevertheless a major event on Indian and SE Asian history, that i couldn’t help posting it here.

It is a shame that this video does not have more views.

The Chola invasion of Srivijaya dispels a major myth about Indian history that is bandied about often which is that India or Indians never invaded another nation.

The timing of this major world event is also quite interesting. It came about in the early part of the 11th century CE when the Greater India region stretched from Afghanistan and Balkh in the Northwest to the Phillipine Islands in the southeast and had been so for more than a millenium already. Indian religion and ideas also held great sway over the countries of China, Japan & Korea.

This was the phase of the greatest afflorescence of Indian civilization. Yet by the turn of the 2nd millenium, this civilization which the Arabs referred to as Al-Hind was already well past its high point. The kingdoms of the Tarim Basin such as Khotan, Kucha, Shanshan etc were already lost as were the Central Asian kingdoms of Balkh and Sughd (Sogdia).

Yet, most poignantly, in the very timeframe that the Cholas invaded Srivijaya in the southeast, the Turco-Afghan Mahmud Ghazni invaded from the Northwest and devastated North India.

What a turning point in Indian history were these initial years in the new millenium of the Christian era !



The Era of the Kushans

I have written a new post on my personal blog about the dating of the Kushan empire. I have shown through a range of facts and arguments that the Kanishka Era should start around 233 CE and not 127 CE as is currently believed.

The Era of the Kushans

Most of you folks are unlikely to go through the entire article. My intention behind it is to get some attention from the scholars and the academia. Hence I have tried to gather as much evidence as I could to strengthen my case.

Let me state here in brief what this article is all about.

It is generally believed now that the era established by Kanishka in his 1st yeat began in 127 CE. A minority of scholars still believe that it begins in 78 CE. At the same time there is a minority view that also believes that the Kanishka Era began in the 3rd century CE – most of them being numismatists.

The main reason why 127 CE and earlier 125 CE is so popular among the scholars as the likely Year 1 of Kanishka is the belief that Chinese historical texts of the Later Han and Wei dynasties, which are chief textual sources on the Kushans, give information about Kushans and India from a report that was given to the Chinese Court in 125 CE. As per the account Kushans had recently conquered North India and were ruling over it but Kanishka is not mentioned leading scholars to infer that he must have come to the throne around or after 125 CE.

Already a few years ago, I had come across an old article by the doyen of Indian historians, R C Majumdar, where he pointed out quite clearly that there was no basis to believe that this information about the Kushan state and India was only from this report of 125 CE since the Chinese texts mention lots of information which is clearly several decades later than 125 CE. And the texts maintain that their record of history closes at the end of Han period i.e. 220 CE and 239 CE respectively. So by default one has to assume that the current state of affairs these texts relate about India and the Kushans, according to which Kushans were in control of North India, dates to around 220 and 239 CE respectively.

Most strikingly I found out, the early Kushan Emperors, before the time of Kanishka were dating their inscriptions using two Eras which were separated from each other by 129-144 years. There are only two historical eras, which incidentally happen to begin around this period, which can fit in as per this criteria and these are the Vikram Era of 57 BC and Saka Era of 78 CE which are separated in time by 135 years. Dating the early Kushan inscriptions using these two Eras pushes the Kushans in the 3rd century CE which we already noted is what the Chinese texts seem to support.

Even more remarkable was the fact that in the homeland of the Kushans in Balkh or Bactria, there was an Era, referred to commonly as the Bactrian Era, which began in the 3rd century CE and was in use atleast until the 9th century CE. It is difficult to argue that this Era is not the same as that of Kanishka the Kushan since the Kushans were native to Bactria and we know of no one else who possibly inaugurated an Era during this period. So the Kanishka Era aka the Bactrian Era began in 233 CE as it fits in well with the dates given in Vikram and Saka Era of the early Kushans.

Modern Kushan scholarship is dominated by numismatic studies. The credit for this goes to Robert Gobl, an Austrian numismatist, who revolutionised the numismatic research on Kushan coins by his indepth study and research on the subject, unlike anything that came earlier. What is worth noting is that Robert Gobl, based on his indepth study of Kushan coinage and that of Sasanian and Roman coinage as well came to the conclusion that the Great Kushans ruled in the 3rd century CE.

So, I realised that there was strong inscriptional, textual and numismatic data that supports the date of Kushans in the 3rd century CE yet no one has tried to bring all of this data together in one place and make a strong case for the Kanishka Era beginning in 3rd century. This lockdown gave me the time and opportunity to do that and I bit the bullet, as it were.

One quite interesting fact about the history of the Kushans is that they appear to have had a long standing rivalry with the Sasanians on their west. As I have argued in my article, the Kushans seem to have lost their homeland Bactria to the Sasanians during the reign of Kanishka I’s son Huvishka who nevertheless appears to have regained it within a handful of years. However, during Kanishka II’s reign in the 330s CE, as per our dating, Bactria was again lost to the Sasanians under Shapur II, and this time for several decades. The Sasanians even managed to conquer Gandhara south of the Hindu Kush.

By the end of Shapur II’s life in the 370s, a new force rises and they are conventionally referred to as the Kidarites by the scholarship. These Kidarites however claimed that they were descendents of the Kushans and the Chinese texts also endorse this. But ofcourse, there is very little evidence to confirm or deny this claim. Nevertheless, these Kidarites get hold of all existing Kushan territory and also reclaim Gandhara and Bactria from the Sasanians. Later on, the Kidarites also manage to conquer the kingdom of Sogdia (Sughd) north of Bactria. What is also quite revealing is the evidence that the Sasanians were apparently forced by these Kidarites to pay tribute to them.

In the latter half of the 5th century CE, the Sasanians refuse to pay tribute and this leads to a conflict which perhaps brought the downfall of the Kidarites around 460-470 CE. Bactria again went to the Sasanians. But by 484 CE, another obscure group, who are known as Hephthalites in modern convention defeated the Sasanians and even killed their emperor Peroz I. The Sasanians were again forced to pay tribute, this time by this new group and Bactria was lost by the Sasanians once again.

Another interesting thing during this period is that Hinduism’s influence in Central Asia kept on spreading during the Kidarite and Hephthalite rule. During the Kidarite era, it even spread to Sogdia. The Indian cultural influence across Bactria, Sogdia and all across the kingdoms of Tarim Basin lasted for several centuries until they were Islamised.


The Unravelling of the AMT

The thought of writing this article came as I recalled a recent interview of Vagheesh Narasimhan with the Caravan magazine, where he explains how in his view, the Indo-Aryans must have spread across South Asia.

Before coming to what Vagheesh said in the interview, let us take a brief detour so that his comments could be understood in its proper context.

The Textual Evidence for AMT

Except for the truly ignorant on the subject, it is clear as daylight to all scholars, whether Indian or Western, that the Rigvedic geography is centred in North India, more specifically around Punjab, Haryana & Western UP.  The westernmost lands mentioned in Rigveda are the eastern regions of Afghanistan and these were certainly peripheral in the scheme of things of Rigvedic Aryans.

Yet, through the last two centuries several attempts have been made to parse out some sort of evidence from Rigveda or any of the early Vedic texts, in the form of memory or otherwise, that could support the argument of an extra-Indian homeland of the Rigvedic Indo-Aryans. However all such attempts have come to naught.

Let us go through the opinion of the mainstream western Indologists on the matter so that there remains no room for doubt on the matter.

Edwin Bryant notes in his seminal book,

The first prominent note of discord between traditional exegesis and Western scholarship was sounded because of the lack of explicit mention, in the Vedic texts, of a foreign homeland of the Aryan people. As mentioned previously, this conspicuous silence had been noted even by nineteenth-century Western scholars (e.g., Elphinstone 1841). The absence of any mention of external Aryan origins in traditional Sanskrit sources is, to this day, perhaps the single most prominent objection raised by much of the scholarship claiming indigenous origins for the Aryan culture. (pg 59)

Already in the middle of the 19th century we have scholars such as Curzon (1855) who argues, “Is it legitimate … to infer that because the Aryans early spread to the South . . . and extended themselves over the peninsula, they also originally invaded, from some unknown region and conquered India itself?” (pg 65) and Muir(1860) who notes that “none of the Sanskrit books, not even the most ancient, contain any distinct reference or allusion to the foreign origin of the Indians” (pg 63)

Bryant quotes Srinivas Iyengar, who in 1914 quite pertinently said,

The Aryas do not refer to any foreign country as their original home, do not refer to themselves as coming from beyond India, do not name any place in India after the names of places in their original land as conquerors and colonizers always do, but speak of themselves exactly as sons of the soil would do. If they had been foreign invaders, it would have been humanly impossible for all memory of such invasion to have been utterly obliterated from memory in such a short time as represents the differences between the Vedic and Avestan dialects. (pg 59)

Bryant refers to Indian scholars as early as the latter half of the 19th century who object to the external origins of the Indo-Aryans, which should clear the doubts of those who think that opposition to AIT/AMT is a modern Hindutva invention.

As per Bryant, “… the fact that the Vedas themselves make no mention of any Aryan invasion or immigration reveals a major epistemological concern in this debate. ” (pg 59)

Bryant concludes the chapter thus, “The sequence of texts does seem to suggest a movement of the Brahmanic geographical horizons from the Northwest to other parts of India. Nonetheless, the Indigenous response needs to be considered: the texts give no obvious indication of a movement into India itself. Indigenous Aryanists, on the whole, are prepared to accept a shift of population from the Sarasvatl region eastward toward the Gangetic plain…But they do not feel compelled to then project this into preconceived hypothetical movements into the subcontinent itself in the pre- and protohistoric period.”

Hans Henrich Hock, a well-known linguist and Sanskritist, in his contribution to this major volume, The Indo-Aryan Controversy, also observes,

Some publications claim that the Rig-Veda contains actual textual evidence for an Aryan in-migration…suffice it to state that none of them provide unambiguous clues that the point of origin for these travels was further (north-)west or outside of India/South Asia, or that the direction of travel was to the east or further into India/South Asia. (pg 290)

Hock rather candidly tells us that “…the passages cited by Biswas and Witzel do not provide cogent evidence for Aryan in-migration and thus cannot be used to counter the claim of opponents of the so-called “Aryan Invasion Theory” (e.g. Rajaram and Frawley 1997: 233) that there is no indigenous tradition of an outside origin.” (pg 291)

Another major linguist George Cardona concurs that “… there is no textual evidence in the early literary traditions unambiguously showing a trace of such migration. “(pg 38)

Cardona goes one step further and analyses a particular passage Michael Witzel, an ardent proponent of the AMT, cites from the Baudhayana Srauta Sutra, to support his argument of textual evidence.

Continue reading “The Unravelling of the AMT”


The Ayodhya Verdict

November 09, 2019 was a momentous date in the history of modern India. An end to the decades and centuries old Ayodhya dispute has likely happened. The Supreme Court of India has, by a unanimous verdict of 5-0, pronounced that the disputed site of 2.77 acres be given for the building of a Ram temple while at the same time allotting a land of 5 acres somewhere else for the construction of a mosque.

In all respects this was a very fine judgement by the Supreme Court. However, there are mischief mongers who are busy spreading falsehoods about this judgement for their own vested interests. Let me here share a few videos which give us a very clear picture of why the SC judgement is neither biased nor is it giving precedence to faith over evidence.



Please also watch these two long presentations as they explain the available evidence at length.

The Case For Ram Mandir at Ayodhya

What Do The Ram Janmabhoomi Excavations Tell Us?

To put it briefly :-

Ayodhya is one of the seven holy cities of ancient India and for Hindus or Sanatan Dharmis. Its holy precisely because it is associated with the birth and life of Lord Ram, one of the most revered figures of Hinduism.

Now what exactly is the significance of Ayodhya for Muslims ?

Particularly with regard to the Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid site, it is clear and the SC judgement also points out that the Babri Masjid was not built on a vacant land but was built over a large pre-existing non-Islamic structure. Archaeologists and scholars have pointed out that this structure was most likely a Vishnu temple built by a feudatory of the Gahadavala King Govindchandra, the most powerful king of North India in his time and the grandfather of none other than Jayachand of Prithviraj/Samyukta fame.

While the SC has acknowledged the existence of this temple structure since the 12th century, it points out that between the 12th century and the early 16th century when the Babri Mosque was built on the site, we do not have records documenting what was happening at the site. The SC also states that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) could not prove that this earlier temple was destroyed to build the mosque i.e. perhaps the temple was already destroyed & lying in ruins. However, proving it conclusively is a tough ask.

Nevertheless, it has already been proven without a shadow of doubt that the remains of the pre-existing temple, including its pillars were used in the construction of the mosque.

Lastly, there are numerous eye-witness and other accounts in English, Persian, Arabic & Urdu from the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries which clearly prove that the particular site was holy for the Hindus and that the mosque was built by destroying the mandir or temple, and the site is often referred to in the accounts as the Ram Janamsthan.

Hindus were able to show that they were worshipping at the site for several centuries and people used to flock the site particularly on Ram Navami, the date of Lord Ram’s birth. They were also able to show the outer courtyard was always under the control of Hindus while there was often disputes between Hindus and Muslims for the inner courtyard of the mosque.

One may ask, what is the evidence that Lord Ram was born at this very site. And infact we don’t have any. But it can be shown that for several centuries it has been a Hindu belief that this very site was the birthplace of Lord Ram and that there is no other site at Ayodhya or elsewhere for which such a belief exists or has existed.

When one looks at this evidence in totality it is clear that the claim of Hindus on the site as an important place of worship for several centuries is supported by much more substantial evidence than anything the Muslim side could muster.

Therefore, the Verdict was a foregone conclusion. The Supreme Court has merely gone by the balance of evidence and has not buckled under the pressure of majoritarianism nor has the rights of the Muslim minority been suppressed by it, as alleged by some unscrupulous lot who perpetually want to keep the communal cauldron burning.



The Archaeological Evidence for OIT – I


The Chalcolithic & Bronze Age civilizations geographically closest to the Harappan or the Saraswati-Sindhu civilization were the twin Eastern Iranian civilizations of Helmand and Halil Rud/Jiroft and the Central Asian civilization of BMAC spread over the southern margins of Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan and as far east as Tajikistan.

We have discussed the genetic evidence which showed profound Harappan influence in Helmand and BMAC while the aDNA from Halil Rud civilization, situated in the Kerman province of modern Iran, further west of Shahr-i-Sokhta, remains to be sequenced and published.

After having had a look at the genetic data that supports an Out of India migration into these adjacent regions of Eastern Iran & Central Asia, it would be in the fitness of things to also have a brief encounter with the archaeological evidence that can prop up the above said genetic evidence.

The archaeological data is much varied and quite interesting. However there is a lot more to learn and perhaps we have so far just scratched the surface.

Helmand & Halil Rud

The twin civilizations of Helmand and Halil Rud, situated to the west of the Harappan civilization, were not known until a few decades ago and even today we know very little about them. In many ways, we know even less about them than what we know about the Harappan civilization itself.

From what we know it is fairly clear that both of these Eastern Iranian civilizations preceded by several centuries the BMAC civilization and were roughly contemporaneous with the Harappan civilization. All of these southern civilizations, including the Harappan, are in turn considered to have played a defining role in the formation of the BMAC, a proposition which has been confirmed by ancient DNA evidence.

Both the Helmand civilization and its western neighbour, the Halil Rud civilization were intimately in contact with their geographically massive eastern neighbouring civilization of the Harappans.

In order to avoid an unduly long post, I shall limit myself over here to the very intriguing linkages of Harappans with the Helmand civilization only.

Helmand & Harappan


(Mundigak, Afghanistan)

(Burnt Building, Shahr-i-Sokhta)

The Helmand civilization centred on the river Helmand which flows from Afghanistan into Sistan province of Eastern Iran. We know atleast two of its major sites – Mundigak in Afghanistan and Shahr-i-Sokhta in eastern Iran.

The genetic evidence from Shahr-i-Sokhta, the biggest Helmand site, confirms that the relations with the Harappans were quite strong with nearly half of all ancient samples from that site considered to have been migrants from the Harappan region, especially from Baluchistan and the rest of the ancient samples showing admixture from these migrants.

According to the French archaeologist, Jean Francois Jarrige, the principle excavator of Mehrgarh, as stated in this article, the foundation of Mundigak, the other Helmand site, can be interpreted as the settling of people from Baluchistan of the Mehrgarh Chalcolithic tradition and the remains of Period I at Mundigak fit almost perfectly the cultural assemblage of Mehrgarh Period III.

It is also significant that the pottery of Mundigak I, the earliest occupation of the “Helmand” cultural complex, corresponds to the Mehrgarh III pottery, in technique—quality of the paste and manufacture— as well in the shapes and decoration, probably within a phase dated to the end of the 5th millennium. The pottery of Mundigak I-II (fi g. 2: 3-5, 7-8) can also be related to the context of Balochistan ceramic productions, especially from Mehrgarh IV around 3500 BC. (link)

The foundation of Mundigak, incidentally dates to around 5000 BC and is therefore significantly older to the foundation of Shahr-i-Sokhta, its sister site in Helmand more than 400 kms to its west, whose earliest dates go only upto 3300 BC and where we have already seen that the Harappan or Baluchistani migrants were already present from the earliest period.

While , “..there is general agreement that Shahr-i Sokhta and Mundigak have the same material culture including similar buff ceramic material, validating the existence of a Helmand Valley archaeological culture at the time corresponding to Period I at the former and Period III at the latter…” it also needs to be understood that “Shahr-i-Sokhta I nonetheless has inter-regional connections that are not recorded at Mundigak. In particular, a series of objects point to contacts to the west…”(link)

With regard to Shahr-i-Sokhta, which in its most expansive phase was atleast around 150 hect. it should be noted that “…Shahr-i-Sokhta I is the foundation period of this site and that no other site (or no context at this site) has been observed thus far in Seistan with older archaeological deposits. Since no evidence for an older settlement is observed in this region, the most rational reconstruction is that Shahr-i Sokhta was founded by communities coming from (an)other area(s) in the late fourth millennium BCE.” (link same as above).

An important provenance study of the Shahr-i-Sokhta ceramics also indicated a strong influence from the west from the Baluchistani region and Mundigak. Almost all of the deluxe pottery that was found at the site and associated with elite graves was of non-local origin and were imports from the Iranian and Pakistani Baluchistan region.

The authors of this study also observe, “The possibility indeed remains that, for instance, the cultural assemblage at Mundigak, or  a part of it, belonged to people who later moved to Shahr-i-Sokhta.”

We have already noted earlier how, Mundigak itself likely derives from the Mehrgarh Chalcolithic tradition of Pakistani Baluchistan. This tradition, also known as Damb Sadat or Quetta pottery tradition is one of the 4 major early pottery traditions of Early Harappans.

Continue reading “The Archaeological Evidence for OIT – I”


The Clearly Evident Out of India Migration from Ancient DNA

While the two recent ancient DNA papers have set the Indian media abuzz with talk of whether Aryans were indigenous or whether they came from outside, almost all the English media has ignored the fact the genetic data also shows the migration of ancient Indians or Harappans into neighbouring regions of Eastern Iran and Central Asia.

A couple of articles took note of it but tried to minimise its relevance. Tony Joseph at The Hindu says,

Another spin around the new studies suggests an ‘Out of India’ migration. This is also misleading. If by ‘Out of India’ migration we are referring to the fact that some Harappans visited neighbouring civilisations or cultures such as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) or Shahr-i-Sokhta, with whom they had trade and cultural links, these are well-known and unsurprising facts.

Girish Shahane at the, opines about the Indus Periphery samples,

The obvious explanation is that the 11 people had travelled to those locations from an Indus Valley Civilisation region. Their presence in such far-flung places testifies to the extensiveness of Indus Valley Civilisation commercial and cultural contacts. It does not suggest a migration out of India extensive enough to change the genetic profile of foreign lands, because if that were the case the 11 individuals would not have been obvious outliers.

Both these writers are hardly excited by the fact that there is indeed evidence of Indian migration into Eastern Iran & Central Asia and they try to explain it away non-nonchalantly as the evidence of Harappans’ trade & cultural contacts.  I mean, why is the overwhelming obsession just about proving the supposed Aryan migration ? Isn’t it exciting that we now have clear and indisputable evidence of ancient Indians already, as early as 3300 BC (the earliest dated Indus Periphery sample), migrating and living in advanced Bronze Age civilizations outside of the traditional geographic boundary of South Asia. What was the nature of these interactions should naturally arouse considerable curiosity.

The writers also grossly underestimate the genetic influence of Harappans on both its neighbouring regions.

What the research paper says

Let us quote directly from the paper which published these 11 ancient South Asian migrant samples and see what it has to say on the matter –

We document 11 outliers—three with radiocarbon dates between 2500 and 2000 BCE from the BMAC site of Gonur and eight with radiocarbon dates or archaeological-context dates between 3300 and 2000 BCE from the eastern Iranian site of Shahr-i-Sokhta—that harbored elevated proportions of AHG-related ancestry (range: ~11 to 50%) and the remainder from a distinctive mixture of Iranian farmer– and WSHG-related ancestry (~50 to 89%).

While this part of the research is reported by our writers they fail to note another equally important piece of research from the same paper which states,

Unlike preceding Copper Age individuals from Turan, people of the BMAC cluster also harbored an additional ~2 to 5% ancestry related (deeply in time) to Andamanese hunter-gatherers (AHG). This evidence of south-to-north gene flow from South Asia is consistent with the archaeological evidence of cultural contacts between the IVC and the BMAC and the existence of an IVC trading colony in northern Afghanistan.

When we take both these statements together we get the clear picture. Not only were migrants from the Harappan civilization present in Eastern Iran and Central Asia, infact the genetic admixture from these Harappan migrants was present in all the native people of these regions and was not just consigned to the Harappan migrants only. It is puzzling as to why this crucial information has completely been ignored by almost everyone.

This Harappan admixture was apparently not present in the earlier period in Central Asia before 3000 BC which would mean that the Harappan admixture happened in the transition phase between the Copper Age in Central Asia and the formation of the Bronze Age urban civilization of BMAC when the population of this region increased greatly.

Quite clearly, the migration and mixing of Harappans with the Central Asians and Eastern Iranians co-incides or slightly pre-dates the transformation of these socieites into large urban civilizations and likely played a crucial role in the transition of these culture into urban Bronze Age civilizations.

How is this not an important finding ?

It is quite strange that this clear evidence of Out of India migration is being sidelined and neglected. Let us dig a little deeper and show what the quite comprehensive and large Supplementary section of the paper has to say on this Out of India migration.

What the Supplement Says

The primary ancestry source of all these ancient samples from Central Asia & Eastern Iran was the Iranian farmer related ancestry, the same ancestry type which was also the main ancestry of IVC people.

This Iranian farmer related ancestry was the main ancestral source in Central Asia even in Chalcolithic period (4000 – 3000 BC) which means that already by the Chalcolithic period the populations of Central Asia and NW South Asia had a lot of shared ancestry before the IVC migration into Central Asia during the Bronze Age. How old is this shared ancestry should be a matter of future research.

The analysed data from Central Asia and Eastern Iran in the Bronze Age consists of about 60 samples from the sites of Gonur, Sappali, Jarkutan (Dzharkutan) & Bustan associated with the BMAC or Oxus Civilization of Central Asia, 2 samples each from Parkhai & from Aigyrzhal in Kyrgyzstan, also from Central Asia and finally 17 samples from the large Eastern Iranian settlement of Bronze Age Helmand civilization, Shahr-i-Sokhta (fig. S17, pg 202).

Quoting from the Supplement, they observe from the admixture plot (fig S18, bottom panel, pg 203) that,

“… some individuals from each site also harbor trace amounts of a component that is maximized in Andamanese Hunter-Gatherers (AHGs) and Dravidian speaking groups in southern India. Particularly revealing is our observation of outlier individuals from several of these sites that are exceptions to these patterns. We hypothesize that these individuals were migrants from South Asia (or descendants of recent migrants)…” (pg 202)

Based on the results of the admixture-f3 stats (fig S21-S23) on the BMAC and Shahr-i-Sokhta main group of samples they further observe,

For the BMAC main cluster, we also observe significant (Z<-3) admixture signals with a source from pre-Copper Age Iran and Turan and a source related to present day groups within the Indian subcontinent, a signal that we do not detect in individuals from the earlier period in Turan (Fig S 21 – Fig S 23). This is consistent with the hypothesis that the main BMAC cluster harbors a proportion of ancestry from gene flow from the south, plausibly from South Asia… We observe that the individuals from Shahr-i-Sokhta, also show significant admixture-f3 statistics with one source as AHG. Taken together with the fact that there are individuals with significantly high proportions of AHG-related ancestry at both sites, this suggests that there was gene flow from South Asia out into Turan during the BA (pg 206).

Finally moving onto the qpAdm admixture analysis, our researchers note,

To better understand the population changes associated with these BA settlements we studied proximal sources. We first observe that there are many models that fit under our acceptance criteria, but they are of a similar nature, in the sense that all involve a population from the previously described Copper Age period with additional ancestry related to present-day South Asians. Most working models involve populations from Turan with additional South Asian related mixture, for example present-day individuals from South Asia with minimal Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry, or outlier individuals from Shahr-i-Sokhta and BMAC sites with high proportions of AHG-related ancestry (pg 210).

When we look at analysed aDNA samples Shahr-i-Sokhta, we see that out of a total of 17 samples, as much as 8 of them are classified as migrants from the Harappan civilization by our authors. So essentially about 50 % of the population at Shahr-i-Sokhta was made up of migrants from the IVC. Infact, barring one sample which they classify as an outlier, the other 8 samples, which the authors label as Shahr_I_Sokhta_BA1, also harbour IVC ancestry and the best fitting qpAdm model (p-value – 0.658) suggests that this S_I_S_BA1 group harboured as much as 20 % ancestry from these IVC migrants (table S30, pg 212).

It may also be noted that the IVC migrants at Shahr-i-Sokhta date from a period between 3300-2000 BC while the other group of 8, labelled the main S_I_S_BA1 group only date between 3300-2600 BC. All in all, this cumulative genetic evidence alone is enough to show that Shahr-i-Sokhta was enormously influenced by the Harappans.

This is further underlined when one looks at the archaeological evidence which shows substantial similarities between Shahr-i-Sokhta and sites to its east in the Indian subcontinent. Shahr-i-Sokhta itself only came into existence as a habitation site around 3300 BC but the other major site of the Helmand civilization, Mundigak, found about 425 kms east along the course of the Helmand river in Afghanistan, has a beginning going back to the 5th millenium BC, and it already shows significant cultural parallels with older sites such as Mehrgarh to its southeast. The main cattle type at Shahr-i-Sokhta was also of the Indian Zebu variety further cementing the strong east to west cultural and genetic flow at the site.

To try to brush this off vaguely as evidence of ”commercial and cultural links” and trying to de-emphasize the importance is quite telling.

In contrast, the Italian archaeologist Massimo Vidale, one of the principal researchers at Shahr-i-Sokhta in recent years and one of the contributors of this Narasimhan et al paper, states the following on page 110 of Supplementary section,

The archaeological and genetic evidence thus suggest that a flow of migrants from the northwestern borderlands of South Asia was active at the beginning of the local settlement, and that the same flow, different from the earlier one from northwest, intensified in the following centuries. We unfortunately do not have ancient DNA from Period III and the later centuries of the Shahr-i-Sokhta sequence when cultural influence from the Indus Valley Civilization appears to become stronger.

To be sure, what percentage would a trader community consitute in the population of a foreign city ? And out of these traders, how many are going to end up dying and getting buried in that foreign land ? Perhaps 1 or 2 %. It surely cannot be as high as 50 % besides also contributing your ancestry to all the local people in the foreign land.

But that is what we see at Shahr-i-Sokhta and therefore this is evidence of very deep cultural and perhaps religious and linguistic links.

The body of archaeological literature documenting the links between the IVC, Eastern Iran & BMAC is quite significant and I intend to write on it, God willing, in the next post to complete and complement the picture given by genetic data.

Moving to Bronze Age Central Asia, the authors document 3 samples from the major site of Gonur in the Margiana region of the BMAC which they classify as IVC migrants along with the 8 already noted at Shahr-i-Sokhta. Alongside these 3 samples, there is a slightly later sample dating to around 1500 BC from the site of Bustan, labelled as Bustan_BA_o2, which is not similar to the 3 Gonur IVC migrants but can be modelled as 70 % Swat_IA + 30 % IVC migrants. So this is also for all intents and purposes a likely migrant from South Asia but with a very different genetic profile.

But besides this, as can be read from the quotes from the Supplement and main paper given above, all the ancient samples of the main group of BMAC people also harboured ancestry from South Asia which was absent in the earlier period.

In the proximal models for the BMAC main cluster (table S28, pg 210), we can observe that the BMAC Bronze Age population can be modelled as deriving between 70-75 % ancestry from Shahr-i-Sokhta_BA1 which itself harbours about 20 % IVC ancestry. Therefore this suggests that the BMAC main cluster, its core population, harbours about 15 % ancestry from IVC.

Therefore, we see all pervasive South Asian admixture in Central Asia just before the region becomes urbanised and perhaps organised into a state. This suggests that the South Asian or IVC migration and admixture in Central Asia could have played a leading role in the transition of the region into an urbanised state with major cities like Gonur.

Our authors argue that the 2 samples from Aygyrzhal in Kyrgyzstan in the eastern part of Central Asia, do not have any South Asian ancestry but this is belied by the fact that in all proximal models (table S31, pg 212), these 2 samples show about 17 % admixture from IVC migrants.

Nor is the IVC genetic influence this far to the east in Central Asia an anamoly. A study of mtDNA  from some ancient Tarim Basin samples (4000 YBP), showed the presence of the indisputably Indian lineage M5, besides other lineages such as U7, U2e & R* which are also widely present in South Asia, Central Asia and Iran.

As pointed out by Silva et al 2017, mtDNA M5a was clearly part of outward South Asian migration towards Iran in the Bronze Age. Therefore its presence also in Tarim Basin in the same timeframe explicitly confirms it to have been there as part of South Asian migration and admixture in the Tarim Basin in that early period.

Winding up the genetic evidence, we observe that in the Bronze Age, the IVC genetic influence extended in an enormous arc from Shahr-i-Sokhta in Eastern Iran to the Tarim Basin mummies in modern Xinjiang, China with the genetic influence on the Helmand civilization (Shahr-i-Sokhta) being quite overwhelming and that on the BMAC also being all-pervasive.

How is this major Bronze Age genetic phenomenon not a significant event of Out of India migration ? Whether this was related to Indo-European migration, only time will tell.

It is a matter of archaeological record that the greatest influence on BMAC was from IVC and the Eastern Iranian civilizations of Halil Rud (Jiroft) and Helmand which were themselves heavily influenced by IVC. Infact, when there is evidence of such overwhelming cultural and genetic links between these regions, political links between these regions would have been a definite reality. Infact, as Mesopotamian records of the 2nd quarter of the 3rd millenium BC, the Eastern Iranian state of Marhasi (perhaps Halil Rud) was closely in political alliance with Meluhha (the IVC).

It is quite instructive that the historically known core region of Indo-Iranians was already greatly in confluence from the Early Bronze Age period.


The Origins of the Neolithic in the Indian subcontinent

Last week was a good one for all those who had been waiting endlessly for the Rakhigarhi aDNA paper to see the light of day and also for the pre-print ‘The Genomic Formation of South & Central Asia’ to come out in a peer-reviewed journal.

Unfortunately, the talk around both these papers has quickly degenerated to only figuring out whether these papers support an Aryan Migration or whether they do not.

However, the combined data that has come out from these two papers is a treasure trove of information and this data has enormous implications for a lot of other theories of South Asian prehistory.

I wish to focus one post for each of these important discoveries starting with the important discovery about the antiquity of IVC ancestral population in South Asia and its implication for origins of farming in the region.

The graphical extract given above is quite self-explanatory. But let us also quote from the paper itself to re-inforce what the graphical extract implies :-

The Iranian-related ancestry in the IVC derives from a lineage leading to early Iranian farmers, herders, and hunter gatherers before their ancestors separated, contradicting the hypothesis that the shared ancestry between early Iranians and South Asians reflects a large-scale spread of western Iranian farmers east. Instead, sampled ancient genomes from the Iranian plateau and IVC descend from different groups of hunter-gatherers who began farming without being connected by substantial movement of people.

They elaborate on what the implications of this finding is –

Our evidence that the Iranian-related ancestry in the IVC Cline diverged from lineages leading to ancient Iranian hunter-gatherers, herders, and farmers prior to their ancestors’ separation places constraints on the spread of Iranian-related ancestry across the combined region of the Iranian plateau and South Asia, where it is represented in all ancient and modern genomic data sampled to date. The Belt Cave individual dates to 10,000 BCE, definitively before the advent of farming anywhere in Iran, which implies that the split leading to the Iranian-related component in the IVC Cline predates the advent of farming there as well…Thus, the Iranian-related ancestry in the IVC Cline descends from a different group of hunter-gatherers from the ancestors of the earliest known farmers or herders in the western Iranian plateau.

So the paper on the Rakhigarhi aDNA sample makes it abundantly clear that the geneticists find the Iran farmer/herder related ancestry in the IVC people to have split up from the actual Iranian farmers/herders atleast before 12,000 years ago. This is well before the origin of farming on the Iranian plateau. Therefore, the clear implication of this is that the Iranian Neolithic Farmers did not contribute ancestry to the ancestors of the Harappans but that the ancestors of Harappans and the early Iranian farmers/herders descend from a common ancestral source that existed more than 12 kya.

What was the place of origin of that ancestral source ? We do not know that as yet so to assume that it is coming from Iran, as some are doing, is not borne out by evidence. It may well have originated in South Asia before moving into Iran.

I have written at length on this topic at my blog.

Infact, the deep pre-Neolithic origins of Iran N like ancestry in South Asians was already becoming apparent that as early as 2011 when this major paper on South Asian populations made the following observation –

… regardless of where this component was from (the Caucasus, Near East, Indus Valley, or Central Asia), its spread to other regions must have occurred well before our detection limits at 12,500 years.

Even before this, in 2004, when a paper, by this very same Estonian team, on mtDNA lineages shared between Iran & South Asia had come out, it was already noted that the spread of shard mtDNA lineages between the two regions was quite old.

This separation between the South Asian & Iranian farmer/herder ancestry not just dates to before 12 kya but it likely dates to the very end of the Last Glacial Maximum, somewhere around 18-17 kya.

Figure 1

The above graphic shows the early split of mtDNA U7 across Eurasia. One can quite clearly see that the oldest splits seem to be between Iranian plateau & South Asia. This pattern is also observable for other shared mtDNA & y-dna lineages shared between these 2 regions. For more on this please refer to my blog.

Therefore, the Rakhigarhi provides one more line of evidence to re-inforce what was already evident from many previous studies on modern DNA, that the major portion of the shared ancestry between the Iranian plateau and South Asia was not brought into South Asia from Iran by the Iranian farmers but had separated from the ancestors of Iranian farmers/herders well before 12,000 years ago. With this Rakhigarhi paper getting such widespread coverage, one can only hope that from now on this fact will become known to much more people than it had been previously.

South Asian Neolithic

Since it has now become clear that there was no migration of early Iranian farmers into South Asia, so it has begun to be argued that farming must have been adopted by local NW hunter gatherers of South Asia through spread of ldeas from the fertile crescent.

While this is certainly plausible, it rests on the premise that farming began independently only once in the Fertile Crescent and it spread from there to everywhere else.

This is however not so straightforward. There are similarities at Mehrgarh with the Neolithic sites of the Eastern Fertile Crescent or the Iranian Neolithic but not with the Levant or Anatolian Neolithic. The archaeologist who discovered the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh and carried out decades of excavation over there, J F Jarrige, had this to say

The similarities noticed between Neolithic sites from the eastern border of Mesopotamia to the western margins of the Indus valley are highly significant. A sort of cultural continuum between sites sharing a rather similar geographical context marked with an also rather similar pattern of evolution and transformation becomes more and more evident. But the Neolithic of Mehrgarh displays enough original features to imply an earlier local background which has so far not been documented. Nevertheless the cultural dynamism shown by the inhabitants of Mehrgarh as early as level I of Period I indicate that the Neolithic of Balochistan cannot be interpreted as the “”backwater” of the Neolithic culture of the Near East. (link)

So indeed there are cultural similarities between the South Asian Neolithic and the West Iranian Neolithic and we know that the early farmers of both these regions were also separated from a common ancestor but the genetic evidence makes it clear that the common ancestor likely lived at the end of LGM aroynd 18 kya rather than the beginning of Neolithic around 9-8 kya.

It is not quite clear how the early South Asian & Iranian farmers interact or relate to each other during this Neolithic phase but it is quite clear that the early Iranian farmer was significantly different than the nearby farmers of the Levant & Anatolia both genetically and even culturally while he has much more in common with his much distant eastern cousins. Might not this imply that the origins of these Iranian farmers lay to the east close to its South Asian cousins ?

Jarrige provides several lines of evidence that suggest that the Neolithic in South Asia developed independently of West Asian input.

Lorenzo Costantini has shown that the plant assemblage of Period I is dominated by naked six row barley which accounts for more than 90% of the so far recorded seeds and imprints. He has also pointed out the sphaerococcoid form of the naked-barley grains with a short compact spike with shortened internodes and small rounded seeds. According to him, such characteristics in the aceramic Neolithic levels can be ascribed to probably cultivated but perhaps not fully domesticated plants. Domestic hulled six-row barley (H. vulgare, subsp. vulgare) and wild and domestic hulled two-row barley (H. vulgare subsp. spontaneum and H. vulgare subsp. distichum) have also been recorded, but in much smaller quantities. According to Zohary quoted by R.H. Meadow, the distribution of wild barley extends today to the head of the Bolan Pass. It is therefore likely that local wild barleys could have been brought under cultivation in the Mehrgarh area.

The main crop at Mehrgarh was barley by far and we see that there is enough evidence to suggest its local domestication from nearby wild varieties.

There is also genetic evidence to suggest two independent centers of barley domestication.

There has long been speculation that barley was domesticated more than once. We use differences in haplotype frequency among geographic regions at multiple loci to infer at least two domestications of barley; one within the Fertile Crescent and a second 1,500–3,000 km farther east. The Fertile Crescent domestication contributed the majority of diversity in European and American cultivars, whereas the second domestication contributed most of the diversity in barley from Central Asia to the Far East.

It is abundantly clear that the barley used by South Asian Neolithic farmers fits in very well with this second domestication scenario.

Jarrige also notes,

The presence of bones of relatively small subadult and adult animals in the trash deposits of the early levels confirms, according to R.H. Meadow, the domestic status of at least some of the goats. Meadow has also clearly shown that “” though in the course of Period I at Mehrgarh, the remains of sheep and cattle became to increasingly dominate the faunal assemblages of the successive strata, at the same time, the animal represented grew smaller in body size”. By the end of Period I, cattle bones amount for over 50% of the faunal remains. Osteological studies as well as clay figurines indicate that zebu cattle (Bos indicus) is well attested in Period I and became most probably the dominant form (Fig. 12). Mehrgarh provides us therefore with a clear evidence of an indigenous domestication of the South Asian zebu. We know today that Bos indicus and Bos Taurus, the non-humped bull from the Middle-East, have a different genetic origin. Therefore the assumption that farming economy was introduced full-fledged from Near-East to South Asia needs to be questioned.

The archaeological & genetic evidence therefore clearly implies a local domestication of indigenous cattle just as is the case with the domestication of barley. Even the goats and sheep were likely domesticated from local wild populations of the same. We may bear in mind that the Iranian Neolithic farmers were essentially goat herders and did not have cattle for a long period before it eventually came in from the Anatolian-Levant region. So they couldn’t possibly bring in the know-how or cattle domestication to South Asia.

With such an abundance of evidence at our disposal it becomes clear that the origins of Neolithic economy in South Asia can be attributed to local South Asian Hunter Gatherers, deeply related to Iranian farmers/herders, who started it by indigenous domestication of barley and cattle from local wild ancestors. So the only question that remains is whether the Neolithic technological knowledge came in from the Fertile Crescent.

That is difficult to answer, but we may end here by noting that in the case of the Near Eastern Neolithic, the transition from hunting gathering phase to the farming phase brought about an admixture of Iranian Farmer like admixture in the local Anatolian HGs. 

Fig. 2

In the above figure a, AHG is Anatolian HG while AAF is Anatolian Aceramic Farmer. We see from this graphic that, with a transition from AHG to AAF, we see that there is an influx of admixture into AAF which brings it slightly closer to Iranian Farmer & CHG ancestry. In contrast no such admixture is seen in South Asian farmers.

So might this indicate that the Neolithic technology spread from East to West ? Future research will surely shed more light on it but it should be clear to everyone that South Asia most likely was an independent and major center of Neolithic transition and deriving its origin from the Fertile Crescent looks rather unconvincing.

We may also look afresh at the question of origins of Central Asian Neolithic and whether it derived from Iranian Neolithic or South Asian Neolithic.



Who brought the Zebu in the Near East ?

If folks over here are not already aware, a major ancient DNA paper on cattle came out last week in the Science magazine. It had an unprecedented 67 ancient cattle samples.

Here’s the abstract,

Genome-wide analysis of 67 ancient Near Eastern cattle, Bos taurus, remains reveals regional variation that has since been obscured by admixture in modern populations. Comparisons of genomes of early domestic cattle to their aurochs progenitors identify diverse origins with separate introgressions of wild stock. A later region-wide Bronze Age shift indicates rapid and widespread introgression of zebu, Bos indicus, from the Indus Valley. This process was likely stimulated at the onset of the current geological age, ~4.2 thousand years ago, by a widespread multicentury drought. In contrast to genome-wide admixture, mitochondrial DNA stasis supports that this introgression was male-driven, suggesting that selection of arid-adapted zebu bulls enhanced herd survival. This human-mediated migration of zebu-derived genetics has continued through millennia, altering tropical herding on each continent.

Well the widespread Zebu presence in the LBA Near East is not exactly a new discovery. It has been known for quite sometime now among archaeologists. This article gives a good overview on the subject.

(Syrio-Hittite Terracota Zebu, source)

(Hittite Bronze Zebu, source)


Nevertheless, with this new study, we now have conclusive evidence that the widespread Zebu admixture in the Near Eastern cattle did indeed start around 2000 BCE.


Illustration of the proportion of Zebu ancestry over time in domesticated cattle of Eurasia. From Verdugo et al. 2019

(figure courtesy : twitter/johnhawks)

As can be seen from the above figure, after 4000 YBP, there is a sudden spurt in indicine or Zebu admixture across nearly all the ancient samples of Near Eastern Cattle including cattle samples from Central Asia, Iran, the Caucasus, Levant, Mesopotamia & the Balkans.

Again quoting from the paper,

…despite archaeological evidence for contact between civilizations of the Fertile Crescent region and the Indus Valley (9), the influence of the zebu genome is detectable in ancient Southwest Asian cattle only 4000 years later (Fig. 2). However, after ~4000 yr B.P., hybrid animals (median 35% indicine ancestry) are found across the Near East, from Central Asia and Iran to the Caucasus and Mediterranean shores of the southern Levant (table S2 and fig. S1). During this period, depictions and osteological evidence for B. indicus also appear in the region (9, 13). In contrast to autosomal data, but similar to earlier work (14), we find persistence of B. taurus mitochondria, suggesting introgression may have been mediated by bulls (Fig. 2).

As the bolded portions note, the indicine admixture in the ancient cattle samples from the Near East post 4000 YBP, show on an average 35 % indicine admixture but that this mostly through the Indicine bulls as there is indicine mtDNA in these admixed samples. This widespread and major admixture in the Near Eastern cattle post 4000 YBP, is clearly a major turning point in the history of the Near Eastern cattle.

What lead to this major turning point ?

It is now widely accepted that there was a major 4200 YBP climatic event that brought about a prolonged phase of drought perhaps extending to several centuries which affected all major civilizations of the Near East extending all the way to the Indus civilization. This event is also considered a major reason for the apparent ‘collapse’ of the Indus civilization.

The Large Harappan Footprint across Middle Asia


Most if not all movements of cattle across large distances in prehistory are usually associated with movement of humans. Did the large influx of Zebu autosomal DNA into the Near East cattle also result due to South Asian population expansion into the Near East post-4000 YBP ?

What we do know from archaeology is that the Harappans were operating across a vast landscape and their presence and influence can be detected in Central Asia, Eastern Iran( Jiroft & Helmand), the SE Arabian coast (Oman & Bahrain) and in Mesopotamia already in the 3rd millenium BC. The Harappans even had their own colonies in these different regions.

It appears that a minority but nevertheless a significant and arguably influential community of Harappans were present in most of these regions away from the Greater Indus region as far as atleast Mesopotamia. Infact, in a lot of these places, the Harappans were apparently living in those places for many generations. It is conceivable that they would have brought and maintained the Zebu cattle in their new homelands.

Therefore, already in the 3rd millenium BC, it is quite probable that the Zebu cattle was already a minor but regular feature of the Middle Asian landscape.

However, after the onset of the 4.2 kya event, with the onset of aridity, it is believed that the Harappan civilization finally collapsed around 3900 kya (1900 BCE). One of the consequences of this collapse is apparently the end of Harappan trade and interaction across Middle Asia.

So the questions is – how did the Zebu admixture in the Near East shoot up all of a sudden in a period when we are led to believe that the Harappan or Indus civilization ceased to interact with this region ?

And it is not just Indian cattle admixture that becomes widespread into the Near East during this post-4000 kya period. As the authors of this paper state,

Westward human migration has been documented around  this time(19,20) along with archaeological evidence for the appearance of other South Asian taxa such as water buffalo and Asian elephants in the Near East(21), suggesting the movement of large animals by people.

Infact, the presence of Asian Elephant in the Near East dates to from the end of 3rd millenium BC to the 8th century BC and is centred around Syria and hence this ancient elephant population is also known as the Syrian Elephant.

The authors of the study cited on Asian Elephants in our cattle aDNA paper above state something very interesting,

…ancient accounts indicate that live elephants roamed and were hunted in the Orontes Valley, the Upper Euphrates Valley and the Middle Euphrates Valley around modern Ana in Iraq, at least between the end of the 16th and 9th centuries BC, possibly into the 8th century BC (Breasted 1906–07; Gardiner 1964: 179, 201; Moorey 1994: 117; Scullard 1974: 28). The core of this region comprises the area of influence of the Mitanni Kingdom, the main local political player in LBA northern Syria…

The Mitanni were an Indo-Iranian, possibly Indo-Aryan elite ruling over the native Hurrian population in present day Syria in the mid 2nd millenium BCE. And we observe that Asian Elephants, most likely imported from the Indus civilization, only appear in the Near East during the 2nd millenium BC and in a geography that was under the political control of the Mitanni. Is this merely a co-incidence ?

A New Interaction Horizon in Middle Asia in the LBA ?

It is quite probable that with the collapse of the old Bronze Age empires all across the Near East and South Asia, this entire Middle Asian region entered into a new era of interaction which is archaeologically not so well-defined. The widespread Zebu admixture in the Near Eastern cattle along with the presence of Asian elephants as also the first attestations of the Indo-Europeans such as the Hittites & the Mitanni and the associated horse-drawn chariots are evidences of this new horizon.

But while the Zebu and the Asian Elephant came from South Asia, one may argue that the Hittites, Mitanni and the horse drawn chariot must surely come from the steppe.

Well, the strong correlation of the geography of the LBA ‘Syrian’ Elephant population with the boundaries of the Mitanni empire, does suggest some sort of interaction of the Mitanni with South Asia.

And if this is not all, we have now possibly a very strong evidence of the presence of chariots in South Asia which is as old and probably older than the Sintashta chariots in the steppe.

It maybe noted that before the discovery of the chariots in Sintashta which gave the steppe chariot the distinction of being the oldest known one, it has been argued for long that the invention of chariot is mostly likely in the Near East and not in the steppe due to several factors inimical for the use of chariots on the steppe. You can read more about it here.

The discovery of the Sanauli chariots is likely to revive that debate. Along with this, we also have the prospect of horse aDNA from the Mature Harappan Phase no less.

So could the appearance of the Zebu, the Asian elephant, the Buffalo as well as the Hittites & Mitanni and their horse drawn chariot in the 2nd millenium BC in the Near East have a common cause in their probable migration from South Asia after the Indus civilization collapse.

Certainly some food for thought !