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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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
(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.
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 Scroll.in, 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 samplesfrom 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
Genetic evidence of Horses in mature Harappan period. The findings will be published soon.
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.
Last week the world media was gripped with the news of Indian airstrikes inside Pakistan followed a day later by Pakistani figher jets (which allegedly included F-16s) apparently intruding or flying very close to the LOC and atleast one of the Indian jets, MiG 21, pursuing the Pakistani fighter planes getting hit with both the plane & its pilot falling into the PoK region.
Initially the Pakistani army & political establishment claimed that they had downed two Indian jets and that they had 2 Indian pilots in their custody but this was corrected a little while later to the claim the custody of only 1 Indian pilot.
There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics. pic.twitter.com/8IQ5BPhLj2
Two days later the Indian pilot was handed over to India after the Pakistani PM Imran Khan made an official announcement within their parliament. The prompt release of the Indian pilot is considered by some to have gone a long way in de-escalation though heavy shelling at LOC from both sides appears to be still ongoing.
However, behind this unfolding story that dominated International media for a few days, there are other developments preceding and succeeding it which also need to be looked into.
The reason why India was forced to carry out the airstrikes deep into Pakistan in Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the massive suicide attack on a CRPF convoy of about 75 buses transporting 2500 soldiers back to the borders after their holidays. This attack martyred more than 40 Indian soldiers and caused a huge uproar across the nation. The Indian government was quick to point to Pakistan for the attack and as per The Hindu newspaper, the Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack with the suicide bomber being a local Kashmiri youth.
The NDA government in India under Narendra Modi had so far tried to project a no-nonsense image against terrorism, especially in Kashmir. As a result, the Uri attack was followed by what India claimed was a major ‘surgical strike’ across the border into PoK that apparently left many dead in the terrorist lauchpads. The recent Pulwama attack was bigger than Uri and so the Modi government was expected to do something akin to the ‘surgical strike’ or maybe bigger. Modi warned of a retaliation and the air was thick in anticipation. The Balakot airstrikes followed 12 days later.
The Pakistani narrative all along has been that there is no proof of Pakistani involvement in the Pulwama attack and that it was willing to act upon the terrorist organisations inside Pakistan if India provided them ‘actionable intelligence’. The Pakistani political establishment argues that given the precarious economic position Pakistan finds itself in, it is in no position for adventurism and carry out the Pulwama attack and create more problems for itself. It has been also preaching peace non-stop. The release of the Indian pilot was also apparently meant to further this Pakistani objective.
Who’s behind the Pulwama attack ?
In consonance with the Pakistani establishment preaching peace and innocence has been the narrative within Pakistan which suggests that it is Narendra Modi & his Govt consisting of Hindu fundamentalists who want war and bloodshed and who are just looking for an excuse to start a war. Apparently this war hysteria & jingoism across India against Pakistan is Modi’s own making which he has created to help him win the upcoming elections which he would otherwise lose. Infact the demonisation of Modi in Pakistani media has been a constant feature ever since he became the PM candidate from the BJP for the 2014 polls. In newspapers like the Dawn, there does not pass by a week without atleast a couple of articles about the ‘misdeeds’ and ‘mal-intentions’ of Modi & RSS/BJP . This has been happening for 5 years now. You are unlikely to find a single Pakistani who has some good to say about Modi. Thats the kind of propoganda the Pakistani media has run against Modi & BJP/RSS with a lot of help from their liberal leftist media friends in India. Many in Pakistani are quite convinced that the Pulwama attack itself was done at the behest of Modi so that he could create a war hysteria and use it to his benefit in the elections.
Nevertheless, the Pulwama attack was not the only major terrorist attack in the region in the past few weeks. Just a day before the Pulwama attack which happened on February 14, there was an identical terrorist attack in Iran where a suicide bomber in a car/van attacked a bus of the elite Revolutionary guards of Iranian armed forces in the Sistan province in which as many as 27 of these soldiers were martyred. The attack was claimed by Jaish-ul-Ahd, a group operating from within Pakistan just like the Jaish-e-Mohammad. It is likely that Jaish-ul-Ahd has links with Lashkar-e-Taiba & the Pakistani establishment.
The Iranians have vowed revenge and they also appear to put the blame on Pakistan.
The extemely identical nature of these terrorist attacks in Iran & India separated by a mere day, and targetting the security forces of these countries travelling in convoys, by jeeps/vans driven by suicide bombers, suggest that these attacks may even have been planned together. If so, it raises the question – could Pakistan have the gumption to carry out such dastardly attacks at the two ends of their neighbourhood ? And to what avail ?
If Pakistan is given the benefit of doubt, it still does not mean that groups based within the Pakistani soil did not carry out these attacks. But could it be there is some external agency or power involved which has enough reach in the South Asian region in general and also in Pakistan, that backed these groups to carry this out ?
The responses of the Iranian leadership immediately after their armed forces were attacked is worth a read.
As per their Supreme leader Khamenei, “It is certain that the perpetrators of this crime were linked to spy agencies of certain regional and trans-regional countries and Iran’s relevant organizations must focus on that and seriously pursue it.”
Their President Rouhani while blaming the US & Israel as the “root causes of terror” in the region, urged Iran’s neighboring countries to “fulfill their legal obligations” within the framework of the principle of good neighborliness and prevent the terrorist groups from using their soil to launch attacks against their neighbors. In this last bit, the neighbouring country he had in mind appears to none other than Pakistan.
Could the Iranian leadership be onto something here and could it be that other more formidable powers with interests in the region, especially in Afghanistan & Pakistan, had a role in the twin attacks ? Surely one should not let Pakistan off the hook. It appears that even Iran argues about Pakistani complicity in the attack on its forces,
“Pakistan’s government, who has housed these anti-revolutionaries and threats to Islam, knows where they are and they are supported by Pakistan’s security forces,” said Revolutionary Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, referring to terror group Jaish al-Adl (“Army of Justice”).
“If (the Pakistan government) does not punish them, we will retaliate against this anti-revolutionary force, and whatever Pakistan sees will be the consequence of its support for them,” Ali Jafri warned.
However, could it be that the terrorist organisations and their military/ISI backers are a law unto themselves who perhaps do not even willingly answer to the Pakistani establishment and are willing to do the work of the highest bidder ? In such an environment, an external power can certainly find much opportunity to further its own ends.
The Aftermath of the Indian air-strikes
Apparently, after the air strikes, there was also a threat of a missile attack on Pakistan, as claimed by the political leadership of Pakistan (Imran Khan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi), a perilous situation that was subsequently diffused. It also appears that the US among all the external players involved in the region, has played the most active and significant role in diffusing the situation between India & Pakistan.
The statement by Donald Trump from Hanoi, Veitnam of some “reasonably attractive” news coming from India-Pakistan followed by the release of IAF pilot as well as the Pakistan Foreign Minister profusely thanking the Americans in playing the lead role in diffusing the tensions is clear pointing to such an inference.
As per Qureshi, “I would especially like to thank US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. By utilising private diplomacy, the US has played a very positive role. I’d also like to mention the efforts of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and the UAE for trying to defuse the situation through diplomacy.”
The response from China has been on the other hand quite muted. It has also refused to take sides with Pakistan, whether in defending it from the Pulwama attack accusation or after the Balakot airstrike. China has merely asked both the countries to sort out the differences between themselves.
It could very well be that sensing an opportunity in the ongoing crisis to further its own ends, the US forced itself into the mediation between the two countries. In response to relieving the pressure from India, Iran & Afghanistan, India would have likely asked for strict concrete steps being taken against LeT & JeM and their leaders. However, it is also certain that the US would also have asked for its pound of flesh in the bargain in the form of Pakistani support in the US activities in the region, such as in the US talks with the Taliban. It may also have been a way for the US to convey to Pakistan that in a crisis with India, it was only the US and not China that can help it. If Pakistan has acquiesced to the US demands, we may even see some economic aid given to them by the US pretty soon.
What can India do ?
It seems to be clear that the US and Indian interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not converging. In the current flare-up, the US appears to not be completely on the Indian side. While it has condemned the terrorist attack, batted for India’s right to respond and asked Pakistan to act against the terrorists on its soil, it has taken an attitude of reconciliation rather than confrontation with Pakistan.
As far as India is concerned, one of the things that has changed from the Indian side is that it has shown a willingness to respond to a cross-border terrorist attack with significant escalation. This raises the stakes for all those countries with interests in the Af-Pak region such as the US, Russia & China as well as for the wider international community. India’s entreaties to other countries about terrorism emanating from Pakistan which harms it, will henceforth be taken with a greater urgency. The airstrikes did not just send a signal to the Pakistani establishment and they may have also served to remind the world community that India is in no mood to take this lying down and if they want things to run smoothly, they ought to exert pressure on Pakistan.
It appears now that Pakistan has for the time being at the very least started acting against the terrorist organisations if the news coming out of Pakistan is to be believed. Besides the Indian pressure, the imminent blacklisting under FATF is also hanging like a Damocles’ sword on Pakistan’s neck. But India remains unconvinced because it has often seen such actions being reversed in the past.
It remains to be seen what the larger Indian objective is and how will it be achieved. One likely strategy is to bring Iran & Afghanistan on the same page as India and portray them as victims of Pakistan based rogue elements. How much support does India get from the US in this is anybody’s guess.
While the Imran Khan government has unequivocally said that it wants nothing but peace with India, it has still made all efforts to highlight the Kashmir issue and sell its narrative of Indian atrocities in Kashmir. So, it is clear that though Pakistan seeks peace it still wants it on its own terms. As long as Pakistan maintains this obstinacy peace in the region will remain elusive. If Pakistan is sincere about peace, it should stop its focus on Kashmir. If India-Pakistan relations improve it is quite natural that the terrorism in Kashmir and alleged Indian atrocities are going to die down. So why does Pakistan not see this ? Perhaps because it still harbors a desire of wresting Kashmir out of Indian control, if not as a Pakistani province than as a independent country under its absolute influence. This will quite obviously not be acceptable to India at any cost. The sooner the Pakistani establishment lets go off this, the better it would be for peace in the region.
In the long term, the South Asian region needs to come together as one block if it wants World powers to stop meddling in the region. The biggest stumbling block is the Indo-Pakistani conflict on Kashmir and Pakistan’s willingness to act as a client state of world powers like the US and China who are only chasing after their own interests. China has a firm handle on Pakistan at the moment and it is unlikely that China will let go off it anytime soon but the Pulwama crisis has left the Chinese in an awkward position. With Pakistan giving the lion’s share of the credit for de-escalation to the US, the Chinese have had to themselves come forward and claim that it too played a ‘constructive’ role in the de-escalation. What this means for the future is anybody’s guess.
I had made a partial review of the recent paper on Indus Valley populations last time around where I tried to argue that the genetic evidence brought out by the paper confirms the Vedic tradition. As per the Vedic tradition the region of Haryana and Western UP was the Vedic homeland from where the Vedic culture, religion and language spread across the entire subcontinent. It is conceivable that this was accompanied by migration of people from the Vedic heartland into regions further inland spreading their genetic signature in the process. It is also conceivable that this genetic signature was present in higher proportion among the Upper Castes like the Brahmins & Rajputs than the lower castes in those regions. Such a signature, found in higher proportions among the Upper Caste Brahmins and Rajputs, has been claimed to be identified by the geneticists but its source is said to come from the Pontic Caspian Steppe. Its entry into South Asia supposedly formed a group termed as ANI that then became the source population for the Indo-Aryan spread & expansion across South Asia and that the genetic signature on this Indo-Aryan expansion in the recipient groups further inland was in terms of their relative share of this ANI ancestry. In short, the Indo-Aryan and Vedic civilization spread across South Asia was accompanied by admixture with this ANI group by the recipient populations.
It has also been argued that the greater presence of ‘steppe’ ancestry among the Upper Castes is an implicit confirmation of this ancestry having brought Indo-Aryans and the Vedic culture into South Asia.
The present study under review shows quite clearly that a group presently living in the region of the ancient Vedic heartland, Rors (but also the much more numerous Jats), have the highest ‘steppe’ ancestry among South Asians and than they can be considered as that hypothetical ANI source population. Since this puts the ANI source population squarely in Haryana & Western UP (places inhabited by the Haryanvi Jats) it suggests that Haryana is the genetic ground zero from where the genetic signature of ancient Vedic people spread across the subcontinent.
This inference is therefore clearly in support and confirmation of the Vedic tradition which revers the land of Haryana & Western UP as the ancient Vedic heartland from where the Vedic culture disseminated across the wider South Asian region.
Recently, there was a paper on some communities of Northwestern India such as Rors, Jats, Kambojs, Gujjars & Khatris. The primary focus of the paper was the community of cattle herders from Haryana known as Rors.
This is part 1 of my review of the paper. In part 2 I shall focus on whether the evidence furnished in the paper proves a steppe migration into South Asia.
Let me first quote the abstract in full :-
The Indus Valley has been the backdrop for several historic and prehistoric population movements between South Asia and West Eurasia. However, the genetic structure of present-day populations from Northwest India is poorly characterized. Here we report new genomewide genotype data for 45 modern individuals from four Northwest Indian populations, including the Ror, whose long-term occupation of the region can be traced back to the early Vedic scriptures. Our results suggest that although the genetic architecture of most Northwest Indian populations fits well on the broader North-South Indian genetic cline, culturally distinct groups such as the Ror stand out by being genetically more akin to populations living west of India; such populations include prehistorical and early historical ancient individuals from the Swat Valley near the Indus Valley. We argue that this affinity is more likely a result of genetic continuity since the Bronze Age migrations from the Steppe Belt than a result of recent admixture. The observed patterns of genetic relationships both with modern and ancient West Eurasians suggest that the Ror can be used as a proxy for a population descended from the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) population. Collectively, our results show that the Indus Valley populations are characterized by considerable genetic heterogeneity that has persisted over thousands of years.
Pay attention to the bolded part. As per the pre-print by Narasimhan et al, the ANI is the likely population that spread Steppe ancestry and hence Indo-Aryan ancestry among South Asians by mixing with the ASI group. Now this paper on Rors says that Rors (by corollary the Jats) are the population most identical to this hypothetical ANI population. Please note – It is not Brahmins but a herder group from Haryana, which is the vert heartland of Vedic India. This is very significant because it clearly establishes the veracity of our Vedic tradition.
Let us look at this in more detail.
The ancestors of Rors and Jats from Haryana spread the Vedic civilization
As many of you here might be aware, the Vedic homeland was situated on the banks of the river Saraswati in a region which encompassed today’s Haryana and Western UP from where it eventually spread further into Northern India, principally in the Gangetic plains and beyond.
In terms of genetics therefore, one may argue that if there is a genetic signature of the Vedic people, it should be found most strongly in the original Vedic homeland and gradually reduce as one moves away from this homeland. Ofcourse, the caveat would be, that unless the modern people residing in the Vedic homeland had come to completely replace the original inhabitants of Haryana who spread the Vedic culture.
The ancient DNA research has now shown that in terms of autosomal ancestry, there is link between the modern presence of Indo-European speakers across Eurasia and the ‘steppe’ ancestry component.
In South Asia it is argued, that the ‘steppe’ component is highest among the Brahmins and decreases as one moves down the caste heirarchy and this is said to be one of the principal evidences of movement of steppe people into South Asia having spread the Indo-European language and culture. Infact, the recent Narasimhan et al paper, even went so far as to suggest,
Although the enrichment for Steppe ancestry is not found in the southern Indian groups, the Steppe enrichment in the northern groups is striking as Brahmins and Bhumihars are among the traditional custodians of texts written in early Sanskrit. A possible explanation is that the influx of Steppe_MLBA ancestry into South Asia in the mid-2nd millennium BCE created a meta-population of groups with different proportions of Steppe ancestry, with ones having relatively more Steppe ancestry having a central role in spreading early Vedic culture.
However, it has already been known since many years that the population having the highest ‘steppe’ ancestry in South Asia are not the Brahmins but the Jats, more specifically, the Haryanvi Jats. This was also noted by Razib in one of his earlier blogs.
The following is the admixture graph from the study,
As can be seen in the selected enlarged portion of the graph, the ‘steppe’ like light blue component, which is highest in some of the Northern European groups closest to the steppe, like the Latvians, Lithuanians, Russians etc., is far higher in Rors than it is in the Brahmins or any other South Asian group.
As per the authors themselves,
Outgroup f3 analysis in the form of (PNWI, X; Yoruba) showed that the Ror (and Jat) have distinct, high genetic similarity to modern Europeans (Figures 1C, 1D, and S5), far higher than the similarity observed in other NWI populations, such as the Gujjar (Figures 1D and S5). Among an extended set of South Asians, this pattern was repeated only in the Pathan population from Pakistan (Figure S5).
Refined IBD analysis highlights the general trend whereby the sharing of IBD segments declines as one moves along the cline from PNWI and NI_IE toward Dravidian and Indian Austroasiatic (IN_AA) groups (Figure 2A). Strikingly, among all PNWI groups studied, the Ror demonstrate the highest number of IBD segments shared with Europeans and Central Asians, whereas the Gujjar share a higher number of IBD segments with local Indian Indo-Europeans and Dravidians than do other PNWI groups (Figure 2A).
In CHROMOPAINTER analysis, as expected, the Ror (and Jat) exhibited a significantly higher number of chunks received from Europeans than do other NWI populations studied (t test, p value < 0.01).
They also state further,
A higher level of European ancestry in the Ror and Jat compared to other South Asians (Figures 1, 2, S2, S5, and S13 and Tables S5–S8) makes these two populations outliers within the broader Northwest South Asian landscape. This could be indicative of either a possible recent gene flow from a population related to Europe or to ancient West-Eurasian-related influx, which would agree with previous studies on adaptation, wherein the Ror and Jat have stood out for their high frequency of the lactase persistence allele (LCT-13910T) and the light-skin-color gene variant (SLC24A5).
The Rors and Jats also have higher frequencies of Lactase persistence and light skin color gene variant which makes the case of their more recent ancestry sharing, compared to other South Asians, with Northern Europeans or steppe groups stronger.
We also report that, relative to other South Asians, the Ror group has high shared drift with the EHG and Steppe_EMBA groups, higher allele sharing with the Steppe_MLBA group, and higher affinity with the Iron Age (prehistorical) and early historical first South Asian ancient sources (Figures S6A, S6B, S7, S8A, S8D, and S9 and Tables S9 and S16).
Finally the authors argue that the Rors are the best proxy for the ANI ancestry in South Asians,
In summary, we demonstrate a higher proportion of genomic sharing between PNWI populations and ancient EHG and Steppe-related populations than we observe in other South Asians.We report that the Ror are the modern population that is closest to the first prehistorical and early historical South Asian ancient samples near the Indus Valley, and they also harbor the highest Steppe-related, EHG, and Neolithic Anatolian ancestry. However, compared to other adjoining groups, the Ror show less affinity with the Neolithic Iranians. The Ror population can plausibly be used as an alternative proxy for ANI in future demographic modeling of South Asian populations.
The bar graph below explains it very well, where it can be seen that the proportion of the steppe orange component is higher among Rors and Jats than either the Pathans, the Brahmins or any other South Asian group.
The admixture proportions as per the qpAdm given in the Supplementary Table 11 and it is instructive to observe that the steppe_emba proportion for Rors is estimated at 57 % of total ancestry while for Jats it is 61 %. The same proportions for Brahmins from UP, Gujarat & Bengal are 46 %, 45 % & 44 % respectively. Even for Pashtuns from Afghanistan it is 52 % and for Kalash it is 58 %. Only the Yaghnobis and Pamiris from Central Asia are estimated to have a higher proportion of steppe_EMBA at 62 % & 67 % respectively.
Before moving forward it is necessary to point out that the light blue component observed in the admixture graph which is highest among the Northern Europeans is not the same as the steppe_EMBA or steppe_MLBA ancestry. Steppe_EMBA & Steppe_MLBA are an amalgation of the light blue, the dark blue (Anatolian-Farmer related) and the light green (Iran_N/CHG) components you see in the admixture graphs. So while the light blue component which peaks in Northern Europe is significantly less among South Asians, the light green component which correlates well with Iran Neolithic type ancestry, peaks in South Asia but it present at a lot less proportion among the northern Europeans.
Infact, the authors even stress that,
The Ror and Jat peoples stand out for having the highest proportion of Steppe_ MLBA ancestry (- 63%). The proportion of Steppe ancestry in the Ror is similar to that observed in present day Northern Europeans.
Therefore, the predominance of the light blue component in Northern Europeans is not alone an indication that their ‘steppe’ ancestry is far higher than among South Asians.
Now, if steppe-related ancestry correlates with presence and spread of Indo-European languages, the above data clearly implies that the highest steppe-related and therefore IE ancestry among South Asians is among the Jats & Rors, significantly higher than in other NW groups as well as Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Jats and Rors sampled for the study, live in Haryana & Western UP, which is the Vedic homeland.
It therefore supports the ancient Indian tradition according to which the region of Haryana & Western UP was the homeland of the Vedic people from where they spread out across Northern India. It can therefore be argued perfectly well, that the Brahmins and Kshatriyas in other regions have higher proportion of ‘steppe’ ancestry than the lower classes around them precisely because they have greater percentage of their ancestry derived from the ‘steppe’ rich people from the Vedic homeland. It has long been an argument that the ‘steppe’ ancestry in higher among the Brahmins and Kshatriyas than the lower castes across all regions of India and that this was evidence of IE culture spreading in South Asia with the ‘steppe’ ancestry. But the example of Jats and Rors in Haryana puts to doubt all such claims. Instead, we can argue that the higher ‘steppe’ related ancestry in Upper Castes across India is a function of them having a greater portion of their ancestry from their Vedic forefathers who lived in Haryana & Western UP, just as is suggested by the Vedic tradition.
I may finally add that there is a closely related group based on close fst distances and similar admixture proportions that likely descends from the core group that was responsible for the spread of this ancestry into the Caucasus and the steppe. This group consists of Rors, Jats, Kalash, Pashtun, Pathan, Tajik & Pamiri. They have broadly similar levels of Iran_N (15 to 30 %), Steppe_EMBA (49 to 67 %) & Onge (15 to 25 %) as per the qpAdm modelling in table S11. Fst distances also indicate that they are quite closely related. For example, the Fst distance between Rors and Pamiris (0.0069), Pashtuns (0.0057) & Tajiks (0.0058) is similar to Fst distances of Rors with neighbouring groups like Kamboj (0.0088), Gujjar (0.0064), Khatri (0.0056), Brahmins (0.0052) & Kshatriyas (0.0062). Considering the fact that Rors (& perhaps Jats) haven’t probably admixed with Pamiris, Tajiks or Pashtuns since millenia, their Fst distances would have been even less initially. The other Indus Valley modern populations are also not very far off in terms of Fst distances with each other but the above groups seem to form a subset among them.
It is conceivable that an ancestral group related to these populations with similar levels of ancestry proportions as exhibited by them (but perhaps with lowel levels of AASI – since BMAC has only 5 % in comparison to Pamiris who have 15 %), spread out from North India to Central Asia and those from Central Asia venturing further towards Caucasus and from there onto the steppe.