Sharing a continent

By Razib Khan 2 Comments

25% of humans live in the Indian subcontinent. 18.5% live in China. Together that’s 43.5% of the world’s population in the two great Asian civilizations. Not a trivial number in the 21st century, especially in a nascent multipolar world.

And yet the two societies often lack a deep awareness of each other, as opposed to an almost pathological fixation on the West, and in India’s case the world of Islam.

Indians are clearly geopolitically aware of China. Obsessed even. But aside from cultural exotica (e.g., the Chinese “eat everything”), there seems to be profound ignorance.

This is illustrated most clearly when I hear Indian intellectuals aver the proud continuous paganness of their civilization. Setting aside what “pagan” means, and its applicability to the Hindu religious tradition, the key here is a contrast with the world to the west, which was impacted by a great rupture. The people of Iraq have a written history that goes back 5,000 years, but the continuity between ancient and modern people of the region is culturally minimal. Modern inhabitants of Bagdhad know on some level that their ancestors were Sumerian, but for most of them their identity is wrapped up in their religion and the lives of the Prophet and his family, or for Christians that of Jesus.

This is not the case with the majority of Indian subcontinental people, whose religious traditions and cultural memory go back further, literally to the Bronze Age at the latest. The foundational mythological cycles which define Indian culture probably date to 1000 to 1500 BC. During this time Kassites ruled Babylonia, and the Assyrians were coming into their own. Until modern archaeology, these people were only names in the Bible or in Greek historians.

But this is not only true of India. These Chinese also look to the Bronze Age Shang dynasty, and in particular, the liminal Zhou, to set the terms of their modern culture. The ancient sage kings, who likely predate the Shang, are also held in cultural esteem.

Does any of this matter? I don’t honestly know. I’m American, not India or Chinese. But perhaps it might help on some level if these two civilization-states could understand and accept that they share in common having extremely deep cultural roots apart from the revelation of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.


Open Thread – 12/05/2020 – Brown Pundits

By Razib Khan 33 Comments

Going to interview Tim Mackintosh-Smith today for the Brown Pundits podcast. He’s the excellent author of Arabs: A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes, and Empires.

I’ve posted a podcast with Karol Karpinski for patrons. Karol was stationed in Dhaka with the World Bank, and we talk about his experiences (which includes unfortunate proximity to the outbreak of ISIS-related violence in Bangladesh).

Remember the Brown Pundits reddit channel. It’s starting to finally take off. The link is always at the top-right.


The Barua Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims as inversions?

By Razib Khan 12 Comments
Barua Temple

The Barua Buddhists of Bengal are often said to be indigenous and continuous practitioners of the Buddhist religion among ethnic Bengalis. That is, they descend from the Buddhist communities of Bengali that flourished during the Pala period, and went into decline during the Muslim period, to disappear on the whole. The claim here is to indigenous status.

The Rohingya, in contrast, often make assertions that they are deeply rooted in Arakan. And, they disavow identification as Bengalis. Their language is clearly closely related to that of Chittagong, and it is not usually written in the Bengali alphabet.

Though I am open to being disproven, over the years in my research on the “Barua”, it seems that in the vast majority of cases these “Bengali Buddhists” descend from Tibeto-Burman people who adopted the Bengali language (or a Bengali-related dialect) and settled in and around Bengalis. They are concentrated in the far Southeast of Bangladesh, and often the boundary between themselves as the Theravada Buddhist Chakma, who retain tribal identity but now mostly speak Bengali, is fluid. The Barua are now Theravada Buddhists, which is the tradition of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and not ancient Bengal.

So basically what I’m saying is this: Buddhist tribal people from the east have assimilated into a Bengali identity, and claimed indigeneity through asserting affiliation with the small Barua ethno-religious group. Meanwhile, in Arakan, peasants who migrated over the last few hundred years from southeast Bengal, have rejected assimilation into the Bengali identity, unified around the standard high culture dialect, and created something distinct.


Araingang: Pakistani American nationalist and internet troll

By Razib Khan 202 Comments

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

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

In this episode, Akshar, Mukunda, and Razib discuss Pakistani and Indian nationalism with Araingang, a well-known Pakistani American nationalist on the internet. We talk about the influence of Sarvakar, the Pakistani focus on West Asia, and the inchoate nature of Pakistani nationalism.


Ancient German gotras

By Razib Khan 10 Comments

The Bell Beakers are an interesting “culture.” A Bronze Age European people defined by their beakers, their origins seem to be amongst non-Indo-Europeans in Southwest Europe. But, at some point, the motifs spread to Indo-Europeans in Central Europe, an offshoot of the Corded Ware people who had admixed further with Neolithic farmers. These Indo-Europeans are the ones who brought the Bell Beaker Culture to the British Isles. We know this because of ancient DNA.

But what was the Beaker Culture right beside their material culture? Again, ancient DNA tells us, and Indians, in particular, may find the results interesting.

Kinship and social organization in Copper Age Europe. A cross-disciplinary analysis of archaeology, DNA, isotopes, and anthropology from two Bell Beaker cemeteries:

We present a high-resolution cross-disciplinary analysis of kinship structure and social institutions in two Late Copper Age Bell Beaker culture cemeteries of South Germany containing 24 and 18 burials, of which 34 provided genetic information. By combining archaeological, anthropological, genetic and isotopic evidence we are able to document the internal kinship and residency structure of the cemeteries and the socially organizing principles of these local communities. The buried individuals represent four to six generations of two family groups, one nuclear family at the Alburg cemetery, and one seemingly more extended at Irlbach. While likely monogamous, they practiced exogamy, as six out of eight non-locals are women. Maternal genetic diversity is high with 23 different mitochondrial haplotypes from 34 individuals, whereas all males belong to one single Y-chromosome haplogroup without any detectable contribution from Y-chromosomes typical of the farmers who had been the sole inhabitants of the region hundreds of years before. This provides evidence for the society being patrilocal, perhaps as a way of protecting property among the male line, while in-marriage from many different places secured social and political networks and prevented inbreeding. We also find evidence that the communities practiced selection for which of their children (aged 0–14 years) received a proper burial, as buried juveniles were in all but one case boys, suggesting the priority of young males in the cemeteries. This is plausibly linked to the exchange of foster children as part of an expansionist kinship system which is well attested from later Indo-European-speaking cultural groups.

Gotras and exogamy. Sound familiar?


How much “steppe” ancestry is there in South Asia? (Indian subcontinent)

By Razib Khan 115 Comments

Since this question always comes up at some point, I decided to do a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation of the % steppe across the Indian subcontinent. The way I did it was by taking Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, and estimating the average percentage from the caste breakdowns (e.g., UP is 20% “upper caste” and 20% “Dalit” and 60% neither, with fractions of steppe/Sintashta about 30%, 10%, and 15%, respectively).

So the final number I came back is that 14% of the ancestry in modern-day South Asia is from the steppe in the form of people descended from Sintashta pastoralists. That is about 220 million human beings worth. You can judge whether that’s significant or not. Additionally, it looks like closer to 20-25% of the Y chromosomes are derived from these people.

I’m not “showing my work” because I think no matter how you estimate it, you’ll get a number in this range. Perhaps 12%. Perhaps 16%. But what difference does that make?


Open Thread, 11/14/2020 – Brown Pundits

By Razib Khan 127 Comments

I don’t know anything about Diwali, but Happy Holdidays! (I found out that it was Diwali this weekend from Twitter and the comments here).

A new podcast on the election results with Josiah Neeley and Richard Hanania. We get kind of spicey by the end, as I make fun of Richard making fun of Peter Turchin, and make a huge prediction about Hunter Biden’s future.