The Sintashta were swarthy

One of the things that I’ve always been curious about is why some Indian populations are not fairer in complexion if they had so much steppe. The logic here is that the “most steppe population” are peoples such as the Lithuanians, and these are very fair-skinned groups. If, for example, North Indian Brahmins were ~30% steppe, and these steppe people looked like Lithuanians, wouldn’t we see more blondes in northern India?

I’ve posted on this before, but after today’s conversation with Vagheesh, I checked the data on his Sintashta samples on the Hiris-Plex pigmentation panel. Pigmentation prediction in ancient populations are pretty sketchy…but the Sintashta are actually not that different from many modern Northeast Europeans.

Spot-checking some major loci where Europeans are very distinct,  such as KITLG, OCA2-HERC2, and SLC45A2, it is clear to me that the Sintashta were much more darkly complected than modern Northern Europeans.

To give a concrete example, rs16891982 in SLC45A2 is at 2% minor allele frequency in British 1000 Genomes samples (3% in Tuscans, 18% in Spaniards). The minor allele frequency is 12.5% in 64 Sintashta chromosomes.

The derived SNP associated with blonde hair in Northern Europeans, and found at about 20% frequency in those populations, was found in none of the 32 calls where that position was returned.

I doubt the Sintashta were very dark. Rather, their pigmentation was probably more in the range of Southern Europeans like Sardinians if I had to bet.

(one of the implications here is that the results which indicate strong selection for lighter complexion in Northern Europeans into historical times are probably detecting something real)

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Browncast Episode 66, ancient India and DNA with Vagheesh Narasimhan

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at 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. I am toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

This show is an interview with Vagheesh Narasimhan. The two papers are freely available at his website. Many of the papers mentioned are at the Reich lab website (free). We do mention a Southeast Asia ancient DNA paper that is from the Willerslev group.

I do recommend The Horse The Wheel and Language. It’s a little out of date but take it seriously, not literally.

Kushal Mehra’s interview with Niraj Rai worth a listen.

An article on the reception to the research within India.

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Kushal Mehra interviews Niraj Rai


Definitely watchable, and Kushal actually lets Niraj talk at length! Though the Hindi sections are Greek to me.

On the whole Rai and I agree on the genetic data. But there are disagreements that I have on interpretations of the words like “invasion.” I had long imagined the genetic and cultural impact of Aryans to be somewhere between the Anglo-Saxon and Vandals. In the former case, there was a large impact (though most of the genomes of modern Britons date to the pre-German Britons!). In the latter case, we have a historical record of a literal invasion, a folk-wandering of Vandals (along with a rump of the Alans) into North Africa. But the genetic and long-term cultural impact was minimal.

Finally, there is a lot of discussion about the R1a paper that Indian researchers have been working on for years showing lots of diversity within South Asia, and supposed basal lineages. This paper has been talked about for many years, so I’ll believe its publication is imminent when it is published.

Note: talking to Vageesh in 30 minutes.

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Calvinism, atheism, and Hinduism


A journalist associated with NPR made some prejudiced comments about Hinduism, and she is probably going to get in trouble. By the name, her background is that of a South Asian Muslim.

One of my immediate reactions is that this sort of comment about Hinduism is very common among South Asian Muslims. Growing up people would joke about Hindus drinking piss and obsessing over cow dung all the time. This is a widespread private comment, and this woman’s mask just dropped in public.

But, there is another aspect that emerged in discussion with a Hindu reader of this blog: the Muslims making these sort of jokes were not the very pious, but the more liberal and secular sort. Extremely religious Muslims did not talk about Hinduism in jocular terms, because they feared Hinduism.

This actually goes back something foundational in the Abrahamic religions, and that is the Hebrew suspicion and fear of foreign gods. Note that in the Hebrew Bible the Israelites repeatedly turned away from Jehovah, and sacrificed to the gods of the Canaanites. These religions and cults were tempting. The original Hebrews were clearly henotheistic, not monotheistic in a deep metaphysical sense. They did not reject the existence of other gods but were devoted to a particular god, their own tribal god.

In the Greco-Roman period, Jewish and Christian thought took the next step: they demonized the gods who were not their God. When I say they demonized the gods who were not their God, I mean demonized in a literal sense. The early Christians believed that the pagans worshipped demons, who were deceiving humans as to their true nature. These religions were not false religions because people worshipped the non-existent, but because they worshipped evil or deceptive beings who were not the true God.

There are still Christians who hold to the old ways. Some evangelical Protestants believe they are in a spiritual “war” with devils who are all around us. Which brings me to Calvinism. There is a line of argumentation that John Calvin and his heirs “rationalized” Christianity to such an extent that they drained the demons and supernatural from the universe. They were atheists and materialists except for the exception of their one God and his retinue.  This was a sharp break with the older Christian tradition, whereby the gods of other religions were false gods, but real gods (after a fashion).

I don’t know what I think about this argument, though it seems plausible. But, the sort of Muslim who makes fun of Hindus has been shaped by this way of thinking. They do not fear Hinduism. They do not think that Hindus believe in anything real. Their gods are no-gods. In contrast, many devout Muslims believe Hindus worship devils.

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Questions for Vagheesh

In ~48 hours I will be recording a podcast with Vagheesh Narasimhan, first author of The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia, and the second author of An Ancient Harappan Genome Lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian Farmers. We’ll have lots to talk about but open to taking questions from readers as well.

As per usual I’ll be posting it for patrons first.

(I’m also recording a podcast with ex-academic Justin Murphy)

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The intrusive Indo-Aryans had a huge demographic impact on South Asia

At the bottom of this post, I have posted a reformatted version of a table from the supplemental of The Formation of Human Populations in South and Central Asia. It shows a model of three hypothetical ancestral groups which contribute to the variation of modern South Asians:

  • AHG_related, a group distantly related to modern Andamanese
  • Indus_Periphery_Pool_related, a group that is roughly equivalent to the IVC population variation
  • Central_Steppe_MLBA_related, which indicates affinity to populations such as the Sintashta and Andronovo pastoralists

One of the things that people are doing is looking at “Central_Steppe_MLBA_related” as proxy-for Indo-Aryans. This is not totally wrong…but it is misleading. This fraction to me is indicative of the floor of the contribution of Indo-Aryans into modern Indians. Let me quote from the paper:

We next characterized the 2000 BCE Steppe Cline, represented in our analysis by 117 individuals dating to 1400 BCE – 1700 CE from the Swat and Chitral districts of northernmost South Asia (Fig. 2, Fig. 4). We found that we could jointly model all individuals on the Steppe Cline as a mixture of two sources albeit different from the two sources in the earlier cline. One end is consistent with a point along the Indus Periphery Cline. The other end is consistent with a mixture of about 41% Central_Steppe_MLBA ancestry and 59% from a subgroup of the Indus Periphery Cline with relatively high Iranian farmer-related ancestry ((13), Fig S50).

It seems very likely that a substantial proportion of the ancestry of the Indo-Aryans when they entered Punjab was already mixed with “Iranian-related” ancestry from further north and west. In the table below 13% of the Patel ancestry is from Central_Steppe_MLBA. All of this is from “Indo-Aryans,” but I assume some of the 60% Indus_Periphery_Pool is probably from Indo-Aryans as well.

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Our history is serious and not a game

Some of you are probably not amused by the jokes I try to make about AIT and Lord Indra. I hope it’s pretty clear I’m not serious about all of this…it’s just that people take these issues so seriously.

I’ve changed my mind on the “peopling of India” question several times since I began to take a genetic interest in the topic around the year 2000. That’s because the genetic and archaeogenetic technology and data has gotten better and better with every passing year. We can answer questions with power and precision that we couldn’t even imagine asking a few years ago.

Some of you are asking questions that are already answered in the supplements of the Narasimhan paper. From page 260:

With respect to South Asia, our key finding is that people with ancestry like the Kushan individuals can be excluded as important sources of the Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry that is widespread in South Asia today. In particular, the East Asian-related admixture (via Steppe_LBA ancestors) that characterized the Kushan individuals is nearly absent in South Asia. We formally confirmed this inference through qpAdm modeling that excludes the Kushan individuals, as well as nearly all the other Iron Age and historical period individuals from other cultural contexts that were published in two recent studies (29, 30) as plausible sources for the Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry in South Asia (Fig S 50).

Though culturally and historically significant, like the Muslims, the earlier steppe people that are prominent in Indian history don’t seem to have made a major genetic impact.

The question has been answered. And that’s good.

In the comments below some readers are asking about whether arguments have been won. Knowledge and science proceed through argument. But let me be clear here: I am not invested in a particular outcome, I am haunted by the possibility that we can know the truth of things. As a child, I was fascinated by history, but I always knew that I was going to go into science, because science progresses, while history circles in argumentation. What ancient DNA has done has been to illuminate the darkness of the demographic past. This is not the totality of human history, but it serves to provide a critical and precise scaffold on the questions we ask and the answers we come to.

The American Academy is so ideologically blinkered and biased that I am not going to throw stones any longer when I see people in other nations engaging in this sort of behavior. This is the world we live in. Knowledge is not furthered through institutions in anything more than a proximal manner. The results, the data, are out there. We need to grasp them and interpret them for ourselves. The truth is ours. If we choose to take it.

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