Tibeto-Burmans, Munda, and Bengalis

By Razib Khan 23 Comments

I’m pretty sure I posted this Chaubey lab work as a preprint, but it’s now a published paper. For those who can’t understand the table, it illustrates a big difference between Tibeto-Burmans and Munda. The samples from Bangladesh look to be generic Bangladeshis, the 10% frequency for O2a seems to match the other data I’ve seen for East Bengalis.

This confirms that the East Asian admixture into Bengalis was not Munda. And, the Tibeto-Burmans of the nTibeortheast have no assimilated Munda ancestry. I think it does lend more credence to the idea that the Munda arrived in the Indian subcontinent across the Bay of Bengal, landing in Odisha, rather than from the northeast.


The rise of Indicus!

By Razib Khan 25 Comments

A few years ago an ancient DNA paper on cattle was published, Ancient cattle genomics, origins, and rapid turnover in the Fertile Crescent. It’s a pretty good paper with interesting results. The paper confirmed pretty strikingly that there was a punctuated and massive expansion of indicus ancestry across the Near East between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago.

The interesting aspect of cattle is that there are really two species that intermix. Using mtDNA researchers estimate indicus and taurus diverged 300,000 to 2,000,000 years ago. But the main thing you have to remember is cattle generations are about 20% as long as human generations. So 300,000 cattle years are equivalent to 1.5 million human years. And, for technical reasons (smaller effective population size) one should probably assume mtDNA underestimates the divergence.

Ancient cattle from the Near East are all taurus. The PCA plot shows that most of the variance is on PC 1 which separates indicus and taurus (a secondary dimension is PC 2, between African and Near Eastern/European lineages). The figure at the top of this post shows that there is a massive jump in genome-wide indicus ancestry across the Near East between 2000 and 1500 BC. As the authors note this can’t be diffusion; the jump is too sudden and sweeping.

So what happened during this period? As noted in the paper: Bronze Age civilization almost collapsed around ~2000 BC. More concretely, after 2000 BC is when we see evidence of Indo-Europeans in the Near East. The Indo-Aryan Mittani show up in Mesopotamia in ~1600 BC. The Indo-European Hittites, the Nesa, are known from Anatolia a bit earlier.

This is also the period that small, but detectable, levels of “steppe” ancestry show up in some ancient samples.

Before this paper, I would have leaned to the position that the Mittani Indo-Aryans migrated directly from the Sintashta homeland without much contact with Indian Indo-Aryans. These data are too suggestive of a widespread zone of expanding agro-pastoralists that existed between western South Asia and the Near East between 2000 BC and 1500 BC.

One of the things we know from the barbarian period during the Fall of Rome is that barbarian groups had strong channels of information flow. For example, a group of Saxons arrived with the Lombards in Italy in the second half of the 6th century. But, through various channels, these Saxon warriors learned that their co-ethnics had established dominance in what was to become England, and there are texts which allude to the reality that they decamped and crossed the Alps, presumably on the way to what was going to be England. The point here is that there was a “Saxon international.”

Aside from the Mittani the evidence of Indo-Aryans in the Near East is tenuous, though some of the Kassites of Babylonia may have had Indo-European affinities. There is not nearly as strong a genetic imprint of steppe in the Fertile Crescent as in Northwest India. The Hittites were very different from Indo-Aryans, who seem to have the closest relationship to the Slavic language family.

The indicus breed is adapted to tropical dry climates. It seems plausible that the Indo-Aryan international facilitated the spread of this breed in the centuries before 1500 BC.


Population structure in West Bengal and Bangladesh

By Razib Khan 15 Comments

The Genomes Asia 100K has put their Indian paper out. It’s OK, and mostly focuses on the fact that Indians are enriched for inbreeding vis-a-vis other world populations. There are several layers to this. In some cases, as among South Indian Hindus and Muslims, there is cousin-marriage. But, in other cases, for example, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, there seem to be extreme bottleneck effects due to delimited marriage networks. Finally, even among large population groups, such as Iyers, there seems to be some elevation of runs of homozygosity due to endogamy.

But that’s really not what I’m interested in. This preprint has a lot of Bengalis from Birbhum district in West Bengal of various castes. The UMAP (an advance over PCA in some ways) figures aren’t super informative, but you can see that their pooled sample recapitulates the Indian subcontinent. In fact, West Bengals on the whole are to the “west” of Bangladesh samples. Totally unsurprisingly.

The main reason I’m putting this post up is the UMAP plot below. It’s hard to read (they will clean it up for final publication), and I don’t know all the castes (I’m assuming “Nabasudra” is a typo). But some things that jump out

1) Bengali Brahmins are distinct.

2) Kayastha are generic West Bengalis.

3) Some of the West Bengal samples are in the Bangladesh (collected from Dhaka) distribution. These are probably descendants of Bangal migrants from the east.

4) Some groups are very distinct. That’s partly due to strong endogamy, and in the case of Santhals high East Asian ancestry (they’re Munda). Other groups are less distinct. The “Namasudra” seem to be two groups. One overlaps with the main Bengali cluster (slight bias toward Bangladeshis), while a second group is shifted toward Scheduled Castes.

I assume readers can make more heads or tails of this, as I don’t know much about caste in West Bengal (and yes, the figure is very badly labeled/colored; this is a preprint)

Addendum: Not comments about Jatts please. I will delete them.


Ancient Pakistanis were Hindu

By Razib Khan 20 Comments

Over at my other blog, Pakistani British Are Very Much Like Indians Genetically. The title doesn’t refer to genome-wide worldwide affinities. Rather, the preprint looks at British Pakistanis, and finds a pattern that is not going to surprise Indians: endogamy seems to have kicked in for these groups starting 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. This is exactly what you see in the Indian jati data. The similarity is pretty incredible, and to me is a strong rejection of the model that these groups were strongly anti-caste so on the margins of Indic civilization.

There is a second wave of endogamy though, dated from 150-500 years ago, roughly. I think this is likely Islamicization and adherence to cousin-marriage. These Pakistani groups seem to show the tendency of jati endogamy common among Hindus, and, cousin-marriage patterns of the Islamic world.

Finally, the reason I posted over on the other blog is that I think this might speak to the long-term trajectories of Bangladesh and Pakistan: Bangladesh is not in the same mold as Indo-Pak societies. The 1000 Genomes data indicate few runs of homozygosity and not much internal structure. That is, no jati endogamy, and, low levels of cousin-marriage.

If you believe Joe Henrich, this means good things for Bangladesh in the future… (vs. Pakistan)

(the Henrich podcast is already available for Patrons)


Kashmiri Brahmins are just like other Kashmiris

By Razib Khan 14 Comments

I think I’ve posted this before, but it was a while ago before we had so many readers. In this paper they took 15 random Kashmiris from the Valley, and compared them to various populations. The plot below, as well as admixture analysis in the paper, shows no daylight between the Pandit samples and generic Muslim Kashmiris.

This is not to say Pandits are not an endogamous community and were not before the Islamicization of Kashmir. But, it is to say that in their overall genome their origins are exactly the same as other Kashmiris. This is in contrast to many parts of India in regards to Brahmins, though the “stylized fact” seems to be the further north and west you go, the smaller the genome-wide difference between Brahmins and non-Brahmins will be. This seems to comport with the idea that Brahmins are intrusive to the south and east in a way they are not to the north and west.

Finally, the data from ancient DNA is strongly suggestive of “AASI-reflux” across north and west South Asia after 3000 BC. See my post The Aryan Integration Theory (AIT).


What do we call the Ancient Ancestral North Indians?

By Razib Khan 75 Comments

Commenters on this weblog have expressed dissatisfaction with the nomenclature of the “eastern Iranian farmers” who were the dominant genetic contributors to the Indus Valley People. The author of The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia agrees that this is a problem.

To review: the dominant ancestry component, called Iranian-related or eastern Iranian farmer, has two components. About 5-10% is related to “West Siberian Hunter-Gatherers”, who mostly descend from “Ancient North Eurasian” Paleo-Siberian groups (this group contributed ancestry to eastern European hunter-gatherers and Native Americans). The remainder of the ancestry is related to farming populations that are termed “Iranian” from samples in the Zagros in the early Holocene. But the genetics indicates that the separation of the Indian ancestry component dates to before farming, probably between 10-15,000 years ago. Without ancient DNA that is older, we can’t be sure of its geographic range, but it is reasonable to infer that this was an eastern expansion of hunter-gatherers out of the Zagros (seeing as how the WSHG ancestry is not found in the west, and the broader Iranian farmer clade seems to form a clade with Anatolian farmers and Levantine farmers).

But obviously the use of the term “Iranian” confuses with the nation-state of Iran.  This has come up when I use terms like “Iranian-speaking people,” and people get confused because they don’t assume that I’m talking about people who live in Russia (Ossetes), or ancient people who flourished in Xinjiang and Ukraine.

Historically modern Iran was called “Persia”, and Iran was actually more of an archaic civilizational term. But in the 20th-century the Pahlavi’s resurrected this ancient term for the nation-state, so here we are.

The question this: what is a better term for the “Iranian-related farmers”? I have often used the awkward “NW South Asia”, since it seems plausible this group was present in modern-day Pakistan by the early Holocene, and probably earlier. Thoughts?

I’m basically asking for terms and why you think those terms are good. I may adopt a term in the comments for usage on my blogs.

Note: We can’t call them “Ancient Ancestral North Indians” (AANI) since the ANI turn out to be a compound of Indus Periphery and Steppe.


The East Asian ancestry in Bengalis is probably not Munda

By Razib Khan 6 Comments

There has been some debate about the East Asian ancestry in Bengalis for decades. To me, the most parsimonious explanation 10 years ago is that it was mostly Munda. These are the Austro-Asiatic people of the highlands to the south and west of Bengal. There is also one Austro-Asiatic group to the north of Bangladesh, the Khasi.

I no longer believe this. I’ve looked at the genome-wide data and the signals into the Bangladeshis are much more like a donor population which is Tibeto-Burman. The Khasi in fact have more in common with their Tibeto-Burman neighbors than the Munda. At least genetically. This is one reason I am now leaning to the Munda maritime hypothesis, whereby the Munda actually landed on the coast of Odisha.

But there is a better smoking gun than genome-wide data. With a sample size of 700+ this 2011 paper did not identify any clearly Southeast Asian maternal haplogroups. This is probably an underestimate due to unresolved assignments, but it gives you a flavor. The majority of the Munda Y chromosomes are clearly Southeast Asian. The branch of O associated with Austro-Asiatic people. This 2018 paper using 240 Bangladeshis, with the largest samples coming from the Rangpur area in the northwest of the country, indicates a bit over 10% Southeast Asian haplogroups. This is in the range of the genome-wide admixture estimates.

It could be that in parts of West Bengal, to the south and west, the East Asian ancestry is Munda. But I am pretty skeptical, though willing to be proven wrong.

I do wish I had more non-Brahmin West Bengal samples though.

Note: I think the East Asian ancestry is probably a mix of various groups by the way. In the north clearly more Tibetan. In the southeast more Burman. The Khasi are clear vectors across much of Bangladesh.


Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu are very similar to Maharashtra Brahmins

By Razib Khan 29 Comments

I periodically get inquiries on various issues relating to the genetic position/relatedness of various “communities” in the Indian subcontinent. Thanks to the South Asian Genotype Project I’ve got a rather large database to query such questions.

A reader asked about his own community, the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu of Maharashtra. They are Kayasthas. The actress Kajol Mukherjee is also half CKP (on her mother’s side, obviously).

The PCA plots below should make it clear that the CKP is very close to the Maharashtra Brahmins I have in my samples. This is in contrast to the SKP, who are closer to Gujurati Patels.

Also, the generic Maharashtra Brahmin is closer to the CKP (there are two of these, but they are so close you can’t distinguish them) than it is the Maharashtra Sarswati Brahmin. And, these groups are a bit less “North Indian” than Tamil Brahmins.

Finally, I compared to other Kayastha and Brahmin groups. As is easy to predict, Kayasthas are genetically heterogeneous. I have two Bengali Kayastha. One of them is basically like a generic Bangladeshi. The other is between the Bangladeshis and the Bengali Brahmins on the PCA (both have lots of East Asian admixture). The UP Kayastha individual is close to the SKP, not the CKP.

Also, Guju Brahmins are very North Indian. As North Indian, or more so, than UP Brahmins.

Continue reading “Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu are very similar to Maharashtra Brahmins”


The Jats and Indo-Aryan expansion in South Asia

By Jaydeepsinh_Rathod 83 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witzel also states elsewhere in the text,

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

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

According to Talageri,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please marry me,” he requested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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