Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

July 30, 2018

Ancient India, archaeology, etc.

Filed under: ancient india,Prehistory — Razib Khan @ 11:43 pm

I think I have asked before, but I’m soliciting suggestions about a book on Indian prehistory, with a focus on the period between 10 and 2 thousand years ago. India: The Ancient Past: A History of the Indian Subcontinent from c. 7000 BCE to CE 1200 looks decent, but I don’t have an ability to evaluate this stuff.

The reason is pretty simple. I’ve been asked to write a book chapter on the genetics of India. The draft is written, and I think we’re 80-90% done with the genetic “big picture.” The real work is going to be in synthesizing with archaeology. To be entirely frank I’m not sure how open Indian archaeologists are going to be to the new genetics, which is not stopping at any time in the near future. So I think perhaps I should see what I can snap together myself.

Anyway, suggestions appreciated. Though keep in mind that I don’t know much archaeology and don’t care that much about ancient village plans….

April 3, 2018

Not all Aryans are Indian, though most Indians are part Aryan, and most Aryan ancestry is in India

Filed under: ancient india,Aryans — Razib Khan @ 7:56 pm
Ossetian boys

This post needs to published mostly to clarify some issues in relation to terminology. The genetics is moving fast, and people are going to get overwhelmed.

First, the term Aryan, or Arya, is not exclusive to South Asia. As most of you know it was used by many (though not all!) Iranian peoples. The Indic and Iranian branches of the Indo-European language family are close enough they form a very tight clade. The only comparison might be Baltic and Slavic, though some have asserted that that is due to the fact that Baltic peoples have lived so close to Slavic peoples for such a long time.

Though in the main Iranian peoples are in close proximity to South Asia, or in West Asia (e.g., Kurds), one group is exceptional in that it has no connection to West or South Asia: the Ossetes.  These people on the northern fringes of the Caucasus are descended from Iranian steppe pastoralists who never went south. You know them as Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans.

To my knowledge these northern Iranian peoples never called themselves Arya, so perhaps the world itself was some sort of loanword? (internet resources are of differing opinions on the provenance)

Second, the division between Indo-Aryans and Iranians predates the  arrival of the latter into the Indian subcontinent and to West Asia. The latest genetic work indicates that steppe signal did not show up at BMAC until ~2000 BC. We also know that a group of Indo-Aryan provenance was in Upper Mesopatamia 1500 BC. In contrast, Iranian peoples show up to the east of Assyria ~1000 BC, and there were Iranian peoples to the north of Turan deep into antiquity (the Sarmatians who harried the Pannonian frontier were Iranian heirs to the Scythians).

The “Indo-Aryans” who were integrated into the kingdom of Mittanni/Hanigalbat may never been resident within South Asia. Where the major pulse of migration went to the India subcontinent after 2000 BC, another wave probably sent outriders to the west.

But where the Indo-Aryans in South Asia would have  encountered collapsing IVC order, the societies of West Asia bounced back reasonably from the time of troubles around the turn of millennium, when barbarians from the northern and eastern peripheries (“wild Guti”) collapsed the Third Dynasty of Ur and Semitic pastoralists took the reins of Mesopatamian civilization.

There are suggestive but very clear Indo-Aryan aspects of the Mitanni elite culture. But, by and large it was absorbed into the Hurrian substrate of the region. The analogy here might be what happened to the Turkic Bulgars in what became Bulgaria, as they were cultural absorbed by the Slavs over whom they ruled (or, the Scandinavian Rus).

Let’s call these steppe people “Aryans.” Iranians and “Indo”-Aryans.

How many are there around today? Let’s say 10% of South Asian ancestry is Aryan. This is very conservative (see this post). That’s 150 million people, 0.10 x 1.5 billion. There are ~200 Iranian speakers. There’s no way that 75% of the ancestry among this group is steppe. It is high in Turan and eastern Iran, but in populous western Iran and in Kurdistan the steppe fraction declines (Haber et al. found 7% “pure steppe” signal in Lebanon, so it’s not trivial even in western Iran, but it’s probably not going to be more than 50%).  Most of the Aryan ancestry in the world is in India.

That being said, one should not confuse South Asian culture with Aryan culture and Aryan culture with South Asia. The two are distinct. It is hard to deny that South Asian culture was strongly shaped by the Indo-Aryans; most of us (or our recent ancestors) speak an Indo-Aryan language. The Hindu priestly caste seems to have more Indo-Aryan ancestry, and some of their rituals and customs date back to the Vedic period. Only a few groups have zero evidence of steppe ancestry, even in South India.

Indus Valley artifact

But Indian culture and Indo-Aryan culture in South Asia are not exclusively Indo-Aryan. The “Hindu religion” is diverse, but it is clearly not present outside of South Asia, except as reflux as South Asian polities and peoples moved to the margins of Turan (e.g. the Shahi kings), or through cultural and demographic diffusion to Southeast Asia (there is robust evidence of Indian genetic impact in places like Cambodia and Bali).

I do not believe that Hinduism, and Indian culture more generally, can be understood without consideration of its non-Aryan component. The cultural archaeology of this is beyond the purview of this post, but I believe that like the Greeks the Indians were strongly shaped by pre/non-Indo-European currents.

As Indian culture in the 1st millennium BC can only be understood as a synthesis between Aryan culture, and non-Aryan culture, the expansion of Buddhism into other parts of Asia, and more specifically to Turan, was not just of Indianized Aryan culture, but of an Indian culture which was a synthesis of Aryan and non-Aryan. It was something new, novel, and distinctive, that was exported throughout Eurasia.

 

September 30, 2017

To be brown is to be a civilization

Filed under: ancient india,Culture,Desi,Identity — Razib Khan @ 1:01 pm


Though I often disagree with him, I do enjoy Zach’s perspective on things because they are different from mine, though we exhibit similarities (e.g., both of us generally align with the center-Right in Anglophone societies). Zach may be one of the first cosmopolitan desis in his pedigree; he, himself of part-Persian heritage, marrying a South Indian Sindhi, probably to raise a family in England. In contrast, I may be the last brown person in my pedigree for a while, fading into legend and myth (or infamy!).

But one of the things I think is important to emphasize is South Asia is a civilizational entity straight-jacketed for historical reasons into a few nation-states. Though India and China are often compared together, they are totally incomparable insofar as the Han majority of China exhibit a racial and linguistic unity which South Asians do not (even though southeast Chinese dialects are unintelligible with Mandarin, the written language is the same).

By and large, I am predisposed to agree that someone like Zach is more prototypically South Asian than I am. Despite his religious heterodoxy his cultural rootedness in the Northwest quadrant of the subcontinent does put him at the “center of the action,” so to speak. In contrast, my own family’s recent origins are on the far eastern fringe of recognizably desi territory…. That is, my family is from the eastern portion of eastern Bengal (my grandmother was almost killed by the crazy elephant of the maharani of Tripura!). It’s interesting that 3,000 years after the emergence of Iron Age South Asian cultures the fulcrum of South Asian identity is where it began all those millennia ago (there was a period between the Mauryas and the Guptas when Bihar was the center).

Talking about what is more prototypically desi is like talking about what is more prototypically “European.” Being French or German is more prototypically European than being Albanian or Russian. We could argue why, but in your heart you know it’s true. There are definitions of Europeans which exclude Albanians and Russians (even though I’d disagree with those personally), but no plausible ones which exclude French and Germans.

Finally, I do think it indicates the limits and flexibility around race and brown identity. As Zach has said repeatedly he is very light-skinned (and part Iranian to boot). Myself, I don’t think anyone would describe me as either light-skinned or dark-skinned; I’m pretty much the average South Asian in complexion. Brown. Not light brown. Or dark brown. Literally just brown. But that doesn’t really weight much in terms of who is “more desi” or not. I have never watched a Bollywood film all the way through. That matters more.

June 24, 2017

Indian genetics, part n of many

Filed under: ancient india,History,Indo-Europeans — Razib Khan @ 2:59 pm

I put up close to definitive piece for me in relation to South Asian historical population genetics. At least until new research is published. I did leave out some stuff about my own vague thoughts…but I think the takeover of Hattian and Hurrian cultures by the Nesha (Hittites) and Haryannu (Mitanni) have something to teach us….

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