June 21, 2010
The south of Asia was the homeland of bright and famous ancient civilizations, culturally and linguistically Indo-european, especially India (of the Indo-aryan linguistical family) and Iran (formerly known as Persia, of the Iranian linguistical family).
It was at the end of the 18th century, that sir William Jones realized the relation between European languages and south Asian languages such as Sanskrit, inaugurating then the existence of the now famous Indo-european language family theory.
Latin, for instance, has many similarities with Sanskrit. Indeed, how couldn’t we link words such as vox (voc-is), “voice“ in Latin and vac in Sanskrit (also “voice” ; found in many other Indo-european languages, e.g. Tocharian vak/vek or Hittite huek), candor (“bright whiteness” in Latin ) and candra, “moon” in Sanskrit, ignis (“fire” in Latin) and agnis (“fire” in Sanskrit, Agni also being the god of fire – also ugnis in Lithuanian and ogon’ in Russian, all meaning “fire“), Latin jugum (meaning “yoke“, also derived from the same proto-indo-european word) and Sanskrit yugam, giving the word “yoga“ (also in the ancient greek zugon, Tocharian yuk or Hittite yukan, among many examples), Latin nebula and Sanskrit nabhas (but also Hittite nepiš, German nebel and Russian nebo, for instance, meaning all either “cloud“, “mist” or “sky“), or pater (“father” (a word also related) in Latin) and pitar in Sanskrit (also the ancient greek pater or Tocharian pacer, and many others). Likewise, we can find some similarities between the declension suffixes in both languages (examples : -ibus at the plural dative and ablative cases in Latin and -ebhyas in Sanskrit in the same cases).
When it became obvious that most of the languages of Europe and most of the languages of south Asia were related, then started the search for an explanation to such an astonishing geographical extent. Many theories have been erected to try to solve the puzzle of the origin of the extent of this language family and to discover the original population responsible for this situation and their ancestral homeland.
The Kurgan hypothesis explains the repartition of the Indo-european languages in Eurasia by the successive migrations of pastoralist populations living north of the black sea (in what is nowadays east Ukraine and south Russia), whose arrival is visible in the archeology. In this theory, the early Indo-iranians originated in the region between Russia and north-west Kazakhstan between 2,500 BCE and 2,000 BCE (the Abashevo culture of Russia is also considered possibly a good candidate for the origin of the proto-indo-iranian language by some (The fact that it was influential in the origin of the Sintashta site (a site just east of the Ural mountains often considered as having the oldest visible expression of indo-iranian practices) could support this view as well)) and were subsequently found in the Andronovo culture of central Asia. Also, the fact that the Andronovo culture was followed by the Indo-iranian-speaking Scythians/Sakas (who clearly seem spawned from it (there is an archaeological continuity between these cultures)) seem to clearly make this theory the most logical one.
The Gandhara grave culture of the north of Pakistan is also seen as the advance of Indo-iranian populations in south Asia. The presence of proto-Indo-iranian loanwords in Finno-ugric languages (such as Estonian and Finnish) and in languages from the east of the Caucasus can be seen as supporting this theory of the Indo-iranian ethnogenesis (Interestingly, among the terms that the ancient Finno-ugric language borrowed to the ancient Indo-iranian language seems to be the “arya” word:
“Early Proto-Indo-Iranian words that were borrowed into common Finno-Ugric included Proto-Indo-Iranian *asura- ‘lord, god’ > Finno-Ugric *asera; Proto-Indo-Iranian *medhu- ‘honey’ > Finno-Ugric *mete; Proto-Indo-Iranian *čekro ‘wheel’ (pastmists: hence sanskrit cakra)) > Finno-Ugric *kekrä; and Proto-Indo-Iranian *arya- ‘Aryan’ > Finno-Ugric *orya. Proto-Indo-Iranian *arya-, the self-designation “aryan”, was borrowed into Pre-Saami as *orja-, the root of * oarji, meaning “southwest”, and of arjel, meaning “southerner”, confirming that the Proto-Aryan world lay south of the early Uralic region. The same borrowed *arya- root developped into words with the meaning “slave” in the Finnic and Permian branches (Finnish, Komi and Udmurt), a hint of the ancient hostility between the speakers of Proto-Indo-Iranian and Finno-Ugric.”
“The Horse, the wheel, and language” by David W. Anthony (source (go to page 385 of the book by typing “197″ in the page search field))).
A spreading of the Indo-european languages in Eurasia from neolithic agriculturalist populations seems very unlikely as the proto-indo-european language had words for the wheel (examples : Latin rota, Sanskrit rathas, Irish roth and Lithuanian ratas (a root also meaning sometimes “chariot” in a few languages, like in sanskrit)) and a metal (examples: Latin aes (bronze), Sanskrit ayas (iron), Gothic aiz (brass; coin) and old Norse eir (bronze), among others), which seems to exclude, de facto, the oldest typical neolithic time. The fact that the stem for “horse” (*ekwos ; the satem version of it in Sanskrit is ‘asva‘) is also present in the original language, the proto-indo-european language (a root visible in these few examples : Latin equus, Mycenian iqo, Gaulish epos, Tokharian B yakwe or old Irish ech), also excludes both south Asia and neolithic as the geographical origin and the time of the proto-indo-europeans, as the horse was apparently absent of south Asia until the last part of bronze age (this animal (as domesticated one) was apparently also absent of south-west Asia and in a big part of Asia minor until the same historical time (informations about the horse domestication)).
The study of ancient Indo-iranian languages also seems to support an origin of this language family from outside of India (source).
The Gandhara grave culture, located in the north of Pakistan in the Swat valley, sees the arrival of the horse in south Asia during bronze age and a few points allows for a (still controversial and hypothetical) link with the early Indo-aryans. The funerary practices, for instance, show several similarities with other supposedly Indo-european practices and there are many similarities with the Andronovo culture traditions. They also could fit quite well with the RigVedic descriptions. These traditions are clearly the mark of a change in this region, at this time.
In the Kurgan theory, the first Indo-iranian-speaking populations supposedly arrived around 1,800 BC-1,600 BC in south Asia from central Asia. These populations were apparently in large part of Europoid type as hinted by several studies (see the central Asia article), which seems confirmed by the admixture estimates of south Asian populations that do have an european component even if in low quantity (examples here or here (both from dienekes.blogspot.com), or also this, from this 2011 study (“Population structure in South Asia”, metspalu et al. 2011)).
Supporting the theory of migrations from central Asia into south Asia, the presence of the very mutation (mutation T-13910 of the lactase phlorizin hydrolase (LCT) gene) providing the lactose tolerance (here more precisely the lactase persistence) among European populations is also found in south Asia, especially in the north-west of India and in south-east Pakistan (source). This clearly shows that south Asians and Europeans share a specific mutation and as such as specific relation of which west Asians are excluded (this allele is obviously only very marginal and residual among west Asians and likely the result of Indo-european migrations of little demographic impact).
A 2009 study (Kallur N. Saraswathy et al., Brief communication: Allelic and haplotypic structure at the DRD2 locus among five North Indian caste populations) also emphasized the genetic flow inherited from populations extraneous to India within the upper castes populations of north India.
The dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) gene, with its known human-specific derived alleles that can facilitate haplotype reconstruction, presents an important locus for anthropological studies. The three sites (TaqIA, TaqIB, and TaqID) of the DRD2 gene are widely studied in various world populations. However, no work has been previously published on DRD2 gene polymorphisms among North Indian populations. Thus, the present study attempts to understand the genetic structure of North Indian upper caste populations using the allele and haplotype frequencies and distribution patterns of the three TaqI sites of the DRD2 gene. Two hundred forty-six blood samples were collected from five upper caste populations of Himachal Pradesh (Brahmin, Rajput and Jat) and Delhi (Aggarwal and Sindhi), and analysis was performed using standard protocols. All three sites were found to be polymorphic in all five of the studied populations. Uniform allele frequency distribution patterns, low heterozygosity values, the sharing of five common haplotypes, and the absence of two of the eight possible haplotypes observed in this study suggest a genetic proximity among the selected populations. The results also indicate a major genetic contribution from Eurasia to North Indian upper castes, apart from the common genetic unity of Indian populations. The study also demonstrates a greater genetic inflow among North Indian caste populations than is observed among South Indian caste and tribal populations.
[pastmists : interestingly, among the populations being the closest of the north Indian upper castes, in this specific study, we find the Chuvash people (a Turkic-speaking people of Russia whose haplogroups and autosomal profile reveal they are still largely from the ancient "Europoid" autochthonous non-Turkic substrate) [the Finns and even the Russians are close too, seemingly confirming this view] living west of the Ural mountains, where was located the already mentionned Abashevo culture, during bronze age. Is this a sign that the Aryas had come from populations in this general region (and of this historical culture), or maybe more generally from a region close to the Ural mountains?]
Asko Parpola, a Finnish scholar, evokes a few points supporting the migration of Indo-iranian populations in India during bronze age in this excerpt of an interview:
Hindu.com : “Some Indian scholars feel that the Indus Civilisation is Aryan [i.e. Indo-iranian] and connected with the Rig Veda. You are a Vedic scholar and you specialise in the Indus script too. So what is your reaction to this standpoint?”
Asko Parpola : “Rigvedic hymns often speak of horses and horse-drawn chariots, and the horse sacrifice, ashvamedha, is among the most prestigious Vedic rites. The only wild equid native to the Indian subcontinent is the wild ass, which is known from the bone finds of the Indus Civilisation and depicted (though rarely) in its art and script. The domesticated horse is absent from South Asia until the second millennium BCE. Finds from Pirak and Swat from 1600 BCE show it was introduced from Central Asia after the Indus Civilisation. The earliest archaeological finds of horse-drawn chariot come from graves dated to around 2000 BCE in the Eurasian steppes, the natural habitat of the horse. There are also ancient Aryan loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages spoken in northeastern Europe (for example, the word for ‘hundred‘ in my own language Finnish is ‘sata’ [i.e. the same word than in Indo-iranian]). Some of these Aryan loanwords represent a more archaic stage of development (that is, are phonetically closer to the older Proto-Indo-European language) than Rigvedic Sanskrit. It is very likely that these words came to Finno-Ugric languages from Proto-Aryan spoken in the Volga steppes [i.e. in Russia].”
Although often contested, some sentences from the RigVeda, the oldest holy book of Hinduism, are interpretable through an ethnic lense. In this text, the enemies of the Arya, the Dasa, are often associated with the darkness and blackness and sometimes the literal words of black (or dark) skin are written.
Example from the Mandala IX, hymn 73 :
5. “Blowing away with supernatural might from earth and from the heavens the swarthy skin which Indra hates.”
which can be opposed to the following sentence from the Mandala I, hymn 100 :
18. “The mighty Thunderer [i.e. Indra] with his fair-complexioned friends won the land, the sunlight, and the waters.”
[From the Ralph T.H. Griffith translation]
A few of such instances can be found in the RigVeda.
Although rare, blue or green eyes are findable in India. The Buddha, a prince of the north of the Indian sub-continent living in the 6th century BCE and whose real name was Siddhartha Gautama, is said, in the oldest written source of Buddhism, the Pali canon, to have had very blue eyes (“abhi nila netto” literally meaning “very blue eyes“). Similarly, Bodhidharma, an Indian monk of the 6th century AD, founder of the Zen Buddhism, also credited with the martial arts tradition of the Shaolin temple, was nicknamed “the blue-eyed barbarian” by the Chinese.
In the north of Pakistan, some individuals also frequently show a strikingly europoid appearance. The most well-known of these populations where these caractheristics are visible are the Burushos of the Hunza valley (speaking a non-indo-european language, Burushaski) and the Kalash (or Kalashas, like the former name of the Nuristanis of eastern Afghanistan) a population of the Hindu-kush speaking an Indo-iranian language. The Kalash, the Burusho and the Nuristani claim to be descendants of the Alexander‘s army (another legend of the Kalash also claim a link with the Kushans) but so far the genetic tests have not found any link with Greek or Macedonian populations (Very few tracks have been found among the Pathans (a.k.a. Pashtun) of Pakistan though). It is quite possible that these south Asian populations are actually partly the visible remains of the ancient Indo-iranian populations that probably came from central Asia during bronze age and mixed with the local populations, as the DNA tests have revealed that populations of bronze age south Siberia, strongly supposed to have been early Indo-europeans, had such characteristics.
Isolated people of the Hindu Kush mountains in the north of Pakistan (in the Chitral district), the Kalash are a polytheistic ethnic group speaking the Kalash language, a Dardic language (a language group considered as a subgroup of the Indo-aryan language family) of the Indo-iranian language family. Their traditions are said to be close to the ancient pre-Zoroastrian Iranian and ancient Indian Vedic traditions.