Genetics and archaeogenetics of South Asia

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Genetics and archaeogenetics of South Asia is the study of the genetics and archaeogenetics of the ethnic groups of South Asia. It aims at uncovering these groups' genetic history. The geographic position of South Asia makes its biodiversity important for the study of the early dispersal of anatomically modern humans across Asia.


  • [A very recent study, not on crude skull types but on the far more precise genetic traits, confirms the absence of an immigration from Central Asia in the second millennium BC. Brian E. Hemphill and Alexander F. Christensen report on their study of the migration of genetic traits (with reference to AIT advocate Asko Parpola):] “Parpola’s suggestion of movement of Proto-Rg-Vedic Aryan speakers into the Indus Valley by 1800 BC is not supported by our data. Gene flow from Bactria occurs much later, and does not impact Indus Valley gene pools until the dawn of the Christian era.
    • Hemphill & Christensen: “The Oxus Civilization as a Link between East and West: A Non-Metric Analysis of Bronze Age Bactrain Biological Affinities”, paper read at the South Asia Conference, 3-5 November 1994, Madison, Wisconsin; p. 13. quoted in Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan invasion debate New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Bhalla lists a number of specific genes which are characteristically strong or weak in given racial types, and finds that they do define certain ethnic sub-groups of India, esp. the Mongoloid tribals of the northeast, the Negritos of the Andaman Islands, and the Australoids in the remaining tribal pockets of the south. Everywhere else, including in many tribal areas, the Mediterranean type is predominant, but the present battery of genetic markers was not able to distinguish between subtypes within this population, much less to indicate different waves of entry.
    • V. Bhalla: “Aspects of Gene Geography and Ethnic Diversity of the People of India”, in K.S. Singh: Ethnicity, Caste and People, P.51-60; specifically p.58. paraphrased in Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan invasion debate New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • The difference between castes can in some cases be expressed in terms of the respective distances between their average characteristics and those of the European type. And this is only to be expected given the basic fact that India is a large country with great variation in physical type and lying in the border zone between the major races. The rich biological variety in the Indian chapter of the human species is due to many factors, but so far the Aryan Invasion has not been shown to be one of them.
  • [Kenneth A.R. Kennedy reaches similar conclusions from his physical-anthropological data:] “Evidence of demographic discontinuities is present in our study, but the first occurs between 6000 and 4500 BC (a separation of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic populations of Mehrgarh) and the second is after 800 BC, the discontinuity being between the peoples of Harappa, Chalcolithic Mehrgarh and post-Harappan Timargarha on the one hand and the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age inhabitants of Sarai Khola on the other. In short, there is no evidence of demographic disruptions in the northwestern sector of the subcontinent during and immediately after the decline of the Harappan culture. If Vedic Aryans were a biological entity represented by the skeletons from Timargarha, then their biological features of cranial and dental anatomy were not distinct to a marked degree from what we encountered in the ancient Harappans.
    • K.A.R. Kennedy: “Have Aryans been identified in the prehistoric skeletal record from South Asia?”, in George Erdosy, ed.: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p.49. On p.42, Kennedy quotes the suggestion that “not only the end of the [Harappan] cities but even their initial impetus may have been due to Indo-European speaking peoples”, by B. and F.R. Allchin: The Birth of Indian Civilization, Penguin 1968, p. 144. quoted in Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan invasion debate New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • [Kennedy also notes the anthropological continuity between the Harappan population and that of the contemporaneous Gandhara (eastern Afghanistan)101 culture, which in an Aryan invasion scenario should be the Indo-Aryan settlement just prior to the Aryan invasion of India:] “Our multivariate approach does not define the biological identity of an ancient Aryan population, but it does indicate that the Indus Valley and Gandhara peoples shared a number of craniometric, odontometric and discrete traits that point to a high degree of biological affinity.”
  • Detailed anthropometric surveys carried out among the people of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal and Tamil Nadu revealed significant regional differences within a caste and a closer resemblance between castes of different varnas within a region than between sub-populations of the caste from different regions. On the basis of analysis of stature, cephalic and nasal index, H.K. Rakshit (1966) concludes that ‘the Brahmins of India are heterogeneous and suggest incorporation of more than one physical type involving more than one migration of people’.... “A more detailed study among eight Brahmin castes in Maharashtra on whom 18 metric, 16 scopic and 8 genetic markers were studied, revealed not only a great heterogeneity in both morphological and genetic characteristics but also showed that 3 Brahmin castes were closer to non-Brahmin castes than [to the] other Brahmin castes. P.P. Majumdar and K.C. Malhotra (1974) observed a great deal of heterogeneity with respect to OAB blood group system among 50 Brahmin samples spread over 11 Indian states. The evidence thus suggests that varna is a sociological and not a homogeneous biological entity.”
    • K.C. Malhotra: “Biological Dimensions to Ethnicity and caste in India”, in K.S. Singh: Ethnicity, Caste and People, Manohar, Delhi 1992, p.65. Reference is to H.K. Rakshit: “An Anthropometric Study of the Brahmins of India”, in Man in India #46; and P.P. Majumdar & K.C. Malhotra: OAB Dynamics in India: A Statistical Study, Calcutta 1974. quoted in Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan invasion debate New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • [In the past, the Caucasian presence was also in evidence:] “Although a large number of prehistoric sites have been excavated in India, only a few of them have yielded human osseous remains (…) None of the pre-Mesolithic sites have yielded skeletal material; the earliest remains are around 8,000 years old. An examination of the morphological features of skeletons from sites of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and iron age periods reveals the presence of Australoids and Caucasoids in all the periods, the absence of Mongoloids, and the existence of at least two types of Caucasoids, the dolichocephals and the brachycephals (…) The skeletal evidence thus clearly establishes the presence of Australoids and Caucasoids in India for at least 8,000 years.
  • [In fact, no “entry” of these Mediterranean Caucasians can be derived from the data, certainly not for the post-Harappan period. According to an older study, they were present even in South India in 2,000 BC at the latest:] “The evidence of two racial types, the Mediterranean and the Autochthonous proto-Australoid, recognized in the study of the skeletal remains from the neolithic levels at Brahmagiri, Piklihal, Tekkalakota, Nevasa etc., seems to suggest that there was a thick population consisting mainly of these two races in South India around 2000 BC.”
  • “The Vedda, the Melano-Indians and the Indus people and the actual inhabitants of the northern half of India, which classical anthropology used to class as Mediterraneans, all belong to one same human ‘current’ of which they manifest the successive ‘waves’. Everything indicates, physical traits as well as geographical distribution, that the Vedda have arrived first, followed by the Melano-Indians, and then the Indus people.”... “The Italian anthropologist [Mario Cappieri] has emphasized not only that the skulls of Mohenjo Daro resemble those of today’s Sindh and those of Harappa resemble those of today’s Panjab, but even that the individual variability is identical today to what it was four thousand years ago.”
  • English anthropologists contended that the upper castes of India belonged to the Caucasian race and the rest drew their origin from Australoid types. The survey has revealed this to be a myth. ‘Biologically and linguistically, we are very mixed’, says Suresh Singh (…) The report says that the people of India have more genes in common, and also share a large number of morphological traits. ‘There is much greater homogenization in terms of morphological and genetic traits at the regional level’, says the report. For example, the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu (esp. Iyengars) share more traits with non-Brahmins in the state than with fellow Brahmins in western or northern India. (…) The sons-of-the-soil theory also stands demolished. The Anthropological Survey of India has found no community in India that can’t remember having migrated from some other part of the country.” Internal migration accounts for much of India’s complex ethnic landscape, while there is no evidence of a separate or foreign origin for the upper castes.
  • The anthropologists who have recently described the skeletons from Harappa remark that there, as at Lothal, the population would appear, on the available evidence, to have remained more or less stable to the present day.
  • I frowned when I saw genetic findings being mustered as proof against the linguistic AIT. Confusing language movements with demographic movements was a childhood disease of Indo-European linguistics before 1945. Especially after Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), race thinking came to dominate the Humanities. There were warnings from Indo-Europeanists, including the much-maligned Friedrich Max Müller, to maintain the distinction, but the public and many professionals started speaking of “the Aryan race”, not in the vague sense common earlier (race = any group of hereditary belonging, from family to nation and race to humanity, Sanskrit jāti), but in the biological sense. After 1945, this went completely out of fashion in the West, but in India, not encumbered with the guilt about Nazi racism, time has stood still.... Other activist Hindus, by contrast, feel vindicated in their long-standing support for the AIT. Indeed, there exists a casteist-racist fringe among Brahmins who feel flattered by the claim that they descend from foreign conquerors and that they imposed the caste system as a racial Apartheid system. Outsiders including Joseph may not know about this, but any defence of the AIT plays into the hand of the most regressive elements of Hindu society. In the West too, the AIT is not only an unassailable orthodoxy in academe, it also serves as ideological backbone for some remaining racist ideologues... Many geneticists themselves don’t properly understand the Aryan debate, already two centuries old before genetics became a useful instrument in reconstructing migrations in history. The first studies in this field, finding e.g. that some genes were strikingly common between North India and Eastern Europe, contained conclusions that were at best not in conflict with the Aryan invasion scenario but did not prove it at all. In casu, they may at that stage have shown up grounds for either an India-to-Europe movement or a Europe-to-India movement without being able to decide between the two. Yet, they concluded in favour of the AIT because they retrofitted their own newfound data into the theory that, they heard, had already been proven by the linguists.... This is the so-called “circular argument of authority”: first you feed an expert a story, then he himself comes out with that same story, and then you can claim that your own little story has been confirmed by a world expert, thus giving it more authority. ... In the Aryan debate, the same thing has happened: the AIT viewpoint is first fed to experts from other fields, such as genetics, and then these view the data in their own field through the glasses which their partisan friends have put on their noses. The geneticists quoted here, both in their original papers and in the quotes from interviews, clearly have no independent grasp of the Aryan debate. ... Though the geneticists certainly live up to the scientific method when it comes to handling genetic data; when they approach the AIT as possible explanation, they become mere followers of convention.... But note that the scientists admit that they have not studied the link between their genetic data and the identification of the purported migrants as Indo-European: this is only “attributed” and “inferred”, meaning “borrowed on trust from our Indo-Europeanist informers”, all of them wedded to the AIT. They do not make a professional claim for the AIT, that is only a speculative afterthought, merely for genetically attested movements.... The geneticists he has quoted here may not be the publicity-seeking types who like to make bold statements. Nonetheless, their belief in an all-male incursion into India that has left traces in the Y-genes may well have substantial ramifications for Indian history, even by implying an Aryan invasion. And while none of them has been quoted as actually having proven, through his research, an Indo-European invasion, it is still possible that some of them do think so. Or, because of the present commotion over Joseph’s article, they may step back to make up their minds, now with a better grasp of the Aryan origins question, and finally conclude that what they have proven, does imply the Aryan invasion. It will take argumentative acumen and a serious research effort to convince them otherwise.
    • Elst, Koenraad (2018). Still no trace of an Aryan invasion: A collection on Indo-European origins.
  • Recent work suggests that the supposed Aryan invasion of India 3,000-4,000 years ago was much less significant than is generally believed.
    • Todd R. Disotell (“Human evolution: the southern route to Asia”), quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.
  • This neatly fits the earlier findings of non-genetic (morphological) physical anthropology, viz. that the population type of northwestern India has remained the same for at least 8,000 years.... In deference to established Indological opinion, the biologists make a perfunctory nod toward the “supposed” Aryan invasion, only to state that they have found no evidence for this popular supposition: “Their low frequency [i.e. of the West-Asia-related genes] but still general spread all over India plus the estimated time scale does not support a recent massive Aryan invasion, at least as far as maternally inherited genetic lineages are concerned.”
    • Current Biology (London), vol.9, nrs.22 and 24, by T. Kivisild et al. (“Deep common ancestry of Indian and Western-Eurasian mitochonrdial DNA lineages”), quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.with quote of “Deep common ancestry of Indian and Western-Eurasian mitochonrdial DNA lineages”
  • "If pastoralists arrived recently, based upon linguistic and religious evidence on a track from the north via Bactria, S. Tajikistan and N.Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush into the N. Pakistan plains one would expect to see L3-M357 in India. Although this haplogroup occurs with an intermediate frequency in Pakistan (6.8%), it is very rare in India (0.4%)".
    • Sanghamitra Sengupta et al. 2006. “Polarity and Temporality of High Resolution Y-Chromosome Distributions in India”, publication in American Journal of Human Genetics (vol 76).

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