Finding Harappan ancestors

Everybody from the Indian sub-continent must have some Harappan ancestry; either those who actually lived in the heyday of the Indus-Saraswati Valley Civilisation (3300 – 1300 BC) or those who dispersed through India as that civilisation declined and intermingled with the existing populations. This intermingling over about 1000 years, of Harappans with those already settled from previously blended populations (pre and post-Toba) is probably one of the key gene dispersal mechanisms on the sub-continent.

Excavations are still adding new details but what is quite clear is that while some Harappans may have moved north-east during its decline, most of them were absorbed into India.

Deciphering Harappan scriptThe Indus-Saraswati Valley civilisation reached its peak around 1,900 BCE. It had been flourishing there for over a millennium from about 3300 BCE. But various proto-Harappan cultures had existed in those fertile plains for almost 4,000 years before that (from about 7,000BCE). At their peak they occupied the entire Indus -Saraswati Valley and stretched as far as the Indo-Gangetic plain. At its peak there were some 1,000 settlements and at least 5 “great” cities that we now know of; Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Ganweriwala, Rakhigarhi and Dholavira. None of these are truly coastal and it is not improbable that one or perhaps two “great” coastal cities are now submerged and waiting to be discovered. Only about 10% of the known sites have been investigated and the Indus Valley script – which I call Harappan for convenience – has yet to deciphered.

… In my narrative it is the Harappans and their language which provided the nucleus for, and eventually became, the family of Dravidian languages. In fact it is probable that some of the roots of what became Hinduism came also with them. I would even suggest that the specialisation of functions (administrators, priests, traders, craftsmen and labour) that must have existed in the meticulously planned, water-resourceful, trading cities of the Indus-Saraswati Valley led to the foundation of guilds and a stratified society. That probably laid the foundations of the caste system which, in its perverted form, currently disgraces the subcontinent.

Andrew Robinson looks at the state of the decipherment of the Harappan script in Nature.

Nature 526, 499–501 (22 October 2015) doi:10.1038/526499a.

Where the Harappans probably went

Where the Harappans probably went


About ktwop

Scientist, technologist, salesman, manager, executive and now a consultant and author.
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5 Responses to Finding Harappan ancestors

  1. Yohan says:

    Thanks! I really enjoy your blog. I’ve been subscribing for maybe over a year now.

    I’m curious. I’ve always thought that the Saraswati river was a semi-mythical river — and also one that the Hindu right wing in India wants to insists was a real river. Is it now a mainstream concept?

    • ktwop says:

      I don’t think there is any doubt now that the Saraswati existed, and its path and tributaries have been pretty well mapped. My hypothesis (actually more a narrative) is that the two great rivers in a region that may have been called The land of the Seven Rivers was probably instrumental in providing the abundance that allowed the Civilization to flourish. ( But more importantly I think that the demise of the Civilization was a gradual affair over a 1000 year period as the Saraswati dried up. The people followed the water and moved east and south. It is likely that some of the northern tributaries of the Saraswati then are now flowing into the Ganges. There must be a reason why settlements existed from about 7000 BCE, the civilization then flourished at a “peak” in that location for 2000 years and then just “disappeared”. All without any remains indicating a war-like or militaristic culture.

      • Yohan says:

        Cool! So perhaps it’s just the name ‘Saraswati’ that should be controversial. It comes from Vedic religion, after all, and may have no connection with the Harappan civilization.

      • ktwop says:

        Harrappa pre-dates the Vedas. What the rivers were called in their time we don’t know. It had pretty well dried up by the time the Vedas call it “Saraswati”. The Vedas are probably remembering the “good old days” and provide a faint hint of a memory from the heights of the Indus/Saraswati Valley Civilisation.The Harrappans had something similar to a Shivalingam well before the Vedas. In my narrative, the Vedic religion is itself an amalgam of many influences including a big chunk from Harrappa. Probably the peoples we call proto-Dravidian are themselves an amalgam of Harrappans (after the fall) mixing with those who already were present in Southern India. It seems likely that the language spoken by the Harrappans (long gone now) had a major influence on the proto-Dravidian language which itself pre-dates Tamil. But then the Harrappan successors and many subsequent waves of influx (not invasions) from the Northwest gave rise to the the myths of “Aryan” invasions. At least that is my narrative.
        I am not a professional archaeologist/anthropologist/linguist so I need a narrative to hang together.
        I discount the Hindu Nationalists and the Dravidian Nationalists except as a source of some humour. (After all Shakespeare was actually a Tamil Brahmin called Sheshappa Iyer!!)

  2. Yohan says:

    The reason linking the Saraswati with any river in India is iffy is because there is evidence that the earliest Vedas were written prior to the arrival of Aryans in India. I cam across an interesting argument that the early Vedic people were unaware of tigers and rhinos, so they must have been at best on the margins of India. But the Harappans knew about these animals:

    Plus the location of the Saraswati river is still controversial:

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