The peopling of the Indian sub-continent

I have a macro-picture of the peopling of the sub-continent that seems plausible and consistent with current evidence. The entire sub-continent was peopled by hominin peoples long before the Toba eruption of 74,000 years ago. Whether any survived after the eruption is debatable but tools found above the ash layers suggest that some did. Whether these pre-Toba hominin were AMH (anatomically modern humans) or a precursor to AMH or an extinct branch is also uncertain. However the indications that there were many waves of AMH out of Afric-Arabia from about 110,000 years ago and later, suggests to me that there was an initial wave (waves?) which reached the sub-continent (and points further east) before the Toba eruption. Most but not all of these perished then, but some probably survived. Further waves of AMH arrived post-Toba (70- 50,000 years ago) and probably in many waves from the North-West. The settlements which later became the Indus-Saraswati Valley civilisation started arriving in the North West from a fertile Persian Gulf (where sea levels were 50 – 100 m lower than today) after the end of the last glaciation around 10 – 12,000 years ago. These were the first real agriculturalists and they gradually assimilated or displaced the existing populations southwards. The existing populations at that time were already admixtures of several waves of pre-Toba and post-Toba migrations. The migrants from the North-West brought with them the proto-Indo-European language which later became Sanskrit. The displaced peoples took away with them their own proto-Dravidian languages already to some extent infected with some proto-Indo-European. It was with desertification of the Thar that the Indus-Saraswati Valley civilisation (the Harappans) disappeared, most probably by gradual dissemination south and east over a period of some 1,000 years. The influence of the Harappans was probably being disseminated south and east along the waterways even at the height of their civilisation (5,000 years ago).

This looks like a sign of the arrival of the first Indo-European speakers, who arose amongst the Bronze Age peoples of the grasslands north of the Caucasus, between the Black and Caspian Seas.  They were male-dominated, mobile pastoralists who had domesticated the horse ……

I suspect that the origins of Hinduism and guild-based caste system lies here in the clash and interaction and intermixing of the proto-Dravidian speaking hunter gatherers and the Indo-European speaking agricultarlists, with the Indis-Saraswati Valley being the melting pot rather than a battle ground.

A new paper looks at the genetic chronology of the sub-continent based on present day genes.

Marina Silva et al,  A genetic chronology for the Indian Subcontinent points to heavily sex-biased dispersals. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 2017; 17 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12862-017-0936-9

University of Huddersfield press release

IN addition to its vast patchwork of languages, cultures and religions, the Indian Subcontinent also harbours huge genetic diversity.  Where did its peoples originate?  This is an area of huge controversy among scholars and scientists.  A University of Huddersfield PhD student is lead author of an article that tries to answer the question using genetic evidence.

A problem confronting archaeogenetic research into the origins of Indian populations is that there is a dearth of sources, such as preserved skeletal remains that can provide ancient DNA samples.  Marina Silva and her co-authors have instead focused on people alive in the Subcontinent today.

They show that some genetic lineages in South Asia are very ancient.  The earliest populations were hunter-gatherers who arrived from Africa, where modern humans arose, more than 50,000 years ago.  But further waves of settlement came from the direction of Iran, after the last Ice Age ended 10-20,000 years ago, and with the spread of early farming.

These ancient signatures are most clearly seen in the mitochondrial DNA, which tracks the female line of descent.  But Y-chromosome variation, which tracks the male line, is very different.  Here the major signatures are much more recent.  Most controversially, there is a strong signal of immigration from Central Asia, less than 5,000 years ago.

This looks like a sign of the arrival of the first Indo-European speakers, who arose amongst the Bronze Age peoples of the grasslands north of the Caucasus, between the Black and Caspian Seas.  They were male-dominated, mobile pastoralists who had domesticated the horse – and spoke what ultimately became Sanskrit, the language of classical Hinduism – which more than 200 years ago linguists showed is ultimately related to classical Greek and Latin.

Migrations from the same source also shaped the settlement of Europe and its languages, and this has been the subject of most recent research, said Marina Silva.  She has tried to tip the balance back towards India, and her findings are discussed in the article titled A genetic chronology for the Indian Subcontinent points to heavily sex-biased dispersals.  It appears in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Authors of the new article include Professor Martin Richards, who heads the University of Huddersfield’s Archaeogenetics Research Group.  Member of the group are also co-authors of another recent paper, which focuses in depth on just one of the lineages found in India, Origin and spread of mitochondrial haplogroup U7, which has just appeared in the journal Scientific Reports

Saraswati paleochannel sarkar et al nature doi -10.1038 slash srep26555

The melting pot


About ktwop

Scientist, technologist, salesman, manager, executive and now a consultant and author.
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3 Responses to The peopling of the Indian sub-continent

  1. Yohan says:

    Why do you refer to the Hindutva-approved notion of the “Indus-Saraswati” civlization? The Saraswati is a mythical river, and it’s identification is still controversial. In any case, the phrase “Indus-Sarawati” creates the impression that the IVC has been identified as a Sanskrit-speaking civilization. There is plenty of evidence that the IVC did not feature any Indo-Europeans. (See Michael Witzel’s work on the “Harrappan horse” controversy.)

    • ktwop says:

      Harappa was pre-Hindu by many millenia. The name of the second river was /is unimportant (Ghaggar/Hakra/ Saraswati) but it was hardly mythical. The valley was particularly fertile because there were two rivers – one predominantly snow-fed (the Indus) and one more monsoon fed. This is what probably allowed two crops and great stability. It was probably a shift in the south-west monsoon which led to the desertification of the Thar and the disappearance of the second river. The language in the region as the migrants (with agriculture) first came in around 8,000 BC was probably proto-Dravidian and the language being brought in was proto-Indo-European (hardly Sanskrit at that time). The seeds for Sanskrit, Hinduism and even for the current Dravidian languages were sown here. But they ke point I think is that a 2-river valley provided for the prosperity, stability and relative peace in the region which lasted many millenia.

  2. John L Kelly says:

    As a physical anthropologist, I am always keenly interested in the trials and tribulations of early humans/hominids, and trying to fill in the historical blanks that seem to elude science. One of them is the story of Into-Europeans, and how they managed to radiate outward as far, and as quickly, as they did. This may suggest over-population, but the then Middle East population density doesn’t seem to be the problem here.

    Today Göbekli Tepei seems to be the point of attention. However, the real question is why, why so many peoples would move all over Europe, Near East, India, and leave such a distinct linguistic trail that clearly preceded writing. To my mind, this would entail a nature induced diaspora. But what would have caused this mass movement?

    This question keeps leading me back to Black Sea Basin, which would have almost certainly been the cradle of agriculture, and almost certainly the center for plant and animal domestication. This huge fresh water lake, and the lowland areas around it would have been the beneficiary of good water runoff, easy irrigation, and a natural magnet for plants and animals. Its the perfect spot for the biggest agricultural revolution in history. There would have been a larger population density than anywhere else on the planet, and the cradle of civilization almost certainly began here.

    But the post-glacial rise of sea level put a swift end to all this by overflowing into the basin, and ruining things for the folks there. So, where did they go? And wherever they went, they would have certainly taken their knowledge and language with them, right?

    Its hard to perform underwater archaeology now, but in the future we will be able to unlock the mystery of the flood, which is not only historical, but biblical as well. This is where it all began, in my opinion, and the future will show that this was perhaps the single most important event in human history. If you haven’t spent time on this, I highly recommend you keep this in the back of your mind as you delve deeper into why our linguistic ancestors spread out so far, and so successfully.

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