Tuesday, 1 November 2011

About India and Central Asia

In the Wikipedia entry about the Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a, so popular among the fans of Indo-Europeans, something has recently changed. We find acknowledged the fact that, notwithstanding various studies suggesting a South Asian origin, still there is a resistance by some researchers:
R1a and R1a1a are believed to have originated somewhere within Eurasia, most likely in the area from Eastern Europe to South Asia. Several recent studies have proposed that South Asia is the most likely region of origin. But on the other hand, as will be discussed below, some researchers continue to treat modern Indian R1a as being largely due to immigration from the Central Eurasian steppes.”
Below, about the South Asian origin hypothesis, we read:
“A survey study as of December 2009, including a collation of retested Y-DNA from previous studies, concluded that a South Asian R1a1a origin was the most likely proposal amongst the various uncertain possibilities.[2]
On the other hand, other recent studies such as Zhao et al. (2009) continue to treat R1a in modern India as being at least partly due to immigration from the northwest associated with Indoeuropean languages and culture. One argument for this, as stated for example by Thanseem et al. (2006), is that this is implied by the uneven distribution pattern of R1a between castes and regions. Higher castes and more northerly Indian populations are considered to be more directly descended from the populations who brought Indoeuropean languages to India, and they tend to have higher levels of R1a than lower castes, and more southerly populations, while tribal castes and non Indoeuropean speaking groups tend to have the lowest frequencies of R1a. In order to explain exceptions to this pattern, these authors propose that R1a in India is also partly due to earlier movements of people from central Asia.”

Then, I decided to see this study of Zhao et al., which I did not know. The title is Presence of three different paternal lineages among North Indians: A study of 560 Y chromosomes. It concerns only North Indians, and two particular categories of North Indians: Brahmins and Muslims. We read in the introduction:
"India occupies a unique stage in human population evolution because one of the early waves of migration of modern humans was out of Africa, through West Asia, into India (Cann 2001). More recently, about 15 000–10 000 years before present (ybp), when agriculture developed in the Fertile Crescent region that extended from Israel through Northern Syria to Western Iran, there was an eastward wave of human migration (Renfrew 1989; Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). It has been postulated that this wave brought the Dravidian language into India (Renfrew 1989). Subsequently, the Indo-European (Aryan) language was introduced into India from the Iranian plateau approximately 4000–3000 ybp, where this language was probably brought by pastoral nomads from the Central Asian steppes (Renfrew 1989). Therefore, linguistic evidence suggests that West Asia and Central Asia were two major geographical sources contributing to the Indian gene pool."
So, we find the 'postulate' of the arrival of the Dravidians with agriculture from West Asia, and the 'probability' of Indo-Europeans as pastoral nomads from the Central Asian steppes. These old theories (supported here by a publication of Renfrew, accepted as authority for unknown reasons), become at the end 'linguistic evidence' which can even suggest the major sources of the Indian gene pool. This entails that linguistic speculation can give some proof about the origin of the major part of the Indian gene pool, which is not justified.    

Another significant passage:
"Furthermore, it has been reported (Cordaux et al. 2004) that the Y lineages of Indian castes are more closely related to Central Asians than to Indian tribal populations, suggesting that Indian caste groups are primarily the descendants of Indo-European migrants."
Thus, it is taken for granted that this connection means that the members of Indian castes come from Central Asia (and not that there could also be some movement from India to Central Asia), and there is an equation Central Asians=Indo-Europeans, but what do we know of the languages of Central Asia in the II millennium BC and before? Presently, many men belonging to the Hg R in Central Asia speak Turkic languages, as is acknowledged by the study itself:
"Haplogroup R reflects the impact of expansion and migration of Indo-European pastoralists from Central Asia, thus linking haplogroup frequency to specific historical events (Sengupta et al. 2006). Haplogroup R is widely spread in central Asian Turkic-speaking populations and in eastern European Finno-Ugric and Slavic speakers and is less frequent in populations from the Middle East and Sino-Tibetan regions of northern China (Karafet et al. 1999; Underhill et al. 2000)."
It is really strange that the fundamental study by Sengupta is cited to support the idea that Hg R reflects a migration of Indo-European pastoralists from Central Asia, since the main thesis of that study is that Central Asian impact in South Asia is really limited (italics are mine):
"The ages of accumulated microsatellite variation in the majority of Indian haplogroups exceed 10,000–15,000 years, which attests to the antiquity of regional differentiation. Therefore, our data do not support models that invoke a pronounced recent genetic input from Central Asia to explain the observed genetic variation in South Asia. R1a1 and R2 haplogroups indicate demographic complexity that is inconsistent with a recent single history. Associated microsatellite analyses of the high-frequency R1a1 haplogroup chromosomes indicate independent recent histories of the Indus Valley and the peninsular Indian region. Our data are also more consistent with a peninsular origin of Dravidian speakers than a source with proximity to the Indus and with significant genetic input resulting from demic diffusion associated with agriculture."
"The pattern of clustering does not support the model that the primary source of the R1a1-M17 chromosomes in India was Central Asia or the Indus Valley via Indo-European speakers. Further, the relative position of the Indian tribals (fig. 6), the high microsatellite variance among them (table 12), the estimated age (14 KYA) of microsatellite variation within R1a1 (table 11), and the variance peak in western Eurasia (fig. 4) are entirely inconsistent with a model of recent gene flow from castes to tribes and a large genetic impact of the Indo-Europeans on the autochthonous gene pool of India. Instead, our overall inference is that an early Holocene expansion in northwestern India (including the Indus Valley) contributed R1a1-M17 chromosomes both to the Central Asian and South Asian tribes prior to the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. The results of our more comprehensive study of Y-chromosome diversity are in agreement with the caveat of Quintana-Murci et al. (2001, p. 541), that “more complex explanations are possible,” rather than their simplistic conclusion that HGs J and R1a1 reflect demic expansions of southwestern Asian Dravidian-speaking farmers and Central Asian Indo-European–speaking pastoralists."  
So, even the 'postulate' of the West Asian 'agricultural' origin of Dravidians is refuted by Sengupta's study, which appears to accept without discussion the traditional theory about the coming of Indo-Europeans, but gives no genetic support for it. Actually, this 'early Holocene expansion in northwestern India' could have something to do with the diffusion of Indo-European languages, in connection with the emergence of agriculture, which is placed in the Early Holocene (see here). The only thing said about an origin of the Hg R out of South Asia is this:
"The phylogeography of the HG R*-M207 spans Europe, the Caucasus, West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia; therefore, the hypothesis that there is an HG R*-M207 expansion locus central to all these regions is both plausible and parsimonious. This is consistent with our observation that HG R*-M207 is observed at a maximum of 3.4% frequency in Baluchistan and Punjab regions, whereas, in inner India, it is 0.3%."
So, it can even be that all Hg R comes from North-western South Asia. More recently, a study by Firasat et al. (2007), R* has been found in 10.3% (10/97) of a sample of Burusho (speakers of an isolated non-IE language, Burushaski), 6.8% (3/44) of a sample of Kalash, and 1.0% (1/96) of a sample of Pashtuns from northern Pakistan.
But Zhao's study appears to ignore all this, and finally asserts:
"we suggest that Central Asia is the most likely source of North Indian Y lineage considering the historical and genetic background of North India (Karve 1968; Balakrishnan 1978)."
So, it seems that publications of the '60s and '70s give us the final authority on the genetic background of North India.
Now, we do not want to deny genetic differences between castes and tribals, but there are other explanations. Castes developed in the agrarian civilization of Northern India (and present Pakistan), and then spread with Brahmanism to Eastern and Southern India. So, it is to be expected that Hgs more connected with Western and Central Asia like J and R are more frequent in castes than in tribals. 
J because it is originally connected with West Asian agriculturists, and R because it is probably connected with agriculturists, pastoralists and metal-workers from North-western South Asia and maybe also Afghanistan, which is an ancient area of Neolithic and rich in R1a.    
And if some Turks of Central Asia have a high frequency of R1a, it can be because of the migrations of Iranians and Tocharians in those regions from the South and West. Turks arrived later from North-Eastern Asia, with some Mongolic features which are not a legacy of R1a, and mingled with the previous Indo-European speakers.

I would like to add another note about the relation between India and Central Asia. It has been generally thought that horse came to India from Central Asia, where it was firstly domesticated 5500 years ago in Kazakhstan. But a very recent discovery in Arabia can change the picture. In the site of Al-Magar in Central Arabia archaeologists have found remains of a Neolithic civilization dated back to 9000 years ago (see here, cfr. here). In that site, there are many images, drawn and sculpted, of the horse.
One is this, around 1 m. in length, with possible signs of harness. A cave drawing appears to show a man riding a horse. The shape of these horses reminds the famous Arabian horse... now, Indian horse breeds like Marwari and Kathiawari are akin to Arabian horses, and there is an interesting detail which was noted by Rajaram (I am not a follower of Rajaram, but useful remarks are always welcome): Vedic horse (see RV I.162.18) has 34 ribs, differently from the average Central Asian horse, who has 36 ribs. Now, what is not observed by Rajaram, as far as I know, is that the Arabian horse has typically 17 pairs of ribs (see here). Moreover, horse in Indian mythology comes from the ocean, and at Ajanta we find a picture with horses brought in a ship (see here). So, maybe the first horses came to India directly from Arabia and not from Central Asia, at least in the 3rd millennium BC, when they appear in Harappan sites (often near the coast)...  

Thursday, 31 March 2011

How Deep are the Roots of Indian Civilization?

On the 18th of March, at the National Archives in New Delhi, a lecture was delivered by Michel Danino on ‘The Lost Sarasvati, from River to Goddess’, speaking also about the archaeological sites of the Sarasvati Valley. This lecture is included in a series entitled "Ancient Civilizations", which is so presented:
"This Series of 12 lectures on the ancient civilizations of the world will be held at the National Archives over a 12 month period in collaboration with National Archives and UNESCO.
Eminent Indian and foreign scholars will cover aspects of ancient India and the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and other ancient cultures.

In the last 20 years many developments have taken place in the study of ancient civilizations. DNA, carbon dating and linguistic as well as reinterpretation of existing evidence by a new generation of scholars have overturned our dearly held beliefs of Aryan invasions and/or immigrations and point to a much older, indigenous civilization than previously thought.
The Vedic Tradition probably influenced Egypt and Mesopotamia, the spread of Buddhism influenced cultural developments in S.E Asia, Tibet, China and Japan. Vedic Sanskrit still influences the Indo European cultures all over the world.

This series introduces the views of newer scholars in the field with thought provoking, sometimes revolutionary ideas on our common past."
It is another important sign that something is moving in the idea of Indian past, also at an official level.
Still in New Delhi, Chanakyapuri, in November there was an interesting international seminar on “How Deep are the Roots of Indian Civilization? An Archaeological and Historical Perspective” (see here the abstracts). It was organized by the Draupadi Trust in collaboration with the Indian Archaeological Society, which publishes the important journals Puratattva and Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology.
In the seminar took part some of the greatest names of Indian or South Asian archaeology, like B.B. Lal, R.S. Bisht, M.Tosi, Jim G. Shaffer, Purushottam Singh and D.K. Chakrabarti, and some of the most important authors of the 'indigenist school' like Shiva Bajpai, again Michel Danino, N. Kazanas, Bhagwan Singh and S. Kalyanraman.
One of them, Shiva Bajpai, Professor Emeritus of History at the California State University, has written a significant sentence at the end of his abstract about Sapta Sindhu:
"We are now at the threshold of correctly writing the new history of early India-South Asia and, by extension, providing the basis for a new approach to the larger Eurasian Aryan question."
Another significante passage is found in the abstract of the archaeologist K.N. Dikshit:
"The legacy of the Harappan Civilization appears to be extremely dominant in the field of ideological foundations of the civilization. The mass of oral traditions and Vedic literature, which form part of our present-day civilization also appear to be the major legacy of the Harappan civilization. We have to, therefore, make some serious efforts to correlate the archaeological and literary evidence in order to work out the Harappan Legacy. The excavations of Harappan cemeteries at Farmana (Shinde 2009) and Sanauli (Sharma et. al. 2003-04) are pointers in this direction."
He probably alludes to the fact that Harappan cemeteries correspond with Vedic descriptions (see my post on Farmana).
Another interesting paper is that of Purushottam Singh about "Early Archaeology in the Gangetic Plains", where we find a description of the different phases of the settlements in the Ganges Valley, and some particularly significant remarks. One is that "Chalcolithic cultures were firmly established in around 2500 B.C. in the Sarayupar plain and by 2000 B.C. in Bihar", and that with the Chalcolithic, there is a dramatic increase in the number and size of the sites. Moreover, it is said that social stratification has been 'suspected' already during the Mesolithic period. About funerary rituals, it is observed:
"The burials of the Mesolithic sites of Pratapgarh provide ample evidence of belief in the after-life, but no such evidence is forthcoming from the Chalcolithic sites. The only evidence is that of the post-cremation pit-burials from Sonpur and Chirand which indicates that this custom was prevalent in some parts of Bihar but this evidence is missing on the other sites. The absence of burials in the Chalcolithic levels indicates that the method of cremation for the disposal of the dead body, which became the principal mode in the later–day Hindu society, had its roots in the Chalcolithic culture." 
About the domesticated animals, it is said that at the site of Tokwa (Mirzapur District, U.P.) buffalo, domestic pig, sheep and domestic ass were found in addition to cattle and goats (you can find also the article online). The presence of sheep and asses is a sign of clear influences from the west, but it can be explained through the arrival of a new people or through trade. On the other hand, it is said about cultivated plants: "The archaeo-botanical remains from Jhusi, Malhar, Imilidih, Narhan and Senuwar have been studied in quite a great detail. This study indicates that by about 7000 B.C. almost all cereals, pulses and oil seeds which form the staple food of the present–day inhabitants of the Middle Ganga plain were grown in this region." I find this observation quite impressive, since it suggests that there was not the arrival of a new agricultural civilization since 7000 B.C. A specific study (by A.K. Pokharia et al.) can be found online (see here, cp. this article), it is focused on the site of Jhusi, at the confluence of Ganges and Yamunā, in the same area as the early city of Pratiṣṭhāna, the capital of Yayāti (see MBh V.112.9), one of the first kings of the Lunar dinasty and father of the founders of the five Janas. On the basis of radiocarbon dates, "the Neolithic culture at Jhusi is dated to the 7th–6th millennium BC, though the beginning of the culture may be pushed back to the later half of 8th millennium BC" (p.566). The first date of the Neolithic level at Jhusi is 7477 BC.
About the vegetable species which were found at the site it is said: 
"Rice, horse-gram and green-gram of Indian origin, were grown in the warm rainy season. Barley, breadwheat, dwarf wheat, field-pea, lentil, grass-pea and linseed of near-eastern complex were grown in the winter season. The evidence of barley (H. vulgare), bread-wheat (T. aestivum) and other winter crops along with summer crops like rice (O. sativa), etc. from early levels of Jhusi indicate that possibly the area was in cultural contact with the original home of winter crops right from the early phase of the Neolithic culture."
In the above lists, there is an inaccuracy: dwarf wheat (Triticum sphaerococcum) is indigenous to Northwestern India (see here), it was present in 4000 BC in Mehrgarh and was typical of the Indus civilization (see this passage). It is not clear from the article if it was already present in the earliest levels of Jhusi, but we can suppose it came later after it was developed in Baluchistan (cp. this passage from a book on the history of agriculture in India). Bread-wheat (Triticum aestivum) comes from Transcaucasia or Southwestern Caspian (see here), and barley has probably two centers of domestication: one in the Fertile Crescent and one between the Zagros, Turkmenistan and Mehrgarh (see this article). 
Actually, it seems that the Neolithic of Jhusi is almost contemporaneous with Mehrgarh (according to S.P. Gupta, there is a radiocarbon date for period IA of Mehrgarh 8215-7215 BC), as if the cultivators of barley and wheat from Baluchistan arrived very early into the Gangetic plain, mingling with the local rice cultivators (rice is the most important cereal at Jhusi, but there are also a lot of lentils, and lentils are of Near Eastern origin, see here).
We can suppose that the area of Jhusi was already part of a net of cultural interaction including Northwestern India, which became the realm of the five Janas of the 'Lunar race'. More in the east, in the Sarayupar plain, we have wheat, barley and lentils only in the third millennium BC (see the article on Lahuradewa), after millennia of rice cultivation. Lahuradewa is in ancient Kosala, and this can be a sign that the 'Solar race' ruling over this kingdom was connected with the ancient rice civilization of the middle Gangetic plain. This eastern culture came into contact with the western Harappan civilization, as Purushottam Singh observes:
"The radiocarbon dates from the Neolithic-Chalcolithic sites of the Middle Ganga plain have conclusively proved that these cultures were a younger contemporary of the Harappa culture. Here the natural question arises as to whether the Chalcolithic people were in contact with this mighty city-civilization. The discovery of more than one hundred tiny beads of steatite from the Neolithic deposits at Imilidih Khurd and Lahuradewa and several steatite beads from Chirand provide an indication of such a contact, but this remains to be firmly established by further research. This link between two cultures is further buttressed by certain pottery types like the dish-on-stand which occurs on several sites like Lahuradewa, Narhan and Chirand."
Moreover: "The discovery of well established village cultures based on the cultivation of two crops a year by rotation method in eastern U.P. and Bihar demonstrates an uninterrupted cultural continuity uninfluenced by any external stimuli from c. 2500 B.C. in the Sarayupar plain and c. 2000 B.C. in Bihar. This discovery has exploded the popular theory that this part of the country was “aryanised” by clearing dense forests only around the eighth to seventh century B.C. as proposed by some scholars while giving a historical explanation of the Videgh Mathava legend of the Satapatha Brahmana." Then, if this region was 'aryanised', it was around 2500-2000 BC. But it is also possible that they already spoke a language similar to the western language, and we can observe that the names of the eastern rivers Gagā and Sarayu appear to be Indo-Aryan names. Purushottam Singh writes:
"That the Neolithic-Chalcolithic of the Middle Ganga plain are non-Harappans and non-Aryans is generally accepted on all hands. The contributions of these pioneers in the making of Indian culture are too many to be enumerated. However, the question remains as to whether we can give a name to these people. It is suggested that they could be Vratyas and Kikatas who are forefathers of the present-day tribal population of the Vindhyas and the Chotanagpur plateau. The term 'Vratya' was possibly a collective name given to a group of people whose way of life was different from those who claimed to be Aryans. As the primitive people of India they seem to have contributed much to the growth and development of Indian culture. They differed from the Vedic Aryans and developed their own system of thought and culture." 
It is true that Āryāvarta in the Dharmasūtras is west of kālakavana (probably near Prayāga, therefore around the site of Jhusi), but also, according to another view, between Ganges and Yamunā: this does not mean that the language out of these borders was not Indo-Aryan. Apparently they were not 'Ārya' because they did not follow the orthodox Vedic customs developed under the Bhāratas, but the tradition does not say that the 'Solar race' of Ikshvāku  in Kosala was part of a wholly different civilization. Aikshvāku kings are cited in the Vedas, even among the royal Rishis. 
At the end of his abstract P. Singh adds an anthropological observation:
"It has been suggested that these first farmers may be tribals like the Kikatas of the Rigveda who have been said to be relying more on pastoralism. They seem to have abandoned their habitations by the fourth millennium for reasons not known to us. In this context it may be pointed out that the earliest settlement at Mehrgarh (Pakistan) belonging to the 6th millennium (Stage I consisting of Periods I-II, Neolithic) has been found to have some biological affinity with those in the Ganga Valley. This observation of biological anthropologists is significant and needs further probe."
 If this is true, there are two possible (simplified) explanations: both the inhabitants of Mehrgarh and of the Gangetic valley were indigenous or both were of western origin. Now, in India there are Y-chromosome haplogroups of clear Near Eastern origin: those belonging to the J2-M172 clade.
But if J2a-M410 comes clearly from the Near East (for instance cp. this table and this table, both based on the same dating system), a particular branch of J2 present in India, J2b2-M241, seems to have a different history.    

In the map above, taken from an important genetic study by Sengupta et al., we can see that J2b2 has a high frequency and variance south of Nepal, around Sarayu and Ganges. Sengupta notes that "numerous Mesolithic sites have been observed in this region." The calculated age of this Hg in India is 13.8±3.8 KYA. Almost the same as J2*-M410/M158 (13.7±2.9 KYA). And, according to this map, the highest variance of J2b2 in India is 0.43. Sengupta himself writes that in Southwestern Asia the variance is 0.33, and in Turkey 0.24. In a study of 2008 by Battaglia et al., following the same estimates as Sengupta, the age of J2b2 in Turkey is 10.13.4 (see here), and it remarks: "Although Hg J-M241 shows high variance in India, its place of origin is still uncertain." Another study, of 2007, by Yong et al. says: "J2e1–M241 (Cinnioglu et al. 2004; Shen et al. 2004), which was reported in 0.96% Turkish males (Cinnioglu et al. 2004), 5.22% in India, 2.27% in Pakistan (Sengupta et al. 2006), 6.49% in Nepal Kathmandu and 1.5% Nepal Newar (Cadenas et al. 2006). These distributions suggest the origin of J2e1–M241 may reside within or near the Indian subcontinent. This suggestion is now further supported by the concentration of J2e1 AMELY null among ethnic Indian." (J2b2 is here called J2e1, quotation found here). A study by Fornarino et al., published in 2009, reports that the Tharus near the Eastern border of Nepal have a frequency of J2b2 of 8.1%. 
Then, it seems that the origin of J2b2 is to be traced in the J2 people settled in the plain between India and Nepal, where the ancient rice cultivation probably caused a population growth and a consequent diffusion of the new haplogroup.
Summing up, if the estimates of Sengupta are right, the J2 people arrived from the Near East into South Asia already before agriculture, in the Mesolithic period. They could even be the Natufian gatherers of wild cereals, searching for new lands because of overpopulation or of the aridity caused by the Younger Dryas. In this context, the Gangetic Valley was certainly more humid and warm than the Near East, and rich in wild rice. 
On the other hand, if we accept that such estimates are too high, it can also be that the J2 clade arrived with farmers from the Fertile Crescent (particularly J2a, which is often connected with the diffusion of the Neolithic) which settled in Baluchistan, in the Vindhyas and in the Gangetic Valley, but since wheat, barley and animal husbandry reached Lahuradewa only in the 3rd millennium BC, this should be the period of their arrival into this area, apparently too late for the area of the highest variance of J2b2 in India. It is possible that the new crops and animal husbandry were brought by contacts with the Harappan people.
However, in both cases they could develop a common language, probably born from a fusion of Near Eastern and local languages, which became the ancestor of Indo-Aryan. Subsequent trade contacts reinforced this common language, which could act as the linguistic medium of the Indo-Gangetic tradition. This hypothesis is not the same theory as the one that Renfrew proposed: I do not think that the Near Eastern farmers were already Indo-European speakers, because the first traces of IE languages in the Near East appear in Anatolia in Assyrian documents of the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. Around the Fertile Crescent, we have Semitic (Afroasiatic) languages like Akkadian, and quite isolated agglutinative languages like Hattic, Hurrian, Sumerian and Elamite. We do not know which language used the first farmers who arrived into Baluchistan, but I suspect they spoke a kind of Afroasiatic, because this linguistic family is connected with the spread of agriculture and pastoralism and it shares with Indo-European the system of inflection of roots made of two or three consonants and probably also some roots (the theory of a relation between IE and Semitic or Afroasiatic has a long history, see here). Indo-European dialects could develop after the arrival of the 'Afroasiatic' farmers into the Indo-Iranian area during the Neolithic, and later it could spread towards Europe through the R1a1 people which was indigenous to South Asia, and also, we can add now, through the J2b2 people, which is found with the highest frequency among Albanians (more than 14%) and which is also found among Greeks, Italians and Slavs (see this figure).
Then, we do not speak of an Indo-European invasion of India, but we should admit from the genetic evidence that Near Eastern populations entered into South Asia, during the Mesolithic or the Neolithic, probably bringing the 'agricultural revolution' and new cultural influences. On the other hand, Indian influences could reach the Near East during the Harappan age or earlier: date palms from Baluchistan reached Sumer already in the 4th millennium BC, also Indian sesame became part of Sumerian agriculture, and zebu (Bos indicus) appears in Mesopotamian archaeology, in  the northern part particularly during the 2nd millennium BC (see here), when and where we have the impressive appearance of the Indo-Aryan rulers of Mitanni. And what is funny, is that the kingdom of Mitanni, between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, is placed exactly in the region where agriculture first began, around Karaca Dağ (the mountain where are the wild ancestors of  einkorn and emmer), and the early Neolithic sites of Göbekli Tepe, Nevalı Çori and Tell Abu Hureyra. This could be the original homeland of the ancestors of the first farmers of Baluchistan, the J2 people...



Saturday, 8 January 2011

Ancient DNA from Europe can give new clues about the Indo-European question

In a previous post about genetics, I reported the discovery of a European branch of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a (named R1a1a7) which is "virtually absent in Asia", showing as impossible a recent migration to South Asia. In that study by P.A. Underhill, there was the hypothesis that this genetic group expanded in Europe during the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture, but it also noticed "a remarkable geographic concordance of the R1a1a7-M458 distribution with the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Corded Ware (CW) cultures of Europe that prospered from ca. 5.5-4.5 KYA BP" (cp. the map above). It is then cited the finding of the burial in Eulau, Germany, belonging to the Corded Ware cultural horizon, dated around 2600 BC, because it gave for the buried males the haplogroup R1a (see the article by W. Haak Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age). It is also interesting that the Corded Ware culture has been ascribed to Indo-Europeans by many scholars, probably for its area and since it is associated with wheeled vehicles, horses and metals:
"...Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic may possibly be traced back to the Corded Ware horizon of north, central and eastern Europe." (The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford Linguistics) - J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, 2006, p.452, Oxford University Press)
Moreover, if we look at the variance of R1a1a7 (also in the map above), Poland appears as the place of origin, and the same is found for the CW culture: "Corded Ware ceramic forms in single graves develop earlier in Poland than in western and southern Central Europe. The earliest radiocarbon dates for Corded Ware come from Kujavia and Małopolska in central and southern Poland and point to the period around 3000 BC. Carbon-14 dating of the remaining central European regions shows that Corded Ware appeared after 2880 BC" (see here). Thus, a consistent picture seems to emerge from archaeology and genetics. However, the calculated age of R1a1a7 (before 8000 BC in Poland) suggested a connection with the Mesolithic or Linearbandkeramik periods.
But now we could have a counter evidence from another study, published in the November 2010 issue of PLoS Biology, Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities, by the same W. Haak of the study about Eulau. This has revealed the genetic identity of ancient individuals belonging to the Linearbandkeramik culture, including a previous work on this archaeological horizon and a new analysis of skeletons from Derenburg in Germany (Harzkreis); it is mainly based on mitochondrial DNA, but also on chromosome Y. The results tell us that most of this agricultural people had a Near Eastern origin (see maps).

In the map above, you can see the genetic distance of modern populations from the mitochondrial data from Derenburg. The nearest populations are evidently in present Iran and Kurdistan. As we know from an important study by Metspalu and Kivisild, Iranian mtDNA is very different from Indian or South Asian DNA; Western Iran, also for the Y-DNA, is very similar to other Near Eastern countries, and Northern Iran has a strong influx from Anatolia (see the article by Regueiro). The presence of R1a1a is stronger in Southern and Eastern Iran (see also the article by Wells, that observes: "the population of present-day Iran, speaking a major Indo-European language (Farsi), appears to have had little genetic influence from the M17-carrying Indo-Iranians").

About mitochondrial haplogroups it is said in the study:
We found nine modern-day population pools in which the percentage of these haplotypes is significantly higher than in other population pools (p>0.01, two-tailed z test; Figure 1; Table S4): (a) North and Central English, (b) Croatians and Slovenians, (c) Czechs and Slovaks, (d) Hungarians and Romanians, (e) Turkish, Kurds, and Armenians, (f) Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians, and Cypriotes, (g) Caucasus (Ossetians and Georgians), (h) Southern Russians, and (i) Iranians. Three of these pools (b–d) originate near the proposed geographic center of the earliest LBK in Central Europe and presumably represent a genetic legacy from the Neolithic. However, the other matching population pools are from Near East regions (except [a] and [h]), which is consistent with this area representing the origin of the European Neolithic, an idea that is further supported by Iranians sharing the highest number of informative haplotypes with the LBK (7.2%; Table S4).
About Y DNA haplogroups:

The Y chromosome hgs obtained from the three Derenburg early Neolithic individuals are generally concordant with the mtDNA data (Table 1). Interestingly, we do not find the most common Y chromosome hgs in modern Europe (e.g., R1b, R1a, I, and E1b1), which parallels the low frequency of the very common modern European mtDNA hg H (now at 20%–50% across Western Eurasia) in the Neolithic samples. Also, while both Neolithic Y chromosome hgs G2a3 and F* are rather rare in modern-day Europe, they have slightly higher frequencies in populations of the Near East, and the highest frequency of hg G2a is seen in the Caucasus today. The few published ancient Y chromosome results from Central Europe come from late Neolithic sites and were exclusively hg R1a. While speculative, we suggest this supports the idea that R1a may have spread with late Neolithic cultures from the east.
So, we can suppose that R1a arrived with the Corded Ware culture, which was an important cultural change in Europe. After the Near Eastern population which had already colonized the Balkans, the Corded Ware people found in Eulau came from the East, bringing the new 'Indo-European' culture. Interestingly, the mitochondrial haplogroup of the mother in the family buried in Eulau was K1b, which "has uniquely been reported in two modern Shugnans of Tadzhikistan" (Dienekes' quotation). Wells reports 23% of R1a1a for Shugnans, and 68% for their neighbors Ishkashimis (living both in the upper Oxus valley). In this context, it is impressing to observe that in Tajikistan we also find striking parallels to the burial rituals followed by the Corded Ware culture, in the Vakhsh and Beshkent cultures: the bodies laid on their sides, hunched up, with arms bent at the elbow and legs at the knee, men on the right side, and women on the left side. In the Beshkent culture, the orientation is often east-west. Moreover, according to the anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, the skull type of the Corded Ware burials is very close to the present Irano-Afghan type.  
Shugnans and Ishkashimis speak both an Iranian language, and they live in the cradle of Iranian culture, mentioned in the Avesta. We can suppose that the Oxus valley was an ancient seat for the R1a1a people coming from South Asia, and that they spoke an Indo-European language. From Central Asia they should have moved to the Kurgan area in Ukraine, and from there to Central Europe. Another R1a1a people went eastward up to the Tarim Basin (see here) and another to the Andronovo area near Krasnoyarsk in Siberia (see here). But we know that they all had their ultimate origin in western South Asia, and their expansion in Eurasia seems to be dated particularly in the metal age, since all these cultures knew metals. As recognized by some scholars, calculated ages of R1a1a appear as too high, and the archaeological record can help us to correct them. According to this picture, we can see the Neolithic of the Indus-Sarasvatī basin and probably of the adjoining 'Iranian' regions as the source of the Indo-Europeans, who developed so many prehistoric and historical civilizations of Europe and Asia.