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...