Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, June 19, 2017

New DNA results challenge Indian pre-conceptions

The thorniest, most fought-over question in Indian history is slowly but surely getting answered: did Indo-European language speakers, who called themselves Aryans, stream into India sometime around 2,000 BC – 1,500 BC when the Indus Valley civilisation came to an end, bringing with them Sanskrit and a distinctive set of cultural practices? Genetic research based on an avalanche of new DNA evidence is making scientists around the world converge on an unambiguous answer: yes, they did. Tony Joseph, Hindu Times
Interesting piece in the Hindu Times again illustrating the way that DNA analysis is re-shaping our view of the world.

I have absolutely no expertise in the question of Indo-Aryan migration, nor am I familiar enough with Indian politics to know how how questions of the direction of migration play out domestically. I had always assumed that part of the ethnic difference between the north and south of the country lay in the different migration patterns, with the north open to waves of migration from elsewhere in Eurasia. The latest data would appear to support that view.
Until recently, only data on mtDNA (or matrilineal DNA, transmitted only from mother to daughter) were available and that seemed to suggest there was little external infusion into the Indian gene pool over the last 12,500 years or so. New Y-DNA data has turned that conclusion upside down, with strong evidence of external infusion of genes into the Indian male lineage during the period in question.
Tony Joseph suggests that the reason for the difference in mtDNA and Y-DNA data is obvious in hindsight: there was strong sex bias in Bronze Age migrations. In other words, those who migrated were predominantly male and, therefore, those gene flows do not really show up in the mtDNA data. On the other hand, they do show up in the Y-DNA data:

In fact, about 17.5% of Indian male lineage has been found to belong to haplogroup R1a (haplogroups identify a single line of descent), which is today spread across Central Asia, Europe and South Asia. The Pontic-Caspian Steppe is seen as the region from where R1a spread both west and east, splitting into different sub-branches along the way. Genetic analysis suggests that the Indian versions of R1A split of between 2,000 and 1,500 BC.

Postscript 21 June 2017

Ramana, my Indian blogger friend, pointed me to this rebuttal of the Joseph piece, Genetics Might Be Settling The Aryan Migration Debate, But Not How Left-Liberals Believe. My first reaction was that  Anil Kumar Suri appeared to be wielding a rather hatchet in what was clearly an ideological dispute that I did not properly understand.

I need to go back to to the Joseph piece and look at the detail of DNA material provided to try to determine what is factual as compared to ideological positioning on both sides. Meantime, some one may be able to explain just what the apparent ideological and political dispute really is..

On a different topic, regular commenter Johnb has pointed me to yet another DNA study, First complete genome data extracted from ancient Egyptian mummies. For later reference.

Postscript 30 June 2017

Ramana  pointed me to another article on the same topic, Here We Go Again: Why They Are Wrong About The Aryan Migration Debate This Time. He also commented: "As you are probably aware, I am a student of Vedanta and as such have studied some of our old texts. The word Aryan is used in Sanskrit to describe people of noble character and not a race or tribe or caste.".

There is a whole Indian back story  in the controversy that I am simply not properly aware of.


Johnb said...

Bands of marauding male 'warriors' have a long pedigree Jim. A great deal of the Dark Age settlement in the U.K. proceeded along similar lines. Bump off the local male population and 'take over' the females allows for continuous mtdna and variable Y-dna. Raiding and capturing females can still be found today and a formalized transfer of a female from one clan grouping to another without warfare is even more evident. How important is a democratic society with universal sufferge as a defense against male power.

Jim Belshaw said...

And pre Dark Ages! Lots of movements before then.

It affects the Aboriginal DNA stuff in ways I'm not sure about. I find some of the explanatory material intuitively uncomfortable, but haven't had the time to look at the patterns to know why I'm discomfited. The patterns of Aboriginal life as i understand them do not fit with the traditional male warrior theory

Johnb said...

'Intuitively uncomfortable' has generated a lot of progress in knowledge and understanding Jim. A most valuable trait. It is the Australian Aboriginal story that has made me 'intuitively uncomfortable' with the standard version to date of Out of Africa. What we know and what is being found simply doesn't allow for the standard version without significant amendment and thankfully progress seems to be underway.

Jim Belshaw said...

Indeed on intuition!

I don't have a problem with the out-of-Africa story so far as the Aborigines are concerned, although the DNA stuff was making me uncomfortable about some of the dating. It seemed to me that on the suggested dates for OOA that the local dates were running up hard against the OOA event.

One of the issue wit OOA was the number of migrations. It is hard not to believe that there were several especially with the latest stuff even though the conclusion drawn from the recent Australian results were that they supported a single OOA event.

Then you have the very low N. DNA count and the higher Denisovan count, suggesting that they ran into the Denisovans close to Sahul.

Then, too, there are the arguments against a Southern Indian linkage either earlier or around 4,000 years ago or even both, Results from the Max Planck Institute suggested a South Indian linkage, but that was very low in the DAN count.

The bottom line for an ignoramus like me is that I'm waiting for new results or a synthesis or so combination of the two!

Rummuser said...


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ramana. I was completely confused after reading that link you provided. It struck me that a very large hatchet was being used without really providing evidence. I will need to go back to the original piece and look again at the evidence provided without the gloss attached by the original writer.

Johnb said...

A further DNA study I've just received Jim may also cloud the picture further
An international team of researchers have successfully recovered and analysed ancient DNA from Egyptian mummies dating from approximately 1400 BCE to 400 BCE, including the first genome-wide data from three individuals. The study found that modern Egyptians share more ancestry with sub-Saharan Africans than ancient Egyptians did, whereas ancient.
It would appear ancient Egyptians arrived from the East not the South.

Rummuser said...

Another article on the same subject Jim. https://swarajyamag.com/culture/here-we-go-again-why-they-are-wrong-about-the-aryan-migration-debate-this-time-as-well

As you are probably aware, I am a student of Vedanta and as such have studied some of our old texts. The word Aryan is used in Sanskrit to describe people of noble character and not a race or tribe or caste.

Johnb said...

Here's the Hindu Times link for the original article,
The Science centres around the following :
Peter Underhill, scientist at the Department of Genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is one of those at the centre of the action. Three years ago, a team of 32 scientists he led published a massive study mapping the distribution and linkages of R1a. It used a panel of 16,244 male subjects from 126 populations across Eurasia. Dr. Underhill’s research found that R1a had two sub-haplogroups, one found primarily in Europe and the other confined to Central and South Asia. Ninety-six per cent of the R1a samples in Europe belonged to sub-haplogroup Z282, while 98.4% of the Central and South Asian R1a lineages belonged to sub-haplogroup Z93. The two groups diverged from each other only about 5,800 years ago. Dr. Underhill’s research showed that within the Z93 that is predominant in India, there is a further splintering into multiple branches. The paper found this “star-like branching” indicative of rapid growth and dispersal. So if you want to know the approximate period when Indo-European language speakers came and rapidly spread across India, you need to discover the date when Z93 splintered into its own various subgroups or lineages.
Can you attribute the arrival of Indo-European language to a genetic marker appears to be the heart of this discussion.

Jim Belshaw said...

Ramana, thank you for that link. I will bring it up in the main post. I didn't know that you were a student of Vedanta (I had to look that up) but it does not surprise me!

I didn't properly realise all the complexities in the back story even though I know something about Indian history and politics. I feel educated, but also confused! My printer's not working at the moment so I can't print stuff off. I really need to print to absorb properly and I actually think that the back story is worth a post for my own education.

I think that JohnB probably summarises one part of J's argument accurately, but on the DNA evidence, there is a strong tendency to stuff it into whatever will support current positions. I think at this point I will simply note the piece you cited, note that there is a back story, but leave a formal response until I have the hours available to properly educate myself.