Once More Into the Breach...

A few years ago, scientists managed to extract some DNA from 5000 year old bones at an ancient burial site at Rakhigarhi, now a village in India, but formerly one of the great cities of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), an ancient and mysterious civilization. One reason the civilization is so mysterious is that its writings, which consist only of a few short inscriptions, have never been deciphered, nor is it known if they even are actually writings.

That DNA is very interesting to students of India's demographic history, because it could shed light on a famous controversy over the origins of the Indo-European (IE) languages of India, and consequently on the history of Indian culture, religion and its great literature. Modern Hinduism is thought to have its origins in the Vedas, which were carefully preserved in an elaborate oral tradition for at least hundreds of years and only written down around the First Century BCE. The language of the Vedas is Vedic Sanskrit, an Indo-European language.

There are a few theories of the origin of the IE languages, the most prominent being that it arose in horse domesticating, cart riding pastoralists of the Eurasian steppe near the Black Sea. There is ample genetic and linguistic evidence that these peoples swept across the steppe and across Europe, conquering and wiping out nearly all previous languages. A corollary is that they also invaded India, either at or shortly after the collapse of the IVC.

Hindu nationalists as well as some scholars prefer an Out of India theory of IE origins. The Hindu nationalist semi-official mythology believes that Vedic culture survives from the IVC and therefore that Hindu Civilization is autochthonous, and are offended by the idea that Vedic culture might be due to invaders. Contemporary genetic evidence indicates that most current Indians are mixtures of two genetic strains, the so-called Ancestral South Indians (ASI) who have no close links with any other genetic group except Andaman Islanders and Ancestral North Indians, who are closely related to Northern Eurasians and ancient Iranian farmers.

The Aryan Invasion Theory, and its slightly more PC version, the Aryan Migration Theory, posit that the IE languages (and consequently, parts of the Vedic culture) were brought to India by invaders (or migrants) to India after the decline of the IVC. Consequently, the DNA from Rakhigarhi might provide crucial evidence. If that DNA looks just like modern Indian DNA, then the origin of Vedic culture in the IVC gains a lot of credibility. On the other hand, if it looks either like ASI DNA, or a mixture of ASI and ancient Iranian farmer DNA, the Aryan incursion theories look more plausible.

Now to the chase: we have been promised the results for well over a year now, but none have been produced. The non-Indian experts who did the analysis have said that the results are in the hands of their Indian co-author. From him, silence.

If you have any bit of paranoia you should now be convinced that (a) the results are not favorable to the Hindu Nationalist mythology and (b) are being suppressed for political reasons.

Note that political reasons may not be bad reasons. Hindu Nationalists have displayed a nasty violent streak, and those who fail to toe the line may be persecuted or even lynched, often on the basis of unconfirmed or baseless rumors.


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