Is Out of India Dead?

The origins of the peoples of India has long been a contentious issue.  India has a population that looks, and is, racially diverse.  Several major language groups are represented in the hundreds of languages and dialects of India.  Notably, several of them are closely related the languages of Europe and Iran - the Indo-European languages, which are not only global in extent but probably spoken by more people than any other, with the possible exception of Chinese.

These IE languages in India are clearly descended from Sanskrit, the language of the founding documents of Hinduism and Indian culture.  So a central question is who were these people who spoke something like Sanskrit, called themselves Aryans, and occupy a central role in all of Indian culture since.  German linguists appropriated the name and claimed that the Aryans were in fact Germans who had invaded India.

Anthropology and especially modern genomics tells a different story.  The IE languages were brought to Europe (including Germany) by nomadic masters of horse and cart from the Central Asia steppe.  It has long seemed likely that these same nomadic invaders overran India and gave birth to Indian Civilization.

However, there had already been a mighty civilization in India and Pakistan before the steppe peoples, the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), and it clearly predated the raiders from the Steppe.  An alternative theory of the origin of the IE languages held that they originated in the IVC and spread from India.  This theory was popular mainly with Indian nationalists, who wanted a civilization which was wholly autochthonous.  The European versions of such IE language origins were slain by DNA evidence from ancient burials, but South Asia is hot and wet and ancient DNA hates hot and wet, so DNA evidence has been hard to come by.

Cruel facts have slain many a theory, and two new papers appear to put paid to Out of India.  The most decisive piece of evidence comes from DNA recovered from an IVC burial that shows no steppe ancestry.  Unless (and this is a big unless), this burial was a freak, that shows that the steppe people were not from the IVC or India, and that steppe peoples later invaded India rather than vice versa.  There is an overwhelming mass of other evidence confirming this.

So is Out of India dead?  Don't be silly!  Ideas backed by religion and nationalism are seldom dented by facts.  I think its scientific viability has gone, though.

Perhaps ironically, however, another result from the papers suggests that agriculture in India may have preceded that in Iran and the Fertile Crescent, long considered the World's first.  If that checks out, it is probably a bigger out of India deal than the language thing.


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