Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Courtesy: http://folks.co.in 

Favorable climate and abundant water made India and Southeast Asia a hothouse for the domestication of plants and animals. The second wave of Indo-Europeans carried these into Eurasia and Europe. The controversy over the ‘Harappan horse’ shows that academic standards have not kept pace with science.

N.S. Rajaram

Indo-Europeans: the real Noah’s ark
Tropical India-SE Asia (subject to monsoon) in late Ice Age
Tropical India-SE Asia (subject to monsoon) in late Ice Age

Science, natural history and genetics in particular, has given us a framework for tracing the spread of humans and their languages from our African homeland to rest of the world. It has answered in particular the question of why people from India and Sri Lanka to Ireland and Iceland speak languages clearly related to one another. On the basis of natural history, genetic analysis and archaeology, we know that the spread from the Indian subcontinent to Eurasia and Europe took place in two major waves— the first c. 45,000 years ago and the latter some 10,000 years ago. To the second wave may be attributed the Sanskritic influence found in European languages. These facts may be encapsulated as:
  1. African ancestors → Afro-Indians → South Asians → Indo-Europeans
followed by
  1. South Asians (Gauda-Dravida) → Indo-Europeans (with Sanskrit)
Thus the picture given by science for the spread of Indo-European peoples and languages is qualitatively and chronologically different from the one given by historians, anthropologists and linguists. The origin of Indo-Europeans was not the Eurasian steppe or Europe but Africa; the region where they evolved to become Indo-Europeans was the Indian subcontinent. And the whole process took not four- or five thousand years but over sixty thousand years. These findings are now supplemented by growing knowledge about the domestication of animals and the spread of agriculture. These too made their way into Eurasia and Europe during the second wave and left their imprint along with Sanskritic words and ideas.

Monsoon Asia: hothouse effect

To deal with the phenomena of the origin and spread of peoples and languages, we needed to define Indo-Europeans as individuals whose ancestors at one time lived in the Indian subcontinent—the present states of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the eastern part of Afghanistan—and later moved out to settle in Eurasia and Europe. (Afghanistan straddles the Indian subcontinent, Eurasia and Central Asia.) In the language of population genetics, they are descended from founder groups of Indian origin who settled in Europe, just as the Zoroastrian Parsis of India are descended from founder groups of Persian origin who settled in India some 1200 years ago.

What applies to people applies also to flora and fauna, especially the domesticated animals in the late Pleistocene through the Holocene. These too moved with the second wave of Indo-Europeans into Eurasia and Europe. We have already seen how it led to the overlaying of Sanskrit words and other influences on existing languages. This was accompanied by the introduction of domesticated animals including pigs, sheep/goat, cattle and the horse: yes the horse. As we shall see later the claim that India had no horse until the invading Aryans (non-existent) introduced them is a total fabrication of AIT advocates.

But first we need to take a brief look at the climate and ecology of South Asia and the adjacent areas to the east and southeast. (See map.) What distinguishes them is their climate, influenced by the southwest monsoon and the Himalayan Mountains. This makes them a single ecological zone. During the late Pleistocene (last Ice Age), this region of tropical Asia, stretching roughly from the Indus in the west to the Mekong River in the east was more favorably placed for the development of agriculture and animal husbandry by the domestication of wild species of plants and animals than regions of the northern latitudes.

This is reflected in the DNA composition of wild and domestic species from the region. Genetic analysis of cattle, sheep/goat, and pigs all point to one conclusion— this region of South, East and Southeast Asia stretching from the Indus to the Mekong was a hothouse for the development of agriculture and animal husbandry during the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene, or 12,000 to 10,000 years ago and later. (Forget the story of agriculture coming out of the so-called ‘Fertile Crescent’; it is a myth like the Aryans bringing civilization to India.)
Sir John Marshall and his famous report
Sir John Marshall and his famous report

The reason for this hothouse effect is no mystery: the climate in tropical Asia, protected from the brutal northern winters by the Himalayas could support larger populations of plants, animals and humans. This region, tropical Asia or more properly monsoon Asia recovered more rapidly from the grip of the Ice Age than the northern latitudes.

As the Ice Age ended and temperatures rose, the region benefited from more rainfall (due to greater evaporation) and also the discharge of fresh water from melting glaciers into the Himalayan rivers. It gave these rivers two sources— the summer monsoon and the melting ice caps, making their flow perennial. Some like the Brahmaputra and the Mekong became mighty. This meant ample sources of water for the expansion of agriculture and increased domestication of animals needed for farming, food and transportation. Agriculture spread and soon replaced hunting-gathering as the main source of subsistence. (Some scholars claim that arya from ar for the plough referred to agriculturists, but this is generally not accepted though no one seems to have a better explanation.)

Both agriculture and expanding populations made their way north, west and northwest carrying their skills and language with them. Archaeology, genetics (of humans and animals) and linguistics all tell the same story— this outward expansion from the Indian subcontinent in the early Holocene. It has left its imprint on the languages of the region in the form of Sanskritic words and cultural practices. The same is true of domestic animals like pigs, cattle and sheep/goat. Curiously, one of the animals they took with them, albeit inadvertently was the domestic mouse: the European mouse is genetically of Indian origin. The Indo-European mouse may be a humble creature, but to the scientist it is just as important as the Indo-European man.

Archaeo-geneticist Melinda Zeder observes: “In all livestock species, including goats, cattle, buffalo, pigs and sheep, a divergent DNA lineage occurs only in Southern and Eastern Asia. This suggests a possible center of animal domestication in Southern or Eastern Asia.” Actually since the DNA lineages ‘diverge’ from (meaning branches originate from) South and East Asia, we can say that these domestications took place in India, China and Southeast Asia. These domesticated animals were taken into Eurasia and Europe by the second wave of Indo-Europeans. As just noted, the Indian mouse also accompanied them. This is a simplified summary of highly detailed scientific findings over several years.

What is true of animals from pigs to mice is true also of the horse though it is somewhat more complex. This is partly because horses were domesticated locally over a wide area from South Asia to Spain. ‘Scholars’ with a stake in the Aryan invasion myth have muddied the waters with denial and conjecture in their efforts to save their theories. They have confounded scientific data about horses with artifacts, icons and other depictions. This suggests that there is much room for improvement on the part of scholars like linguists who presume to interpret data without bothering to understand the science behind it.

The horse story: science over the nonsense
Possible Harappan horse seals
Possible Harappan horse seals

Upholders of the Aryan invasion in its many forms have made the supposed absence of the representation of the horse (Equus Caballus) in Harappan iconography a key factor supporting their pet theory. This is because there were no horses in India before the invading (or migrating) Aryans brought them in the second millennium— or so they claim. Even this is based not on science but the supposed absence of depiction of the horse in Harappan remains. This is a dubious argument at best for Harappan remains have yielded no depictions of the cow either while image of the bull is abundant. Does this mean they raised bulls without cows?

It is a palpably absurd argument: animal depictions (see pictures) are a matter of opinion; they cannot be tested scientifically as we can and do test animalremains. Yet some linguists like Michael Witzel and his followers (Steve Farmer, Romila Thapar, etc) have made the absence of horse images (in their opinion) the centerpiece of the argument to deny altogether the existence of the horse in India, including at Harappan sites. This according to them proves not only the Aryan invasion but also that any horse depictions found must be fraudulent. Why? Because it violates their theory!

This comes closer to religious dogma than science. Further, clay and terracotta figurines and depictions of the horse, while relatively rare, are by no means unknown. (They are relatively rare in all Indian art.) All major archaeologists beginning with Sir John Marshall who as Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India supervised excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have recorded finding horse images and figurines. (See images.) In addition to Marshall, these include E.J.H. Mackay, R.S. Bisht, B.B. Lal and S.R. Rao— all archaeologists of world repute. They were all experts with decades of field work and not ivory tower academics like Witzel or dilettante self-proclaimed experts like Farmer.

The amusing thing is that Marshall himself in his authoritative three-volume magnum opus Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization reported finding horse remains and gave even a comparative table of different kinds of horses including the one he had found at Mohenj-Daro! (Volume 2, page 654.) When this was brought to Witzel’s attention, that these belonged to a real horse that he could not attribute to fraud, Witzel’s reaction was that these horse remains must have been introduced much later! In effect this implies a 4000 year-old conspiracy to fool Marshall.

Setting aside such conspiracy theories, it is not a good idea in the first place to study the existence of plants and animals based on artistic depictions. These are subject to opinion except in the case of unmistakable creatures like the elephant or plants like the ashvattha which cannot be mistaken for anything else. The only sure way is to locate and identify animal remains and fossils by scientific testing. Here there is no doubt about horses in India: both wild domesticated horse remains have been found that go back thousands of years at places like Koldihwa (7500 BCE), Mahagara (6500 BCE) and many more.
Possible Harappan horse figurines
Possible Harappan horse figurines

The subject is highly technical but many experts now believe that a prehistoric Indian species known as Equus Sivalensis (Shivalik Horse) may be an ancestor of nearly all the domesticated species in the world today. In fact, it has recently been reported that “Horse (South Asian breed, possibly Equus Sivalensis or the Shivalik Horse) fossils were found at Hathnora on the Narmada dating back to 75,000 years.” This is fully 70,000 years before Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

“Cows, sheep, and goats had simple beginnings as livestock, with evidence suggesting that a small number of animals of each species were domesticated in just a few places between about 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Today, genetic diversity among these creatures remains low…” Horse DNA tells a different story, according to a paper published in the authoritative Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “After analyzing mitochondrial DNA from a wide range of horse breeds across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, scientists were able to connect all modern horses to a common ancestor that lived between 130,000 and 160,000 years ago.”

This is likely to have been the Equus Sivalensis known in South Asia and possibly East- and Southeast Asia. The point of all this is that all this is serious science, not simple minded speculation of invading Aryans bringing horses as late as 1500 BCE and some ‘scholars’ claiming there were no horses in India before then, and then going on to charge any evidence to the contrary to be the result of fraud and conspiracy.

Need for better standards

This is a sorry record— first an imaginary invasion by an imaginary people called Aryans who become Nazis, and then denying and decrying the evidence of horse to keep alive the superstition of ‘No Harappan horse’. In the view of this writer, a basic problem is that humanities have not kept pace with advances in science. This is particularly the case with Indology and Indo-European Studies still stuck in the nineteenth century. It has never managed to shed its amateur roots—founded by civil servants, colonial bureaucrats and missionaries—and emerge as a rigorous academic discipline.

Even today, almost anyone, knowing neither Sanskrit nor archaeology can pose as an expert on Vedic India by latching on to a person or a group. The emergence of natural history and genetics as a major player, even a game changer in the field is making life increasingly harder for such dilettantes. This has led to consternation among its workers faced with the threat of sudden obsolescence and turmoil in the field. While one can sympathize with their predicament, science must replace prejudice and dogma or else there can be no progress. We can no longer allow assertions like the following made by the late Murray Emeneau, a leading figure in Indo-European linguistics to dictate agenda in the name of history:
“At some time in the second millennium B.C., probably comparatively early in the millennium, a band or bands of speakers of an Indo-European language, later to be called Sanskrit, entered India over the northwest passes. This is our linguistic doctrine which has been held now for more than a century and a half. There seems to be no reason to distrust the arguments for it, in spite of the traditional Hindu ignorance of any such invasion.”

This linguistic doctrine (rather dogma) that in effect says “Evidence be damned,” is what a large section of scholars in Indo-European Studies is trying to preserve in various guises. They succeeded for nearly half a century after the end of Nazi Germany and European colonialism, but science has finally driven the last nail in their coffin. It is time to bury its sordid past and begin a rewriting of the human past based on science and the primary sources. We change when science changes the picture, not because new political masters in and out of academia assume control.

Acknowledgement: The author is most grateful to Dr. Premendra Priyadarshi for providing him with the details and references relating to the domestication and spread of animals. The picture is quite complex but what is given here is a simplified summary of recent findings.

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