aryan invasion
June 18, 2017 9:18 PM   Subscribe

How genetics is settling the Aryan migration debate "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."
posted by dhruva (12 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't actually know Indo-European migration was controversial, but the resolution is fascinating anyway.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:33 PM on June 18

The wikipedia page has a nice overview of all the controversy.
posted by dhruva at 11:40 PM on June 18 [5 favorites]

To any knowledgeable people: so are the South Indians more closely linked to the original pre-invasion folk? And are those people at all linked to Orang Asli and Australian Aborigines?
posted by Meatbomb at 1:52 AM on June 19

I didn't actually know Indo-European migration was controversial

Not scientifically controversial - religiously and politically controversial, and really only in India. It's like climate change or evolution, kind of; the vast majority of scientists accept it but it's religiously and politically sensitive.

Unfortunately, it's also an example of how colonialism ruins everything. The idea that Aryans (and Sanskrit) came from outside of India really resembles something European colonialists would come up with in order to discredit the development of non-European civilizations.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:28 AM on June 19 [28 favorites]

Among those who believe the Aryans originated in the Indian subcontinent, what's their take on the language similarities between Sanskrit and other, proto-European languages?

My understanding is that the whole idea that there must have been some kind of indo-european culture comes from 18th century European linguists finally encountering Sanskrit and noticing the remarkable similarities between some of its phonemes for common words and those of later European languages, and coming up with the idea of language groups and lineages. So if you're making the case that the Aryans and Sanskrit originate wholly in India without reference to the outside world, why would they be similar? Do they argue for coincidence, or suggest that there must have been some other channel of diffusion whereby Sanskrit influenced proto-Latin, etc.?
posted by Diablevert at 4:20 AM on June 19

So if you're making the case that the Aryans and Sanskrit originate wholly in India without reference to the outside world, why would they be similar?

This is all tied up with the idea of ideologies of Sanskrit being the oldest language, it being a perfect language, etc. So, because they believe that Sanskrit is the oldest language, and one that hasn't been "corrupted" like other ones, they argue that all other Indo-European languages come from Sanskrit (basically, Sanskrit *is* Proto-Indo-European).

Note that this doesn't work at all, from a linguistic point of view. One example of the problem: PIE had *i, *e, and *o vowels; the * indicates that that's linguist's best guess for what used to be there. In Sanskrit, in various instances, those *i, *e, and *o vowels all became a. The way language change works, it's really common for three vowel sounds to merge into one, but nearly impossible for one vowel sound to split into three*.

There are a bunch of other examples of similar changes that work the same way.

(*Linguists, insert "in the same phonetic environment" here)
posted by damayanti at 5:30 AM on June 19 [17 favorites]

The article briefly mentions this; the timing of the "invasion" nicely lines up with the end of the Harappen Civilisation. History never has such tidy stories in reality, but it's sure an appealing co-incidence.
posted by Nelson at 7:37 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Any more evidence that one of the lost tribes did end up in India ? (previously though I swear it's been on the blue more recently than that.. )
posted by k5.user at 8:00 AM on June 19

There's a tradition in some schools of Hinduism that the vedas are as old as the universe, so there might be a cultural resistance to any kind of attempt to place the origins of Sanskrit (and by extension the Vedas) in any kind of historical context at all. Though I don't know how seriously it's taken.
posted by empath at 9:05 AM on June 19

History never has such tidy stories in reality, but it's sure an appealing co-incidence.

That's part of the problem: Archaeology had a long tradition of "just so" stories, and the appeal itself makes it suspect.

Basically, just because something happens in the same timeframe as something else, isn't cause to say they're linked.
posted by happyroach at 10:33 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

For a long while, mostly Western scholars thought the Indic "invaders" wiped out the Harappan culture. This no longer seems very likely. For one thing, there's no evidence that the Harappan cities and towns collapsed in violence. For another, invaders rarely destroy a thriving urban civilization: they just take it over.

(Many Indian scholars wanted the Harappan civilization to be the Vedic culture. The main problem is that Vedic people, by their own account, were horsemen and non-urban, and the Harappans didn't seem to have horses. Also, no one has got anywhere trying to connect the Harappan script with Sanskrit. At least one scholar, Asko Parpola, has made a good case connecting the script to Dravidian.)

Why the Harappan civilization collapsed is still mysterious. Ecological stress our best guess: deforestation, or the drying-up of one of their major rivers. A good analogy might be the de-urbanization of the Maya.
posted by zompist at 1:49 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]

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