A few people have been pointing me to a new paper, A Bayesian phylogenetic study of the Dravidian language family, which implies that the Dravidian language family diversified ~4,500 years ago. I don’t have much to say about the paper itself since it aligns with my own conclusions, but it’s well outside of any field that I can judge (though it does use standard phylogenetic packages I’ve used).
Recently I’ve been going back to old posts of mine on South Asian population genetics because no matter how much some people drag their feet on this question, we’re pretty close to knowing how South Asians came to be. Here’s what I said in December of 2010:
Who were the Indo-Iranians? I lean toward the proposition that they do derive from the Andronovo culture of the Eurasian steppe. This would date the entrance and expansion of Indo-Aryans in northern India 3-4,000 years ago. I also contend that the dominant element of ancestry among modern South Asians is not Indo-Aryan. Rather, it is an ancient stabilized hybrid of pre-agricultural societies in the Indus valley and Neolithic farmers who originated from what is today western Iran and eastern Anatolia. Therefore, I posit that the “Aryanization” of the Indian subcontinent is properly modeled as the same processes which led to the emergence of an Anatolian and Rumelian Turkish identity; a small elite population which forces an identity shift among the majority.
Where was I wrong? Where was I right?
Even looking at ADMIXTURE plots which don’t always give an accurate sense of population history it seemed likely that “Ancestral North Indian” (ANI) was not one thing. Some South Asian populations seemed to have much stronger affinities to West Asian populations. And in particular those from highland West Asia, toward the Caucasus. These include groups in southern Pakistan, but also to some extent in South India. In contrast, other groups had affinities with Eastern European populations, in particular, high caste North Indians, and to a lesser extend Indo-European peoples more generally.
I think I got the dynamic correct. Subsequent analyses comparing ancient DNA from the Caucasus and Iran suggest that all South Asians have a lot of shared drift (ergo, ancestry) with highland West Asians, while a smaller subset has high shared drift (ergo, ancestry) with pastoralists from the Eurasian steppe. The groups match up with what the ADMIXTURE plots were suggesting.
There was more than one pulse of ANI-like ancestry and that one of them was like West Asians and one more like Europeans. Remember, this is before we knew the acronyms ANE, WHG, and EEF. Or CHG and Eastern Middle Eastern Farmers and Western Middle Eastern Farmers.
But, I think I was wrong about the magnitude of the admixture. This was before ancient DNA had revolutionized our understanding of population movement and turnover. I was still resisting the mass migration of a whole folk across huge distances. I’m more open to that now. I am not sure I still believe the very high steppe fractions implied in some of the recent analyses, but it’s certainly higher than I would have believed back then.
Finally, the recent diversification of the Dravidian languages supports the model that their current distribution is not primordial. Rather, they probably expanded relatively recently from the northwest of the subcontinent. Probably earlier than the Indo-Aryan expansion into the Gangetic plain, but not that much earlier.
Additionally, because the Dravidians were not primordial, but expanding only somewhat ahead of Indo-Aryans, they were part of an interactive social-cultural sphere with the Indo-Aryans. I think the very high frequency of R1a1a-Z93 in some non-Brahmin South Indian groups, even tribal ones, suggests to me that the expansiveness of some paternal Indo-Aryan kin networks across the whole subcontinent.
Addendum: Much of the attention goes to the ANI dynamics. But though recent work attests to the overwhelmingly diversity, and basal character, of South Asian mtDNA lineages, we can’t be entirely sure that they are indigenous without ancient DNA. If a migration from the east at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary was characterized by gradual diffusion of groups with reasonable effective population sizes they could have brought over their diversity.