No steppe ancestry in the the Rakhigarhi samples = non sequitur

Harappan site of Rakhigarhi: DNA study finds no Central Asian trace, junks Aryan invasion theory:

The much-awaited DNA study of the skeletal remains found at the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi, Haryana, shows no Central Asian trace, indicating the Aryan invasion theory was flawed and Vedic evolution was through indigenous people.

“The Rakhigarhi human DNA clearly shows a predominant local element — the mitochondrial DNA is very strong in it. There is some minor foreign element which shows some mixing up with a foreign population, but the DNA is clearly local,” Shinde told ET. He went on to add: “This indicates quite clearly, through archeological data, that the Vedic era that followed was a fully indigenous period with some external contact.”

I haven’t heard anything definitive, but this is what I have heard: that the genetics they could analyze indicates continuity, but none of the steppe element ubiquitous in modern North India (and that there was contamination in the Korean lab). The Rakhigarhi samples date to 2500 to 2250 BC last I checked. That means they shouldn’t have any steppe ancestry if the model of the relatively late demographic impact of Indo-Aryans after 2000 BC is correct.

Basically, the whole article is kind of a non sequitur. I do understand that many archaeologists think there was continuity culturally. And there could have been. But taking into account the genetics of the modern region of India where Rakhigarhi is located, there was a major demographic perturbation after 2250 BC.

27 thoughts on “No steppe ancestry in the the Rakhigarhi samples = non sequitur

  1. Am a bit puzzled about the appearance of the story because AFAIK that journalist doesn’t have any Hindutva sympathy, nor does the TOI group. Most likely a researcher fed her technically correct but carefully cherrypicked info (say, suggesting that there is more cultural continuity than AIT guys think, that quote “He also discounted the notion of any violent conflict.” etc.), and let her extrapolate.

    Not that I am complaining 🙂

  2. Due to the single sample and long wait time, this is getting to be the most overhyped ancient DNA paper ever.

  3. This news report is again quite puzzling. Unless the paper is out there is no use speculating on such news stories. Perhaps, with this new article, it maybe that the Rakhigarhi paper is indeed close to release.

    I should also submit that the Narasimhan et al paper make no conclusive case for steppe intrusion into South Asia in the 2nd milenium BC.

    Just look at the p value table with 2 right sets of outgroups for modelling of Mala, Punjabi, SPGT & Swat – H. (Page 176 – Supplementary Text).

    The best p values for Mala are with Okunevo & Tepe_Hissar while for Punjabis it is Khwalynsk_EN + BMAC (1st right set) or Khwalynsk_EN + Indus_P (2nd right set). Khwalynsk elsewhere shows itself to have one of highest levels of allele sharing with WSHG (fig S3.22), higher than even Okunevo. So we cannot argue that the presence of Khwalynsk as the steppe source for Punjabis indicates EHG intrusion into South Asia and not something related to WSHG or ANE as is already found in Indus_P and Chalcolithic Central Asia.

    Even for SPGT, which by the way is an outlier population on Indian clone, it is steppe_mlba_West rather than steppe_mlba_east which makes the best fit. Geographically this makes no sense whatsoever since there is no archaeological link that connects the western steppe groups to populations in South Asia.

    If this was not enough, they argue that the steppe did not impact BMAC and the BMAC did not impact South Asia.

    The authors appear to have taken Kuzmina too seriously on this matter. They should read the archaeological supplement that has come out with the Daamgard et al paper. The archaeological support for a 2nd millennium BC movement into South Asia is non-existent. The supplement by the way has no Indian archaeologist and it is their word not mine.

  4. they’ve been talking about posting the preprint to journalists for a few months. the contamination in the korean lab seems to have slowed them down. basically it was east asian ancestry and i think they assume it’s just korean.

    the general results have been circulated widely already.

  5. Out of 148 skeletons, only 2 yielded any relevant DNA. Even that DNA was contaminated with presumably some Korean DNA. And via this pathbreaking research, contradictory conclusions are already being drawn (“junks AIT” vs reinforces AIT).

    Genetic articles are no longer academic. Now they are pure entertainment.

  6. I can only imagine how the headlines in morning newspapers in Seoul would have looked like had they not discovered the contamination. “Geneticists discover ancient Koreans were the builders of Harappan civilization”.

    Please post this last one 🙂 It is so funny. I promise I won’t troll you again 🙂

    [yes, that was funny enuf. the contamination would have been obvious -razib]

  7. Rakhigarhi people who lived around ~2600 BCE did not have steppe ancestry, but the Rakhigarhi villagers who are alive in 2018 CE have proven steppe ancestry — so, those steppe genes (politically correct term for “Aryan”) must have got in in those 4600 years.

  8. I didn’t realize it yesterday, but this seems to be the thought process which made some interpret the results as undermining AIT:

    Let me explain Rakhigarhi findings in simple prose:1. Exercise was a combo of archaeology and genetics2. Archaeological findings established the site to be Rig Vedic3. Genetics found there was no Central Asian trace, it was purely indigenousSo, Vedas are indigenous. AIT dead— Sanjay Dixit संजय (@Sanjay_Dixit) June 14, 2018

    In other words, the assertion is: “Aryan is a cultural word, the culture comes from the Indus valley civilization, the contribution of Steppe pastoralists being nominal, so whatever migration or invasion happened it was not Aryan”.

  9. “Rakhigarhi people who lived around ~2600 BCE did not have steppe ancestry, but the Rakhigarhi villagers who are alive in 2018 CE have proven steppe ancestry”

    I wonder why the Jatts from Haryana have so high steppe ancestry. And also Brahmins being strongly steppe+ASI and non-Brahmins being mostly west asian_farmer+ASI looks weird.Phenotype wise they dont look much different, looking at Brahmins and non Brahmins(excluding Dalits) from cow belt region, Bengal, South India ect. They look pretty similar, the only people that look different are Dalits.

  10. Do you think there could be any major findings moving forward which could lead to any conclusion to the whole thing. Is there something (like DNA sample after 2250 BC) which would decisively settle this issue one way or the other?

  11. Razib,

    Since the sample size is so small (n=1?2?), do you know if there might be any additional, uh, “caches” of skeletons in that area to mine off of besides ~150 they used?

  12. Looks like my comment yesterday had gone to spam. That is okay, don’t bother, it was just a casual remark.

  13. @froginthewell That journalist may be writing her most life endangering story in her life even though it is almost a throwaway article based on a press release. I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes.

  14. @razib

    Honestly, what do you think could be the language of Indus?
    What haplotype/haplogroup they could have possessed?

  15. Piece by piece the classic interpretation of Indoeuropeanisation was proven to be right whereever Indoeuropeans were or still be found. The only open question to remain is Anatolian.

    As for India, some of the commenters seem to be unteachable. It has nothing to do with science any more, especially if they argue the way they did recently. How can anybody who calls themselve a scientist still argue against AIT? Its impossible. Its impossible to explain the modern Indians any other way and thats what matters. Or do they argue that the modern distribution of the steppe component and R1a in particular is the result of Indoscythians or whatever? Thats just clutching for straws with no other reason than the unwillingness to accept the obvious for ideological reasons.

    The first fun aspect is that neither the Indus civilisation nor the Indoaryans can be explained by an independent Indian development. For both the decisive factor came from outside, from Iran for the IVC, and from Central Asia for the IA. I’m pretty sure the Dravidian language came with the Iranian farmers.
    So the fight against AIT is just the Anti-European, anti-colonial and religously motivated sentiment.

    Considering this, the 2nd fun aspect is that the situation is pretty much the same for Western Europe – and England in particular! Modern Europeans are mostly the descendents of Near Eastern Neolithic settlers and Indoeuropean steppe people. What was before, the hunter gatherers, left a mark but are a small minority genetically and gone culturally. The parallels are there and modern Europeans are, just like modern Indians (majority), the result of a parallel development from early Neolithisation to Indoeuropeanisation.

    As for the (decisive) Indoaryan migration to India, the most common date in classical literature was about 1500 BC. But never earlier than 2000 BC. That doesnt mean that there were no earlier incursions, but the movements which changed the subcontinent and left the huge impact we see today happened most likely after 2000 BC. Again, the classic interpretation seems to be vindicated.

  16. It is a simple enough explanation. Dr. Shinde is pleasing the political party in power by obfuscation. The report shows that the so-called Aryans were not part of Harrapan civilization; they came later, whether by migration or invasion. It blows up the OIT theory that Aryans were native to India and spread out from here which is a favourite theme of the Hindu right. No one ever doubted that the Harrapans were native to India, which the study confirms, as it confirms that the steppe genes came to India post the high noon of Harrapa.

  17. @Obs

    “I’m pretty sure the Dravidian language came with the Iranian farmers.”

    Not really. Dravidians are genetically always identified as native to peninsular India (sengupta et al.2006).
    Linguistically too there is no established link to Iran.
    (Elam-Dravidian hypothesis is refuted by George Starostin)

    I don’t know by which basis you claim that they arrived from Iran. Is there proof for your assumption?

  18. Not really. Dravidians are genetically always identified as native to peninsular India (sengupta et al.2006).

    you are out of date citing stuff from 2006. i will let Obs talk about the preprint….

  19. The development of the IVC was happening in India indeed, but on the basis of the settlements from farmers which in turn came from Iran. These Neolithic settlers seem to have mixed with local hunter gatherers (ASI proper) and were very successful in developing a growing farmers culture which eventually developed the flourishing IVC. But all of that happened on the basis of the Iranian farmers and their culture – with local adaptations and Eastern influences of course. So we can’t be absolutely sure, the South Asian hunter gatherers could have been the language givers, but I seriously doubt it. Because there is a continuous development from the Iranian farmers, their settlemetns and villages to the IVC. Also, the typical modern Dravidian has a lower steppe, but a high Iranian farmer component. So the typical Indian Dravidian is still more West Eurasian than most tribals. Recent genetic studies, Razib already commented on those and made some valuable analyses, point to the main difference between Indoaryan and Dravidian: It is the ratio of steppe vs the Iranian farmer component if looking at the West Eurasian ancestry of Indians.

    Both Dravidian and Indoaryan are Indian transformations of major West Eurasian impulses, one from Iran, one from the Eastern European/Central Asian steppe. Because almost no place in India is free from at least one of this two impulses influence, you don’t find any “pure” ASI in India any more. The true bottom line can only be drawn with more ancient DNA from India. I wouldn’t wonder if there were much more than 3 major migrations to South Asia before the Indoaryan consolidation.

  20. @Obs

    Forgive me if I’m being rude here but is there any need to stress the West part of the Eurasians who historically may really have given all their “impulses” to India? (This is categorically not meant to be a new Indigenous Dravidian theory or something but Dravidian languages are really not as decidedly shown to be of Iran origin as the origins of Indo-European languages outside India (not that it is bad and I’m not even being politically correct here- 4000 years is a very long time and all directions of Eurasians get nativised if they decide to make a place their homeland for such a long period); the fact that Dravidian is completely localised to India currently does not permit us to locate Dravidian homeland in Iran or such place with such ease in linguistics. There is lots and lots of new evidence required to conclusively prove such things at least as of now. A PDr. homeland in Gujarat or Maharashtra while descended from one of the AASI speeches of those areas is as possible as one in (eastern) Iran or in northwest India with ultimate origins lying with Iran_N.) Did not the similar subgroups of genetic West Eurasians as above give similar impulses to not East but other West Eurasians of pre-neolithic Europe? Is it a seemingly (to me) twisted way to come back at one of the traditional beliefs of the Indian civilisation that viewed the lands to the west beyond the northwest as “barbarian”? Or were the East Eurasian AASI somehow truly inferior to the West Eurasians?

  21. Did not the similar subgroups of genetic West Eurasians as above give similar impulses to not East but other West Eurasians of pre-neolithic Europe?

    what are you talking about?

  22. @Razib Khan

    “what are you talking about?”

    I thought I had deleted that comment of mine- did I not do it? Anyway, no problem.

    I was having in mind the WHG when I said that. Weren’t they another West Eurasian population like the neolithics of Anatolia, Levant and Iran? Did the latter not have similar effect on WHG to the one Iran_N had on AASI (culturally, etc.), as the commentator Obs himself/herself seemed to have written in an earlier comment? I may be even wrong in believing that the fates of WHG were similar to that of AASI, but I thought that that was the case at the time of writing that comment. And I felt my comment was a bit of an unwarranted overly emotional reaction as perhaps there was no much “stress” put on “the West part of the Eurasians who historically may really have given all their “impulses” to India” (quoting myself), on the part of Obs to begin with, and that it may have been entirely my own unnecessarily convoluted reading of the comment, so I thought it was best to delete it.

  23. @Obs You don’t quite come out and say it, but you strongly imply that IVC was a linguistically Darvidian culture. But, there is very little to support this hypothesis. It is not a fit with the linguistic substrate of early Rig Vedic Sanskrit. It is not a fit with the reality that trade ties between the IVC and the people of South India were very thin. It is not a fit with the lack of Dravidian toponyms in the region where the IVC flourished.

    The IVC language very likely did have deep roots with the pre-IE language of early Neolithic Iranian farmers. But, since the IVC language was very likely not Dravidian, this provides little or no insight into the source of the Dravidian language.

    The other difficulty is that given the very modest amount of variance between the Dravidian languages, there are really only two viable possibilities. One is that the Dravidian languages are quite young (too young to be an IVC language since that civilization predates the South Indian Neolithic which is likely associated with the expansion of the Dravidian languages by thousands of years), and the other is that the Dravidian languages experienced an extreme bottleneck that extinguished all but one of the languages in the language family (possibly due to Indo-Aryan expansion), but that this one remaining Dravidian language then re-expanded into a larger part of the pre-bottleneck range of the Dravidian language (in which case our ability to learn about the deeper prehistory of the Dravidian language family was probably forever lost in the bottleneck event).

    Many First Farmer Neolithic Revolution languages that expanded are now entirely lost and extinct so it is hard to know where they come from, even though we have a much better idea about where post-First Farmer languages come from.

    It seems as if a transition from hunter-gatherer to herder doesn’t necessarily involve language loss and is in general less traumatic in terms of cultural change, while a transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer often just doesn’t happen at all and involves profound cultural changes when it does that often involve language shift to the language of the people who are the source of the farming technology. One would assume that first farmer languages arise from the rising dominance of whomever ends up developing farming and expanding first, such that, for example, the language of the LBK culture may well have been derivative of some exceptionally lucky hunter-gather tribe in Anatolia that was the first to master farming.

    OTOH, even first wave Anatolian farmers in Europe show a diversity in mtDNA that suggests that this group might have been a blend of several distinct hunter-gatherer populations which may have each had different languages from communities that perfected different parts of the European Neolithic package that eventually fused into a single technological package, in which case it wouldn’t be too surprising if a typical first farmer language was some sort of creole of the languages of contributing hunter-gatherer populations.

  24. I thought I had deleted that comment of mine- did I not do it? Anyway, no problem.

    holy shit! you did delete it. i thought it was inadvertently placed in there by me or the software.

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