Likely male-mediated Indianization in Southeast Asia

Pop     N R1a1
Cambodian     125 7%
Balinese     551 2%
Southern Han     166 0%
Northern Han     65 0%
Miao     25 0%
Hui     25 17%
Sala     43 21%
Bo’an     44 25%
Dongxiang     47 32%
Black, Michael L., et al. “Genetic ancestries in northwest Cambodia.”

In the comments below a reader has pointed out that there are Y and mtDNA results for Cham people.

This Austronesian group was once dominant in what was termed Annam by the French, the central regions of coastal Vietnam between the deltas flanking the northern and south (dominated by the Vietnamese and Khmer respectively). The Cham were a seafaring population and had extensive contacts with maritime Southeast Asian and the network of Austronesian peoples.

As such, the Cham were influenced by the currents of cultural change to their south, and as by the early modern era many had become Muslims. But a minority resident in Vietnam retained their Hindu religious identity, and this reflects a deep current of Indianization which took root among them in the centuries before 1000 AD. The boundary between ancient Champa and Đại Việt was also a civilizational boundary, between the elite culture of India and China.

The commenter states:

As far as I can see, this sample of Chams from Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam does not exhibit any clear South Asian influence in its mtDNA. This contrasts starkly with the significant (18.6% to 32.2%) South Asian influence that is apparent in the Y-DNA of the male subset of the same sample

This seems right. As you can see above I’ve found plenty of evident that R1a1a is found in Southeast Asia where it shouldn’t be. Notice that among northern groups in China R1a1a is pretty frequent too. Obviously from a different source, but the same general pattern. And in that case we have plenty of historical evidence of interaction with Indo-Europeans on the steppe.

I’m not very conversant in mtDNA. This paper argues that the Mon people of Thailand have some mtDNA affinities with India. I created this pivot table for readers to double-check (the “MO” populations are Mon).

The history of Southeast Asia, or perhaps more accurately the quasi-history of Southeast Asia since so many of the records are from China and elsewhere, indicates strong Indian influence in the period before 1000 AD. The standard model is that this is cultural diffusion. And by and large Southeast Asian peoples are are mostly indigenous. But, a non-trivial minority of their ancestry is recent, but pre-colonial, gene flow from the Indian subcontinent. Additionally, the imprint is easier to see in the Y chromosome than the mtDNA. The legends of marriages between Indian Brahmins and native princesses in places like Cambodia probably do reflect something real in the dynamics of the early Indianization.

Related: Indic Civilization Came To Southeast Asia Because Indian People Came To Southeast Asia. Lots Of Them.

A clash of civilizations along the lower Mekong

The lower Mekong region is a fascinating zone from the perspective of human geography and ethnography. Divided between Cambodia and Vietnam, until the past few centuries it was, in fact, part of the broader Khmer world, and historically part of successive Cambodian polities. Vietnam, as we know it, emerged in the Red River valley far to the north 1,000 years ago as an independent, usually subordinate, state distinct from Imperial China. Heavily Sinicized culturally, the Vietnamese nevertheless retained their ethnic identity.

Vietnamese, like the language of the Cambodians, is Austro-Asiatic. In fact, the whole zone between South Asia and the modern day Vietnam, and south to maritime Southeast Asia, may have been Austro-Asiatic speaking ~4,000 years ago, as upland rice farmers migrated from the hills of southern China, and assimilated indigenous hunter-gatherers.

But the proto-Vietnamese language was eventually strongly shaped by Chinese influence. This includes the emergence of tonogenesis. Genetically, the Vietnamese are also quite distinct, being more shifted toward southern Han Chinese and ethnic Chinese minorities such as Dai. My personal assumption is that this is due to the repeated waves migration out of southern China over the past few thousand years, first by Yue ethnic minorities, and later by Han Chinese proper. Many of these individuals were culturally assimilated as Vietnamese, but they clearly left both their biological and cultural distinctiveness in what was originally an Austro-Asiatic population likely quite similar to the Khmer.

As I have posted elsewhere it is also clear to me that Cambodians have Indian ancestry. Because unlike Malaysia Cambodia has not had any recent migration of South Asians due to colonialism, the most parsimonious explanation is that the legends and myths of Indian migration during the Funan period are broadly correct. There is no other reason for fractions of R1a1a among Cambodian males north of 5%. Depending on how you estimate it, probably about ~10% of the ancestry of modern Cambodians is South Asian (the Indian fraction is easier to calculate because it is so different from the East Asian base).

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