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aryans in india - genetic evidence

18th September 2003 permanent link

More on the origins of sanskrit speakers and the Rig Veda in India, and why the previously very speculative and questionable “Aryan Invasion Theory” is looking convincing after all.

Strong support for the idea that the upper castes in India were, at some point, invaders related to European populations comes from a 2001 article in Genome Research by a group of researchers led by Michael Bamshad: Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste Populations. I’m not a geneticist or a statistician, but these guys look convincing to me. They’re absolutely explicit about their methods and approach; they state their findings without drawing any sweeping conclusions; and they’re in a serious peer-reviewed journal.

The article is very technical, but the broad outline and implication of what they’re saying is clear. There is a major genetic difference between the upper and lower castes in India, with the upper castes having more in common with European populations and the lower castes more Asian. The European affinity is possibly most pronounced among kshatriyas, although the authors point out that their sample is too small to be really clear on this point. The difference is greater in genes that are passed down in the male than in the female line.

This would be absolutely consistent with a takeover of the upper echelons of Indian society by a foreign warrior aristocracy, and so appears to support a version of the now-controversial “Aryan Invasion Theory” - although not with the “Aryans” as a migrating barbarian horde as fantasised by nineteenth century European nationalists. It is also exactly the kind of scenario Robert Drews envisages for Indo-European conquests in the Middle East and Greece. There are also plenty of obvious historical examples of similar takeovers - England in 1066, the Magyar invasion of Hungary, the Mongol conquests in central Asia to name just a few.

This study was done with a mostly Dravidian-speaking sample from Andhra Pradesh in central India, but they also briefly compare with another study of north Indian Hindi speakers, where the results were not greatly different.

They say nothing about when the predominantly male European population who took over or became the upper castes might have arrived. Although, as I’ve already discussed at length, I believe that chariots give us a firm “not much earlier than” date of around 1500BC.

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