Indo-Aryan invasion

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Fri Feb 27 09:29:50 EST 1998

At 11:49 27.02.98 +0100, you wrote:
>Lars Martin Fosse wrote:
>> I suspect that the Aryan "invasion" occurred because
>> the Indus culture became weakened by the ecological catastrophy that seems
>> to have hit it and was unable to fend off intruders. Compare the influx of
>> Germanic tribes in the Western Roman empire in the fifth and sixth centuries
>> CE. Germans had been present in Rome for centuries before they were able to
>> ravage the area.

E. Seldeschlachts wrote:

>Why should the Indo-Aryans have been so keen on entering an ecologically and
>economically ruined but still overcrowded country like that of the
>Sindhu/Sarasvati? In this there is no comparison with the Roman empire of the
>fifth and sixth centuries, which was still economically attractive to all
kinds of

I suggest that you take a look at a book called "Mohammed, Charlemagne & The
Origins of Europe". It deals with the late Roman empire and argues that both
the economy and the population took a battering for various reasons, leading
among other things to a depopulation of the Roman countryside and to a
reduction in the size of Roman cities. This in turn opened up parts of the
old R. E. to the barbarians from the North (but in the end also to the
Arabs). Of course, there is a discussion on the Late R. E. going on, and not
everybody will agree that depopulation played a role. A military historian
argues that Rome "fell" because the Romans lost their superior military
qualities. The point of the Sindhu/Sarasvati region is that we don't know
exactly how attractive it was to the Indo-Aryans. They may still have found
lots of interesting things there, or perhaps in the areas beyond those that
had been most damaged by the hydrological upheavals. My point is that the
balance of power may have tipped, just as it did in the Western Roman
Empire, giving the Aryans an edge. By the way, if we are talking about a
real invasion, armies move quickly and cover a lot of territory without
leaving archaeological traces behind them.

>More likely, the local population would have migrated away in several
>In that way there is ample scope for an out of India model, not of
>of course, but of the Indo-Aryan population of the Sarasvati area. The
>of the ancient Near-East are the first and most clearly attested of those
>emigrants from India, but they are not the only ones. By the way, there are
>out-of-India people living among us, viz. the Gypsies. Of course there
>started much later, but under the comparable conditions of the economic
crisis of
>the 5th-6th century A.D.

I am very happy you that mention the gypsies, because they are really an
out-of-India case, and they show all the features you would expect in such a
situation: Their language has clearly Indian features. Even the come-down
version of a gypsy language like the "tater" language of Norway still have
Indian words that are recognisable as such. In addition to that, the gypsies
have cultural features that are recognizable Indian - after having left
India about 1400 years ago! As for the Iranians, there are no traces of
anything Indian to the best of my knowledge.

>On the other hand it is perfectly possible to reconcile this picture with an
>into-India model, which in any case seems also inevitable on linguistic and
>grounds. The reason why archeologically and genetically nothing is found of an
>intrusion of Indo-Aryans in India may simply be that one is not looking in the
>right period.

Ah well, the genetic argument again. I think I shall have to quote
something. I refer to the magnum opus on the genetics of the world by
Cavalli-Sforza called "The History and Geography of Human Genes". Princeton
University Press 1994.

Summing up the population movements in India the book says:

"1. The first component (Australoid or Veddoid) is an older substrate of
Paleolithic occupants, perhaps represented today by a few tribals, but
probably almost extinct or largely covered by successive waves and
presumably leaving no linguistic relics, except perhaps for the Hunza and
Nahali. There seems to be no linguistic trace of the Australoid-Negrito
language but Andamanese speak languages of the Indo-Pacific family. This may
or may not be their original language.
2. The second is a major migration from Western Iran that began in early
Neolithic times and consisted of the spread of early farmers of the eastern
horn of the Fertile Crescent. These people were responsible for most of the
genetic background of India; they were Caucasoid and most probably spoke
proto-Dravidian languages. These languages are now confined mostly, but not
exclusively, to the south because of the later arrivals of speakers of
Indo-European languages, who imposed their domination on most of the
subcontinent, especially the northern and central-western part. But the
persistence of a very large number of speakers of Dravidian languages in the
center and south is an indirect indication that their genetic identity has
not been profoundly altered by later events.
3. The most important later arrival was that of Indo-European speakers, the
Aryans, who, about 3500 years ago entered the Indian subcontinent from their
original location north of the Caspian Sea, via Turkmenia and northern Iran,
AFghanistan, and Pakistan (see sec. 4.6).
4. In the northeast and in the center, the many populations speaking
Austroasiatic and Sino-Tibetan languages are a witness to other major
migrations and infiltrations, mostly from the east and northeast. These are
even less well known than the other three components and probably more
diverse. In the case of the Munda, their genetic similarity with Dravidians
indicates that their migration may have taken place before the Aryan
expansion to the eastern part of India. [p. 241]"

Furthermore, on page 210:

"In agreement with the indigenist trend in Anglo-American arcaeology, it has
been suggested that the Aryan migration is a total invention (see Shaffer
1984). However, as briefly discussed in section 4.3, events in the Neolithic
cultures of Turkmenia, northwest of the Indus Valley, are well explained by
assuming a migration of pastoral nomads from the north at about the same
time; the end here was also not abrupt and violent. Linking the two series
of events in Turkmenia and the Indus Valley, it seems very likely that both
were due to the takover of power by Aryan pastoral nomads who came from the
steppes of Cental Asia, spoke an Indo-European language and used iron and
Horses. More about their origin was given in section 4.3. [.....]"

The genetic study shows that Indo-Europeans and Dravidians tend to form two
different clusters. This fits nicely with the general impression that
Cavalli-Sforza et al. get: That linguistic families tend to be genetically
different from other linguistic families on a world-wide basis (with
exceptions, of course!).

If you are interested in the specifics about the distribution of various
genes and an in-depth discussion of these matters, I suggest that you turn
to Cavalli-Sforza's book yourself. I am afraid that it is a bit too much to

>The weakness of the traditional Indo-Aryan invasion model lies precisely in the
>fact that the arguments are maybe partially right in se but do not tally with a
>number of findings about the period envisaged for that invasion. I have the
>impression that more and more researchers, also in the West, begin to feel very
>uneasy about the fact that every fact known about ancient India is pressed into
>the straitjacket of a theory that has brought no new insights in the past

As new data emerge, they will clearly demand new configurations of the total
mass of data. Parpola tries to do this in his latest book on the Indus
Script. The discussion will certainly go on for a long time. But the genetic
data seem to support the into-India model, one way or another.

For the next few days, I shall be very busy with other stuff, so I am not
going to participate in the debate. Bear with me if I don't answer

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo

Tel: +47 22 32 12 19
Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at
Mobile phone: 90 91 91 45

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list