"Out of India"

joe at sfbooks.com joe at sfbooks.com
Thu Nov 28 10:59:28 UTC 1996

(A copy of this message has also been posted to the following newsgroups:
sci.archaeology, sci.lang)

In article <329C4F46.467E at waterloo.border.com>,
sshankar at waterloo.border.com wrote:

>Miguel Carrasquer Vidal wrote:
>>Does even the Beowulf mention a
>> homeland in Northern Germany?  Take the Gypsies.  We know that they
>> indeed came "out of India".  Do their legends mention that?  No, the
>> Spanish Gypsies claim to be from Egypt, which was indeed a "half-way
>> stop" they made.  Recollection of the earlier Indian homeland had
>> vanished, in just 400 years.
>Please refer to Vidyanath Rao's post about when the Rg Veda was
>supposed to have been composed ( "Re: lack of memory of external
>origins: Quite a few philologists
>aver that Rksamhita was composed at the time of ``invasion''.
>But Rksamhita lacks any memory of external homelands. Does this take
>400 years? 100 years? 40 years? 0 years?)
>My statement was based on the above belief that the Rg Veda was composed
>around  the time of the "invasion".

While I've been clear about disagreeing with "out of India" and hence with
Mr. Shankar, I must note full agreement with this point, and I'd like to
use it as a springboard for something of a summing-up of the problem.

The full-blown "Aryan invasion" theory runs roughly as follows:

1) IVC existed c 2100-1500 BC
2) Aryans invaded 1500 BC, trampled it into dust, and promptly wrote the
Rgveda (Rksamhita)
3) Around 1000-800 BC they found out (from the west) about iron, and thus
were enabled to cut down trees in the Ganges valley, so they invaded that;
they also, around this time, wrote the Later Vedic texts
4) By 600 BC they had built cities as far east as Bihar, and the Buddha
was teaching in them

I would *hope* that anyone who's got the slightest familiarity with the
speeds at which cultures usually developed in antiquity, without massive
external pressures, would find that as deeply offensive as I did.

Well, it's also wrong, nearly in toto.

1) The IVC existed (if by that you mean the "Mature Harappan" era, the era
of the great cities) more like 2500-2100 BC
2) The Rgveda shows no signs of memories of conquering the IVC, nor of any
recent migration let alone invasion
3) Gangetic iron came from the east, and anyway there were *lots* of
villages and even cities in the Ganga valley prior to the date 800 BC,
perhaps even prior to 1000 BC
4) So although the bit about Bihar and the Buddha is pretty much true
(some people, however, e.g. George Erdosy, have actually argued for later
dates for cities) - even so, the rest is BS.

And this BS is still all too widely available from whatever source one
might care to investigate concerning ancient South Asia, if that source is
not specialised in that subject.  I mean, it appalls me the extent to
which encyclopaediae and the like don't even bother to *calibrate* their
*radiocarbon dates* when it comes to this stuff!!

So it may come as a shock to realise it, but the positions actually
available to scholars simply don't include the full-blown invasion theory
any more.  And few scholars adopt anything of the sort.  Moin Ansari is
perfectly welcome to show up here to defend it; in the meantime, I'll note
that opinions I know of in the field actually range, these days, from a
much more moderate sort of migration theory (which sometimes though not
always puts at least some Aryans on the scene of the IVC) to the
full-blown "out of India" one.  It isn't at all surprising, given the
general neglect of this topic in the West and the corresponding
perpetuation of a view which conflicts with current political trends in
our materials, that Western views are largely ignored in India; there, I'm
given to understand that even such stalwarts of the old guard as B. B. Lal
now regard the arrival of Indo-Europeans from outside South Asia as merely
a hypothesis to be proven, not a fact already demonstrated.  Let me try,
in order to make this spectrum of debate somewhat clearer, to justify
(say) Mr. Lal here, although this is something of a "devil's advocate"

I have been provided, to some extent via the debate on RISA-L which I
posted about to sci.archaeology.moderated as well as these two groups, a
good deal of indication that my initial assertions about evidence *for*
the I-E migration were too strong.  Let's review my evidence:

1.  Parpola's Dravidian version of the IVC seals
--Controversial, still
--More to the point, linguistic in character

2.  Population changes in the Indus Valley
--Vidyanath Rao has consulted the article I cited (which I noted at the
time I had not read), and has described in a note to me a detailed
analysis of its contents.  He finds that they do not support the
conclusion I stated (which I understood to be the authors' conclusion),
that there had been a significant population shift at Harappa between 800
BC and Mature Harappan times.  I will post this note (with his permission)
--Hence, controversial, still.  This would hardly be the first time an
analysis in this area fell down, although I won't state agreement with Mr.
Rao's views prior to reading the text myself.  My point:  I, at least, am
unwilling to keep relying on it until I can examine the evidence with at
least so much care.

2a.  Touchy-feely cultural factors, such as grey ware (commonly assoc.
with Aryans) and ash pits (for the fire sacrifices common in Indo and
Iranian religions)
--As to grey wares, please note that the damning fact for aeons has been
the absence of a link in the relevant parts of the Punjab.  (See, e.g.,
Allchins 1982.)  Given that *Muslim* nationalism has quite an investment
in the Aryan invasions, I'm very surprised Pakistani archaeology hasn't
pursued such a link fiercely, but as it stands, there is a huge gap
between the PGW and the nearest grey ware to its west, despite knowledge
of a fair bunch of 2nd millennium sites in the relevant areas.  Not, then,
adequately demonstrated.
--As to ash pits, well, more or less ditto.

OK.  Note, now.  Argument #1 is linguistic, not archaeological.  Well, we
know perfectly well that the linguists are generally quite unhappy with
the idea of Sanskrit as native to South Asia (or alternatively, of
Indo-European as native to South Asia).

The howling fact remains that archaeological evidence *refuses* to line up
with the linguists' concerns.

Iron and rice came from the *east*, not the west.

The predominant material-culture features of the Gangetic civilisation
show every sign of originating (with those signal exceptions) long before
the Aryans are supposed to have gotten to the Ganga, and as often as not
*in* the Ganga valley (some seem even to come from Malwa, i.e.

Harappa is too old for the traditional invasion.

Nobody has come up with a single persuasive set of diffusion links -
archaeologically speaking - without major chronological or spatial gaps,
west to east, for the relevant periods.

So this is the gap between Mr. Shankar, who appears to support the
full-blown "out of India", IVC was Vedic, theory, and me:

He deal with this by denying that the migration (let alone invasion) happened.

I deal with it by denying that the migration mattered, except
linguistically (therefore there was no "invasion").

His position contradicts most of what we know of linguistics.  Mine, as I
understand it, contradicts most of what we know (archaeologically
speaking) of language change.

And there it stands until there's enough research done in the Punjab to
give us a great deal more to work with.

Joe Bernstein
Joe Bernstein, writer, banker, bookseller joe at sfbooks.com
speaking for myself alone http://www.tezcat.com/~josephb/
But...co-proponent for soc.history.ancient, now back under
discussion in news.groups!

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list