Indo-Aryan invasion

Erik Seldeslachts erik.seldeslachts at RUG.AC.BE
Fri Feb 27 17:20:43 UTC 1998

Lars Martin Fosse wrote:

> 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.

I agree, but then there is an even more conspicious difference between de Roman and the
Sarasvati case. In the Roman world, despite centuries of invasions and a final collapse
Latin survived and developed further after the collapse into the Romanic languages. The
languages of the invaders did participate to a certain extent in the formation of the
Romanic languages, but - some peripheral areas excepted - failed to get a definitive
foothold in the ares formerly occupied by the Romans (except for Arabic and Turkish later
on). In the Sarasvati case, if one accepts the view that Dravidian was the language
spoken in North-Western India at that time, how to explain the fact that this language
has been wiped out from that area by intruders, who certainly could have formed only a
minority in a culturally superior environment? How to explain the absence of Dravidian
elements in the oldest forms of Indo-Aryan (the few such elements proposed are all
heavily disputed). Finally, how is it possible that there is no trace of a Dravidian
substratum in placenames and rivernames in most of North-Western India and even in most
of Nortern India as a whole. The Dravidian hypothesis has to be abandoned. Of course, in
the course of time Indo-Aryan became very much structurally influenced by Dravidian while
Dravidian became very much Aryanised lexically, but these are later developments.

> As for the Iranians, there are no traces of
> anything Indian to the best of my knowledge.

You are right, except for the fact that there are Gypsies among the Iranians too and that
there are a number of Indian loan-words in Persian. However, I do not understand why you
make this remark. The early migration route of Indians towards the west must have
followed the Oxus bassin (formerly leading to the Caspian Sea), an area which came only
relatively late under Iranian controll.

> 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.

I must confess that I haven't read the work of Cavalli-Sforza, but I have the impression
that he is trying to fit his genetic data into tradional theories. As far as I know there
is no substantial genetical difference between the population of the Indus-Sarasvati
culture and the present population of that area.

> Summing up the population movements in India the book says:

> 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.

Here Cavalli-Sforza implicitly admits the shortcomings of his research saying "they were
Caucasoid and most probably spoke proto-Dravidian languages". Why couldn't they "most
probably" have spoken Indo-Iranian or proto-Indo-Aryan ? He does not say that there
genetic constitution closely resembles that of the present day Dravidians. He only has
"an indirect indication" which is not based on genetic evidence but on linguistic and
historical assumptions which form part of the traditional Indo-Aryan inavasion model. In
fact he is turning in circles.

> 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).

As is the case with so many factors, the genetic shift can easily be interpreted here as
going the opposite way: from east to west. The time and areas indicated are more or less
the period and areas of the westward movement of Indo-Aryan peoples, who by then had
mastered the skills of horse-riding.

> 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. [.....]"

Again, no genetic argument at all, but a purely traditionalist explanation, which can be
easily reversed.

Erik Seldeslachts
Universiteit Gent
Gent  Belgium

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