Indo-Aryan im/e-migration (scholarly debate)

Mon May 4 15:24:09 UTC 1998

In March, taking up a suggestion by George Thompson that we should try to make
a discussion on "Indo-Aryan im-e-migration" more "scholarly" (and hence more
fruitful), I tried to collect some basic relevant literature on the issue and
proposed to look for some basic arguments. As an example I referred to the
'horse-argument' as formulated by Parpola, and asked whether any
alternative/additional arguments were known which could serve as basic topics
to be discussed in a future, more scholarly discussion on the subject. A lively
discussion on the horse-argument followed immediately, but no-one came with an
alternative or additional argument for Indo-Aryan im/e-migration. So, besides
the complex and much-disputed linguistic evidence, only the horse argument (in
my view still valid, though open to deconstruction according to others) serves
to link speakers of Indo-Aryan in India with those in central Asia/Europe?

A number of valuable references to relevant literature have been made. I tried
to collate them and am willing to sent my collation in their unedited form to
anyone interested.

a chain is only as strong as its weakest link

my last posting I suggested to look for a simple formula to represent the
arguments for Indo-Aryan im/e-migration, in order to stimulate a fruitful
debate of this issue.

One example I may give even now, not in order to start discussion of this
example but to stimulate others to look for alternative ones.

A compact argumentation for the view that Aryans came to India, not necessarily
in an invasion, is provided by Asko Parpola in his book: Deciphering the Indus
Script, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994, pp. 155-159. The brevity of the argument
(in four pages with maps and pictures) should make it a suitable topic of

Parpola presents:
"one important reason why the Harappans are unlikely to have been Indo-European
or Aryan speakers. This is the complete absence of the horse (equus caballus)
among the many wild and domesticated animals that have been identified at a
large number of Early and Mature Harappan sites."

It is further stated:
"The wild relatives of the horse . . . and donkey  . . . are ot native to the
Iranian plateau and South Asia, the domesticated animals having been brought
into the area probably from the west and north.
Why should the horse be such a strong indication of the Aryan and Indo-European
culture? The first strong evidence for horse domestication comes from Dereivka
on the Dnieper rever, a site belonging to the Ukrainian Srednij Stog culture,
which flourished about 4200-3500 BC.
. . . domesticated horse, wheeled vehicles, stockbreeding and limited
horticulture, spread from the Ukraine eastwards over the vast grasslands.
The Proto-Aryan word for 'horse' aZva . . . is clearly a Proto-Indo-European
. . .
The horse and chariot can thus with good reasons be expected to be physically
and ideologically present in the archaeological cultures identified as Aryan.
This is the case in the Gurgan culture of northern Iran, with the chariot seal
of Tepe Tissar . . in the Bactria and Margiana Archaeological Complex . . .

The picture is totally different when we turn to the Indus Civilisation. There
is no evidence of the horse whatsoever.. . .
This does not prove that Aryans never visited the Indus Valley in the third
millennium - a few probably did - but it does suggest that the Indus
Civilisation in general and its rulers were non-Aryan."

iti Parpola uvAca

In this posting, which, indeed, is becoming too long, I want to make a brief
suggestion to expand Parpola's argument with a body of evidence which has been
too much neglected so far: the Bhimbetka cave- and rock paintings.

Prehistoric cave/rock-paintings comparable with those found in France and Spain
were discovered at the end of the sixties in Bimbhetka near Bhopal. Research
has been going on for decades, but comprehensive reports from the Archeological
Survey are still forthcoming.
The paintings of generations of people living in or near the caves have been
preserved. The oldest are estimated to date back some 10.000 years, and
youngest are attributed to the first millennium AD.

These paintings, which I went to see almost two years ago, are in my view the
best pratyakSa argument (in combination with Indus Valley evidence and
Parpola's horse argument) against proposals for a VERY old date of the Veda and
the Vedic people (as proposed by Frawley, Kak and others). The environment
presupposed in the Veda is simply incompatible with the environment of
reflected in these paintings (horse is missing, people apparently live as
hunter-gatherers for millennia; writing appears very late).

Scholars from the Archeology department in Poona have been working on these
findings. The only preliminary scholarly publication I know of is Bhimbetka:
Prehistoric man and his art in Central India, by Virendra Nath Misra, Yashodhar
Mathpal, Malti Nagar, Pune: Deccan College, 1977. (With a foreword by H.D.

Suppose these caves would have contained evidence for a very old Veda. How
quickly would they have been studied, and how quickly would the results have
been published and become famous? Should we conclude that "the Indians" are
trying to cover up evidence against an old Veda? In fact I believe as little in
such a 'conspiracy theory' as I believe in a 'conspiracy' of 19th century
European scholars against Indians. After all, to quote Halbfass from the recent
book Beyond Orientalism, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997, p. 9: "the causal and
conceptual relationship between textual and academic Orientalism and actual
political and economic subjugation of the Orient remains unclear and ambiguous
. . . " as there are so many "twists and turns . . . unexpected transformations
and side-effects in Europe's encounter with Asia . . . a process which locked,
for instance, the Asian activities of the Christian missionaries into the
growth of secularism and the critique of Christianity in Europe, and which
turned the efforts of 'agents of imperialism' and arch-Orientalists as William
Jones or Max Mueller into forces which would contribute to the demise of
colonialism and imperialism."


{Dominik, to atone for my too long postings (transgressing the two-screen rule)
I promise to remain silent on this topic for the coming weeks}

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