Genetics issues in ancient India

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 2 06:53:11 EST 2000

I can see that there are many misconceptions and misplaced
expectations about what contributions genetics can or cannot
make to Indology. Hopefully, this post will clarify some of
these issues for a while.


Satya Upadhya <satya_upadhya at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

>thanks for that info. I have not read the two papers cited in the article,
>so i am not in a position to argue with u on this. Note, however, that one
>of the researchers in these studies directly told the writer of this "news
>item" that an Aryan "invasion" had taken place.

That's probably because that is what the researcher must have
learnt back in high school. The genetic data do not prove or
disprove the old theory of Aryan invasion. Instead, the data
are interpreted according to what the genetic scientists assume
to be the accepted theory among the relevant social scientists.

Besides, journalists are not the most reliable sources of
scientific knowledge, even if they publish interviews with


"Subrahmanya S." <subrahmanyas at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

>If genetic evidence is to be of any value - it has to show
>independent evidence of migration of IE speaking people into
>India.  Otherwise it will be merely data fitting.

By the same token, those who believe in the opposite theory
will have to show that the genetic evidence supports migration
of IE speaking people out of India. As of now, genetic evidence
neither intrinsically supports movement into India nor suggests
movement out of India *during the time period that interests
everybody here*. What it says is that there is a correlation
in shared genetic traits in Indian and European populations,
but this is not very earth-shattering news. What is certain
is that both Asian and European populations have African roots,
going back to many tens of thousands of years before 1500 BCE.
Even that is not news to the archaeologist or to the biologist
of the old kind, but it may be news to other kinds of experts.

As for data fitting, a lot of good science begins with that.
There is nothing wrong with it. A scientist should question
existing assumptions only for scientific reasons, not for
political or emotional reasons. And scientific reasons arise
from data and whether they do fit under current theory or not.


Rajesh Kochhar <rkk at NISTADS.RES.IN> wrote:

>How can genetic evidence  say anything about an invasion? Also,since
>the  Vedic tradition was patrilineal any meaningful comparison with
>genetic data would be possible if the genetic markers used in the
>study are derived from the father side rather than the mother side.
>Whosoever said ignorance is bliss surely had in mind the  genetic
>scientist's  highly desirable ignorance about ancient Indian history.

Well, whether an ancient tradition was patrilineal or not,
there was always a need for both a father and a mother to
create a baby. Unless of course, the Vedic scientists had
discovered the secret to reproduction through cloning. Even
the pAyasam after a putra-kAma-ishTi or a fruit given by a
.rshi had to be consumed by the prospective mother(s), not
by a prospective father. Vedic society was not unique in
being patrilineal. And to put it plainly, patrilineality
does not mean that fair-skinned/Aryan/Vedic men lived in
men-only groups, and took their pleasure with any passing
dark-skinned/Dravidian/Munda/native/tribal woman who caught
their fancy. They would have been more concerned about
protecting "their" fair-skinned/Aryan/Vedic women from the
fancy of any passing dark-skinned/Dravidian/Munda/native/
tribal man.

Genetic scientists studying populations are interested in
comparing which group is genetically related to which other
group. They choose to study the maternal line because of
solid scientific reasons. Nuclear DNA in any cell is a 50-50
mixture from mother and father, while mtDNA is believed to be
solely maternal. This has only now been questioned, but then
there is almost nothing that is solely paternal.

The genetic scientists are not totally ignoring the paternal
line. They have waited for development of better techniques,
before touching the more complicated X and Y chromosome data.
And one can't develop better techniques without first studying
the simpler thing, and coming to basic conclusions from that
simpler thing.

When relating genetic data to specific groups of people,
the genetic scientists take care to factor in things like
endogamy, exogamy and hypergamy. They get this information
from the anthropologists, philologists etc. So the level of
their ignorance about ancient Indian (or any other) history
only reflects the level of ignorance of the social science
which they follow. Wasn't it Thoreau who said that a man is
ignorant only with the ignorance of his times and wise with
its wisdom? The same techniques as used for studying African,
American, Chinese, SE Asian and European peoples are also used
to study Indian populations. Is there something basically
wrong with this approach when it comes to India and the Vedic


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