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Post Info TOPIC: The wheel from Mehrgarh to the Vedas and the Indian national emblem


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The wheel from Mehrgarh to the Vedas and the Indian national emblem

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The wheel from Mehrgarh to the Vedas and the Indian national emblem

On November 15th an article has been published on Nature Communications about a copper amulet (see the photo above) from Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, presented as the earliest object produced through the lost-wax technique.
At the same time, the amulet appears as the earliest reproduction of a spoked wheel. Of course, it is only a shape, but is it possible to use the shape of a wheel before it exists? Or was the symbol itself that finally brought to the creation of the spoked wheel, like a Platonic idea taking shape through a demiurge? It can be an intriguing debate between a materialistic and idealistic approach to history and culture... but let's analyze the issue.
First of all, about the context: "The wheel-shaped amulet inventory number MR. was collected in 1985 at the MR2 site of Mehrgarh during the excavations of the ‘Mission Archéologique de l’Indus’ (dir. Jean-François Jarrige)" 
The MR2 site belongs to the Period III of Mehrgarh, associated with the Chalcolithic and dated by the Wikipedia entry and by Kenoyer 4800-3500 BC. More precisely, the paper speaks of "sector X, Early Chalcolithic, end of period III, 4,500–3,600 BC." However, in the supplementary information we read: "Wheel-shaped ornament discovered by Anaick Samzun in 1985 from a surface recollection at the MR2 site. Despite the fact that the copper artefact was not discovered in its primary position, it belongs to the Early Chalcolithic period since the MR2 site dates entirely from this period."
The date given for the object is 6000 years old, but it is clearly a guess, a full number in the middle between 4500 and 3600 BC, which is the dating given here of the site MR2. In the same site also other wheel-shaped objects have been found: one, fragmentary, "close to the skull of a woman buried in the individual tomb H 33". This suggests that such objects were common in Early Chalcolithic Mehrgarh, and had a sort of religious meaning that could be connected also with death.
For a parallel, we can cite the Celtic use of wheel amulets (from here): 
Symbolic votive wheels were offered at shrines (such as in Alesia), cast in rivers (such as the Seine), buried in tombs or worn as amulets since the Middle Bronze Age. Such "wheel pendants" from the Bronze Age usually had four spokes, and are commonly identified as solar symbols or "sun cross". Artefacts parallel to the Celtic votive wheels or wheel-pendants are the so-called Zierscheiben in a Germanic context. The identification of the Sun with a wheel, or a chariot, has parallels in Germanic, Greek and Vedic mythology.
On the other hand, how old are the earliest traces of real spoked wheels used for vehicles? A common answer is: Sintashta in the Russian steppe, around or slightly before 2000 BC (for instance in the detailed book of Anthony "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language"). There are graves containing impressions of spoked wheels, evidently made of wood. The same book explains that the earliest depictions of spoked wheels are later in the Near East: on cylinder seals at Kanesh (Kültepe in Turkey), the important Assyrian colony and Hittite city, around 1900 BC. Anthony used these facts to support an origin from the steppes of the chariots with spoked wheels, followed with enthusiasm by the fans of the steppes. I consider this passion for the steppes an enigmatic and irrational propensity, maybe explainable as a sort of revenge and affirmation of superiority by northern and eastern Europeans on Asians and Mediterraneans, usually regarded (with some obvious reasons) as the source of civilization. 
Anyway, there are some facts that are ignored in this picture. Not only the wheel-shaped amulets, already discovered in the '80s and apparently completely neglected in the debate, but also some terracotta wheels from models of carts found in Harappan sites in Western India and in Shahr-i Shokhta, Iran, in levels dated to the 3rd millennium BC, most probably before the Sintashta graves.
Terracotta wheels from Banawali and Rakhigarhi, Mature Harappan period
Terracotta wheels from Bhirrana, Mature Harappan period
Terracotta wheel from Shahr-i Sokhta, 2750-2200 BC
Not only. Kenoyer in "Wheeled Vehicles of the Indus Valley Civilization of Pakistan and India", published in 2004, remarks:
At Harappa we find evidence for the use of terracotta model carts as early as 3500 BC during the Ravi Phase at Harappa [...] No carts or wheels dating to this early time period have been reported from any sites in Afghanistan or Central Asia, or even from sites such as Mehrgarh and Nausharo that are located at the edge of the Indus plain. [...] it is now possible to say that, on the basis of the currently available archaeological evidence, the development of Indus wheeled carts appears to be the result of indigenous processes occurring out in the alluvium and not the result of diffusion from mountainous regions to the west.
Evidently, he did not consider the wheel-shaped amulets from Mehrgarh, but he was dealing with models of carts and terracotta wheels, which are very different from the copper amulets.
But what is impressive here is that he puts the first wheeled carts in the region in the Indus valley, something completely ignored by this passage from the Wikipedia entry on the wheel:
The first evidence of wheeled vehicles appears in the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia (Sumerian civilization), the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture) and Central Europe (Cucuteni-Trypillian culture), so the question of which culture originally invented the wheeled vehicle is still unsolved.    
Can we consider normal that the Indus valley is not mentioned 12 years after the article of Kenoyer? And is it normal that in the book of Anthony, published in 2007, there is no reference to the same article? Maybe yes, we can consider it normal, because South Asian archaeology is evidently out of the range of mainstream knowledge, even when the authors are important Western archaeologists like Kenoyer. I am the only one who has added references to Indian findings in the paragraph of that entry on the history of the wheel, and fortunately they have not been removed.
Anthony in his book, p.69, states that the Baden culture ceramic wagon models dated 3300-3100 BC are "the oldest well-dated three-dimensional models of wheeled vehicles", and there is no mention of the Harappan findings.
An exception to this silence is the Bulgarian M. Ivanova, who, about the Maykop wheels from northern Caucasus, says in "The Black Sea and the Early Civilizations of Europe, the Near East and Asia", pp.121-2:  
The remains of two wooden wheels at Novokorsunskaja allow some suppositions about the type of vehicle to which they belonged. In size, they are similar to wheels of the Catacomb culture [...] The presence of a hub suggests a vehicle with rotating wheels and a fixed axle. The vehicle from which the wheels at Novokorsunskaja originate might have been a two-axle wagon like the roughly contemporary wagon from Koldyri on the Lower Don. But it is also possible that the find from Novokorsunskaja was a two-wheeled cart. Clay models of two-wheeled carts with rotating wheels attest to the use of this type of vehicle in central Asia and the Indus valley in the late fourth millennium BC. At Altyn-depe in south Turkmenistan, such models occur in the second half of the fourth millennium (Namazga III period) and become more common in the early centuries of the third millennium. Cattle figurines with holes in the withers for attaching the yoke have been recovered at Kara-depe. Comparable models appeared in the Indus valley around 3500–3300 BC, during the Ravi-Phase of the Indus culture at Harappa (Kenoyer 2004, 90 f., Fig. 2).
So, going back to Kenoyer's article, the American archaeologist continues speaking of the wheels found from the Early Harappan period (2800-2600 BC), 17 in number; 4 of them from Harappa have painted motifs, and one "shows radiating lines that could represent spokes". The design given in the paper (Figure 4, no.7) can suggest spokes indeed. Kenoyer adds that the technology of wheel transport however is not well attested out of Harappa itself, and he remarks, citing Tosi 1968, that also Shahr-i Sokhta has not given wheels. Probably, the terracotta wheel exposed in the Museum of Oriental Art in Rome shown above has been found later than Tosi's publication. By the way, it is remarkable that there are also zebu (Bos indicus) figurines, and since zebus were domesticated around Mehrgarh, it suggests a significant influence from the East, from the Indian subcontinent. A tendency shown also in the historical period, since the Helmand area (Arachosia) was known as White India and was more Indian than Iranian until the Muslim conquest (see here). 
On the other hand, Kenoyer adds (p.8):
Further north in Central Asia, the first carts appear during the subsequent Namazga V period (2600-2200 BC) that corresponds to the Harappa Period in the Indus Valley, and these are four wheeled carts drawn by one or two camels and not by bullocks. Since camels were not domesticated in the Indus valley, we can assume that the use of camel carts is an indigenous process in Central Asia and that the construction of four wheeled carts in Central Asia is also a local phenomenon.
About the Mature Harappan period, Kenoyer speaks of a significant increase in the number of terracotta carts and wheel fragments, and has also something to say about the reproduction of spoked wheels: 
The most controversial discussion revolves around the construction of spoked wheels that have been associated with the use of the horse drawn chariot and by extension, the Indo-Aryan culture. In India single examples of "spoked wheels" have been reported from the sites of Lothal, Rupar, and Mitathal, Banawali and most recently at Rakhigarhi [...] Perhaps the most convincing example of a spoked wheel comes from the site of Rahkigarhi, presumably from the Harappan levels though the excavation report has not yet been published. In this example there are eleven radiating spokes that would have provided considerable support to a light outer rim.
The wheel in question is that of the photo above. Kenoyer does not speak of Bhirrana, that was excavated in the same period of the publication of his article (2003-2006). And in Puratattva no.36, of the year 2005-6, after Kenoyer's article, we find an article by L.S.Rao about wheels found in Bhirrana. There are several instances of wheels with painted spokes or spokes in low relief, already from the Early Mature Harappan period. I suppose the dating of this period should be around 2600 BC (the accepted beginning of the Mature Harappan), although a paper by Sarkar et al. published on Nature gives even 6.5–5 ka BP for this period. Being too far from the consensus on the periodization of the Indus-Saraswati culture, I do not dare to accept it.
However, we have a confirmation that spoked wheels were well known in Mature Harappan India. L.S.Rao, who apparently did not know Kenoyer's article (he cites only a 1998 book of him), remarks that they have not been found in the Indus valley, but we have seen that an example was already in an Early Harappan level of Harappa, and we can add the spoked wheel from Shahr-i Sokhta contemporary with Mature Harappan. Mehrgarh's amulets seem a bit too early, also compared with the earliest cart models from Harappa (3500 BC). However, 3600 BC as the lowest limit of the Chalcolithic level of the amulets is not so far from it, but very far from the first attestations of a terracotta wheel with spokes (after 2800 BC, Early Harappan). Moreover, those copper objects are quite different from the terracotta wheels, and they can also be pure symbols. But why in that shape, and symbols of what? We can remark that they have six spokes. What can be the meaning of that number? 
If you search for numerical symbolism in ancient India, the best place is the hymn RV I.164. There we read in st.11-12: 

dvādaśāraṃ nahi tajjarāya varvarti cakraṃ pari dyāṃ ṛtasya |
ā putrā agne mithunāso atra sapta śatāni viṃśatiśca tasthuḥ ||
pañcapādaṃ pitaraṃ dvādaśākṛtiṃ diva āhuḥ pare ardhe purīṣiṇam |
atheme anya upare vicakṣaṇaṃ saptacakre ṣaḷara āhur arpitam ||

So translated by Jamison and Brereton (see here):
11. Twelve-spoked, the wheel of truth [=the Sun] ever rolls around heaven—yet not to old age. Upon it, o Agni, stand seven hundred twenty sons in pairs [=the nights and days of the year].
12. They speak of the father [=the Moon] with five feet [=the seasons] and twelve forms [=the months], the overflowing one in the upper half of heaven.
But these others speak of the far-gazing one [=the Sun] in the nearer (half) fixed on (the chariot) with seven wheels [=the Sun, Moon, and visible planets] and six spokes [=the seasons, in a different reckoning].
The word ṣaḷ-ara means 'having six spokes' and it is the Rigvedic equivalent of ṣaḍ-ara, found in a repetition of st.12 placed in AV (Śaunaka recension) 9.9.12 before a repetition of st.11 (see here for the translation). The same stanza 12 is cited in the Atharvavedic Praśna Upaniṣad, commented by Śaṃkara, who recognized the symbolism of the year and seasons. About ṣaḍara, he glossed with the compound ṣaḍ-ṛtu-mat- 'having six seasons'.
Now, in Harappan seals we find a sort of spoked wheel, regularly with six spokes:
Harappan square seals with the character of the 'spoked wheel' (from this site)
Plano convex molded tablet 
discovered in Harappa, 1997.

The similarity of shape with Mehrgarh's amulets is remarkable, and the fact that it is placed over the heroic scene on the convex tablet shows its strong symbolic character, probably with a solar meaning as in the Vedic hymn.
Also in historical times, the wheel of Viṣṇu, called Sudarśana-cakra, is often described as having six spokes, symbolizing again the six seasons (see e.g. here).
Thus, we would have again a striking instance of cultural continuity, this time from Chalcolithic Mehrgarh to historical India through the Harappan age. 
Mehrgarh's 'spoked wheel' perhaps was not a real wheel but a circle symbolizing the cyclical time of the year and the Sun, like the Native American 'cross in a circle' or the Sun cross of European prehistory. We can also compare Bactrian bronze seals having circular shape, the last one is directly comparable to the one from Mehrgarh, although with 8 spokes:
However, the Harappan terracotta wheels reproduce real wheels, and the ancient six-spoked symbol could be easily identified with the new technological object, that had also the advantage of representing the idea of movement of the Sun. Now, the spoked wheel has been associated with the Aryans because it is mentioned in the Vedas. In Vedic rituals like the Vājapeya we find a ratha-cakra 'chariot wheel' placed on a post to symbolize the Sun, with 17 spokes. According to the Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra, before climbing the post, the officiant is hailed with formulas, which declare him lord of the 12 months and the 6 seasons of the year (see here).
The wheel was so central in the ancient Indian worldview that the ideal king was called Cakravartin 'a ruler the wheels of whose chariot roll everywhere without obstruction' (Monier-Williams, translating the German Petersburg dictionary). Both in Jain and Buddhist traditions this emperor of the Earth has, among the seven jewels (ratna), the 'jewel of the wheel', symbol of Dharma, in the sense of justice and social order.
Relief with Cakravartin from Amaravatī
Also Ashoka, the great emperor, used a wheel, evident in the pillar below, with 24 spokes, explained in various ways and adopted in the Indian flag itself. However, it seems that on the top of the lions there was a wheel with 32 spokes, that can be interpreted as the 32 marks of the Mahāpuruṣa (Great Man) proper to the Buddha and the Cakravartin king. Interestingly, in the legend of Ashoka called Aśokāvadāna, the number of pilgrimage sites connected with the life of the Buddha and visited by Ashoka totals thirty-two (see J.S. Strong, The Legend of King Aśoka, Princeton 1983, pp.123-5).
Radha Kumud Mookherjee, an historian and member of the Indian Parliament at the time of Nehru, tried to include that wheel on the national emblem (see here):
“It app­ears that a ‘chakra’ with thirty-two spokes was, in the original, placed atop the shoulders of the four lions. The basic idea was that the wheel of righteousness, representing spiritual forces, should be above the four lions, representing material strength. (However) there is evidence to show that this top wheel fell off the shaft on which it rested and so in the Sarnath Museum one sees the lion capital without the top.”“We feel our state emblem should not embody in itself, as it were, a historical mistake. The sheer accident of the wheel being detached from the pillar should not justify a truncated copy of the original sculpture. Besides, the chakra, which is now only engraved in the abacus, does not convey the significance and symbolism of the original, which stresses the superiority of spiritual values. It will be in conformity with our principles and ideals if we correct the mistake. If we have wanted to revive the Ashokan ideals, as indeed we have done, let us not perpetuate a mutilated variant of this monument.”
Pragyan Kumud, a descendant of the historian, has decided to "go up to the highest authorities until the change is made", explaining: “There is something in symbolism, otherwise we would not need national emblems. Maybe, if the chakra of peace was put back into its rightful place, our country would witness a change for the better.” 
So, the wheel symbol is still actual in India, a rolling lasting millennia...
reconstructed Sarnath pillar

 Giacomo Benedetti, Impruneta, Italy, 6/12/2016



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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Jiroft culture and Harappa: an iconographic comparison can reveal the deep roots of Indo-Iranian traditions



The first image is given in a recent paper by D. Frenez and M. Vidale, two brilliant archaeologists specialized in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age from Oman to Western India. The plaque does not come from their excavations but from the Barakat Gallery website. So it has no context, but the style is typical of the art of the so-called Jiroft culture of the Halil Rud valley, recently discovered. 
A civilization, as is remarked in the article, rich in contacts with the Indus valley, being contemporary with the Mature Harappan period. These contacts are shown also by this figure, because the figure of a bovine in front of a cup-like container recalls the unicorn seals, like the one shown above (cf. this post). There are also Indus seals with a zebu bull, but without a container. The Jiroft figure thus is not identifiable with any of the two Harappan models, and it reveals a strong originality in the presence of more than one animal: below the zebu, we have a suckling calf, which shows that the zebu is a cow and not a bull as in the Harappan iconography, and above, there is a small animal apparently attacking the hump of the cow. The authors propose many identifications for this animal, and the most convincing seem those about Canidae like wolf, jackal or hyena, because of the pointed muzzle.
This dramatisation of the scene, so different from the static isolation of Indus animals on the seals, apparently expresses a feature of Jiroft imagery and worldview: the opposition of two animals as symbols of two opposing principles, as is remarked in the entry of the Encyclopedia Iranica about the iconography of chlorite artefacts from the Jiroft culture:  
Two opposing principles arise from the Jiroft imagery: one is negative, with the scorpion and the snake, symbols of suffering and death; the other is positive, with the cheetah and the eagle engaged on the side of man against the reptile. It is clearly not feasible to propose an interpretation of the Jiroft iconography before one can integrate it in the culture it stems from. It, however, seems possible to suggest the idea of a dualistic mode of thinking geared to human pursuits. This particular orientation bears the mark of the strongly contrasted natural environment of the Iranian-Indian plateau. Without falling into geographic determinism, account has to be taken of the extremely particular conditions that prevail in this vast region set against the Zagros Mountain range and turned toward the East and Central Asia. The landscapes may have left their mark on the life of the population, its language, writing, culture, and religion since the dawn of history.
It is obvious that this dualism alludes to the historical Zoroastrian worldview, seen as a continuation of a very ancient pattern of thought. And Zoroastrian mythology and ritual might help us to interpret our plaque. Already in the Avesta, the figure of the cow (gav) and the 'soul of the cow' (Geuš Urvan) enjoy an important position. In the later and more detailed Pahlavi literature, Gāw ī Ēwdād is the 'sole-created cow/bull', first animal to live on earth, and killed by the Evil Spirit (Ahriman). On the other hand, the Evil Spirit is closely associated with the wolf, created by him in 15 species (wolf, black wolf, tiger, lion, panther, cheetah, hyena, jackal, etc., see here). So, we can have here a representation of the cosmic fight between the evil and good forces acting in the Zoroastrian world.
But then, why the cup? It is not an object found on Harappan seals. According to the authors,
"This cup closely resembles ceramic forms of similar general classes, well known in the repertories of the Halil river valley, Sistan and Kandahar in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. Moreover, it also remind[s] the carved chlorite cups of the Halil Rud Civilization."
If we look at the Zoroastrian ritual implements, there is one that reminds the cup of our plaque: the Hawan, the mortar used to press the sacred Haoma (Ephedra) twigs. Here there is a nice picture of it and here is a drawing from the Zoroastrian Heritage site:
Interestingly, Bartholomae says that the havana- (Hawan) today is made of copper, but before it was made of stone, like the chlorite cups. But going back to the comparison with the Harappan unicorn seals, the object in front of the unicorn has been interpreted as a Soma strainer, particularly by Mahadevan, a very good identification in my opinion. So, we can suppose that the authors of the Jiroft plaque were aware of the common Soma/Haoma cult but chose to put the mortar instead of the strainer (that is also among the Zoroastrian implements, see above), maybe because they found it more important, or maybe simply because it was easier to be represented by their technique and material. In this context, the cow can be associated also with the milk that was mixed with the Haoma extract.
I do not suggest that the Halil Rud civilization was already Zoroastrian (Zarathustra should be placed at least in the 2nd mill. BC), but that it had similar rituals connected with the ancestral Indo-Iranian *sauma- cult, and a similar (typically Iranian) dualistic worldview and imagery where the cow could be a symbol of the beneficent side of reality, always threatened by the maleficent, demoniac side, symbolised by the wolf.  



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Monday, 28 March 2016

Continuity of Harappan culture in Sindh and the intriguing case of the copper plates

I have just found a significant paper of 2012 by Rafique Mughal on archaeological research in Sindh about the so-called Jhukar culture of the beginning of the 2nd mill. BC. Like Kenoyer about Harappa, he shows how this culture is in strong continuity with the previous 'Harappan' phase:
Most recent research has confirmed that the onset of decline or Late Harappan period or phase of the Indus Civilization did signal a number of changes in the material culture but the basic Indus cultural fabric continued to survive for a considerable length of time in a very large area of Sindh and southeastern Baluchistan. 
Mughal speaks of his excavations at Jhukar: 
The new evidence changed our understanding and perspective of the Late Indus/Harappan Cultural period in the lower or Souther Indus Valley. It was found that the Indus ceramics as known from Mohenjo-daro and other cities were present in all the layers at Jhukar and found mixed with the new or modified forms of pottery which are labeled as "Jhukar" in the literature. [...] There were less than ten percent new pottery types but all these types were found associated with 80% of the Mature Harappan or Indus pottery. The evidence was almost conclusive to establish for the first time that the Jhukar culture is only a pottery style emerging in association with the continuing Mature Indus ceramic tradition without any break or sudden change in cultural continuity in Sindh. 
 There was a change in the disappearance of square seals, substituted by round ones, similar to those found in the Persian gulf (Bahrein). The script continued to be used on pottery, which is a remarkable fact. Mughal also speaks of the wide relations of the Indus sites with Balochistan and Central Asia, especially the Bactria-Margiana, all areas that belong in my opinion to the Indo-Iranian cultural domain. On the other hand, in the Jhukar period there were relations with Gujarat and even Rajasthan (Gilund) but not apparently with Punjab. Thus the unity of the vast Mature Harappan net was broken.
About the crisis of the urban civilization in Sindh, Mughal sees the main factor in the change of course of Indus and Hakra (Nara in Sindh) caused by tectonic movements. He also cites the earthquake of 1819 in lower Indus valley causing mass migrations. But we must consider also the change in rains and the aridification around the beginning of the 2nd mill. BC.
While in a past publication of 1992 he saw a complete end of Harappan "cultural mosaic" after Jhukar, here Mughal concludes, like B.B. Lal, with the continuity of "Indus traditions" and also people up to the present:
Even today, many Indus traditions continue to survive in art form and daily life of the people. For example, the use of shell bangles on the upper and lower parts of arms recalls the style of famous bronze dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro. The short-wheeled bullock carts of present-day Sindhi farmers are precisely identical in shape with those found at the Indus culture sites. The facial features of many local people in Sindh very much resemble those of the famous "King-Priest" of Mohenjo-daro. Such examples demonstrate survival of several aspects of the Indus Civilization since the third millennium BCE that would link the past with the present and also future.    


Probably he was alluding to someone like this modern rural Sindhi (from here).
This continuity suggests that the general abandonment of sites in Sindh following Jhukar did not mean a disappearance of the local culture, we can imagine at least a survival of some rural communities using carts and shell bangles, also present in Rajasthan and Gujarat. More specific is the survival of ancient kinds of boats depicted also on Indus tablets, and the Ajrak or blockprinted shawls that have been recognized in the garment of the so-called King-Priest of Mohenjo-daro.
A similar trefoil motif can still be found on some modern ajraks (from here, cf. here):


It is interesting that the technique of ajrak has been cited in a recent paper by V. Shinde and R.J. Willis about some particular copper plates from a private collection in Pakistan, with Indus script and animal and human-like figures comparable with Harappan seals and tablets. 
About these plates, the authors write:
The proposal that this unique set of copper plates was designed for printing is indeed radical, but offers the most obvious reason for their existence. The principles of printing were perhaps known to Indus Valley artisans through the ancient technique of ajrakh, printing fabric with woodblock designs. It is possible that the copper plates were created firstly to maintain a permanent record of the standard designs on seals and tablets, and furthermore provide a cheap and portable means to distribute standard designs to craftsmen that carved seals in the Indus Valley region.
Copper plates with inscriptions are an important aspect of ancient Indian epigraphy (see here), but apparently not for printing. In this case, the authors think that they were used for printing because the script is 'mirrored' as in the seals. They have even tried to print with a plate on tussah silk and parchment, with good results. An example is here on tussah silk:
Ajrak printing is done with wooden carved blocks, made from Acacia Arabica trees, indigenous to Sindh (see here). We can suppose that already in Indus times they used such wood for textile printing, which went completely lost like cloth or leather. We can even wonder if the seals were not used also as stamps with ink, and if in post-Harappan times they continued to be used in wood instead of steatite. Anyway, the aspects of continuity between the civilization that flourished in the Sindhu and Sarasvati valleys during the 3rd millennium BC and the later South Asian culture are remarkable, and suggest that, despite crises and natural calamities, the civilization flowed without breaks, like a majestic river.   

A traditional bullock cart and flat bottomed ferry boat used for local transport along the Indus River near the ancient site of Mohenjo-daro, Sindh (



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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A new book on the debate about the identity of the Harappan civilization and the Aryan invasion theory


This new book has been recently published, with papers by distinguished scholars and archaeologists, and also by one who is not so distinguished, the author of this blog. It includes some famous Indian archaeologists like R.S. Bisht and the late S.R. Rao (it is dedicated to his memory), American archaeologists like Kenoyer, Shaffer and Lichtenstein, and some scholars of various origins particularly engaged in the debate about the Aryan presence in India: Kazanas, Robin Bradley Kar, Michel Danino and Talageri. My article builds a chronology of Epic-Puranic genealogies of kings according to Pargiter's lists and compares the result with the Vedic and Epic sources and the archaeological data. I had already developed some ideas, but the final result has surprised me for the consistency and richness of the comparison... the only regret is that I could not modify the part about the climatic change and the Sarasvatī river because it was already too late for the editing when I realized that the tectonic theory of the Sutlej is discarded and the change in the rainfall is promoted... I hope that I can do some changes in a future edition!
You can find the book with contents at this link:



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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Which animal was the Unicorn of the Indus seals?



The image of the Indus 'unicorn' is naturally well known among those interested in Harappan archaeology. It was interpreted as a unicorn already by Marshall, who wrote the first book on the Indus civilization (see here in a recent article by Kenoyer), but Mackay and others have proposed that the single horn is an artistic convention for two horns in profile (see here in a book of Possehl). Possehl also wrote that "there are a few seals with unicorn-type bulls with two horns". Farmer discusses the topic (see here) with some examples, and he arrives at the conclusion that there are no such cases in the Indus corpus of seals. However, one of the examples is identifiable as a 'unicorn-type bull' with the typical 'pipal leaf' design on the shoulder and it has two horns. But this exceptional case can also show that if the artist wanted to make two horns he could reproduce them clearly, and so we can reverse Possehl's argument. And the final proof that the idea of a unicorn was present in the Harappan civilization is given by the finding of three-dimensional figurines with one horn like this (read also here):


But which kind of animal is meant on the seals and in that figurine? The body is clearly bovine, but the neck is too long, and the head too narrow. And what are those strange lines on the shoulder and the neck?  
Before giving an answer, we should search for the unicorn in Indian tradition. Now, Ekaśṛṅga 'having one horn' is a Sanskrit epithet that is found particularly in association with Varāha, the boar as Avatāra of Viṣṇu, as in MBh XII.330.27: ekaśṛṅgaḥ purā bhūtvā varāho divyadarśanaḥ / imām uddhṛtavān bhūmim ekaśṛṅgas tato hy aham. "Having assumed, in the past, the form of a boar with a single horn, of a divine aspect, I raised this (submerged) Earth. Therefore I am the Unicorn."
Well, we can be sure that the Indus unicorn is not a boar, and so we must search elsewhere.
And actually there is another Ekaśṛṅga, in an ancient Buddhist text which is presently my main object of study, the Mahāvastu. There, we find a Ṛṣi called Ekaśṛṅga, whose story is a clear variant of the tale of Ṛśyaśṛṅga, which is found in the Mahābhārata and in the Rāmāyaṇa. Now, the name Ṛśyaśṛṅga means 'horn of the ṛśya' or 'having the horn of the ṛśya'. What is the ṛśya? It is the 'white-footed antelope' as Monier-Williams says, the Boselaphus tragocamelus, best known as nilgai or 'blue bull', because of its similarity with a bull and its iron-blue colour. It is called roz in Punjabi/Haryanvi and roj in Gujarati. The female is called rohit in Sanskrit, because of its reddish colour. So, we have a character that is called Ṛśyaśṛṅga in one context and Ekaśṛṅga in another, but he is clearly the same character, the son of a Ṛṣi born in the wilderness (normally from a female antelope or doe, mṛgī, who has drunk water or urine mixed with the semen of the Ṛṣi). He is described as having one horn of a ṛśya on his head, being the reason of his name, in MBh III.110.17: tasyarśya śṛṅgaṃ śirasi rājann āsīn mahātmanaḥ / tenarśyaśṛṅga ity evaṃ tadā sa prathito 'bhavat. Also in the Chinese translation of the Buddhist Mahāyāna treatise called Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra, we find that the same character, here called Unicorn as in the Mahāvastu, has one horn on his head. There are two important features of this figure in different variants of the story: his connection with rain and drought and with the birth of sons. In the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata he is attracted in order to bring rain to the kingdom of Aṅga, thanks to his ascetic power, and in the Rāmāyaṇa he also performs a sacrifice for bringing sons to Daśaratha. The cult of Shringi Rishi for bringing rain is still alive in Himachal Pradesh, and according to Monier-Williams, śṛṅga is also the name of a Muni "of whom, in some parts of India, on occasions of drought, earthen images are said to be made and worshipped for rain".
We do not know how these earthen images were made at the time of the British scholar, but it is interesting that in the Harappan civilization we have earthen figurines of the unicorn with a hole in the belly, which suggests that they were mounted on a stick to be carried in a ritual (see here). 

So, we can think that the hybrid character of Ṛśyaśṛṅga/Ekaśṛṅga was an anthropomorphization of the original animal nilgai. This animal is regarded as sacred as the cow by Hindu farmers (read here and this article), and it was also the form taken by Prajāpati in the myth of Aitareya Brāhmaṇa III.33, which explains the origin of the constellation Mṛgaśiras, which is part of Orion. In this context, it is maybe significant that α Orionis or Betelgeuse is called ārdrā ‘moist’ in Sanskrit tradition, evidently because it was associated with the rainy season. The deity associated with this star is Rudra, who is the archer himself of that myth and a storm god, and Sirius is also associated with ārdrā, which is often used in the plural or, with the name bāhū, in the dual. In the Zoroastrian Bundahišn (19.1-12) there is a gigantic three-legged ass with one horn living in the world-ocean, helping Tištrya (the star Sirius), the deity of rain, to take the water from the cosmic sea Vourukaša, purifying the water by urinating in it, and making pregnant with his cry all good creatures.
According to Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa V.4.13-14, during the description of the Mahāvrata (a ritual with clear connections with fertility and water), it is recited the ṛśyasya sāman, or ‘melody of the nilgai bull’. Then a myth is given where all beings praised the different members of Indra, but only the ṛśya praised one member, which the commentator identifies with the ‘secret part’ or sexual organ. Thus, this animal is related not only to the generative faculty, but also to the god Indra.
In Atharvaveda IV.4, a charm to restore virile power, we have the phrase ārśa vṛṣṇya for indicating the virile power, then the invitation to approach the woman like the nilgai bull (here called ṛśa) his female. And the virility of the Indus unicorn is always stressed on the seals, as remarked also here in the already cited Kenoyer's article. In the same article, he cites the opinion that the body of the unicorn of the seals resembles that of an antelope of heavy build.
Now, let's see two images of the nilgai, in order to show that it can correspond to the unicorn of the seals:
As is possible to note, the neck of the first picture has some deep wrinkles that can be identified with the lines often found on the neck of the unicorn of the Indus seals. And over the forelegs we see the skin forming a sort of design which reminds of the 'pipal leaf' motif on the Indus unicorn. The same design is even clearer in the second picture of the running nilgai, which was obviously a common sight in ancient India (we should add that remains of nilgai have been commonly found in Harappan sites).
So, textual and zoological evidence leads us to the same conclusion: the authors of the Indus seals intended to depict a mythical ṛśya with one long horn. And this mythical figure, associated (possibly identified) with Indra and Prajāpati, was transformed in the later tradition into a Ṛṣi bringer of rain and fertility, presented as a son (in the Vaṃśa Brāhmaṇa) or descendant of Kaśyapa, the Ṛṣi creator of living beings.

Giacomo Benedetti
Kyoto, 3-3-2014 
Addendum, 28-6-2014: I have discovered that Asko Parpola has reached the same conclusions, following essentially the same connections, in a beautiful and very rich article titled "the Harappan unicorn in Eurasian and South Asian perspectives in  Current studies of the Indus Civilization, vol.IX, 2012. What is different is the linguistic identification of the Harappan civilization, and I find that these conclusions support rather the linguistic and cultural continuity between the Harappan and the historical civilization reflected in the Vedas, the Epics and Buddhist texts of North India rather than the Dravidian theory.    



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Saturday, 25 August 2012

New ideas from the conference on South Asian Archaeology and Art in Paris

In July there has been in Paris a great conference of the European Association for South Asian Archaeology and Art with the presence of many important archaeologists and scholars from Europe, Asia and America (you can see here the abstracts), like Kenoyer, Osada, Vidale, Skilling, Karttunen, and Sanjeev Gupta, an Indian geologist based in the Imperial College of London. He has spoken of some discoveries already discussed the last year (see here and this article), which concern the 'Ghaggar', ugly modern name of (a part of) the Sarasvatī. Recent studies on the deposits of Kalibangan have shown that there is not sand of a Himalayan river during the Mature Harappan Period, but only before 15 kya. That means that after that age the river was only seasonal, based on the monsoons, who were stronger in the 3rd millennium BC. The sites on the old river bed could also exploit the fertility of the depression were the rain waters accumulated. As Osada of the 'Indus project' (based in Kyoto) insisted, the 'Ghaggar' was not a mighty river in the Harappan period, and this datum has been used for denying that the Vedic Sarasvatī is real or identifiable with the Ghaggar. But all this harmonizes with the name itself 'Sarasvatī', meaning 'rich in pools or lakes', which can be said of a rain-fed river. Moreover, it is true that the gveda speaks of a river flowing from the mountains to the sea, but the same is said in the Mahabharata, where it is clearly described the disappearance of the river at Vināśana in the desert, from where, it is said, it re-emerges at Camasodbheda (MBh IX.34.78; III.80.118). Moreover, in RV III.33 the Sutlej (Śutudrī) joins the Beas (Vipāś), and the fact that there is no allusion to a change of course gives no more chronological problems. In the Mahābhārata (XII.139.13-24), the catastrophe between the Tretā and Dvāpara Yuga, which can be seen as a description of the crisis at the end of the Mature Harappan period, is caused by a lack of rain, and not by the change of a river course. So, the data given by Sengupta and Osada are consistent with the tradition.


Another interesting paper was that of R.S. Bisht, read by Kenoyer, because unfortunately the Indian archaeologist was absent. It was about some particular hemispherical tumuli in the cemetery of Dholavira, which resemble some structures found in Bahrain (2200-2000 BC, or more precisely 2050-2000 BC) and also the historical Buddhist Stūpas! Particularly, Tumulus 1 (see above) has ten radial walls forming a kind of wheel-structure, which are found also in Bahrain, and in Stūpas (see below the Sanghol Stūpa). So, it seems that Bisht is going to assert that also the Stūpas have their roots in the Harappan civilization. About Bahrain, we can suppose that these tumuli are  connected there with the merchants from Gujarat: 2200-2000 BC is the same period of the seals found in Bahrain of clear 'Indus' character. But for which kind of people where these tumuli used? Maybe for religious men, like the Buddhist Stūpas? And are there other traces of Stūpas in India before the Buddhist period? According to Buddhist tradition, they were normally used before Buddha Gautama for the Pratyekabuddhas, who were wandering ascetics, and also Jains used to erect Stūpas.


What is also interesting is that apparently the symbol of the spoked wheel was present not only in the script, but also in funerary architecture: another possible sign of the importance of the spoked wheel in the Indian ideology. And the presence of this structure also in Bahrain could show the diffusion from India to the Middle East of (at least the idea of) the spoked wheel already at the end of the 2nd millennium BC.



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Friday, 6 April 2012

The wonderful adventures of Bos Indicus across Eurasia



I already observed in a previous post that in northern Mesopotamia, in the area of Mitanni, we find signs of the presence of Bos indicus in the 2nd millennium BC, which could be a significant clue of the Indian origins of the Mitanni rulers (along with the appearance of the pea****, as we will tell in a next post). But we did not expect to find signs of the zebu even in Ukraine! But this is what I discovered reading a site about Baltic languages and their affinities with Sanskrit. There I found a link to a study by Kantanen et al. of 2009 about bovine haplogroups which can be read in a full form. This is from the abstract:
Here, we provide mtDNA information on previously uncharacterised Eurasian breeds and present the most comprehensive Y-chromosomal microsatellite data on domestic cattle to date. [...] The mtDNA data indicates that the Ukrainian and Central Asian regions are zones where hybrids between taurine and zebu (B. indicus) cattle have existed. This zebu influence appears to have subsequently spread into southern and southeastern European breeds.
It is already an impressive incipit. Then, in the introduction, we read:
Analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) D-loop sequences and Y-chromosome-specific polymorphisms (such as single nucleotide polymorphisms, insertion–deletion mutations and microsatellites) have indicated that humpless taurine (Bos taurus) and humped zebu cattle (B. indicus) have clearly distinguishable mtDNA and Y-chromosomal haplotypic profiles (Loftus et al., 1994Bradley et al., 1996Hanotte et al., 1997Mannen et al., 2004Götherström et al., 2005Li et al., 2007b). This observation points towards two independent domestication events from genetically differentiated aurochs (B. primigenius) populations for the two basic taxa of domestic cattle. The modern European and northern Asian domestic cattle are of humpless taurine type and descend from the aurochs populations domesticated 10000 years ago in the Near Eastern region (Troy et al., 2001Edwards et al., 2007a). However, in some areas of the Eurasian continent, phenotypically humpless cattle are known to have been influenced by historical admixture from zebu cattle. One of such cattle breeds is the Mongolian cattle 
zebu+harappa.jpgIn this context, we can also cite a study by Chen et al. of 2010 about the origins of the zebu, affirming that "both the I1 and I2 haplogroups within the northern part of the Indian subcontinent is consistent with an origin for all domestic zebu in this area. For haplogroup I1, genetic diversity was highest within the Indus Valley among the three hypothesized domestication centers (Indus Valley, Ganges, and South India). These data support the Indus Valley as the most likely center of origin for the I1 haplogroup and a primary center of zebu domestication." In Harappan sites, remains of Bos indicus are very rich, and also images of its bull are frequent on the seals, like here on the right, and its presence is already attested from the first period of Mehrgarh, as confirmed by Jarrige in an article from Pragdhara 18: "Osteological studies as well as clay figurines indicate that zebu cattle (Bos indicusis well attested in Period I and became most probably the dominant form. Mehrgarh provides us therefore with a clear evidence of an indigenous domestication of the South Asian zebu."
But let's go back to our article on bovine genetics. Going into detail, we discover from Table 1 that there are 4 Y-DNA (paternal) haplogroups in Iraq belonging to the zebu and one in the Bushuev cattle. The Iraqi haplogroups, as we have seen, are not surprising, because they can be connected with the appearance of Bos indicus in Mesopotamia in the second millennium BC, and probably there were also other occasions in history for the importation of zebus in Iraq. About the Bushuev cattle, it is a recent breed: it "originated in the Golodnaya Steppe, Syr Darya and Gulistan districts of Syr Darya region of the Uzbek SSR. [...] The founder herd was formed at the farms of the Vedenski and Golodnaya Steppe experimental station, set up during 1906-18 by M.M. Bushuev. The local zebu cattle were crossed with Dutch and Swiss Brown bulls and some Simmentals and the best crosses were bred inter se." (see here). So, from this FAO site we learn that in the steppes around the Syr Darya, in present Uzbekistan, there is traditionally a 'local zebu cattle'. But from the cited study on the origins of zebu we learn that zebu is present in a great part of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan), and also in Oman (an area in close commercial relation with the Indus Valley) and Turkey, besides Iraq. But from the FAO site we also discover that it is present also in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and we find even their history:
The Central Asian (or Turkestan) zeboid is, in fact, a crossbred nearly humpless population that carries the blood of local cattle in the Turkmen, Uzbek, and Tajik republics. The male has a small hump and the female is humpless. It was obtained by crossing local cattle with the Iranian zebu as early as the 7th or 8th century A.D. The influence of the Iranian zebu on local cattle continued until the 17th century or even later. At the same time, in some regions of the Turkmen SSR adjacent to Iran, there are some animals with external characteristics which are typical of zebu. These animals have all the traits and qualities of the species and are known as the Khorosan and Seistan zebu breeds.
So, in  eastern Iran there are ancient zebus, and archaeology tells us that in Seistan "zebu bones and figurines are attested in great quantities at the site of Shahr-i Sokhta in the period c. 2900-2500 BC" (see here). However, it is not possible that the zebu arrived in Central Asia in the 7th century, because it is already present in various images of the BMAC civilization of the 2nd millennium BC, but it was there also earlier, as is proved in the same FAO page somewhat above:
A particularly important role in determining the time when zebu first appeared in Central Asia is assigned to the archaeological excavations at Kaunchip (Uzbekistan). V.I. Gromova (1940) writes: "Noteworthy is the presence of zebu, which is confirmed by the finding of the bifid spinous process of a thoracic vertebra of a young animal; no other ungulate animal except zebu has such a bifid spinous process". This find permits us to assume that the true zebu appeared in Central Asia during 3000 to 2500 years B.C. It also confirms the view once expressed by Frederiks who believed that zebu had appeared in Turkestan before they came to Mesopotamia or at least they spread into the two regions at the same time.
And this page reveals something more about the Azerbaijani zebu:
There are grounds for believing that zebus were raised on the territory of the present-day Azerbaijan 4000-4500 years ago. During the excavations of a stone burial ground in the vicinity of the city of Lenkoran the French archaeologist Jacques De Morgan unearthed and described a unique round seal of black and grey agate depicting a humped zebu bull covered with dense hair. This he dated to 2500-2000 B.C. The excavations carried out by personnel of the Institute of History (Academy of Sciences of the Azerbaijan SSR) at Eddi Tepe (or Seven Hills) in the Feazulin district have produced numerous finds, including two bronze figures of a humped zebu. Another rare find unearthed at Eddi Tepe is an elegant ring made of some precious metal, with a fine drawing depicting a zebu. It is currently exhibited in the Museum of Ancient Culture of Azerbaijan. These finds, which are believed to date to the middle of the first millennium A.D., confirm that zebu with various types of humps were widely spread in the past on the territory of the present-day Azerbaijan SSR.
The same Jacques De Morgan visited the area of Gīlān (see here), in the South Caspian Iran, which, from a period following the mid-2nd millennium BC, has given very clear figurines of zebus, particularly at Marlik, as is shown from the image below, including a model of zebu oxen with yoke and plough. It is interesting that the Russian archaeologist Kurochkin compared the Marlik royal cemetery with Mitanni and Vedic customs (the use of placing mortar, pestle and wagon in the tomb), and even the form of Marlik mortars and pestles with the Linga and Yoni of 'Hindu shrines' (see here).


So, 3000-2500 BC there were zebus in Uzbekistan, 2900-2500 BC in Seistan, 2500-2000 BC (but this date maybe should be confirmed, since it comes from the estimate of De Morgan at the beginning of the 20th century) in Azerbaijan, Caucasus, after 1700 BC in northern Mesopotamia, after 1400 BC in Hittite Anatolia (see here).
Who brought these animals out of South Asia at such an early age? Is it only a matter of trade or should we think to a movement of people? Is it a coincidence that the areas of zebu breeding are placed in the historical regions of Indo-Aryans and Iranians between Northern India, Central Asia and Iran, and in West Asia are strongly connected with the Mitanni kingdom ruled by Indo-Aryans?

But let's go on with our genetic study by Kantanen et al. About the mtDNA, Figure I tells us that there is one haplogroup belonging to zebu in the Ala-Tau breed, and one in Ukrainian Whitehead and Bushuev. From the FAO page, we learn that "Ala-Tau cattle were created on farms of the Kirgiz and Kazakh Republics by crossing local Kirgiz (Kazakh) cattle with the Swiss Brown and selection of the crosses. The breed was formed in the piedmont areas of the Zaili Ala-Tau." So, again Central Asia. The Bushuev is a repetition, but what about the Ukrainian Whitehead? In the FAO page, we read: "In recent years the distribution and use of zebus and zeboids have considerably expanded. They have spread to the Ukraine, Georgia, the Altai and Krasnodar territories, Dagestan, Kazakhstan and the non-blackearth zone of the Russian Federation." So, is this simply a recent arrival? Kantanen's genetic study has a different story to tell:
This study suggests that the Ukrainian and the Central Asian regions belong to hybrid zones where taurine-zebu crossbreds have existed. The admixtured nature of these breeds has not previously been reported (Dmitriev and Ernst, 1989Felius, 1995). The indicus mtDNA haplotype found in the modern Ukrainian Whitehead cattle may descend from ancient Steppe cattle, which were upgraded with European bulls to establish the Ukrainian Whitehead breed (Dmitriev and Ernst, 1989). Similar kinds of longhorn and grey cattle are found in southeast and southern Europe, such as Maremmana, Hungarian Grey and Modicana, collectively termed as Podolian breeds (Felius, 1995). Studies of nuclear genetic markers have suggested that the genetic influence from zebu is evident in breeds of the Podolian group (Pieragostini et al., 2000Cymbron et al., 2005). The detected genetic influence from zebu cattle in the Podolian cattle appears to originate, at least partly, from ancient Steppe cattle. According to Epstein and Mason (1984), longhorn grey-white cattle populated southern, southeastern and Central Europe from the Russian southern steppe regions more than thousand years ago. Moreover, we postulate that the globally famous Jersey cattle have an intrinsic origin in these ancient southern Russian steppe cattle, which is supported by our Y-chromosomal data indicating genetic affinity between the Jersey and the Serbian Podolian cattle. 

Quite striking. So, Bos indicus has secretly crossed the Channel and reached Jersey Island and Great Britain in the DNA of Jersey cattle... A study cited above, by Cymbron, reports:
In the present study, B. indicus influence in Europe was measured systematically using PAAs. These were found at low frequencies in some European breeds (figure 3). The average frequency of B. indicus PAAs is higher in Mediterranean breeds (6.7%) than in the rest of Europe (5.1% without outliers). Within the Mediterranean, the average frequencies of B. indicus PAAs in Italy is the highest (8.1%). The Greek Sykia breed is intermediate (6.3%) and the average frequency in Portugal is 5.4%. The highest absolute values are found in two Italian breeds: Maremanna (8.1%) and Modicana (10.8%). Interestingly, a percentage of individuals of the Modicana breed have bifid processes in the last thoracic vertebrae, traditionally considered a B. indicus anatomical characteristic (Grigson 2000).      
The Modicana breed is in Eastern Sicily, the Maremmana (photo above) in Southern Tuscany, and it is connected with the Etruscans, who, according to Herodotus and recent genetic studies, came from Anatolia. There is even a genetic study showing that five bovine breeds which can be connected with Etruscans, and one of Sicily (Cinisara), have strong affinities with Anatolian and Near Eastern breeds. Strangely, from that study the Modicana breed and other Italian Podolian breeds appear as quite far from Near Eastern breeds, and close to Western breeds like Charolais and Simmenthal. Actually, there is the theory that the Modicana breed was brought by the Normans from continental Europe. Maybe, it comes from a crossbreed between a previous zeboid breed of Anatolian or Greek or Arab origin and a French breed.
The study by Cymbron et al. tries to explain all the zebu DNA in Europe as coming from Anatolia, but it is not necessary: it may also come from Central Asian Steppes in different periods: the first period could be the arrival of Indo-Europeans through Ukraine. In this context, archaeology should give more details.
Then, the presence of zebu genes and representations in Asia and Europe seems to be a promising ground of research, and certainly a confirmation that there was an important movement from South Asia to the West. It is difficult to think that this movement was only of cattle without herders, particularly where we find strong archaeological and historical signs of a common culture. A very recent genetic study on the human populations of Afghanistan has shown a high presence (around 20%) of surely Indian Y-DNA haplogroups (L-M20, H-M69, and R2a-M124) in Pashtun and Tajiks there, not to speak of R1a1a which can also come from India and Indus Valley. It has also shown that "BATWING results indicate that the Afghan populations split from Iranians, Indians and East Europeans at about 10.6 kya (95% CI 7,100–15,825), which marks the start of the Neolithic revolution and the establishment of the farming communities." And we know that in Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, Bos indicus was domesticated from the beginning of Neolithic.
Actually, scholars have always thought of Indo-Europeans as the people of the horse and searched for horses in order to find Indo-Europeans. But they were also, and I would say more, the people of the cow and the ox, as is shown from the root gau/-gou-: Sanskrit go-, Avestan gāu-, Tocharian ke/ko, Armenian kov, Lithuanian gùovs, German Kuh, Irish bó, all for 'cow', Albanian ka/kau, Greek βοῦς, 'ox, cow', Latin bōs, bovis, Croatian and Serbian vo, 'ox'. Therefore, let's look more at Bos indicus and taurus for finding the traces of Indo-Europeans!  
Update 25/09/2018:

The discovery of ancient R2a in Neolithic Iran (Ganj Dareh) and Chalcolithic Turkmenistan (Anau) and L1a in Chalcolithic Armenia (Areni Cave) changes the perspective, because even if they were of Indian origin (what is denied by Silva 2017) their presence appears to be previous to the arrival of Bos Indicus, and so not to be related with a migration of zebu herders. The case of R1a1a is still debated, but recent findings and studies suggest that it came quite late (maybe in the Bronze Age) into South Asia, where we have only a branch of it (Z93 and within it especially L657, dated 4.2 kya). 



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 Tuesday, 1 November 2011

About India and Central Asia

In the Wikipedia entry about the Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a, so popular among the fans of Indo-Europeans, something has recently changed. We find acknowledged the fact that, notwithstanding various studies suggesting a South Asian origin, still there is a resistance by some researchers:
R1a and R1a1a are believed to have originated somewhere within Eurasia, most likely in the area from Eastern Europe to South Asia. Several recent studies have proposed that South Asia is the most likely region of origin. But on the other hand, as will be discussed below, some researchers continue to treat modern Indian R1a as being largely due to immigration from the Central Eurasian steppes.”
Below, about the South Asian origin hypothesis, we read:
“A survey study as of December 2009, including a collation of retested Y-DNA from previous studies, concluded that a South Asian R1a1a origin was the most likely proposal amongst the various uncertain possibilities.[2]
On the other hand, other recent studies such as Zhao et al. (2009) continue to treat R1a in modern India as being at least partly due to immigration from the northwest associated with Indoeuropean languages and culture. One argument for this, as stated for example by Thanseem et al. (2006), is that this is implied by the uneven distribution pattern of R1a between castes and regions. Higher castes and more northerly Indian populations are considered to be more directly descended from the populations who brought Indoeuropean languages to India, and they tend to have higher levels of R1a than lower castes, and more southerly populations, while tribal castes and non Indoeuropean speaking groups tend to have the lowest frequencies of R1a. In order to explain exceptions to this pattern, these authors propose that R1a in India is also partly due to earlier movements of people from central Asia.”

Then, I decided to see this study of Zhao et al., which I did not know. The title is Presence of three different paternal lineages among North Indians: A study of 560 Y chromosomes. It concerns only North Indians, and two particular categories of North Indians: Brahmins and Muslims. We read in the introduction:
"India occupies a unique stage in human population evolution because one of the early waves of migration of modern humans was out of Africa, through West Asia, into India (Cann 2001). More recently, about 15 000–10 000 years before present (ybp), when agriculture developed in the Fertile Crescent region that extended from Israel through Northern Syria to Western Iran, there was an eastward wave of human migration (Renfrew 1989Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). It has been postulated that this wave brought the Dravidian language into India (Renfrew 1989). Subsequently, the Indo-European (Aryan) language was introduced into India from the Iranian plateau approximately 4000–3000 ybp, where this language was probably brought by pastoral nomads from the Central Asian steppes (Renfrew 1989). Therefore, linguistic evidence suggests that West Asia and Central Asia were two major geographical sources contributing to the Indian gene pool."
So, we find the 'postulate' of the arrival of the Dravidians with agriculture from West Asia, and the 'probability' of Indo-Europeans as pastoral nomads from the Central Asian steppes. These old theories (supported here by a publication of Renfrew, accepted as authority for unknown reasons), become at the end 'linguistic evidence' which can even suggest the major sources of the Indian gene pool. This entails that linguistic speculation can give some proof about the origin of the major part of the Indian gene pool, which is not justified.    

Another significant passage:
"Furthermore, it has been reported (Cordaux et al. 2004) that the Y lineages of Indian castes are more closely related to Central Asians than to Indian tribal populations, suggesting that Indian caste groups are primarily the descendants of Indo-European migrants."
Thus, it is taken for granted that this connection means that the members of Indian castes come from Central Asia (and not that there could also be some movement from India to Central Asia), and there is an equation Central Asians=Indo-Europeans, but what do we know of the languages of Central Asia in the II millennium BC and before? Presently, many men belonging to the Hg R in Central Asia speak Turkic languages, as is acknowledged by the study itself:
"Haplogroup R reflects the impact of expansion and migration of Indo-European pastoralists from Central Asia, thus linking haplogroup frequency to specific historical events (Sengupta et al. 2006). Haplogroup R is widely spread in central Asian Turkic-speaking populations and in eastern European Finno-Ugric and Slavic speakers and is less frequent in populations from the Middle East and Sino-Tibetan regions of northern China (Karafet et al. 1999Underhill et al. 2000)."
It is really strange that the fundamental study by Sengupta is cited to support the idea that Hg R reflects a migration of Indo-European pastoralists from Central Asia, since the main thesis of that study is that Central Asian impact in South Asia is really limited (italics are mine):
"The ages of accumulated microsatellite variation in the majority of Indian haplogroups exceed 10,000–15,000 years, which attests to the antiquity of regional differentiation. Therefore, our data do not support models that invoke a pronounced recent genetic input from Central Asia to explain the observed genetic variation in South Asia. R1a1 and R2 haplogroups indicate demographic complexity that is inconsistent with a recent single history. Associated microsatellite analyses of the high-frequency R1a1 haplogroup chromosomes indicate independent recent histories of the Indus Valley and the peninsular Indian region. Our data are also more consistent with a peninsular origin of Dravidian speakers than a source with proximity to the Indus and with significant genetic input resulting from demic diffusion associated with agriculture."
"The pattern of clustering does not support the model that the primary source of the R1a1-M17 chromosomes in India was Central Asia or the Indus Valley via Indo-European speakers. Further, the relative position of the Indian tribals (fig. 6), the high microsatellite variance among them (table 12), the estimated age (14 KYA) of microsatellite variation within R1a1 (table 11), and the variance peak in western Eurasia (fig. 4) are entirely inconsistent with a model of recent gene flow from castes to tribes and a large genetic impact of the Indo-Europeans on the autochthonous gene pool of India. Instead, our overall inference is that an early Holocene expansion in northwestern India (including the Indus Valley) contributed R1a1-M17 chromosomes both to the Central Asian and South Asian tribes prior to the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. The results of our more comprehensive study of Y-chromosome diversity are in agreement with the caveat of Quintana-Murci et al. (2001, p. 541), that “more complex explanations are possible,” rather than their simplistic conclusion that HGs J and R1a1 reflect demic expansions of southwestern Asian Dravidian-speaking farmers and Central Asian Indo-European–speaking pastoralists."  
So, even the 'postulate' of the West Asian 'agricultural' origin of Dravidians is refuted by Sengupta's study, which appears to accept without discussion the traditional theory about the coming of Indo-Europeans, but gives no genetic support for it. Actually, this 'early Holocene expansion in northwestern India' could have something to do with the diffusion of Indo-European languages, in connection with the emergence of agriculture, which is placed in the Early Holocene (see here). The only thing said about an origin of the Hg R out of South Asia is this:
"The phylogeography of the HG R*-M207 spans Europe, the Caucasus, West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia; therefore, the hypothesis that there is an HG R*-M207 expansion locus central to all these regions is both plausible and parsimonious. This is consistent with our observation that HG R*-M207 is observed at a maximum of 3.4% frequency in Baluchistan and Punjab regions, whereas, in inner India, it is 0.3%."
So, it can even be that all Hg R comes from North-western South Asia. More recently, a study by Firasat et al. (2007), R* has been found in 10.3% (10/97) of a sample of Burusho (speakers of an isolated non-IE language, Burushaski), 6.8% (3/44) of a sample of Kalash, and 1.0% (1/96) of a sample of Pashtuns from northern Pakistan.
But Zhao's study appears to ignore all this, and finally asserts:
"we suggest that Central Asia is the most likely source of North Indian Y lineage considering the historical and genetic background of North India (Karve 1968Balakrishnan 1978)."
So, it seems that publications of the '60s and '70s give us the final authority on the genetic background of North India.
Now, we do not want to deny genetic differences between castes and tribals, but there are other explanations. Castes developed in the agrarian civilization of Northern India (and present Pakistan), and then spread with Brahmanism to Eastern and Southern India. So, it is to be expected that Hgs more connected with Western and Central Asia like J and R are more frequent in castes than in tribals. 
J because it is originally connected with West Asian agriculturists, and R because it is probably connected with agriculturists, pastoralists and metal-workers from North-western South Asia and maybe also Afghanistan, which is an ancient area of Neolithic and rich in R1a.    
And if some Turks of Central Asia have a high frequency of R1a, it can be because of the migrations of Iranians and Tocharians in those regions from the South and West. Turks arrived later from North-Eastern Asia, with some Mongolic features which are not a legacy of R1a, and mingled with the previous Indo-European speakers.

I would like to add another note about the relation between India and Central Asia. It has been generally thought that horse came to India from Central Asia, where it was firstly domesticated 5500 years ago in Kazakhstan. But a very recent discovery in Arabia can change the picture. In the site of Al-Magar in Central Arabia archaeologists have found remains of a Neolithic civilization dated back to 9000 years ago (see here, cfr. here). In that site, there are many images, drawn and sculpted, of the horse.
One is this, around 1 m. in length, with possible signs of harness. A cave drawing appears to show a man riding a horse. The shape of these horses reminds the famous Arabian horse... now, Indian horse breeds like Marwari and Kathiawari are akin to Arabian horses, and there is an interesting detail which was noted by Rajaram (I am not a follower of Rajaram, but useful remarks are always welcome): Vedic horse (see RV I.162.18) has 34 ribs, differently from the average Central Asian horse, who has 36 ribs. Now, what is not observed by Rajaram, as far as I know, is that the Arabian horse has typically 17 pairs of ribs (see here). Moreover, horse in Indian mythology comes from the ocean, and at Ajanta we find a picture with horses brought in a ship (see here). So, maybe the first horses came to India directly from Arabia and not from Central Asia, at least in the 3rd millennium BC, when they appear in Harappan sites (often near the coast)...  



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Thursday, 31 March 2011

How Deep are the Roots of Indian Civilization?

On the 18th of March, at the National Archives in New Delhi, a lecture was delivered by Michel Danino on ‘The Lost Sarasvati, from River to Goddess’, speaking also about the archaeological sites of the Sarasvati Valley. This lecture is included in a series entitled "Ancient Civilizations", which is so presented:
"This Series of 12 lectures on the ancient civilizations of the world will be held at the National Archives over a 12 month period in collaboration with National Archives and UNESCO.
Eminent Indian and foreign scholars will cover aspects of ancient India and the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and other ancient cultures.

In the last 20 years many developments have taken place in the study of ancient civilizations. DNA, carbon dating and linguistic as well as reinterpretation of existing evidence by a new generation of scholars have overturned our dearly held beliefs of Aryan invasions and/or immigrations and point to a much older, indigenous civilization than previously thought.
The Vedic Tradition probably influenced Egypt and Mesopotamia, the spread of Buddhism influenced cultural developments in S.E Asia, Tibet, China and Japan. Vedic Sanskrit still influences the Indo European cultures all over the world.

This series introduces the views of newer scholars in the field with thought provoking, sometimes revolutionary ideas on our common past."
It is another important sign that something is moving in the idea of Indian past, also at an official level.
Still in New Delhi, Chanakyapuri, in November there was an interesting international seminar on “How Deep are the Roots of Indian Civilization? An Archaeological and Historical Perspective” (see here the abstracts). It was organized by the Draupadi Trust in collaboration with the Indian Archaeological Society, which publishes the important journals Puratattva and Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology.
In the seminar took part some of the greatest names of Indian or South Asian archaeology, like B.B. Lal, R.S. Bisht, M.Tosi, Jim G. Shaffer, Purushottam Singh and D.K. Chakrabarti, and some of the most important authors of the 'indigenist school' like Shiva Bajpai, again Michel Danino, N. Kazanas, Bhagwan Singh and S. Kalyanraman.
One of them, Shiva Bajpai, Professor Emeritus of History at the California State University, has written a significant sentence at the end of his abstract about Sapta Sindhu:
"We are now at the threshold of correctly writing the new history of early India-South Asia and, by extension, providing the basis for a new approach to the larger Eurasian Aryan question."
Another significante passage is found in the abstract of the archaeologist K.N. Dik****:
"The legacy of the Harappan Civilization appears to be extremely dominant in the field of ideological foundations of the civilization. The mass of oral traditions and Vedic literature, which form part of our present-day civilization also appear to be the major legacy of the Harappan civilization. We have to, therefore, make some serious efforts to correlate the archaeological and literary evidence in order to work out the Harappan Legacy. The excavations of Harappan cemeteries at Farmana (Shinde 2009) and Sanauli (Sharma et. al. 2003-04) are pointers in this direction."
He probably alludes to the fact that Harappan cemeteries correspond with Vedic descriptions (see my post on Farmana).
Another interesting paper is that of Purushottam Singh about "Early Archaeology in the Gangetic Plains", where we find a description of the different phases of the settlements in the Ganges Valley, and some particularly significant remarks. One is that "Chalcolithic cultures were firmly established in around 2500 B.C. in the Sarayupar plain and by 2000 B.C. in Bihar", and that with the Chalcolithic, there is a dramatic increase in the number and size of the sites. Moreover, it is said that social stratification has been 'suspected' already during the Mesolithic period. About funerary rituals, it is observed:
"The burials of the Mesolithic sites of Pratapgarh provide ample evidence of belief in the after-life, but no such evidence is forthcoming from the Chalcolithic sites. The only evidence is that of the post-cremation pit-burials from Sonpur and Chirand which indicates that this custom was prevalent in some parts of Bihar but this evidence is missing on the other sites. The absence of burials in the Chalcolithic levels indicates that the method of cremation for the disposal of the dead body, which became the principal mode in the later–day Hindu society, had its roots in the Chalcolithic culture." 
About the domesticated animals, it is said that at the site of Tokwa (Mirzapur District, U.P.) buffalo, domestic pig, sheep and domestic ass were found in addition to cattle and goats (you can find also the article online). The presence of sheep and asses is a sign of clear influences from the west, but it can be explained through the arrival of a new people or through trade. On the other hand, it is said about cultivated plants: "The archaeo-botanical remains from Jhusi, Malhar, Imilidih, Narhan and Senuwar have been studied in quite a great detail. This study indicates that by about 7000 B.C. almost all cereals, pulses and oil seeds which form the staple food of the present–day inhabitants of the Middle Ganga plain were grown in this region." I find this observation quite impressive, since it suggests that there was not the arrival of a new agricultural civilization since 7000 B.C. A specific study (by A.K. Pokharia et al.) can be found online (see here, cp. this article), it is focused on the site of Jhusi, at the confluence of Ganges and Yamunā, in the same area as the early city of Pratiṣṭhāna, the capital of Yayāti (see MBh V.112.9), one of the first kings of the Lunar dinasty and father of the founders of the five Janas. On the basis of radiocarbon dates, "the Neolithic culture at Jhusi is dated to the 7th–6th millennium BC, though the beginning of the culture may be pushed back to the later half of 8th millennium BC" (p.566). The first date of the Neolithic level at Jhusi is 7477 BC.
About the vegetable species which were found at the site it is said: 
"Rice, horse-gram and green-gram of Indian origin, were grown in the warm rainy season. Barley, breadwheat, dwarf wheat, field-pea, lentil, grass-pea and linseed of near-eastern complex were grown in the winter season. The evidence of barley (H. vulgare), bread-wheat (T. aestivum) and other winter crops along with summer crops like rice (O. sativa), etc. from early levels of Jhusi indicate that possibly the area was in cultural contact with the original home of winter crops right from the early phase of the Neolithic culture."
In the above lists, there is an inaccuracy: dwarf wheat (Triticum sphaerococcum) is indigenous to Northwestern India (see here), it was present in 4000 BC in Mehrgarh and was typical of the Indus civilization (see this passage). It is not clear from the article if it was already present in the earliest levels of Jhusi, but we can suppose it came later after it was developed in Baluchistan (cp. this passage from a book on the history of agriculture in India). Bread-wheat (Triticum aestivum) comes from Transcaucasia or Southwestern Caspian (see here), and barley has probably two centers of domestication: one in the Fertile Crescent and one between the Zagros, Turkmenistan and Mehrgarh (see this article). 
Actually, it seems that the Neolithic of Jhusi is almost contemporaneous with Mehrgarh (according to S.P. Gupta, there is a radiocarbon date for period IA of Mehrgarh 8215-7215 BC), as if the cultivators of barley and wheat from Baluchistan arrived very early into the Gangetic plain, mingling with the local rice cultivators (rice is the most important cereal at Jhusi, but there are also a lot of lentils, and lentils are of Near Eastern origin, see here).
We can suppose that the area of Jhusi was already part of a net of cultural interaction including Northwestern India, which became the realm of the five Janas of the 'Lunar race'. More in the east, in the Sarayupar plain, we have wheat, barley and lentils only in the third millennium BC (see the article on Lahuradewa), after millennia of rice cultivation. Lahuradewa is in ancient Kosala, and this can be a sign that the 'Solar race' ruling over this kingdom was connected with the ancient rice civilization of the middle Gangetic plain. This eastern culture came into contact with the western Harappan civilization, as Purushottam Singh observes:
"The radiocarbon dates from the Neolithic-Chalcolithic sites of the Middle Ganga plain have conclusively proved that these cultures were a younger contemporary of the Harappa culture. Here the natural question arises as to whether the Chalcolithic people were in contact with this mighty city-civilization. The discovery of more than one hundred tiny beads of steatite from the Neolithic deposits at Imilidih Khurd and Lahuradewa and several steatite beads from Chirand provide an indication of such a contact, but this remains to be firmly established by further research. This link between two cultures is further buttressed by certain pottery types like the dish-on-stand which occurs on several sites like Lahuradewa, Narhan and Chirand."
Moreover: "The discovery of well established village cultures based on the cultivation of two crops a year by rotation method in eastern U.P. and Bihar demonstrates an uninterrupted cultural continuity uninfluenced by any external stimuli from c. 2500 B.C. in the Sarayupar plain and c. 2000 B.C. in Bihar. This discovery has exploded the popular theory that this part of the country was “aryanised” by clearing dense forests only around the eighth to seventh century B.C. as proposed by some scholars while giving a historical explanation of the Videgh Mathava legend of the Satapatha Brahmana." Then, if this region was 'aryanised', it was around 2500-2000 BC. But it is also possible that they already spoke a language similar to the western language, and we can observe that the names of the eastern rivers Gagā and Sarayu appear to be Indo-Aryan names. Purushottam Singh writes:
"That the Neolithic-Chalcolithic of the Middle Ganga plain are non-Harappans and non-Aryans is generally accepted on all hands. The contributions of these pioneers in the making of Indian culture are too many to be enumerated. However, the question remains as to whether we can give a name to these people. It is suggested that they could be Vratyas and Kikatas who are forefathers of the present-day tribal population of the Vindhyas and the Chotanagpur plateau. The term 'Vratya' was possibly a collective name given to a group of people whose way of life was different from those who claimed to be Aryans. As the primitive people of India they seem to have contributed much to the growth and development of Indian culture. They differed from the Vedic Aryans and developed their own system of thought and culture." 
It is true that Āryāvarta in the Dharmasūtras is west of kālakavana (probably near Prayāga, therefore around the site of Jhusi), but also, according to another view, between Ganges and Yamunā: this does not mean that the language out of these borders was not Indo-Aryan. Apparently they were not 'Ārya' because they did not follow the orthodox Vedic customs developed under the Bhāratas, but the tradition does not say that the 'Solar race' of Ikshvāku  in Kosala was part of a wholly different civilization. Aikshvāku kings are cited in the Vedas, even among the royal Rishis. 
At the end of his abstract P. Singh adds an anthropological observation:
"It has been suggested that these first farmers may be tribals like the Kikatas of the Rigveda who have been said to be relying more on pastoralism. They seem to have abandoned their habitations by the fourth millennium for reasons not known to us. In this context it may be pointed out that the earliest settlement at Mehrgarh (Pakistan) belonging to the 6th millennium (Stage I consisting of Periods I-II, Neolithic) has been found to have some biological affinity with those in the Ganga Valley. This observation of biological anthropologists is significant and needs further probe."
 If this is true, there are two possible (simplified) explanations: both the inhabitants of Mehrgarh and of the Gangetic valley were indigenous or both were of western origin. Now, in India there are Y-chromosome haplogroups of clear Near Eastern origin: those belonging to the J2-M172 clade.
But if J2a-M410 comes clearly from the Near East (for instance cp. this table and this table, both based on the same dating system), a particular branch of J2 present in India, J2b2-M241, seems to have a different history.    

In the map above, taken from an important genetic study by Sengupta et al., we can see that J2b2 has a high frequency and variance south of Nepal, around Sarayu and Ganges. Sengupta notes that "numerous Mesolithic sites have been observed in this region." The calculated age of this Hg in India is 13.8±3.8 KYA. Almost the same as J2*-M410/M158 (13.7±2.9 KYA). And, according to this map, the highest variance of J2b2 in India is 0.43. Sengupta himself writes that in Southwestern Asia the variance is 0.33, and in Turkey 0.24. In a study of 2008 by Battaglia et al., following the same estimates as Sengupta, the age of J2b2 in Turkey is 10.1glyph.gif3.4 (see here), and it remarks: "Although Hg J-M241 shows high variance in India, its place of origin is still uncertain." Another study, of 2007, by Yong et al. says: "J2e1–M241 (Cinnioglu et al. 2004; Shen et al. 2004), which was reported in 0.96% Turkish males (Cinnioglu et al. 2004), 5.22% in India, 2.27% in Pakistan (Sengupta et al. 2006), 6.49% in Nepal Kathmandu and 1.5% Nepal Newar (Cadenas et al. 2006). These distributions suggest the origin of J2e1–M241 may reside within or near the Indian subcontinent. This suggestion is now further supported by the concentration of J2e1 AMELY null among ethnic Indian." (J2b2 is here called J2e1, quotation found here). A study by Fornarino et al., published in 2009, reports that the Tharus near the Eastern border of Nepal have a frequency of J2b2 of 8.1%. 
Then, it seems that the origin of J2b2 is to be traced in the J2 people settled in the plain between India and Nepal, where the ancient rice cultivation probably caused a population growth and a consequent diffusion of the new haplogroup.
Summing up, if the estimates of Sengupta are right, the J2 people arrived from the Near East into South Asia already before agriculture, in the Mesolithic period. They could even be the Natufian gatherers of wild cereals, searching for new lands because of overpopulation or of the aridity caused by the Younger Dryas. In this context, the Gangetic Valley was certainly more humid and warm than the Near East, and rich in wild rice. 
On the other hand, if we accept that such estimates are too high, it can also be that the J2 clade arrived with farmers from the Fertile Crescent (particularly J2a, which is often connected with the diffusion of the Neolithic) which settled in Baluchistan, in the Vindhyas and in the Gangetic Valley, but since wheat, barley and animal husbandry reached Lahuradewa only in the 3rd millennium BC, this should be the period of their arrival into this area, apparently too late for the area of the highest variance of J2b2 in India. It is possible that the new crops and animal husbandry were brought by contacts with the Harappan people.
However, in both cases they could develop a common language, probably born from a fusion of Near Eastern and local languages, which became the ancestor of Indo-Aryan. Subsequent trade contacts reinforced this common language, which could act as the linguistic medium of the Indo-Gangetic tradition. This hypothesis is not the same theory as the one that Renfrew proposed: I do not think that the Near Eastern farmers were already Indo-European speakers, because the first traces of IE languages in the Near East appear in Anatolia in Assyrian documents of the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. Around the Fertile Crescent, we have Semitic (Afroasiatic) languages like Akkadian, and quite isolated agglutinative languages like Hattic, Hurrian, Sumerian and Elamite. We do not know which language used the first farmers who arrived into Baluchistan, but I suspect they spoke a kind of Afroasiatic, because this linguistic family is connected with the spread of agriculture and pastoralism and it shares with Indo-European the system of inflection of roots made of two or three consonants and probably also some roots (the theory of a relation between IE and Semitic or Afroasiatic has a long history, see here). Indo-European dialects could develop after the arrival of the 'Afroasiatic' farmers into the Indo-Iranian area during the Neolithic, and later it could spread towards Europe through the R1a1 people which was indigenous to South Asia, and also, we can add now, through the J2b2 people, which is found with the highest frequency among Albanians (more than 14%) and which is also found among Greeks, Italians and Slavs (see this figure).
Then, we do not speak of an Indo-European invasion of India, but we should admit from the genetic evidence that Near Eastern populations entered into South Asia, during the Mesolithic or the Neolithic, probably bringing the 'agricultural revolution' and new cultural influences. On the other hand, Indian influences could reach the Near East during the Harappan age or earlier: date palms from Baluchistan reached Sumer already in the 4th millennium BC, also Indian sesame became part of Sumerian agriculture, and zebu (Bos indicus) appears in Mesopotamian archaeology, in  the northern part particularly during the 2nd millennium BC (see here), when and where we have the impressive appearance of the Indo-Aryan rulers of Mitanni. And what is funny, is that the kingdom of Mitanni, between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, is placed exactly in the region where agriculture first began, around Karaca Dağ (the mountain where are the wild ancestors of  einkorn and emmer), and the early Neolithic sites of Göbekli Tepe, Nevalı Çori and Tell Abu Hureyra. This could be the original homeland of the ancestors of the first farmers of Baluchistan, the J2 people...



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Thursday, 6 May 2010

The wonder that was Dholavira


This image is one of the beautiful products of computer graphics found in the Japanese website, under the supervision of R.S. Bisht, the director of the excavations of Dholavira, Harappan site in Gujarat. An interview of him can be seen on:
And here is a beautiful Indian documentary on Dholavira and its environment:

I remember the long way to Dholavira, through the Great Rann of Kacch, the grey-white salt wastes, and finally the arrival to the island of Khadir, the walk through the fields, the generous hospitality of the peasants. The day after, I saw the site in the early morning, impressed by the magnificent reservoirs, by the stone columns, by the dimensions of the town. It is certainly the most spectacular Harappan site in India, and it deserves the long and difficult travel. But beyond the impression, there is something concealed in the mathematical measures of Dholavira: already R.S. Bisht noticed that the ratio 5:4 of the castle and the city walls corresponded to that of Vedic altars in the Śulbasūtras. And Michel Danino has deepened the question, revealing complex mathematical relations and finding correspondences also in the Vāstu Śāstras: you can see the paper at:

He also remarks that the unit of measure of Dholavira is equivalent to 108 units of Lothal, as in Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra we read: “108 angulas make a dhanus (meaning a bow), a measure [used] for roads and city-walls....” We can also observe that in the description of the ideal cities in the Vāyu Purāṇa it is said that measures like aṅguli and dhanu were introduced in the Tretā Yuga when cities were built for the first time. Moreover, those cities had to be rectangular, oriented East-West or North-South, like the Harappan towns.

Such a continuity between Harappan and historic India is confirmed also by a study by two Italians: the indologist Prof. G.G. Filippi and the geo-archaeologist Dr. B.Marcolongo, who have studied the archaeological Early Historic site of Kāmpilya, observing that its plan coincided with that of Dholavira (Filippi (G.G.), Marcolongo (B.): 1999, Kāmpilya, Quest for a Mahābhārata City, New Delhi, see article on On the continuity of the concept of city between Harappan and Early Historic periods, there is also the beautiful recent work (2008) of the Russian scholar P.A. Eltsov: From Harappa to Hastinapura. A Study of the Earliest South Asian City and Civilization. Eltsov does not take a definite position in the debate about the Vedic-Harappan relationship, but he acknowledges a common cultural tradition between the two periods, like in Kenoyer's concept of Indo-Gangetic tradition.



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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Archaeological discoveries and Vedic traditions

The last March, an important archaeological discovery has been divulged: near the village of Farmana, Haryana, India, where excavations were already carried out in 2008 by an Indo-Japanese team (I was there in March 2008 thanks to my friend Shungo Kameyama), it has been discovered a burial site with 70 graves, of the Mature Harappan Period
( ).

The typical traits of these burials are a rectangular form and a NW-SE orientation. The director of the excavations, Prof. Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune, asserts in an interview: "All the graves are rectangular - different from other Harappan burials sites, which usually have oblong graves", but, according to S.P. Gupta, in Disposal of the Dead and Physical Types in Ancient India (Delhi 1972), p.75, in Harappan cemeteries the body was buried in 'oblong pits' which, when more carefully dug, "assumed rectangular shapes". Apparently, the graves of Farmana belong to this category. Shinde adds: "The site shows evidence of primary (full skeleton), secondary (only some bones) and symbolic burials, with most graves oriented northwest-southeast, though there are some with north-south and northeast-southwest orientations as well. The variations in burial orientation suggests different groups in the same community".

Now, I would like to make a comparison with what Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa XIII.8.1.5 says (I use here Julius Eggeling’s translation given on the excellent site :

Four-cornered (is the sepulchral mound). Now the gods and the Asuras, both of them sprung from Pragâpati, were contending in the (four) regions (quarters). The gods drove out the Asuras, their rivals and enemies, from the regions, and, being regionless, they were overcome. Wherefore the people who are godly make their burial-places four-cornered, whilst those who are of the Asura nature, the Easterns and others, (make them) round, for they (the gods) drove them out from the regions. He arranges it so as to lie between the two regions, the eastern and the southern, for in that region assuredly is the door to the world of the Fathers: through the above he thus causes him to enter the world of the Fathers; and by means of the (four) corners he (the deceased) establishes himself in the regions, and by means of the other body (of the tomb) in the intermediate regions: he thus establishes him in all the regions.
As it can be seen, the burial is oriented towards south-east like the greatest part of the graves in Farmana. S.P. Gupta (ibidem) speaks generically of a north-south orientation for the Harappan burials, with the head northwards, but here in Farmana we have something even more specific, coinciding with the Vedic conceptions expressed in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. This text should be placed, according to my chronology, after 1300 B.C., but it can surely preserve unchanged traditional conceptions, like that of the association of the south-eastern region with the world of the Fathers (which in other Vedic passages is more simply associated with the southern region). Not only: according to ŚBr.XIII.8.1.9, the north-western region is the direction of ‘the living ones’ (jīvānām).

It is not finished here: when I visited the site of Farmana in 2008, I also went to a flat field in the near countryside, where the archaeologists had found some traces of burials (I imagine that that was the place of the subsequent discovery): through a local student who knew English, I asked the peasants if the ground was salty, and they said that it was actually so. I made this question because a study on the cemetery of the Harappan site of Kalibangan, by A.K. Sharma, The Departed Harappans of Kalibangan (New Delhi, 1999), p.104, observed that the ground of the cemetery has a high percentage of salt, and that this corresponded to what the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa said, in XIII.8.1.14:
He makes it on salt (barren) soil, for salt means seed; the productive thus makes him partake in productiveness, and in that respect, indeed, the Fathers partake in productiveness that they have offspring: his offspring assuredly will be more prosperous.

Then, it seems that there are strong elements to prove the uniformity with the Vedic tradition of these ancient Indians of 2600-2200 B.C. Now we wait with interest the results of the analysis of the DNA of the bones, carried out in Kyoto: it should belong mainly to the Ancentral North Indian type, and if the chromosome Y showed a R1a1a haplogroup, that would exclude the opinions attributing this haplogroup to external Indo-Aryans coming in the II mill. B.C., and would make more acceptable the identification of the Harappans with an 'Indo-European' people.

P.S.: there is a recent publication about the Farmana burial site (as you can see in  or  ).
An interesting document of the importance of the Farmana site not only for the cemetery is given by Steve Farmer in this message after a conference in Japan:  This opens the question of the regional characters of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, which - I find - harmonize with the traditional division of the five tribes… but this is another story…



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Sunday, 24 January 2010

Signs of the Transition


One of the signs of the advent of a ‘new Indology’ is a recent international conference held on 21-22 February 2009, at the Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles) entitled “The Sindhu-Sarasvati Valley Civilizations: A Reappraisal” (link and image above), with some of the most important names of the Indian archaeology from India and the USA: S.R. Rao, R.S. Bisht, Kenoyer and Shaffer. Moreover, there was an expert of the question of the Aryan invasion like E. Bryant and also a Greek scholar, Kazanas, one of the few Westerners criticizing the invasion theory and the official chronology of the Vedas.

What is particularly interesting in this conference is its opening to positions regarded as heretical by the academic establishment (also in the US); then it gives some hope for an authentic debate and for the Great Transition which various hints suggest as being underway: from the old paradigm to a new one, no more based on the aprioristic theory of the Aryan invasion or migration into India.

(On the base of this conference a volume is going to be published on the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization, where also a contribution of mine - dealing with a new chronology of the Rigveda and a comparison between archaeology and Indian historical tradition - has been unexpectedly invited; it is already completed and accepted, now waiting for the editing)

One of the driving forces of the Transition is surely Koenraad Elst, Belgian scholar who has written, inter aliaUpdate on the Aryan Invasion Debate, a book which I found in the library of the “Scuola Normale Superiore” of Pisa six years ago, and which opened to me a new world in the field of South Asia, leading to a real conversion from the ‘invasionism’ to a new perspective. He has a blog where I found also the recension of the last book of Talageri, ( one of the most militant authors of the new Indian wave of ‘indigenism’ or OIT (Out of India Theory, in the synthetic label dear to Elst), that is the theory supporting the Indian origin of all the Indo-European peoples. I bought the book and read it (almost totally…) and it is really more sophisticate than the previous ones, but similar to his The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis (Delhi 2000). One of the pros of Talageri is his systematic method, and his results in the comparison of Rigveda and Avesta are quite remarkable, but I do not agree with all his views (particularly the identity Anu-Iranians and Druhyu-Europeans). Anyway, his engagement in the research of the historical truth as an outsider (he has no academic training) should be taken into account by a new Indology.

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