Early Indians

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Continuing my Easter reading binge – this book by Tony Joseph is fascinating. It combines DNA research with archaeology and linguistics to trace the roots of modern India – with some very surprising results. Short version: isn’t immigration wonderful, and today’s pop-nationalism a pain!

India’s first Homo Sapiens came from Africa (65,000 BCE, just like the rest of the world). The Harappa civilisation (3500 BCE – 1400 BCE approx) combining these ‘first Indians’ with people of what is now Iran, was one of history’s most profound accomplishments, larger in scale at its height than Egypt and Mesopotamia combined.

This ancient (and fundamental) northern civilization had a language not yet decoded, but likely shares characteristics with Elamite and Mesopotamia. As the civilisation declined (weather?) these people moved south and this seems to have led to the Dravidian language family.

Today, in northern India, the Indo-European languages prevail. This language family includes Sanskrit and German, English as well as the Romance languages (Basque is the one exception). Yet its people originated in the Steppes, not Harappa, moving south into modern India.

They are likely the genetic source for ‘Vedic Aryans’, and they moved across Europe, mixing with indigenous peoples.

In a delicious twist, apparently the earliest ancient DNA samples representing people using this Indo-European language family was found in … Ukraine, dating to 5000 BCE-3500 BCE.

A quote towards the end of the book notes ‘The truth is that India is composed of a large number of small populations’.

When you have Talvin’s classic album playing at the same time, there is real joy in multi-source civilisational mixing.

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