Saturday, 2 February 2013

Indo-Iranians: new perspectives

There are some strange and quite funny ideas in the 'orthodox' academic theory about Indo-Europeans and Indo-Iranians. One of these is the idea that Indo-Iranians arrived from the steppes with their horses, substituting the local millenarian civilizations in a mysterious way, imposing a new Indo-European pantheon... If we compare the situation of the Hittites in Anatolia, where they are almost absorbed by the local Hattic and Hurrian and Mesopotamian religions, with many gods with non-Indo-European names, we should be amazed by the strength of Indo-Aryan culture in avoiding any contamination with local Dravidian or Munda gods... It is true that Śiva is regarded as a Dravidian god adopted by the Aryans, but then why does he bear a Sanskrit name (and different Sanskrit epithets starting from the Vedas) and not even a trace of a Dravidian one? And where are non-Indo-European deities in the Avesta? Even the demons (the daevas) are Indo-Iranian there... Another strange idea is that Mitanni Aryans had already Vedic deities and were already Indo-Aryans without ever touching India, as if the Indo-Aryan language and the Vedic religion were not something developed in India, but brought ready-made from a totally different environment, and unchanged when transplanted in South Asia. 
And when we look at archaeology, we find that the migrationist/invasionist believers try to forcedly see the arrival of the Aryans in every little trace of steppe pastoralists in Central and South Asia. But how these scanty traces, which just touch the Indus Valley and do not interrupt the continuity of settled civilizations of Margiana and Bactriana, can account for a total change of civilization? This reminds me of a cartoon about creationism compared with the scientific method: 

I have the impression that the Aryan Invasionism follows the same method as Creationism. The supporters of the Indo-Iranian invasion from the European steppes of Central and South Asia have no sacred text to defend, although sometimes they use the Vedas or the Avesta with biased (often racial) interpretations. They have a sort of preconceived faith, maybe based on a secret, obstinate Eurocentrism: Europeans must be the conquerors of the Indo-European world, and not the conquered or colonized, they must be the origin of the change, not the recipients. 
So, they already firmly believe that the Indo-Aryans must have arrived there in the 2nd millennium BC, and so we have to find, in one way or another, the facts able to support that dogma. I think that we should rather start from the archaeological facts, and build a theory from there, seeing if we find a harmony with linguistics and textual traditions, and also genetics. Someone could object (with Nietzsche) that there are no facts, only interpretations, particularly in the realm of prehistoric archaeology, but still, there are worse and better interpretations. The evolution and connections of material cultures can give a reliable picture, which can be mirrored by the linguistic and textual tradition. 

What we see in Central Asia and Northwestern South Asia, in the same area where historically we find Indo-Iranian languages, and described by the Avesta (Vendidad 1), is, since the Neolithic, and particularly during the Eneolithic and the Bronze Age, a strong net of relations. In the wonderful book History of Civilizations of Central Asia, V.M. Masson writes at pp.228-9 that the settled communities of southern Turkmenistan in the Late Eneolithic (late fourth - early third millennium BC) "found themselves included in a system of increasingly close cultural ties and ethnic shifts which encompassed an extensive area in Iran, Afghanistan and north-western India/Pakistan."   
Exactly the area of ancient Indo-Iranians. If there were 'cultural ties', they should have spoken a common language, and why not Indo-Iranian as in the later centuries, the same language of the names of the rivers and mountains of that region, when not substituted by Turkic words? Moreover, if we look at the textual traditions, in the Avesta we have the Airyas as a settled people, living on agriculture and stockbreeding, opposed to the Tuiryas (remained as Turanians in the Iranian tradition), who are nomads (but also bearing Iranian names), exactly the situation that we find in the late Bronze Age and in the Iron Age in Central Asia, with steppe pastoralists in contact with the settled agriculturists of a tradition of millennia of sedentary civilization, well reflected also in the Shahnameh of Firdusi. If the Aryans were the nomads from the steppe, the situation in the Avesta and Firdusi should be completely opposite. Not only, in the hymns of the Avesta (e.g. Yt. 5) the ancient Iranian heroes are often associated with mountains, including the progenitor Yima, who is described as offering a sacrifice on the Hukairya mountain, which is probably in Pamir. Whence came these traditions if they came from the northern flatlands?
So, if we combine Iranian texts and archaeology, we suspect that the Aryans are actually the heirs of the Central-South Asian Neolithic tradition, and not of the steppe nomads, who normally are absorbed by the superior culture of the sedentary civilizations, like the Mongols in China or in Persia. Someone could observe that in modern Central Asia Turks have imposed their languages, but there we have clear traces of migrations and invasions, and Iranian languages were not swept away: they still remain in Tajikistan, in Samarkanda and Bukhara in Uzbekistan, in Afghanistan, in Baluchistan and in Iran, as is shown in the map below.

Iranian languages

All regions where we had the Bronze Age culture of Central Asia, rooted in the previous Neolithic cultures, and continuing in the Iron Age till the historical times. As Tosi, Shahmirzadi and Joyenda write (op. cit., p.210): "The process of integration probably took place during the third quarter of the third millennium B.C., with the result that the embryonic Iranian and middle Asian states of the Early Iron Age were set up between Kerman and Bactriana, from the Caspian to the Helmand. Furthermore, the timing and stages of this process apparently corresponded to, or just preceded, those of the Indus civilization."
The steppe pastoralists in the Iron Age learned from the agriculturists: for instance, in the Tagisken mausoleums on the Syr Darya, they used bricks, obviously unknown in the steppes, but so typical of the southern civilization, since the Neolithic Mehrgarh in Baluchistan and Jeitun in Turkmenistan, from the seventh millennium BC. Probably this civilization had its roots in the Middle East, the cradle of wheat and pulses and breeding of goats, sheep and cattle, but it created a particular Neolithic culture, characterized by barley cultivation and zebu cattle. In this Central/South Asian net, cultural influences went also from East to West. Mehrgarh is the most ancient Neolithic settlement of the region (its origins are dated around 7000 BC), and burials identical to those of the earliest aceramic Neolithic layers of Mehrgarh are found in Mundigak, Afghanistan, and in Altyn Depe, Turkmenistan, during the third millennium BC (op. cit., pp.213-214).
Around 3800 BC in Baluchistan (where we find the technologically most advanced pottery tradition of Eastern Iran) appeared the earliest grey ware, which spread over the Indus plain but also westward to the whole of the Helmand valley, Bampur and Kerman. Only towards the end of the 4th millennium BC grey ware appears at Tepe Hissar II and Sialk IV in the West, linked with the Gorgan Grey Ware typical of the 3rd  and beginning of the 2nd millennium BC (op. cit., pp.202-203).
Moreover, in Altyn Depe various Mature Harappan artifacts, like seals (one with a swastika) and ivory objects, were found, and "the influence of Harappa prototypes is evident in a variety of ceramic and metal objects" (op. cit., p.241). At Shortugai in Northern Afghanistan we have a real Harappan colony or trading factory. Shahr-i Sokhta, in Southeastern Iran, has types of burials typical of both the southern Turkmenian Chalcolithic and the Baluchi Neolithic-Chalcolithic, so that "the new urban configuration of cultural tradition is more likely to have been influenced by a convergence of customs and traditions flowing from the two poles" (op. cit., p.214). And since the Baluchi Neolithic-Chalcolithic is regarded as the source of the Chalcolithic culture of Northwestern South Asia, the idea that this cultural tradition is actually the 'Indo-Iranian' tradition becomes quite convincing. The western limit of this cultural net was Gorgan, which appears to be the western limit also of the Vendidad sacred geography, where the eastern limit is the Land of the Seven Rivers (Haptahəndu), that is, the Indus Valley and Northwestern India, called Saptasindhu in the Rigveda. There, the Harappan civilization created a cultural integration in an area which corresponds to the Rigvedic geography, and the hymns of the Rigveda should be dated mainly in the Late Harappan period. In the later Vedic texts, we see an expansion of the horizon towards east and south, but the ancient Āryāvarta ('abode of the noble ones') was placed between the end of the Sarasvatī river (Hakra in Pakistan) to the west and kālakavana, the 'black forest' near Prayāga (Allahabad) to the east. Maybe it is significant that in that region has been found the site of Jhusi, which has a very ancient Neolithic settlement (from the 8th millennium BC according to a C-14 date), apparently the eastern limit of  the cultivation of wheat and barley in India till the 3rd millennium BC, when it reaches also the middle Ganga plain (cp. here the view of Bellwood). Later on, in the Manusmriti, the Āryāvarta reaches the eastern sea.

In the west, the land of the Aryas was also extended, by the Iranians. The arrival of Medes and Persians in Western Iran is known in the ninth century BC from Assyrian sources, and is probably connected with the Late Iranian Buff Ware which appears around 1100 BC in the Gorgan plain and then spreads westwards (see here). Actually, also the Mitanni Aryans have been connected with Gorgan, because the Early West Iranian Grey Ware (1500-1000 a.C.), found at Hasanlu near Lake Urmia, to the east of the kingdom of Mitanni, has been derived (by Young) from the Gorgan Grey Ware. And the scenes of the golden bowl there have been interpreted through Iranian myths present in the Avesta, particularly Thraetaona (see here). Actually, in the Bronze Age of Margiana, we find also maces with heads in the shape of an animal head, and this recalls the mace, sculptured in the shape of an ox head, used by Feridun, the Persian name of Thraetaona.
So, the Aryan land in the Antiquity included Persia and Media, that is, present Western Iran, as is said by Strabo, Geography 15.2.8: "The name also of Ariana is extended so as to include some part of Persia, Media, and the north of Bactria and Sogdiana; for these nations speak nearly the same language."
But this extension seems to be not very traditional, because Strabo himself says earlier, in the same paragraph, that Eratosthenes so defined Ariana:
‘Ariana,’ he says, is bounded on the east by the Indus, on the south by the Great Sea, on the north by the Paropamisus and the succeeding chain of mountains as far as the Caspian Gates, on the west by the same limits by which the territory of the Parthians is separated from Media, and Carmania from Parætacene and Persia.

The Paropamisus is the Hindukush, and Carmania is Kerman: there are also ancient sites like Shahdad, wich, as shown by the objects found in the Bronze Age burials, is clearly connected with Gorgan, Bactria and the Indus Valley. It is interesting that Western Iran, being a recent conquest, was not included in this Aryan region, which included the areas of the Central Asian Bronze Age: besides Kerman, Bactria and Margiana, the Helmand and Arghandab region, Sistan, Gedrosia (Baluchistan). The map here gives even a narrower and more eastern definition of Ariana (the yellow area on the right).
On the other hand, Herodotus tells us (VII.62.1) that the Medes were also called Arioi, but later they changed name.
Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia VI.23.20) tells us also something significant in this context:
The greater part of the geographers, in fact, do not look upon India as bounded by the river Indus, but add to it the four Satrapies of the Gedrosi, the Arachotæ, the Arii, and the Paropauisidæ, the river Cophes thus forming the extreme boundary of India. All these territories, however, according to other writers, are reckoned as belonging to the country of the Arii.
Now, the Cophes is the Kabul river (Kubhā in the Rigveda), Arachotae are the people of Arachosia, the satrapy of the Avestan Haraxvaitī, the Arghandab river, the region of the ancient Mundigak, the Arii are the people of the Persian satrapy Haraiva, around modern Herat and the Avestan river Haroyu. It is interesting that these two rivers have also parallel river names in India: Sarasvatī and Sarayu. Paropauisidae are the people of the Paropamisus (the Hindukush, as already said). This assertion of Pliny shows again that for Greeks and Romans the Arii were the Iranians and not the Indians, since they were more familiar with Iranian sources. The identification of these regions as India is probably due to political reasons, because they were part of an Indian kingdom, so that the Parthians used to call Arachosia 'White India' (see here). But it is also possible that the border between Indians and Iranians was not so clear, and the people of that region, that is, Pashtuns/Pathans and Balochis, were regarded as practically Indians. And it is true that their languages are Iranian (Balochi is even regarded as a Northwestern Iranian language, probably for a recent migration or Parthian influence), but genetically they are quite close to their Pakistani and Indian neighbours. According to Dienekes' table with 12 components of autosomal DNA, Balochis have 33.8% of South Asian component, Pathans 39.1%, and Tajiks (of Tajikistan?) 17.4%. And the study by Haber et al. about Afghanistan genetics reveals:
MDS and Barrier analysis have identified a significant affinity between Pashtun, Tajik, North Indian, and West Indian populations, creating an Afghan-Indian population structure that excludes the Hazaras, Uzbeks, and the South Indian Dravidian speakers. In addition, gene flow to Afghanistan from India marked by Indian lineages, L-M20, H-M69, and R2a-M124, also seems to mostly involve Pashtuns and Tajiks. This genetic affinity and gene flow suggests interactions that could have existed since at least the establishment of the region's first civilizations at the Indus Valley and the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex.
Furthermore, 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. In addition, Pashtun split first from the rest of the Afghans around 4.7 kya (95% CI 2,775–7,725), which is a date marked by the rise of the Bronze Age civilizations of the region. These dates suggest that the differentiation of the social systems in Afghanistan could have been driven by the emergence of the first urban civilizations.

From these data, it appears that Afghans derive from a common ancestral population which split from  the ancestors of Iranians, Indians and East Europeans during the Neolithic revolution, which was an age of diffusion of populations in different areas. According to the table S6, the split between Afghans and North Indians is dated 7525 years ago, which is also in the Neolithic period. The split between Afghan Tajiks and Pashtuns is dated 3950 years ago, which corresponds to the BMAC period, when northern Afghanistan,  now inhabited by Tajiks, created the Bactrian civilization. Northwestern and Eastern Iranians (Sistan/Baluchistan), as seen above, seem to be separated 6000 years ago, during the Chalcolithic period. According to Tosi, Shahmirzadi and Joyenda (op. cit., pp.200-201), about 4000 BC three main cultural traditions can be seen: a northern tradition between Elburz, Kopet Dag (Jeitun) and Kashan (Sialk), a southern tradition in the southern Zagros, and another tradition in central-northern Baluchistan and the middle Helmand valley (Mundigak).    

Dienekes also remarks that Iranians and Kurds have about 1/10 of South Asian component. And if we look in his aforementioned table at other ancient Iranian areas, we always find strong percentages of the same component: in Turkmens (ancient Margiana), is 13.3%, in Uzbeks (ancient Bactria and Sogdiana) 8.2%, and among Uyghurs (where Iranian languages like Khotanese and Sogdian were used) 8.4%. All this shows quite clearly that Iranians came from a population having strong genetic relations with South Asia. It is true that many Indians migrated or were deported to the Iranian regions during the Middle Ages, but the presence of South Asian DNA among the Uyghurs can hardly be explained in this way. Also North Ossetians, the descendants of the Sarmatians living in the Caucasus, have 4% of South Asian component.
It is also interesting that a study of DNA tribes reveals an 'Indus Valley' STR component (related to Burusho, Tajiks and Pathans) quite strong in the Urals (19.4% of the non-local components). This can be connected with the Sintashta culture of the Bronze Age (2100-1800 BC), typically identified with the Indo-Iranians, because of the chariots and horse sacrifices. There are some interesting remarks on the Wikipedia page about this culture:
Sintashta settlements are also remarkable for the intensity of copper mining and bronze metallurgy carried out there, which is unusual for a steppe culture. [...] Much of this metal was destined for export to the cities of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) in Central Asia. [...] The people of the Sintashta culture are thought to have spoken Proto-Indo-Iranian, the ancestor of the Indo-Iranian language family. This identification is based primarily on similarities between sections of the Rig Veda, [..] with the funerary rituals of the Sintashta culture as revealed by archaeology. There is however linguistic evidence of a list of common vocabulary between Finno-Ugric and Indo-Iranian languages. While its origin as a creole of different tribes in the Ural region may make it inaccurate to ascribe the Sintashta culture exclusively to Indo-Iranian ethnicity, interpreting this culture as a blend of two cultures with two distinct languages is a reasonable hypothesis based on the evidence.
About the contacts with the Finno-Ugric speakers, we can add that in the same study of DNA tribes the Finns, among the non-local components, have 6.3% of  the 'Indus Valley' component.


The fact that there was trade with BMAC suggests that Bactria-Margiana merchants and metallurgists went north in search of metal sources and maybe of a better climate, in that period of aridification at the end of the third millennium, and started to colonize that region with their fortified settlements with their perpendicular streets, inner square and concentric walls (see here). These fortresses remind of the late BMAC sites of Gonur Depe, Sapalli Tepe, Jarkutan and Dashly-3, which are now dated to the Middle and Late Bronze Age (2500-1700 BC, Sapalli and Dashly-3 are dated more precisely 2200-2000 BC), then are contemporary and even earlier than Sintashta. I remark this, because Kuzmina and Mallory (p.34) accept the parallelism between Jarkutan and Arkaim in the south Urals, and connect them with the Avestan vara, but in order to support the view that Arkaim is the model, showing the influence of the northern steppe cultures on the Bactrian farmers: an exemplary case of invasionist reversal, particularly strange since the Bactrian fortifications represent rather the northern outposts against the steppe warriors, who are not generally supposed to teach sedentary people how to make buildings! On the other hand, they recognize that BMAC objects are found in Sintashta-Petrovka sites (see here). 
Arkaim displays also the use of unburnt bricks and irrigation ditches.

Hints of a northward movement from the Southern Central Asian oases are also in Ferghana, a region rich in tin deposits, because there has been found a store of bronze and silver objects of southern origin (op. cit., pp.243-244). It is remarkable that Bactrian camels are among the animals bred in the Andronovo cultures succeeding Sintashta culture (they are dated 1800-1000 BC), and camels were domesticated in Turkmenistan at least in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC (see here); they had an Indo-Iranian name (*uštra-), which was borrowed into Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages. The predominant physical type of Andronovo people was the so-called Pamir-Ferghana type according to Kuzmina and Mallory (see here), which is more massive than the eastern Mediterranean typical of the farmers of South Central Asia, but was included by G.F. Debets in the Indo-Afghan type, which belongs to the 'Indo-Mediterranean race' (see here). Moreover, skulls of the Andronovo cemetery at Muminabad on the Zeravshan are assigned to the Eastern Mediterranean type, among the funerary objects there were mirrors with handle typical of the BMAC, found also in the Andronovan cemeteries of Ferghana and Semirech'e, and under the Krasnoe Znamya kurgan near the South Urals. Also in the Tautara cemetery on the northern slopes of the Karatau chain, near the Syr Darya, the pottery includes forms imitating the commercial vessels produced in the southern oases. At Kokcha in Khorezm, along the lower Amu Darya (Tazabagyab culture, second half of the 2nd mill. BC) we have vessels typical of Namazga VI, and other objects of southern origin: pins with double-spiral head, earrings with cones, and clay figures.  
Kuzmina and Mallory add that Muminabad skulls are close to those found in Zaman Baba, an older site of the Zeravshan (late 3rd-early 2nd mill. BC), which represents the first development of animal husbandry in the region (of cows, sheep and goats), with many southern influences: two-tier pottery kilns, wheel-made vessels, terracotta statuettes, metal objects, beads of turquoise and carnelian.
Masson (op.cit., p.349) makes another curious anthropological remark:
While the settlers on the Yenisey and in eastern and central Kazakhstan represent the so-called Andronovo variant of the proto-European race, in the lands along the Volga and western Kazakhstan we find a dolicocephalic Europoid population of the so-called eastern Mediterranean type.
This distinction recalls the one made by Herodotus (I.201; I.215; IV.11) between eastern Massagetae (where massa- is an Iranian word for 'large, great') and Scythians, who later went to the West, invading the Pontic region. This correspondence is a pure hypothesis, but the fact that at least some Scythians/Sakas were actually of eastern Mediterranean type is supported by a recent research by Khodzhayov, whose results are so described:
This article gives an analysis of a Sakaean cranial series from the Eastern Pamirs. The predominant trait combination aligns these groups with the Eastern Mediterraneans. The crania are generally robust by Mediterranean standards; dolichocrany combines with high vault, high, narrow face. This trait combination evidences affinities with the peoples of southern Turkmenistan, northern Tadzhikistan, and central Iran. Somewhat less common is a gracile variant with a low vault, narrow, low face – a trait complex displayed by the peoples of Namazga, Sapallitepa, Zaman-baba, and the Chust cultures of Western Central Asia and of the Turing-Hissar culture of northeastern Iran. The combination of robustness, dolichocrany, high, broad face, typical of the pastoralist tribes of the Bishkent culture of southern Tadzhikistan does not occur in the Pamirs. Markedly Caucasoid features along with a very low cranial index points to Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, and South Asian affinities.
The Scythians are the historical Iranian speakers of the steppe. They should be seen not as the bearers of Indo-Iranian languages from the north to the south, but the opposite, as the nomadic pioneers of the Iranian languages (like the Tuiryas and Sairimas of the Avesta), who brought them up to Siberia in the east and Ukraine in the west. The influences of the pastoralists of the steppe reached the south, but they did not bring a radical change, rather the steppe peoples were influenced by the farmers, as recognized by Askarov about the Iron Age in Transoxiana (op.cit., p.441): "The cultural and economic tradition of the advanced southern communities gradually permeated the stockbreeding population of the steppes." Later on (p.451) he writes: "In the south, the economy and domestic architecture of the late decorated pottery culture were identical with those of Sapalli and late Namazga IV (VI?) cultures. The chief occupations were arable farming and stockbreeding, and domestic architecture was monumental - a marked contrast with the Chust culture. [...] an old tradition survived of wheel-thrown pottery, which was completely lacking in the Chust or similar cultures of northern Soviet Central Asia." At p.457 f.: "Cultural transformation in the main oases of Parthia, Margiana and Bactria occured within a clear-cut continuation of local traditions in an area of economics and, to a certain extent, culture. [...] While the settled oases of the south display an overall cultural unity, there are glimpses of original local features that anticipate the cultural features of such ancient people as the Parthians, the Khorezmians and the Bactrians."   
So, the Indo-Iranian tradition continued, and was not introduced from the steppes. Indians and Iranians, in their different but contiguous regions, could carry on in evolved forms the civilization of the 'Noble Ones'...

Giacomo Benedetti, Impruneta (Florence), Italy, 2/2/2013