The Aryan-Dravidian divide myth

A new paper published in Nature reveals that Indians are descendents of two genetically divergent ancient populations. One of the groups, Ancient North Indians (ANI), is closer to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans and the other, Ancient South Indians (ASI), is quite distinct from the ANI. At some unknown point in time these two groups, which don’t exist now, mixed and the rest was Indian history[1].

Before getting into the findings, it is important to to mention certain notions that prevalent today. The most prominent among them is the discredited Aryan invasion theory which has morphed into the Aryan migration/trickle-down theory. According to this theory, around the middle of the fourth millennium an “unknown disturbance” triggered a cluster of Indo-Europeans tribes in Central Asia on a trip across the continent. This group of nomadic people wandered around looking for a place where there is sun, water and grass for their cattle. They reached India, around 1500 – 1200 BCE and during the journey “forgot” about their wanderings through Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan[2]. In the simplified version, these Indo-European speakers mixed with the native Dravidians, but 3500 years later, those divisions are still exploited by politicians.

The study finds that there are differences between caste groups and tribals and between Indo-European speakers and Dravidian speaking population, but despite those differences, they are closer to each other than to outsiders like Europeans or East Asians. This is because, after the founder event, only few external genes mixed into the Indian gene pool. Thus the Dravidian Karunanidhi and the Indo-European speaking Mallika Sherawat are genetically not much different or in simple terms: there is no Aryan-Dravidian divide.

While no divide exists, what exists is a gradient with different groups having different levels of ANI in them, including Dravidian speakers and tribals. The level of ANI varies from 39 – 71% with higher values in upper castes and Indo-European speakers.

Thus if mainland tribals and Dravidian speakers are not “pure” ASI then who are? Since ANI is closer to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans, those without this component can be considered to be pure descendents of the ancestral population which gave rise to ASI. The study found that there indeed is a group like that: the Onge people, who live in the Andamans and as per the last census there were 95 of them. The remaining one billion and change have some “foreign” gene in them, including K Veeramani.

When did the ANI originate? Other than the fact that ANI is genetically closer to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans, what else do we know about them? Also when did the ANI-ASI mixture happen?

In paper the authors don’t give a time frame for the origin of ANI or the mixture of ANI and ASI, but speculate that the ancestral population of the ANI could have spoken proto-Indo-European. This is a bit controversial since it synchronizes events with the arrival of Aryans. But in a later press conference they pushed back on the time.

“The initial settlement took place 65,000 years ago in the Andamans and in ancient south India around the same time, which led to population growth in this part,” said Thangarajan. He added, “At a later stage, 40,000 years ago, the ancient north Indians emerged which in turn led to rise in numbers here. But at some point of time, the ancient north and the ancient south mixed, giving birth to a different set of population. And that is the population which exists now and there is a genetic relationship between the population within India.” [Aryan-Dravidian divide a myth: Study]

This agrees with the journey of man over the past 160,000 years. But if ANI emerged 40,000 years back, they would not be speaking proto-Indo-European, but would be singing Frits Staal’s bird songs. Genetic evidence supports the fact that common ancestors of Indians and Europeans lived more than 40,000 years ago.

“We found an extensive deep late Pleistocene genetic link between contemporary Europeans and Indians, provided by the mtDNA haplogroup U, which encompasses roughly a fifth of mtDNA lineages of both populations. Our estimate for this split [between Europeans and Indians] is close to the suggested time for the peopling of Asia and the first expansion of anatomically modern humans in Eurasia and likely pre-dates their spread to Europe.” [Genetics and the Aryan Debate]

and according to another study.

“The supposed Aryan invasion of India 3,000-4,000 years before present therefore did not make a major splash in the Indian gene pool. This is especially counter-indicated by the presence of equal, though very low, frequencies of the western Eurasian mtDNA types in both southern and northern India. Thus, the ‘caucasoid’ features of south Asians may best be considered ‘pre-caucasoid’ – that is, part of a diverse north or north-east African gene pool that yielded separate origins for western Eurasian and southern Asian populations over 50,000 years ago.” [Genetics and the Aryan Debate]

Thus Ancient North Indians emerged not during the Aryan migration but 40 millennia before that. Hence it would be hard pressed to imagine that they would wait till Max Muller and various colonials gave the go to mix with the ASI.

In the paper, the authors write, “A priority for future work should be to estimate a date for the mixture, which may be possible by studying the length of stretches of ANI ancestry in Indian samples.” That definitely should tell us what happened from the rise of ANI to present.

References:

  1. Reconstructing Indian population history by David Reich et. al.
  2. Gem in the Lotus by Abraham Eraly
  3. The peopling of India, by Michel Danino,Pragati,June 2009

See Also:

  1. Indians as hybrids (a.k.a Aryan invasion in the house!)
  2. SNPtastic India

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18 Responses to The Aryan-Dravidian divide myth

  1. Mannaran September 27, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    The article is more inclined towards proving that ANI present in all of Indians and ANI formation is as early as human history.

    The questions remain are,
    1. Where ASI originated from?
    2. What is the time frame?
    3. Why this component is not recessive in South Indians and Lower Casts?
    4. Why ANI component is more in North Indians and Upper Casts?
    5. Why there is no considerable gene mix between these groups over such long period of time?
    6. Why ANI component is relatively close to CEU groups?

    Obviously the results are interesting, if we are ready to accept it without any preconceived ideology to promote either Indian Nationalism or Dravidian Indus Valley Civilization.

    Result of this experiment is not so solid, and it can be interpreted in anyway. Probably more has to be done. All we need is transparent mind to accept the truth and live with it. It is not going to change anything.

    • jk September 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm #

      Mannaran,

      The ASI descended from the folks who walked from Africa to India sometime much before the ANI originated. When the ASi settled in India, there was no European branch, but by the time of the ANI mankind had those divisions. You can see that by following the journey of man link. We don’t know when ANI-ASI mixture happened, but the hypothesis is that due to endogamy there is not a considerable mix between various groups.

      You wrote

      Result of this experiment is not so solid, and it can be interpreted in anyway.

      How else can this result be interpreted?

      All we need is transparent mind to accept the truth and live with it. It is not going to change anything.

      Why? Didn’t this study knock off the concept that most North Indians came due to the Aryan invasion?

  2. Madhu September 27, 2009 at 5:33 pm #

    This whole issue is more political than scientific. and this study instead of seeking to bury the Aryan-dravidian mythology for good has sowed the seeds for future mischief by dividing the Indians into ANI and ASI. now will the politics be on blood purity lines rather than along regional lines? who has more % of ASI blood in their veins and therefore more native than the others?

  3. gbz September 28, 2009 at 12:02 am #

    any way to get a non-gated version of the paper?

  4. Chandra September 28, 2009 at 8:05 pm #

    “It is not going to change anything.”

    Isn’t it amazing that a research that goes back “40,000 years” that says we all one people won’t change anything because of something someone made up from thin area based on skin colour (and their tribal religious myths) about 100 years ago!!

    I suppose some people would want to go all the way back to African tribes from 150,000 years ago to identify where each group came from and then claim – see we knew we are different, we came from that eastern tribe and they from that western one, let’s fight!

  5. Vijay September 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm #

    The findings are interesting, more logical and better convincing than the Kids-imagination-Aryan-invasion-stories or For-idiots-Aryan-invasion-theory. Yet, how long should we believe or trust in DNA? Is it fool-proof? Is it ‘the ultimate’ in science? We can only say that DNA is ‘valid now’. If the science stands-still, yes, we can put a fullstop here. But as the nature of the science is, it will come up with more and more revelations, and the present ‘DNA theory’ may become the imaginations of ancient under-developed-brains!

    So, is the article relevant? Yes, at least to wipe out the for-idiots-theory. If this also becomes something like that with future findings, we can discard this too. Human mind needs some exercise, and we find different ways to do that.

  6. suvrat September 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm #

    jk-

    i get the feeling that people think in terms of only one migration and that confuses the issue. MtDNA and Y chromosome data shows that Indians and Eurasians (Europeans) share many of these lineages and most of them show greater diversity in India. That would suggest that these lineages were founded in India and between 40K and 20K Eurasia were peopled by migrations from India. So a component of ANI- European genetic similarity – maybe a major one- would be due to these ancient migrations from India to Eurasia.

    That however does not mean there were no later migrations from Eurasia into India in historical times beginning with the advent of agriculture and continuing post Indus Valley collapse. A component of the ANI-European similarity – relatedness according to caste is hard to explain otherwise- as is the linguistic and archaeological evidence. We are not talking of population replacement here but assimilation or rather introgression of genes in the language of genetics.

    Our genomes have multiple layers of migratory history written on them. its going to take finer grained analysis to establish timelines and identify specific sets of genetic variations to specific peoples movements.

    • jk September 29, 2009 at 10:49 pm #

      Suvrat,

      You are right. The one migration is considered to the Big-Bang moment of genetic mixing. I just now made a new post on the ancient trading networks India was part of and it quite clear that there was movement of humans, plants and animals both into India and Out of India many millennia before 1500 BCE.

      Agree with you on the part that we need fine grained analysis to find out the date for the ANI-ASI mixture and other events.

  7. KN September 29, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    Finally proof of the difference between North Indians and Dravidians! Kudos to the researchers. It doesn’t need research anyway to see the stark difference between the two!

  8. popat2000 September 29, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    Everything under the sun is the gift of the great european minds. Things like colonialization, slavery, prostitution, genocide, and the list goes on. Thanks guys! If you hadnt taught us indians such valuable deeds, we would still be stuck in our stone age, donkey riding, snake charming ways!

  9. Shaan October 2, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    Mr.Thangarajan who is a key researcher in the group that made this discovery is a Tamil. Being a Tamil, I am proud of it!

    What the Marxist historians and their western friends are going to say now?

    • jk October 2, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

      Shaan,

      The Marxist historians and the Western friends would ask if your pride depends on which state the researcher comes from? BTW, the primary author of the paper is a Westerner.

  10. Swati October 4, 2009 at 9:13 am #

    This is a matter of scientific integrity, so leave the politics out.

    This study far from ‘knocks out’ the Aryan invasion theory. It confirms it, as linguistic and archaeological evidence does.

    The misconception that most people have at this stage is that Aryans are European. Only Hitler and his henchmen believed that. Most historians now realize that the early Indo-Europeans (PIE speakers) lived around Central Asia a few thousand years ago, probably closer to India than to Europe. They then spread their culture, their practice of horse rearing, and their language outwards.

    Now referring to the paper, North Indians are said to belong to the Ancestral North Indian group, or ANI. Note that in the paper, Pathans have a higher percentage of ANI than Kashmiri Pandits or any other Indian groups. You will no doubt note that this actually points to an origin north-west of India, and NOT within present day India.

    If you read the actual paper, you will note that the scientists claims to the press were contrary to their claims in the paper. As a scientist, I’m outraged and offended at their press claims.

  11. Swati October 4, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    KN,

    There is no stark difference, as the paper points out. There were two separate groups in the past, which then gradually mixed, as humans tend to.

    I, personally, do not believe that my belonging to a particular group is a good enough reason to assert the superiority of that group. The trouble with that is that you don’t get a long or impressive enough pedigree. You want impressive, I can trace my lineage all the way back to prokaryotes roughly 4 billion years ago. Prokaryota pride y’all, we were the first creatures on earth! We OWN it!

  12. G.V.Subramaniam October 15, 2009 at 12:27 am #

    There are several versions of Puranas and ‘tansliterally reading them’ they all say one thing common that Vaivasvata Manu, the progenator of the 10sons( Ikshvaku and others) and a Daughter Ila was originally a King of Dravida Desa, presentday Tamil Nadu/Andhra. The Matsya legend describes his escaping the flood. He is appearing near Ayodya subsequently. There is a temple at Manali to mark his landing after the Flood.
    But, curiously,his early progeny expand to Punjab(Pururava of Three Agnis) and to Narmada(Mandhata and others) and not in Gangetic Plain as one might like to believe.
    Was the Gangetic Plain hostile, slushy, poisonous? Till much later, Bhageeratha chooses to open up (as per Literal Reading of Puranas)
    In this context two sets of info appealed to me.
    One is , the recent Genetic studies reveal 50,000 year old Haplo Markers in some Tamil Nadu castes and 35000 year old Haplo Markers in Eastern UP and tapering off towards Punjab.
    Second is Mt.Toba Explosion about 70000 years ago (Stephen Oppenheimer)
    Would I be right in assuming that Manu was carried by a huge Tidal Bore up the Ganges?
    Further Tsunami of this size leave the ground Saline and Hostile for several Generations.
    I came across several Scientific Papers on Arsenic in ground depths in Bihar/Bengal ,and invariably they start with Mt.Toba Explosion as possible Source.
    The Sagar Beaches in Bengal are famous from time immemorial where people offer Prayers to the dead and gone on Mahalaya (All Souls Day)
    Please advise if I have any substance in the above observation to explain the mixing ANI & ASI.
    This also means Proto Tamil is the Mother of Rg Vedic Sanskrit with the Austro Asiatic (Munda ) language mixing with it ( Pl refer Devi Mahatmyam/ DeviSuktam a part of Rg veda , mentioning Chanda-Munda Names)
    G.V.Subramaniam.

  13. vakibs October 22, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    That’s an interesting speculation G.V.Subramaniam.. But I don’t think it is related to languages. Both Tamil and Sanskrit originated just a few thousand years ago (not beyond 10,000 years ago) and the events you speak of happened 70,000 years ago.

    It is possible that cultural memories of these events existed in the mythologies of various people.. but I don’t think ethno-linguistics is related to this at all.

  14. Manas November 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    The self-proclaimed scientist Swati presents a self-confuting argument.
    >>North Indians are said to belong to the Ancestral North Indian group, or ANI Note that in the paper, Pathans have a higher percentage of ANI than Kashmiri Pandits or any other Indian groups. You will no doubt note that this actually points to an origin north-west of India, and NOT within present day India.

    The Aryan migration/trickle-in/ theory talks of supposed Indo-European speaking group(s) originating in Central Asia, migrating/trickling-in into what is now South Asia, and not specifically, just into, what is now the nation of India. Variance of ANI proportion among groups within N/NW South Asia, with a ramp of increased correlation towards groups in N/NW part of the subcontinent in no way validates speculative theories of some Aryan migration from Central Asia.

    Swati further says,
    >>…as linguistic and archaeological evidence does.

    Contrary to claims of archaeological evidence in support of the AMT, to quote Dr. Arvind Sharma (McGill University), “this view awaits confirmation by archeology especially because it has been challenged by the discovery of extensive sites in northwestern and western India”. Bryant 2009 further states, “There is nothing in Indian archaeology that supports the assumed migration of peoples.”
    The only thread by which the AIT’s euphemistic version the AMT holds any water is that of linguistics. Sadly for the Aryan Influx theory proponents, it fails Isaac Newton’s criterion for an acceptable scientific model – it is ‘unfalsifiable’.

    Given the lack of any evidence for the Aryan Influx Theory from archaeology, palaeo-anthropology or genetics, given the constant stream of genetic research papers refuting this theory being published and given only the tenuous, speculative linguistic arguments for it, it is only a matter of time before this farce of a theory is consigned to the pyre of mendacious trite. Of course, people bound by their ideological moorings, political leanings and careerist compulsions will no doubt continue to play mental gymnastics trying every trick in the book to convince themselves and their bed-fellows otherwise.

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