Aryan migration: Everything you need to know about the new study on Indian genetics


The study says some sort of migration did indeed take place into India and that the Indus Valley civilisation is key to all South Asian populations.

A new paper authored by 92 scientists from around the globe that was posted online this weekend could settle some major questions about the subcontinent’s history and what that means for various theories of Indian civilisation. The paper, titled “The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia” which still has to go through peer review, uses genetics to examine the ancestry of ancient inhabitants of the subcontinent. Below is a quick summary of what you need to know.

Who authored the study?

There are 92 named authors on the study including scholars from Harvard, MIT, the Russian Academy of Science, the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences in Lucknow, the Deccan College, the Max Planck Institute, the Institute for Archaeological Research in Uzbekistan and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. Among the co-directors of the study is geneticist David Reich, whose new book has inspired much recent discussion about ancient human history and racial theory.
How was the study conducted?

The researchers looked at genome-wide data from 612 ancient individuals, meaning DNA samples of people that lived millennia ago. These included samples from eastern Iran, an area called Turan that now covers Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and South Asia. Of the 612, the DNA of 362 ancient individuals was being examined for the first time. They then compared this data with that taken from present-day individuals, including 246 distinct groups in South Asia.

What were they looking for?

A lack of sufficient ancient DNA as well as proper inquiry into the matter has meant that we still do not understand how Central and South Asian populations were formed. There have been various theories about this, with some very closely connected to politics both in South Asia and abroad. The Nazis, for example, helped propagate the Aryan Invasion Theory in which blue-eyed fair people swept into the Indian subcontinent on horses, conquering everyone they saw along the way. Hindutva proponents have argued the opposite altogether, what is known as the Out-of-India theory, claiming that, if anything, Indo-European languages originated in India and spread out westward from there.

DNA and other human science based research has thrown up confusing signals in the past, with mitochondrial DNA, which is only transferred by females being mostly unique to the subcontinent. This suggested that the inhabitants of India have been indigenous for thousands of years. However, Y chromosomes, which are passed from male to male, showed much more connection to West Eurasians, whether Europeans, people of the Irani plateau or Central Asians.

Amid all this, there is the question of whom the Indus Valley people were. Were they more connected to those we now know as Dravidians, only to be pushed south by migrating Aryans? Or were they themselves Aryans, who eventually moved southward?

In many ways, the study set out to resolve this contradiction and answer some part of the question: Who are the people of the subcontinent and how did they get there?

What did they find?

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