New Delhi: The study of DNA samples of the skeletons found in Rakhigarhi, an Indus Valley Civilisation site in Haryana, has found no traces of the R1a1 gene or Central Asian ‘steppe’ genes, loosely termed as the ‘Aryan gene’.
The study — titled ‘An ancient Harappan genome lacks ancestry from Steppe pastoralists or Iranian farmers’ — examined the DNA of the skeletal remains of an individual in Rakhigarhi dating back to around 2500 BC, which was part of the ‘mature Harappan civilisation’ or the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC).
“The population has no detectable ancestry from Steppe pastoralists or from Anatolian and Iranian farmers, suggesting farming in South Asia arose from local foragers rather than from large-scale migration from the West,” said the study published Friday.
The Central Asian ‘steppe’ gene is found in much of the Indian population today.
“These individuals (in Rakhigarhi) had little of any Steppe pastoralist-derived ancestry, showing that it was not ubiquitous in north-west South Asia during the IVC as it is today,” according to the study.
It added, “While there is a small proportion of Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in South Asians today, it is consistent with being entirely derived from Steppe pastoralists who carried it in mixed form and who spread into South Asia from 2000–1500 BCE.”
The study, led by archaeologist Vasant Shinde, concluded: “Our analysis of data from one individual from the IVC…demonstrates the existence of an ancestry gradient that was widespread in farmers to the northwest of peninsular India at the height of the IVC, that had little if any genetic contribution from Steppe pastoralists or western Iranian farmers or herders, and that had a primary impact on the ancestry of later South Asians.”
However, towards the end of the study, there is a disclaimer, stating, “While our study is sufficient to demonstrate that this ancestry profile was a common feature of the IVC, a single sample — or even the gradient of 12 likely IVC samples we have identified — cannot fully characterise a cosmo-politan ancient civilisation.”
The Aryan invasion theory is said to be the brainchild of India’s former colonial rulers, who peddled the idea that members of the country’s high castes were descendants of Aryan invaders from Central Asia who are also the forebears of the Europeans.
Some Hindu groups subsequently argued that Aryans were not invaders at all, but native to the land, and that these indigenous people developed Vedic Hinduism. The invasion theory suggests that Vedic Hinduism was developed by European migrants, and came after the Indus Valley civilisation.
‘Movement of Central Asians towards Indus Valley not invasion’
Addressing a press conference discussing the findings of the study, Vasant Shinde said much of the development associated with the “foreigners” was brought about by the Indus Valley Civilisation.
“Earlier, it was thought that development only started with the movement of those from Central Asia and West Asia towards the Indus Valley Civilisation. But that is incorrect. All the development was done by indigenous people,” Shinde said.
However, the authors of the study were wary of calling the movement of Central Asians an “invasion”.
Dr Niraj Rai, genetic researcher headed the study with Shinde, said there still isn’t enough evidence to call the movement an “invasion”.
Explaining how contemporary South Asians could have steppe genes, when it wasn’t found in the Rakhigarhi DNA samples, Rai said, “There is a difference between migration and movement. There was certainly some mixing and assimilation, but we can’t call that an invasion,” said Rai.
Draft of the study had created furore
A draft of the Rakhigarhi study published last year had created a wave of discussion when it was reported that the skeletons lacked the R1a1 gene.
A report suggested that the findings of the study reinforced the Aryan invasion theory, because no Central Asian ancestry could be found in the DNA sample excavated.
“We did not find any Central Asian ancestry in the DNA sample. This suggests that the Rakhigarhi residents hadn’t mixed with the Central Asians till then,” Niraj Rai had told ThePrint.
However, Shinde, who led the 2015 excavation in Rakhigarhi, had debunked reports that said the study confirmed the Aryan invasion.
“Plenty of people believe the Aryans came from Central Asia. But we have no evidence of that,” Shinde had said.