DNA samples collected from a 4,500-year-old skeleton in Rakhgarhi have reignited the age-old debate whether the Harappans were Aryans or Dravidians. While many historians say this settles the Aryan invasion issue, others say the findings are premature.
ThePrint asks:Does Rakhigarhi skeleton DNA confirm Dravidian ancestry or reignite Aryan invasion debate?
To come to conclusion about Dravidian or Aryan ancestry is abuse of Rakhigarhi DNA findings
Karnatak University, Department of History & Archaeology
It is too premature to associate the Rakhigarhi findings to either Dravidian or Aryan ancestry. There is nothing called Aryan DNA or Dravidian DNA for that matter. As an anthropologist, I can say that anthropology has not been able to establish a skeletal feature that is Aryan or Dravidian in nature. The two are only language groups, not races.
We have to wait for findings from other sites before we jump to any conclusion. These are populist issues that end up garnering a lot of attention from across the media as well as civil society. People who have a political standing use these findings to make a point that will further their politics. But there is actually no basis through which they can confirm any of these findings.
DNA studies are not aimed at identifying a Dravidian ethnicity or an Aryan ethnicity, or confirming or rejecting the invasion theory. The invasion theory has long been debated. These are continued movements of people from central Asia and southeast Asia into the Indian subcontinent from the early Paleolithic times. These movements are not peculiar to any time period. To come to a conclusion confirming Dravidian ancestry or the Aryan invasion is an abuse of skeletal DNA findings from Rakhigarhi.
Central Asians came to India later & mixed with indigenous Indians, and that’s an indisputable fact
Scientist ‘C’ & Group Head
Ancient DNA Lab, Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences
We have not found significant central Asian components in the Rakhigarhi DNA skeleton. Rakhigarhi is a mature Harappan site with a well-established population along with nearby areas such as Farmana and Kunal.
The Rakhigarhi DNA skeleton is up to 5000-year old. Around 1500 BC, groups from central Asia moved to this part of the world. This wasn’t an invasion, only a movement. In archaeology, there is no such phrase as “Aryan”, and so we cannot scientifically use it.
The original population along the periphery of this area were Harappans. The central Asian groups migrated and mixed with the local population. Once the mixing took place, you would find a mixture of both the genes in the DNA. But, if we are to ask ‘who are the unmixed Indians in this part of world?’, the answer would be the peripheral Harapppans.
That being said, the Rakhigarhi paper is yet to be published. The researchers are working on it and we must wait before we jump to conclusions. While it has attracted a lot of attention from the media, it would be unfair to give it undue importance. The central Asians came to India at a later point and mixed with the indigenous Indians, and that remains an indisputable fact.
My report is being sensationalised by media as evidence of Aryan invasion, but it is more complex
Department of Archaeology, Deccan College
At the Rakhigarhi site, we found strong local DNA. We have found some traces of mixing with Iran and south Indian population. It’s wrong to say that they are entirely Dravidian. Historically as well we have seen evidence of mixing—which we continue to find. Media shouldn’t be concluding anything about the Aryan invasion from this report. The DNA is of indigenous people. We don’t have evidence of contact with the steppe DNA—usually associated with north Indians. However, there is some archaeological evidence showing contact with the steppe land region.
We have definitely found traces of mixing. We never claimed that this is DNA from the early Harappan population. We have maintained that this is data from the mature Harappans who were in contact with people in regions around them. The Harappans never existed in isolation. But the reports in media are completely sensationalising this to show that my report is evidence of Aryan invasion, when, in fact, it is too complex to conclude anything.
Rakhigarhi findings instrumental in showing Harappans existed before ‘Aryan invasion’
Former superintending anthropologist, Anthropological Survey of India
Rakhigarhi is a very important site. Scientists have now successfully extracted DNA from the place which is being cited to establish the ancestry of that population. It may have its limitations and the findings need to be confirmed, but it does completely rule out that Harappans were foreigners. It goes on to show that they were the original Indians prior to mixing with the so-called “Aryan gene” of R1a1. Post that, when central Asians and Europeans migrated to India, there was definitely some mixing. This led to the chronological division of “early Harappans” and “mature Harappans”. The DNA recovered from Rakhigarhi is of the former, whereas the latter may have had some kind of gene mixture.
The antiquity of the Austro-Asiatic people—native to South Asian countries—can be established as 65,000-years-old. The entire Indian population can broadly be divided into ancestral south Indian population and ancestral north Indian population. The former finds its origins in the Chota Nagpur plateau. The plateau had multiple small tribes living there since antiquity. Thus, the Rakhigarhi findings are instrumental in showing how antiquity of the Harappan people existed before the central Asian migration—also known as the “Aryan invasion”.
Conclusions reached from single Harappan skeleton appear to be sweeping generalisations
Head of Department of Archaeology, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda
The conclusions reached from a single Harappan skeleton from Rakhigarhi appear to be sweeping generalisations. However, the findings are significant in understanding the lineage of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Previous studies by physical anthropologists have drawn attention to the morphological similarities of the skeletons from Harappan burials with the current local population in the region, suggesting continuity.
The current DNA studies add new dimension to this, especially by tracing the lineage to the ancient south Indian population. Looking at the ethnic and linguistic diversity in the Harappan cultural domain, it is necessary to have information from other regions such as the Indus Valley and Gujarat before we make an informed generalisation about the population lineage.
It is less important who exactly the authors of the Indus Valley Civilisation were. They laid the foundation for Indian culture, which through time had benefited from the incorporation of several divergent, indigenous and non-indigenous cultural strands.
David Reich’s suggestion that there was a rapid mixing of genes for a millennium beginning with the decline of the Indus urbanism is significant. There appears to have been a period of enhanced population movement from one region to the other during this period due to a combination of several factors primarily induced by environmental and economic degradation.
Post-urban/late Harappan cemeteries from Harappa and other sites show a new style of burial, probably reflecting a political and social philosophy different from the preceding urban/mature Harappan. It will be difficult to establish at this point in time if it was entirely an internal development or also influenced by external factors. DNA studies can throw light on this.
Compiled by Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her @khanthefatima.