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‘We are a multisource civilisation, not unisource’: Tony Joseph

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAmrita Madhukalya
Sep 07, 2019 08:45 PM IST

The findings only show no indication of Aryan ancestry in the ancient DNA of Harappan citizens, which means that the Arya were not present during the Harappan Civilisation, and came after it.

After several news reports suggested that a study on skeletal remains of Harappan-era inhabitants at Rakhigarhi has revealed that there is no evidence about large scale migration to corroborate the Aryan invasion theory, author Tony Joseph dismissed it as misreporting.

Joseph, author of ‘Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From’, tells Hindustan Times in an interview that the findings only show that there is no indication of Aryan ancestry in the ancient DNA of Harappan citizens, which means that the Arya were not present during the Harappan Civilisation, and came after it.

How significant is the finding of the traces of Harappan civilisation in Rakhigarhi which was unveiled by Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)? Does it change the perception as well as the understanding of our evolution?

There are two studies that were released today. One, an updated version of ‘The Genomic Formation of South Asia and Central Asia’ with more ancient DNA data that was published in Science Journal, and the second, the first genetic study based on the ancient DNA of a Harappan citizen who lived some 4,600 years ago, that was published in Cell. Put together, both studies reaffirm earlier genetic findings with more robust data.

These findings were essentially three: One, the agricultural transition or revolution in northwestern India that began around 7000 BCE, and the Harappan Civilisation that followed a few thousand years later, were spearheaded or built by a mixed population of First Indians (or the out-of Africa migrants who were the first modern humans to reach India around 65,000 years ago) and another group related to west Asians from the Zagros region of Iran. Two, there was a migration of central Asian Steppe pastoralists into India in the first half of the second millennium -- that is, between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE -- who brought Indo-European languages to India. Three, there is no indication of a Steppe ancestry in the ancient DNA of Harappan citizens, which confirms the conclusion that the Arya were not present during the Harappan Civilisation, that they arrived after the Harappan civilisation declined, and that Harappan Civilisation is pre-Arya.

The Science study also argues the case for why the language of the Harappan Civilization was likely to have been Dravidian. So to put in a nutshell, with much stronger and robust ancient DNA evidence, the newly published studies reconfirm earlier genetic findings about who the Harappans were and when the Arya migration happened.

The Indian far right says that the Aryan theory was used by the British to demean Indians, as a people who could have not written the Vedas. Do you agree?

Absolutely not; the Opposite is the case! According to the Arya migration theory, the Arya arrived at the end of the Harappan Civilization. In other words, India had the world’s largest civilisation of its time, both in terms of area and population (it was as large as the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations put together!), BEFORE the Arya arrived!! So to suggest that the British invented the Arya migration to ‘demean’ India is perverse. If anything, the Arya migration suggests that the newly arrived migrants, the Arya, have to explain why it took more than a thousand years after they arrived, for towns and cities to rise up in India again! Also, the new genetic evidence shows that both Europe and South Asia were at the same level - both were recipients of mass migrations from Central Asia that affected their demography. It doesn’t put the Europeans on a higher pedestal by any stretch of imagination! It is also necessary to keep in mind that all large populations in the world today - Europeans, Americans, East Asians, West Asians - are all the result of multiple mass migrations in prehistory. There is nothing surprising, shocking or unique about the fact that Indian population is also the result of multiple migrations in prehistory. In fact, it would have been surprising if it were not so!

In your opinion, is there anything from today’s findings which debunks existing theories about Indians from religious texts?

Now we know from genetic evidence that the Indian population is the result of mainly four major migrations in prehistory: the Out of Africa migrants who reached here around 65,000 years ago, whom my book calls First Indians; the West Asians who mixed with First Indians to spearhead the agricultural revolution and then the Harappan Civilization; the East Asians who arrived around 4000 years ago, bringing Austro-Asiatic language to India; and the central Asian Steppe pastoralists who arrived between 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE, bringing Indo-European languages with them. We also know that the Harappan Civilisation, the largest civilisation of its time, has left a large mark on the Indian civilisation as it is today, and that the Harappans are the ancestors of both North Indians and South Indians, and also that they were pre-Aryan. Therefore, what we can definitely say is that we are a multisource civilisation, not a unisource one.

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