Indo-European Speakers in North-West India by 4000 BCE?

The dates and method of arrival of Indo-European speakers in North-West India is a contentious issue. Once held sacred, the Aryan Invasion Theory is no longer considered valid by some scholars. Instead of the invasion model, a migration model is now favored with the Indo-European speakers reaching India from an unknown homeland following the decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilization.

The decline of the Harappan civilisation is no longer attributed to “invading Aryans”, though that theory is still kept alive by political parties in South India. Even the non-Aryan invasion theory has been refuted as there is no trace in the archaeological record for such a disruptive event or the arrival of a new culture from Central Asia. The skeletons, which were touted as evidence for the invasion, were found to belong to different cultural phases thus nullifying the theory of a major battle. Due to all this, historians like Upinder Singh categorically state that the Harappan civilisation was not destroyed by an Indo-Aryan invasion. Instead of blaming the decline of the civilisation to invading or migrating population, the end is now attributed to environmental changes and whims and fancies of rivers.[In Pragati: What caused the decline of Harappa?]

If the Vedic speakers reached Punjab following the decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, then how did they know about Saraswati, which was no longer a mighty river.? Does this mean that this theory is incorrect and Vedic speakers were present in the region while the river was flowing over a longer distance? Most academics don’t go down that path and insist that IE speakers reached the region not long before the composition of the Rig Veda, even though there is no strong archaeological evidence for such a migration in the 1500 – 1000 BCE period.

If there is one thing that can work up historians, it is the suggestion that Indo-European speakers were present  in the region, much before the decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. Such a suggestion has serious implications like the possibility of an earlier date for the Vedas than the academically correct one which dates it to post 1500 BCE.

A recently published paper has some interesting observations on this issue. It suggests that the Indo-European speakers were present in the region during the Chalcolithic period (4300 – 3200 BCE) and they arrived as part of an agricultural colonization of a hunter-gatherer territory.  The language which was ancestral to Indo-Iranian spread from Anatolia via Armenia, north-Iran, southern-Turkmenistan and finally IE speakers entered Pakistan by 4000 BCE.  The paper suggests that IE speakers could have been present even before this period (the Neolithic). During this time Dravidian speakers, who were pastoralists and farmers moved from Gujarat or South Indus region to South India

To understand the impact of this date, it should be noted that the Mature Harappan Period is considered to be from 2600 – 1900 BCE. The paper explicitly suggests that urban Harappan civilization had a large population of Indo-European speakers and possibly some Dravidians as well.  By 2000 BCE, before the decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, IE speakers were present in the Ganga basin along with Munda speakers.

All these change our understanding of the changes that occurred in the region. The Avesta and Rig Veda were written during a period of great change in the region. An older date for the arrival of Indo-European speakers can explain why they knew about the events which happened in the Sapta-Sindhu region and not in some foreign land. Another important point to note is that it was not just one linguistic group which lived in Neolithic/Chalcolithic Iran,  Harappan region or BMAC.  Many groups co-existed and overlapped in time, space and ideology.

(Many thanks to Carlos for providing the reference)

References:

  1. Gepts, Paul, Thomas R. Famula, Robert L. Bettinger, Stephen B. Brush, and Ardeshir B. Damania. Biodiversity in Agriculture: Domestication, Evolution, and Sustainability. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

8 Comments

    1. Kedar, There is not much support for OIT in Academia. But this has no connection to OIT. This is just a refinement of dates of when the IE speakers arrived in the Indus region from Central Asia.

      1. I am not able to see how does it matter if Indo-European speakers came to India in 1900 BCE or 4000 BCE ? Doesnt it mean that we just pushed back the date of AIT/AMT event?

        1. We know that Saraswati had ceased to be a mighty river by 1900 BCE. So if Indo-European speakers arrived after that, how did they know about this river. The Vedic writers knew it as a mighty river. So then, some argue, that Vedas were not composed in the Sapta-Sindhu region, but say somewhere else outside India. One theory argues that it was composed in Afghanistan.

          Now if Indo-European speakers were present in the region since 4000 BCE, then they saw Saraswati as a river which flowed over a longer distance. It then lends itself to the theory that Vedas were composed in the Sapta-Sindhu region.

          1. So now the crux of the issue has become “where were the vedas composed”, not whether an Aryan/Dravidian divide exists; the suggestion being, the divide does exist.

          2. It is not just when Vedas were composed, the early arrival of IE speakers has bearing on the languages spoken in the Indus-Saraswati region. Did IE exist with speakers of other languages (say Dravidian)? Was it like the Mumbai of today? These are interesting possibilities.

  1. All this is mighty interesting, because we were taught in our schools that Aryans invaded India, and subdued dravidians, and later, someone said it was more migration than invasion. Then internet was full of articles that said Aryan occupation of Dravidstan (sic!) was British idea to legitimise the British occupation of India and that Aryan/Dravidian genetic divide was just a western construct to divide and rule Indians.

    Now we turn around and say, actually what the white guys say is right, except that it happened 2000 years before the proposed date. Full circle or what 🙂

    1. Except that it is not really a fool proof theory that Dravidians lived in Indus-Saraswati region or it was Dravidian dominated. It is possible that the region was like Mumbai with multiple languages being spoken and with a Matunga like Dravidian region. Or it is also possible that Dravidian languages originated in the South. There are so many theories to pick from.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *