II. The Aryan Invasion Theory
B. Sri Aurobindo on the Aryan Invasion Theory (Continued from the previous Issue)
Many regional human gene trees have now been fitted together, like a large jigsaw that is started by assembling the edges using certain clear landmarks. In this way, a picture of the Adam-and-Eve gene lines spreading from Africa to every corner of the world has been pieced together over the last decade. It has got to that satisfying point, as with jigsaws, when the whole structure suddenly links up and takes shape; the remaining pieces, though many, are now being placed on the tree and on the map with increasing ease and speed. The pace is now so rapid that people working at the cutting edge on one geographic region may still be unaware of breakthroughs in another region. The whole branching tree can now be laid flat on a world map to show where our ancestors and their gene lines travelled in their conquest of the world.
The new knowledge has resolved some of the apparent paradoxes thrown up by the contrast between the cultural and biological stories of the last 150,000 years. We can now even start to hang the regional human fossil relics of that period in their correct places on the genetic tree of life.
Many questions have been answered. It turns out that, far from the world being a common genetic melting pot with massive to-and-fro prehistoric movements and mixings, the majority of the members of the modern human diaspora have conservatively stayed put in the colonies their ancestors first established. They have dwelt in those localities since well before the last ice age. We can also trace the dates of specific migrations over the last 80,000 years. Thus, from a picture of great diversity and lack of definition, we have the opportunity to move to a highly specific and regional focus on the branching networks of human exploration.
Several other obvious examples of long-standing archaeological questions have been resolved by the new gene trees. One is the ‘Out-of-Africa’ v. ‘Multiregional’ controversy. The Out-of-Africa view is that all modern humans outside Africa descend from a recent movement from Africa less than 100,000 years ago. This exodus wiped out all earlier human types around the world. The multi-regionalists, in contrast, argue that the archaic human populations, Homo neanderthalenis (Neanderthals) in Europe and Homo erectus in the Far East, evolved into the local races we now see around the world.
The Out-of-Africa view now wins the contest because the new genetic trees lead straight back to Africa within the past 100,000 years. No traces of Adam-and-Eve gene lines from older human species remain on our genetic tree, except of course at the root, from which we can measure our genetic distance from Neanderthals. Neanderthals have now been genetically typed using ancient mitochondrial DNA, and it seems that they are our cousins rather than our ancestors. We share with them another common ancestor, Homo helmei.
Current Out-of-Africa proponents have usually hedged their bets, claiming that Australians, Asians, and Europeans came as separate migrations of Homo sapiens from Africa. Not so: the male and female genetic trees show only one line each coming out of Africa. This is my central argument in this book. There was only one main exodus of modern humans from Africa – each gender line had only one common genetic ancestor that respectively fathered and mothered the whole non-African world.
Other prejudices have also foundered. Some European archaeologists and anthropologists have long held that Europeans were the first to learn to paint, carve, develop complex culture, and even to speak – almost as if Europeans represented a major biological advance. The structure of the genetic tree denies this view. Australian aboriginals are related to Europeans, and share a common ancestor just after the exodus from Africa to the Yemen over 70,000 years ago. Thereafter they moved progressively round the coastline of the Indian Ocean, eventually island-hopping across Indonesia to Australia where, in complete isolation, they developed their own unique and complex artistic cultures. The first Australian rock art has been dated at least as early as the first European one. This must mean that humans came out of Africa already painting.…
Coming back to our airline queue, we should also remember that we are participants in this genetic story, since 99 per cent of the work of reconstruction of our ancient gene trees was carried out using modern DNA given voluntarily by people living in different parts of the world today. This is a story of relevance to each and every one of us.”1 The above Preface is followed by a map (given at the end of the section) which is most revealing and speaks for itself.
Genotype and phenotype are the two key concepts that play a fundamental role in the modern scientific study of populations. Genotype is what we inherit and phenotype is that which is observable and which is not something basic but a result of the interaction between the genotype (the inherited traits) and the environment. It is now understood that the same genotype can produce entirely different phenotypes depending on the environment in which it lives and grows. This explains why people in different parts of the world look so different even though – as modern genetics has clearly established – all have descended from common African ancestors. Most apparent differences (phenotype) are brought about by the interaction between inherited features (genotype) and the external environment – which also includes such things as food habits and diseases resulting from the process of adaptation, etc. – over thousands or even tens of thousands of years or more. Therefore, to disentangle a specific original trait (genotype) from the presently observed features such as colour of skin, eyes, etc. (phenotype) is likely to be impossible. The present day Europeans whose ancestors, according to the present-day genetic studies, came from South Asia look quite different from how their ancestors did when they arrived in Europe some 30-40 thousand years ago.
As pointed out by Oppenheimer in the passage quoted above, in contrast to all other genes, the m DNA (a collection of genes outside the cell nucleus) is inherited only through our mothers and the Y chromosome is inherited only by men and both these are unaffected by environment and can be trusted to lead us to our most distant ancestors. Based on these, Adam-and-Eve genetic trees have been constructed on whom all ancestors can be assigned a place. Many genetic lines have been constructed to study the migration of population group. One such line related to India is called Krishna line and M 17 is a genetic marker belonging to this line. According to Oppenheimer, “For me and for Toomas Kivisild, South Asia is logically the ultimate origin of M 17 and his ancestors; and sure enough we find highest rates and greatest diversity of the M 17 line in Pakistan, India, and eastern Iran, and low rates in the Caucasus. M 17 is not only more diverse in South Asia than in Central Asia, but diversity characterizes its presence in isolated tribal groups in the south, thus undermining any theory of M 17 as a marker of a ‘male Aryan invasion’ of India. One estimate for the age of this line in India is as much as 36,000 years while the European age is only 23,000. All this suggests that M 17 could have found his way initially from India or Pakistan, through Kashmir, then via Central Asia and Russia, before finally coming to Europe.” (The Real Eve: Modern Man’s Journey Out of Africa, Stephen Oppenheimer: 152) He further adds, “Study of the geographical distribution and the diversity of genetic branches and stems again suggests that Ruslan, along with his son M 17, arose early in South Asia, somewhere near India, and subsequently spread not only south-east to Australia but also north, directly to Central Asia, before splitting east and west into Europe and East Asia.”2
Describing Europe’s Asian roots he writes, “This trip through genetic and human time has suggested two extraordinary conclusions: first, that the Europeans’ genetic homeland was originally in South Asia in the Pakistan/Gulf region over 50,000 years ago; and second, that the Europeans’ ancestors followed at least two widely separated routes to arrive, ultimately, in the same cold but rich garden. The earliest of these routes was the Fertile Crescent, which opened 51,000 years ago as a corridor from the Gulf, allowing movement up through Turkey and eventually to Bulgaria and Southern Europe. This seems to coincide with the Aurignacian cultural movement into Europe. The second early route from South Asia to Europe may have been up the Indus into Kashmir and on to Central Asia, where perhaps more than 40,000 years ago hunters first started bringing down game as large as mammoths. Some of these hunters with their elaborate technical skills may then have moved westward across the Urals to European Russia and on to the Czech Republic and Germany. A more conservative view of this eastern invasion might be that the Trans-Caucasus, rather than Central Asia, was the earliest route of modern human entry into Russia.”3
The modern genetic research also points towards and supports the traditionally held view – before the advent of the AIT – of a single homogenous population inhabiting the Indian subcontinent with negligible external input during the past ten thousand years or more. Thus the whole edifice of the AIT, even without any other evidence – and, as we shall see later, there is a whole mountain of it – collapses and falls flat on the ground in the light of this new genetic evidence.
These studies have also taken the base out of the pernicious doctrines of race superiority which were in vogue during the past few centuries and were used by those who held them to explain away and even justify, to some extent, the most inhuman treatment meted out by the European colonisers to people of non-European origins. According to N.S.Rajaram, “The idea of race, and its offshoot the ‘race science’ dominated the nineteenth century European psyche to a degree that is incomprehensible to us today. Just as an educated Hindu today is likely to find the superstitions of the caste system utterly bewildering, a modern student of Europe is likely to find the belief in the ‘race science’ prevailing among otherwise reasonable men and women no less baffling. It was more than prejudice – it was an article of faith – that made them believe that racial differences in behavior and mental abilities could be demonstrated scientifically. Where a bigoted Brahmin in India, or a slave holder in America might have appealed to his scriptures to justify his attitudes, nineteenth century European intellectuals sought support from science. Since almost all of them were without any scientific background – Max Müller’s firm belief in the Biblical date is a notable illustration – they went about creating a ‘race science’ that simply went towards justifying their own preconceptions. The British writer Nancy Stephen has charged:
On examination it is found that the European whites are at the top and the African blacks at the bottom, with others coming in between…
She brands it a concoction, but it really was more of a rationalization that sought to find an independent justification for a situation that they found highly advantageous. Expanding upon Nancy Stephen’s work, S.K. Mahajan has noted:
Beginning with the fifteenth century, the white Europeans came in contact with more and more people around the globe, most of whom looked physically different. Thanks to their military technology, the Europeans soon found themselves exterminating, enslaving or subjugating many of these people. All this was profitable to them though morally difficult to justify. A morally defensible rationale for slavery of others and colonialism by them would have been highly useful. Such were the imperatives that led to the genesis, around the year 1800, of what Nancy Stephens calls ‘the race science’ in her book.
The primary goal of the race scientists was to generate empirical data as well as a theoretical frame-work in support of the above hypothesis. This they did with remarkable zeal, diligence and persistence for well over a century in the face of formidable practical as well as theoretical setbacks…
In spite of the great labours of the race scientists, their work has mostly been forgotten. The emergence of Molecular Biology of genes has proved it to be false.
A modern researcher today can scarcely have an idea of the enormous output of these race scientists, output that in sheer quantity (and value) can only be compared to that of medieval theologians who produced volume upon massive volume on such important subjects as the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin. The home of this quack science was Germany, with French savants like Comte Joseph de Gobineau not far behind. It was such men that gave currency to the notion of the Aryan race. It was Max Müller’s friend Regnaud who popularized the term ‘Aryan’ in France. Thus it is not surprising that Sanskrit studies became highly popular in nineteenth century Europe, especially in Germany, the home of Indology for over a century.”4
Sri Aurobindo, in his letter to “The Hindu” quoted earlier, had referred to his proposed work entitled, the “Origins of Aryan Speech”. He began this seminal work but never found time to complete it. Even though incomplete, still, what was done was sufficient to enable him to clearly demonstrate with the help of concrete examples how language can be no sound factor of ethnological research and how the science of comparative Philology – in its present conjectural state – has been grossly misused by the European Vedic Scholarship to arrive at unfounded and far-fetched conclusions. ( Please refer to Appendix-A – to be printed in the next Issue – for the full text of the relevant portions of this important and fundamental work of Sri Aurobindo.)
1. Oppenheimer, Stephen, The Real Eve: Modern Man’s Journey Out of Africa, Carroll and Graf, 2004, pp.xix-xxi
2. Ibid, p.153
3. Ibid, pp.153-54
4. Rajaram, N.S., Aryan Invasion of India: The Myth and the Truth, Voice of India, 1993, pp.21-23