India’s Genetic ‘Pizza’ 

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Who are we Indians? And what are our origins? The most fought-over question in Indian history is slowly, but surely, getting answered. Did the Aryans, who composed Sanskrit and Hinduism’s oldest religious texts, the Vedas, come into India sometime between 2000 BC – 1500 BC? New DNA evidence based study has made scientists say yes, they did. Which means they are not native to India. Latest research using ancient DNA is rewriting prehistory in India and shows that our civilisation is the result of multiple ancient migrations. 

Tony Joseph, whose Early Indians is anchored in genetics, traces our ancestors and  points out that the history of India’s population is like a pizza. The base was composed of the earliest migrants from Africa, and layers and toppings of various thickness and consistency have been added by subsequent migrations. There were four major classes of migrations that were responsible for shaping a lot of India and the world’s demography.

The 4 classes of migrations

  1. ‘Out-of-Africa’ Migration: This happened about 70,000 years ago when a small subset of the then existing African population moved into the Arabian peninsula and went to populate the rest of the world. The answer to the questions – who were the first Indians, who were the first Japanese, who were the first Australians, who were the first Americans, who were the first Europeans – is all more or less the same. They were all ‘out of Africa’ migrants. 
  2. The Glacial Age intervened the ‘out-of-Africa’ migration and much of the world became uninhabitable for thousands of years. During this period, these groups of modern humans got separated from each other. After the Glacial Age ended, the modern human populations began to experiment with agriculture such that they could become farmers from hunter-gatherers. The result was a population explosion, because settled farming populations grow at a much faster rate than hunter-gatherer populations do, which then result in further migrations. The driving force in this case was human mastery over nature. 
  3. The third class began when a modern human population group in Central Asia figured out how to ride a horse and then combined it with their existing mastery over metallurgy. This gave them a mobility that no other modern population group then could even think of. They changed the demography of Central Asia itself, and moved to Europe, West Asia, South Asia and all the way up to China. 
  4. The fourth class of migrations were colonial migrations. Some modern human population groups in Europe figured out how to travel large distances over the seas in steam ships, went into already populated regions and changed the demography. 

How the Genetic Pizza of India (really South Asia) came into being

  • The foundation or the ‘base’ of the pizza is the ancestry of First Indians, who came to India 65,000 years ago – these were the out-of-Africa migrants, who went on to populate the rest of the world. The ‘sauce’ is made up of Harappans. The Harappan civilisation was created by a mixed population of First Indians and West Asian migrants, who reached India 9,000 years ago. In many ways, it’s the Harappans who are the cultural glue that holds us together.
  • The ‘cheese’ are the Aryans who arrived in India between 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE, that is about 4,000 or 3,000 years ago, from the Central Asian Steppe region, the areas that would be known as Kazakhstan. They were more prominent in North India than in South India. But they spread across the Indian subcontinent in various proportions.
  • The ‘toppings’ are other migrations that brought other components of Indian civilisation. Most of all, the Austroasiatic language-speakers. But it’s the first four migrations that have essentially formed the bulk of the Indian population.
  • The cheese and the toppings are not uniform across different slices. Some slices have an extra topping of tomato, some have more capsicum and others a lot of mushroom. The sauce, the cheese or the toppings that you find on this Indian pizza are not unique; these are found in other parts of the world too – some in West Asia, some in Southeast Asia and some in Europe and Central Asia. But the base of the pizza is unique to India – you will not find another one like it anywhere else in the world. And neither will you find a pizza with this level of diversity in any place other than Africa.

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