20th August 2020
Further notes on horse riding and the Aryan journey into and across India
These notes are for my future use.
How the Yamnaya/Aryans came into India
This is a good summary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeWs9fqLbec (see from 17 minutes). (I don’t agree with this author that the “Aryans” over-ran the Indus Valley civilisation)
Yes, horses can climb mountains
This confirms that horses can easily climb mountains. There is now no longer any doubt in my mind that the Yamnaya people (or their successors) came into India via the horse.
The horse was part of food – that’s how the domestication started. Vedas have elaborate descriptions of horse sacrifice.
There is a good chance that the horse gave the “Aryans” a greater capacity to politically control local populations. This, along with disease that they carried (in Europe, the Yamnayas apparently conquered local farming populations 1000 years before one of their branches came to India – mainly because they carried the plague bacteria which decimated local people. It is quite possible that the “Aryans” carried novel bacteria and viruses which, coupled with their control over the horse, gave them fairly substantial political control in parts of North India in around 1000 BC.
(This video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTY9K1Q_Sbg&t=1207s – fascinating study of DNA/ plague etc.)
Tony Joseph’s book covers the plague issue – but we don’t have evidence so far of plague having been brought into India by the “Aryans”.
But the possibility of another explanation became apparent when a paper co-authored by the geneticist Eske Willerslev and others in 2015 said they had identified DNA sequences resembling Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the plague, in seven ancient individuals out of the 101 they had analysed, taken from Bronze Age Eurasia. The samples belonged to individuals buried in Yamnaya-linked cultures such as Corded Ware, Afanasievo, Sintashta and Andronovo. The study concluded: ‘It has recently been demonstrated by ancient genomics that the Bronze Age in Europe and Asia was characterised by large-scale population movements, admixture and replacements, which accompanied profound and archaeologically described social and economic changes. In light of our findings, it is plausible that plague outbreaks could have facilitated – or have been facilitated by – these highly dynamic demographic events.’
If diseases carried by the new influx of people from the Steppe played a part in changing the demography of Europe, it wouldn’t be the last time this happened, of course. The diseases carried by the Europeans into the Americas played a significant role in decimating the original population of that continent. Did they play a part in the disappearance of the Harappan Civilization too, which started declining around the same time that the early Steppe migrants reached India? We won’t know until we get direct ancient DNA evidence from cities such as Harappa, Mohenjo-daro or Kalibangan from the Late Harappan period. But even if we discover that diseases did play a part in reducing the Harappan population, it is fairly certain that this was not the cause of the decline of the civilization because there is mounting evidence that it was a long period of drought that brought it down – around the same time that it was wrecking other civilizations such as those in Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.
The Hindutvas are trying to prove that the horse and chariot were indigenous to India, and that horses can’t go up a hill
But there is no need to bring chariots. Just horses are fine. Chariots can be easily built after the horsemen reach the plains. Technology goes along with people’s head.
There is no issue with a sporadic horse being known/ found in India prior to this. This video (which discusses the origin of horse riding) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA02rgd9qok – shows that there can be a gap of thousands of years between first starting to eat horse meat, then domestication, and finally horse riding. So those who claim India had a horse have to prove that Indians had learnt to ride horses.
There is a basic problem with such a claim. Horses are not common in areas with jungles, and most of India was thickly forested in that period. There would not have been sufficient horses in India in the pre-Aryan period to have herded them and learnt how to ride them. And the way the “Aryans” came (via the mountain passes), there would have been insufficient horses initially for the “Aryans” to conquer the rest of India. They would have had to breed them slowly and expand the numbers. Horse would have been scarce in India so eating horses would also have likely reduced – being replaced with the cow/bull which were much more common.
Was Gandhara the missing link?
The Gandhara grave culture is possibly one place where the “Aryans” lived for some time (1400-800 BC).
Then they moved to the Gangetic area (yamuna, first). My 2013 blog post notes:
Sub-period I B is marked by the appearance of the Painted Grey Ware occurring along with the preceding Late Harappan assemblage, indicating the arrival of new people.
What did these new people look like? “Other finds of this Sub-period include terracotta animal figurines (pl. XXI) and anthropomorphic figures, recalling similar objects in the Gandhara Grave Culture. A large quantity of bones of cattle, sheep, goat, ram, dog and horse were recovered from different levels“.
1) So these people in Kurukshetra ate the horse.
2) Now I’m linking to stuff from Tony Joseph’s book: “The Swat valley samples … had ancestry from the First Indians and Zagros agriculturists. But there was one crucial and telling difference: they also had Steppe ancestry of about 22 per cent. The study says: ‘This provides direct evidence for Steppe ancestry being integrated into South Asian groups in the second millennium BCE, and is also consistent with the evidence of southward expansions of the Steppe groups through Turan at this time.” So now we can conjecture that these people had moved from Swat valley down to Kurkukshetra by the time of the Sub-period I B (which belongs to the iron age between 1200-600 BC).
In summary, I believe that if we review various archaeological finds and link them with DNA data, we’ll start seeing the precise movement of the Vedic culture in India. It is almost certain that by 500 BC, roughly the time of Buddha, they had significantly influenced areas till the Yamuna river, and possibly beyond. [Question: What did the characteristics of the Gandhara grave culture? – this 2016 article disagrees that any Rig Vedic link can be drawn – but then what explains the DNA? – of course, culture and DNA do not necessarily go together.]
In this regard, I’m extracting Wendy Doniger’s notes (which I had shared here).
The problem of the horse
“the IVC does not seem to know, or care about, the horse, who speaks loudly and clearly in the Vedas (as horses are said to do, beginning in the Vedic tale of the Ashvins—twin horse-headed gods)”. [Doniger’s The Hindus]
“the spread of the Central Asian horse (and, after around 2000 BCE, the chariot, for people rode astride for a long time before they began to drive horses) suggests that in general, when Indo-Aryan speakers arrived somewhere, horses trotted in at the same time, and the archaeological record supports the hypothesis that Indo-European speakers did in fact ride and/or drive, rather than walk, into India. For the horse is not indigenous to India. There is archaeological evidence of many horses in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent only in the second millennium BCE, after the decline of the IVC. ” [Doniger’s The Hindus]
“horses are not depicted at all in the extensive Indus art that celebrates so many other animals. The Indus people were crazy about animals, but not about horses. “The horse, the animal central to the Rig Veda, is absent from the Harappan seals” and “unimportant, ritually and symbolically, to the Indus civilization.” It is very hard to believe that the hippophiles who composed the Veda would exclude the horse from the stable of animals that they depicted on their seals.” [Doniger’s The Hindus]
What about the Prakrits?
A key is that the Vedics were few in number and they had to marry local Indian women (that’s genetically proven). Their children obviously imbibed their mother’s customs as well, so Vedic system quickly adapted local ideas.
Second, we know that a vast amount of intermingling of “Aryan” DNA took place – reaching to the remotest corners of India. This could be related to the more warrior-like mentality of these people (not just pastoralists: they were also warriors) – so they became local chiefs quickly, instead of just living in the fringe. Having acquired wealth, they may have had multiple wives and many sons – thereby spreading their DNA into the far reaches of India (which also suggests why Prakrits – which are Indo-European – probably arose as part of this spread).