Tuesday, September 17, 2019

How Did The Munda Get From Southeast Asia To India And From Where?

On the basis of historical linguistic and language geographic evidence, the authors advance the novel hypothesis that the Munda languages originated on the east coast of India after their Austroasiatic precursor arrived via a maritime route from Southeast Asia, 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Based on the linguistic evidence, we argue that pre-Proto-Munda arose in Mainland Southeast Asia after the spread of rice agriculture in the late Neolithic period, sometime after 4,500 years ago. A small Austroasiatic population then brought pre-Proto-Munda by means of a maritime route across the Bay of Bengal to the Mahanadi Delta region – an important hub location for maritime trade in historic and pre-historic times. The interaction with a local South Asian population gave rise to proto-Munda and the Munda branch of Austroasiatic. The Maritime Hypothesis accounts for the linguistic evidence better than other scenarios such as an Indian origin of Austroasiatic or a migration from Southeast Asia through the Brahmaputra basin. The available evidence from archaeology and genetics further supports the hypothesis of a small founder population of Austroasiatic speakers arriving in Odisha from Southeast Asia before the Aryan conquest in the Iron-Age.
Felix Rau and Paul Sidwell, "The Munda Maritime Hypothesis" (2019).

Razib Khan has helpful commentary. He notes genetic evidence disfavoring the conventional wisdom that the Munda arrived further north in India by land. In part that is because we normally think of the Austroasiatic people (the most famous Austroasiatic language today is Vietnamese), as land oriented farmers, in contrast to the maritime oriented Austronesians (derived from Taiwan and the settlers of many of the islands in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand, and island Southeast Asia, as well as Madagascar). He also adds that:
One of the possibilities suggested is a relation to the Aslian subgroup of Austro-Asiatic languages in central Malaysia. This could actually help explain the enrichment for AASI in the Munda: the indigenous Negritos of Malaysia are similar to the people of the Andaman islands! 
Remember, the arrival of Austro-Asiatic farmers in northern Vietnam dates to ~4,000 years ago. The Munda could be relative latecomers to South Asia…
I agree that the hypothesis is a plausible one, and represents yet another extreme localization of the remote origins of a language or language family akin to the likely pin point origins of the proto-Austronesians (to a subregion and indigenous tribe of the island of Formosa), the Austroasiatic settlers of Madagascar (from a specific part of the island of Borneo where a specific dialect is spoken), the Bantu people (from a county sized area on the Nigerian coast), and in my opinion, also the Chadic languages (from a county sized area of modern day Moldova).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Did Prehistoric South Asians Build A Thirty Mile Long Stone Bridge To Sri Lanka?

Science Channel TV episode of "What on Earth?" explores the possibility that large stone slabs placed along a sand bar or shoal between India and Sri Lanka (now mostly submerged in shallow water but obvious in a satellite image) were part of a man made bridge that was passable at least some of the year at the time, that is alluded to in the legendary history of the Dravidian people. 

One of the Hindu epics states that the god Rama connected the two with a "magic bridge" (as the producers of the episode interpret it) a.k.a. Adam's Bridge a.k.a. Rama's Bridge a.k.a. Rama Setu. Per that Wikipedia link:
Adam's Bridge (ātām pālam; Sinhala: adamgay palama), also known as Rama's Bridge or Rama Setu (Irāmar pālam, Sanskrit: rāmasetu), is a chain of limestone shoals, between Pamban Island, also known as Rameswaram Island, off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka. Geological evidence suggests that this bridge is a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka.

NASA satellite photo: India on top, Sri Lanka at the bottom of the photo
The bridge is 48 km (30 mi) long and separates the Gulf of Mannar (south-west) from the Palk Strait (northeast). Some of the regions are dry and the sea in the area rarely exceeds 1 metre (3 ft) in depth, thus hindering navigation. It was reportedly passable on foot until the 15th century, when storms deepened the channel: temple records seem to say that Adam's Bridge was completely above sea level until it broke in a cyclone in 1480.
The stones are allegedly "from afar" and date to about 5000 BCE and are not natural, while the sand beneath them purportedly dates to 2000 BCE.

The possibility isn't absurd, even though a TV producer can easily make a less than mainstream hypothesis seem more plausible than it would be if all evidence for and against it was considered impartially.

(I tried to embed the video in this post, but couldn't figure out a way to do so using the blogger interface.)

In an example of how India collectively deals with these matters, the Archaeological Survey of India and the government of India informed the Supreme Court of India in a 2007 affidavit that there was no historical proof of the bridge being built by Rama.