Monday, February 22, 2021

Race, Legendary History, And Indo-Aryan Expansion

The Vedic epics are the oldest narrative stories of South Asia that survive, initially in reasonably accurate oral accounts in a milieu consistent with the Bronze Age that were eventually committed to writing. 

The Vedas, like the Bible and the Scandinavian epic poems, are a composite of different works composed at different times, with the oldest works in particular constituting "legendary history", which draw on factual history reality and purely fictional myths of cultural relevance in an undifferentiated whole. 

Legendary history is particularly common globally in Bronze Age cultures, and continues into the early Iron Age, with newly composed works retreating in the later Classical era, but enjoying a resurgence after the fall of Rome, with the Medieval European "Lives Of Saints" genre and some accounts of the Crusades, constituting its last hurrah, before reliable secular history and myth become fully divorced from each other again. There are probably reasons for this reality rooted in the economic and technological limitations of these eras.

Discerning what portion of legendary history is myth and what portion reflects historical reality is more art than science and requires resort to sources beyond these texts to resolve satisfactorily. But archaeology, linguistics and genetics (especially ancient DNA techniques) have started to pave the way to clarify these points, as, for example, in the case of the Illiad and related works which are a legendary history of Trojan War on the Aegean coast of what is now the country of Turkey in the decades leading up to Bronze Age collapse.

His post tends to corroborate the concept expressed in my previous post today about Neolithic expansion in Europe and the subsequent marginalization of the first farmers of Europe (just like the marginalization of European hunter-gathers by the first farmers) that the population genetic communities that emerged from these clashes of civilizations was strongly influenced by racism.

Razib Khan notes at Brown Pundits, and I agree (including regarding the time and place that the Vedas were composed and its likely sources) that:
The Indo-Aryans described the natives of the subcontinent as dark and “snub-nosed.” That their arrival in some ways was a meeting of two different races.
3,000-4,000 years ago a people who resembled what we would term “white” expanded within the Indian subcontinent. If modern Armenians are white, then the Indo-Aryans were white. At least initially. In the subcontinent, they met a variety of people. Some of them, such as in Sindh, were of brownish complexion. Others, to the south and east, would have been considerably darker. I also assume that the Vedas were constructed in situ in the Indian subcontinent. That is, they reflect a milieu of people who were encountering the northwest of the subcontinent, and had recently traversed through BMAC (Indra may actually be a BMAC diety).

What’s the upshot here? I now think that the metaphorical view of the physical descriptions should be set next to the literal view. The reality is probably a mix. But the fact is that groups with very different physical appearances did interact in ancient India. The Aryans were almost certainly very light-skinned, with “sharp features”, in comparison to many of the people they encountered. Though one can construct hybrid scenarios, where Indo-Aryan enemies were described in inaccurate ways precisely because those tropes were associated with tribes and peoples the Indo-Aryans had conquered.

1 comment:

Genos Historia said...

Razib overrates the difference in pigmentation allele frequencies in Fatyanovo & SIntashta compared to modern Europeans. They would have been white in the same way modern Europeans are.

"If modern Armenians are white, then the Indo-Aryans were white."