In these times of divisive and extreme discourse, any study that reinforces the fact that human beings anywhere in the world have more that is common between them than different needs to be lauded. After all, if you dig deep enough through the mists of time, we can find an ancestor, a mitochondrial eve, a woman from whom every living human has descended in an unbroken line.
Tony Joseph’s Ancient Indians is a book that condenses a large volume of scientific research to present, in an easily comprehensible style, everything from genetic drift to language trees. As its title suggests, its main focus is on the origin story for the people who live in South Asia today. But the book’s broad backdrop is the story of all mankind.
Some of the more notable facts that struck me on reading the book
- Every human being on the planet descended from Homo Sapiens who migrated out of Africa somewhere around 70,000 years ago most probably by crossing between what is now Djibouti and Yemen. All of us also have Neanderthal, Denisovian and other unidentified human genes within us as the early Homo Sapiens interbred with other human species. (They were really different but even they weren’t so different that they could not produce children who could carry the mixed lineage).
- Homo Sapiens literally spread like a rash or a virus across the surface of the planet spreading to every continent within a few thousand years. What spurred these humans to constantly push at their boundaries?
- 20,000 years ago, one of the largest chunk of human beings lived on the Indian subcontinent. All these years later, the fact still remains that the same region holds a big proportion of human population.
- We can all trace genetic descent to one common female ancestor. Move over Alexander and Augustus, the legacy of this/ these women is much bigger than anything a conqueror or an Emperor could dream of.
- People were constantly moving out of the Central Asian steppes- what was happening there? (Also read this news story about the migration and its possible consequences on society in ancient Spain).
- The word for Sesame seed is the same in most south India languages and Akkadian (the language of ancient Mesapotamia) because sesame was exported from India to the Middle East. Humans have always traded.
- If we trace the language arc even further it also seems like the languages spoken in South India today could be descended from roots that lay near the Zagros mountains.
Of course the book dwells a lot on the Harappan civilisation as well as the Aryan (Central Asian) migration into India. And how the people living in the region today are a melange of varying proportions of the various people who migrated into India. This book has been written to prove that people who believe that Harappan culture was Vedic are wrong (that Harappa precedes Vedic culture and that it was the Central Asia wanderers on horseback who brought Sanskrit and all that is so sacred to many an Indian to its now historic heartland).
But over and over again the book comes back to the same core set of (maybe implicit) assertions. We are all the same. Our paths have crossed, joined and diverged more times than can be counted. Our differences are literally only skin deep and to speak of racial purity and superiority can no longer hold any scientific validity.
At just over 200 pages, the book is a relatively quick read. Joseph goes through pains to explain, simplify and repeat so the book can be enjoyed by anybody with an open mind.