Splainer

Thursday, September 23 2021


Dive In

Our recommendation is to not buy new Chinese phones, and to get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible.

That’s the recommendation of the Lithuanian Defence Ministry after an investigation revealed that phones like Xiaomi have a built-in ability to detect and censor terms such as “Free Tibet,” “Long live Taiwan independence” or “democracy movement.” And while this capability had been turned off for the European region, it can be turned on remotely at any time. The report also found Xiaomi and Huawei’s P40 5G phones were sending encrypted phone usage data to a server in Singapore. But this wasn’t true of OnePlus. Point to note: Relations between China and Lithuania have been rocky of late.


Big reminder: Don’t forget to tune into our next Ask Me Anything session with the popular comedian Aditi Mittal this evening at 6 pm! This is your last chance to sign up to ask questions of one of the funniest women in India. We promise you will have a wonderful time. Just check out her ‘Girl Meets Mic’ special on Netflix or this clip from ‘Mother of Invention’. Time/Date: 6 pm on Thursday, September 23, via Zoom. Sign up here for one of the limited slots.

 
Big Story

The very political debate over ancient Indian ancestry

The TLDR: Recently, The Tribune noted a sudden flurry of archaeological activity at the Harappan-era site of Rakhigarhi in Haryana. It also noted several visits to the site by RSS leaderswho promised to develop Rakhigarhi as “a centre of ancient culture of the country.” Wait, why does the RSS care about a Harappan dig? The answers offer a fascinating insight into where we come fromand offer a serious challenge to a Vedic, North India-focused view of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

 

Tell me about Rakhigarhi…

The ancient Indus Valley Civilisation site near Hisardating back to the 2nd and 3rd millennium BCEwas first discovered in the 1960s. It was briefly excavated in the 90sand then forgotten. Then the discovery of nine mounds in 2016and more importantly, of 4,600 year old skeletons of four people brought it back into the spotlight. And scientists were able to extract ancient DNA from only a tiny bone from the inner ear region of a woman dubbed I6113. A paper based on a genetic analysis offered answers to some of the prickliest questions about the Indus Valley Civilisation:

 

“The IVC stands at the centre of a large and complex mystery about our origins. It is the missing piece in not just an archaeological but also a highly political jigsaw puzzle. Who were these people living in this large swathe of land along the Indus River and its vicinity? Were they indigenous or outsiders? Were these the same people who later composed the Vedas and started what is known as the Vedic Age? Or did another foreign race come and drive them out? And, most crucially, how do we, modern Indians, relate to this ancient group?”

 

And it sparked a huge and highly politicised debate over our ancestrywhich involved Indian archaeologists later tailoring their answers to match the claims of Hindutva ideology.

 

Point to note: Rakhigarhi has since become a symbol of great pride for the BJP-led government. Last year, it announced plans to develop the site as a tourist hub and set up five on-site museums. The site now spans 350 hectares and includes 11 mounds.

 

What does it tell us about our ancestry?

The first Indians came out of Africa and can be traced back to the Andamans. They are known as either Andamanese Hunter Gatherers or Ancient Ancestral South Indians (AASI). They reached India around 65,000 years ago and then moved on to Southeast Asia and further on. The genetic ancestry of the woman found in Rakhigarhi offers highly significant clues to what happened next. Combined with another paper published at the same timeco-authored by 91 experts from around the worldit offers answerssome of which are unwelcome in certain political quarters.

 

One: A key part of the Rakhigarhi paper based on the woman’s DNA concludes:

 

“The Indus Valley people were indigenous, but in the sense that their DNA had contributions from near eastern Iranian farmers mixed with the Indian hunter-gatherer DNA, that is still reflected in the DNA of the people of the Andaman islands.”

 

So those who built the Harappan civilisation were a mix of Ancient Ancestral South Indians and settlers from Iranwho arrived 9000 years ago. And this mix is referred to as the Indus Periphery People. They likely spoke an early Dravidian language

 

Point to note: Genetic evidence of migrants from the Indus Valley Civilisation has been found in modern-day Iran and Turkmenistan.

 

Two: More important is what is missing from her DNA: the so-called ‘Aryan’ gene called R1a1which originated in Central Asian settlers who arrived from an area between the Black and Caspian seas. Why this is important: “Most South Asians carry some ancestry derived from steppe pastoralists, ranging from less than 10% to a little over 20%, which is entirely absent in the Harappan genome.” 

 

So this tells us that the so-called Aryan invasion/migration did not occur until after the decline of Harappa. And the ‘Aryans’ were certainly not responsible for its fall.

 

Three: The evidence also suggests that the Harappans independently developed farmingperhaps with some outside influences. The ancient Iranian genetic material predates the rise of farming in the Middle East.

 

Four: Taken together with the second paper, Rakhigarhi gives us a sense of how our lineage evolved. After the Harappan civilisation declined after 2000 BCE, many of its descendants moved south-east to mix with those ‘first Indians’—and formed the Ancestral South Indian (ASI) population, most of whom live in South India today. Around the same time, we witnessed a huge influx of settlers from the Central Asian Steppes—either due to invasion or migration. The Harappans mixed with them to form the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) population.

 

A key related point to note:

 

“All of us, except for the people who remained secluded in the Andaman Islands, both from the highest to the lowest castes, including non-Hindu tribal populations living outside the caste system, are affected by the mixing of these two [ANI and ASI] groups. The percentages of the mixture however vary depending upon geography, caste and language groups. There is higher [ANI] ancestry among upper castes, Indo-European language speakers and those who originally hailed from north India.”

 

So why is any of this political?

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In today’s edition

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