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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The clinching evidence for Sethna’s viewpoint would be the unambiguous archaeological discovery of horse remains in the Indus sites

K D Sethna’s Contribution to the Study of Indian Prehistory—by Akash Deshpande
posted by RY Deshpande on Tue 12 Feb 2008 04:00 PM PST Permanent Link

Sethna’s central thesis regarding Indian prehistory, stated negatively, is that there was not in or around the mid-second millennium B.C. an invasion or even a migration of a people into northwest India who brought or later developed the culture and practice evidenced in the Rigveda, and stated positively, is that the Rigveda and its associated culture was developed by a people substantially native to the greater Punjab, in the period of 3500 B.C.-2500 B.C., and it continued as and contributed significantly to the civilization of the Indus valley and other interior settlements.

He does not deny the possibility of an incursion into the Indian northwest circa 1500 B.C. or at other times, but does deny that such presumed intruders were the bearers or later developers of the Rigveda. He does not claim that the people of the Indian northwest developed in isolation; rather he identifies a belt of like civilizations, fairly developed by 4000 B.C.-3000 B.C., spanning the Indian northwest and the Black sea. He does not claim nor deny that the Rigvedic Indians migrated out and colonized Iran and Central Asia, though he does suggest that the civilization in the Indian northwest was the most advanced one in the fourth millennium B.C., based on available evidence.

This focused, clear and defensible statement, unencumbered by ideological postures and fully submitted to Occam’s razor is strenuously defended and convincingly developed by Sethna in his books.

A significant effect of Sethna’s work, aided by the compulsions of mounting evidence, has been to move the main line of discourse on the opposing point of view from the position of a sudden invasion in 1500 B.C. to one of a gradual migration over 2000 B.C.-1000 B.C. into the Indian northwest. The refinement of the opposing position can be said to have broadened it to such an extent that the only remaining major discrepancy appears to be the precedence relationship between the Rigveda and the Indus civilization.

Numerous items have been excavated in the many Indus sites which find no mention in the Rigveda: wheat, rice, cotton, tiger, ass, camel, and indeed the urban and commercial character of the civilization itself is at variance with the contrasting pastoral worldview. While supportive of the precedence of the Rigveda, this can fairly be said to be neither here nor there. There is, however, the mention of horses and chariots in the Rigveda, and these have not, it is claimed, been satisfactorily evidenced in the Indus excavations...

Recent studies in the subject of human prehistory in general and Indus civilizations in particular (especially because of its charged nature and checkered history) favor primary, quantitative, physical evidence over subjective interpretations of literature or culture. Archaeology, carbon dating, genetics and geological surveys are often relied upon to provide primary data.

Over two thousand sites of the Indus civilization have been discovered. Out of these, less than five per cent have so far been excavated. Amongst those that have been excavated, several have been found that show over eight thousand years of continuous in situ development. Much more is there to be learned from the remaining sites and from still others that are yet to be uncovered.

Genetic studies of the Y chromosome in diverse populations for a record of markers along with their observed rate of mutation strongly suggest a pattern of human migrations out of Africa. It is claimed that the first migration began 50,000-60,000 years ago and traversed South Asia along the coasts, reaching Australia. A second wave of migration began 30,000-40,000 years ago, went north to Central Asia and then entered the Indian northwest. This second wave eventually populated the entire globe over subsequent millennia.

The racial diversity found in India is accounted for by these two waves of early humans, along with minor incursions from the northeast and elsewhere. But their dates are in the remote past, and certainly not in the last 10,000 years or more. Specifically conducted studies have not discovered any gene splash in the Indian northwest in this period of interest. Studies of the mitochondrial DNA consistently yield similar but earlier results, typically by 20,000-50,000 years. Genetic studies conducted so far have been of miniscule segments of the population, and have typically focused on finding the exceptions. They need to be expanded significantly for the mainstream population.

The other techniques are yielding insights into the courses of rivers (especially of the much-described Saraswati of the Rigveda) from geological surveys and locations and epochs of the Rigvedics based on astronomical calculations.

The clinching evidence for Sethna’s viewpoint would be the unambiguous archaeological discovery of horse remains in the Indus sites. There is ample room for such a discovery by patient and professional scientists delving into the secrets of Indian prehistory. Keywords: IndusValley, India, History, Harappan, Arcology

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