While we await a new preprint (or the final version) of Narasimhan et al. 2018 I’d like to comment on several random things related to it.
Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC)
When Victor Sarianidi first excavated the BMAC sites, his hypothesis was that it represented a migration from Syro-Anatolia to the east. Then, as in the following decades more information became available from previous cultures in the area, the debate about its origin opened with the option of a more native development. We still don’t have DNA from the earliest neolithic times, but we do have samples from the 5th-4th mill. to compare to the later BA ones from the BMAC proper.
If we assume that the samples from Sarazm (c. 3500 BCE) represent a more “native” (but we don’t know if Mesolithic or only Neolithic) type, we can use them to first look at the other Eneolithic samples. Geoksiur_Eneolithic are loosely dated to 5000-2000 BCE, but they’re more “eastern” than the other 2 groups, so probably they are a bit older:
Then we have the Anau and the Parkhai samples, from the 4th mill.
So now let’s compare these to the later BMAC proper samples:
So what we see is that the BMCA did receive a good amount of migration from the west between the Eneolithic and the Bronze Age (34-39% from around West Iran) and a smaller amount of migration from the Indus Valley (~15%), but the native component is still the largest. This is probably in agreement with more recent archaeology that has been able to establish the intensive cultural contacts between these 3 regions from the Eneolithic, with cultural exchange happening probably in every direction.
The Scythians and the language of the steppe
One interesting but not commented thing in the paper is that it better documents the genesis of the Scythians in Central Asia. We already knew that the Scythians were largely descended from Sintashta/Andronovo people, but also had some NE Asian (much more the Eastern Scythians than the Western ones) and some “southern” admixture. In this paper we might have references for those sources and early (presumably) proto-Scythian samples.
Taking a look at the Western Scythian/Sarmatian samples using Eurogenes Global 25 datasheets, we see that they are closest to samples from Kazakhstan c. 1600-1500 BCE like Taldysay_MLBA2, ID I4794, 1600-1400 BCE, Y-DNA J2a1h2 (same as Tepe_Hissar_ChL:I2337, Iran, 3641-3519 calBCE) or Kyzlbulak_MLBA2, ID I4784, 1618-1513 calBCE, Y-DNA Q1a2b2). These two samples can be modelled as:
(Here I should add that the reason why Parkhai_EBA works better than, say, Gonur1_BA is probably because of the very low level of AASI Parkhai_EBA, which might mean that the groups that admixed with the Andronovo people had less AASI than those within bigger urban centers, or some other geographical reason).
In turn, Sarmatians can be modelled mostly as a mix of the above samples and the Srubnaya people they encountered on their migration to the western steppe:
Or using the same sources as above:
The interesting thing about this is this genetic data is that it continues to provide more information for linguists to work with. Why? Because we can now more accurately tell the place and time when specific contacts or migrations happened, and that provides valuable information for linguistic research. To the point: we don’t know exactly how Indo-Iranian languages arrived to SC Asia, but we do know quite accurately that they were spoken there from at least 1800 BCE. If, for the sake of simplicity and to avoid controversies, we follow the steppe hypothesis, Indo-Iranian formed right there through the migration of Andronovo tribes, in the contact zone with BMAC. David Anthony, following Lubotsky, refers to 55 non-Indo-Iranian words borrowed into common Indo-Iranian, among them the words for bread, ploughshare, canal, brick, camel, ass, sacrificing priest, soma and Indra, and concludes:
The BMAC fortresses and cities are an excellent source for the vocabulary related to irrigation agriculture, bricks, camels and donkeys; and the phonology of the religious terms is the same, so probably came from the same source.¹
It’s really not the purpose here to debate whether this is right or not. It’s only to stress that there is ample consensus about Indo-Iranian being spoken at that time, in that place and not anywhere else. With the Rigveda being composed around 1500 BCE (or earlier) in the Punjab and/or Haryana, there really is no other option.
The Scythian language is poorly known and hardly attested. However, it seems quite clear that it was an Indo-Iranian language, most likely on the Iranian branch, and more related to East Iranian. However, given the date of the formation of the ancestors of the Scythians, we’re probably taking about a very early form of Indo-Iranian, on the Iranian branch, but still older than Avestan and close to the split with Indo-Aryan. And given that Vedic is older than Avestan, that language was more or less as close to Vedic as to Avestan, even if it was in the Iranian branch.
Knowing this is important because this language was spoken on the steppe for at least 1000 years, leaving an important substrate and presumably influencing neighbouring languages. Interesting in this respect is the relationship of this language with Balto-Slavic and Uralic. It is a task for linguists now to determine how this matches the linguistic data. Going again with the steppe hypothesis as a starting point, things would go more or less like this:
- A late PIE language, ancestral to both Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian splits (more or less coinciding with the split of R1a-Z645 into Z93 and Z283) c. 3000 BCE somewhere in Eastern Europe (western Ukraine, Poland, maybe Belarus…), with pre-Indo-Iranian moving east from there (carrying R1a-Z93) and then from Kazakhstan moving south to become proto-Indo-Iranian through contacts with BMAC.
- Scythians, already speaking an early form of Indo-Iranian move west all the way to the Pontic steppe, where they arrive somewhere after 1000 BCE (?). This language is spoken throughout the steppe until the arrival of Uralic and Turkic groups.
So this is the question for linguists: Are the similarities between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian better explained by the first scenario alone, or by the second scenario alone, or by both, with two different layers of influence corresponding to each? And basically the same question could be asked for the relationship between proto-Uralic the hypothetic late PIE from the 3rd mill or the early Indo-Iranian from the late 2nd and 1st mill.
(And I should also add that while the first scenario is just hypothetical, the second one is based on known and verifiable data, so it should be taken into account in any case).
P.S: We’ve also got recently a few samples from Alans. Genetically, they belong to the north Caucasus and are different from the Scythians/Sarmatians. So while they also spoke and East Iranian language (Ossetian being its modern descendant) probably related to the one of the Scythians, it was probably not the same one.
To be continued…
1 – Anthony, D. (2007), The horse, the wheel, the language.