CRADLE OF THE INDO - IRANIANS
The Andronovo culture is a collection of similar local Bronze Age
cultures that flourished c. 2000–900 BC in western Siberia
and the central Eurasian Steppe. Some researchers have preferred
to term it an archaeological complex or archaeological horizon.
The older Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BC), formerly included
within the Andronovo culture, is now considered separately within
Early Andronovo cultures.
researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian
languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking
area at its northern fringe.
to genetic study conducted by Allentoft et al. (2015), the Andronovo
culture and the preceding Sintashta culture are partially derived
from the Corded Ware culture, given the higher proportion of ancestry
matching the earlier farmers of Europe, similar to the admixture
found in the genomes of the Corded Ware population.
2006, the late Russian archaeologist Elena Kuzmina wrote a hefty
book on the Origin of the Indo-Iranians (Brill, Leiden). No one
who is serious about deciding the Indo-European Homeland question
can afford to leave this book unread.
2006, the late Russian archaeologist Elena Kuzmina wrote a hefty
book on the Origin of the Indo-Iranians (Brill, Leiden). It gives
a very detailed history of the Andronovo culture and its surroundings
in time and space. The Andronovo culture spanned most of Central
Asia in the 2nd millennium BCE, from the Urals to Bactria. At the
same time, the book contains a lot of speculation about links to
the information given in the Veda and the Avesta, generally convincing.
While it has become a very authoritative work on Andronovo, there
remains a big question-mark over its presumptuous title: was this
culture indeed the cradle of the Indo-Iranians?
cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The
Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with
one who is serious about deciding the Indo-European Homeland question
can afford to leave this book unread. It promises to give the prehistory
of the Aryan invasion, the preceding movements of the tribes concerned,
perhaps even the events that triggered their migration into India.
No one serious about arguing the case for an Indian Homeland can
afford to leave it unanswered. I have had it on my shelves for a
few years, hoping to find time to thoroughly review it. Realistically,
I still haven’t found that time, and I have not yet co-operated
with an archaeologist on this. But a review simply cannot wait anymore.
book ends with a discussion of the procedure for establishing the
chronology of Andronovo, and starts with a detailed explanation
about the archaeological method and the rules for ethnographic reconstruction.
Then follows an analysis of the typical Andronovo features that
allow her to define the spatial and temporal boundaries of the culture
she studies. Culturally important and archaeologically easily accessible
are funeral practices: “Cremation dominates in the Urals;
in central and northern Kazakhstan the cemeteries are bi-ritual;
in eastern Kazakhstan and south Siberia, inhumation prevails.”
at once, we notice something that will characterize many passages:
though convinced of the Aryan invasion, she furnishes data that
are compatible with, or even point to, an opposite Bactria-to-Urals
migration. In this case, the Indo-Europeans, historically known
to practise both types of disposal of the dead, but mainly cremation
(though inhumation will be magnified in the eyes of the archaeologists
as it leaves so many more traces), brought cremation with them along
the Amu Darya to the Aral Lake area and on to the Urals. The native
practice was predominantly inhumation, and it was preserved far
from this trajectory, in areas where the Indo-Europeans didn’t
Indo-Iranian culture :
While the observation has no evidential value in itself, it deserves
noting that the cultural identity of the Andronovo culture has now
virtually become a matter of consensus: the Andronovo culture was
Indo-Iranian. This book itself has greatly contributed to that consensus,
for before its publication, there was still some hesitation.
many sacrificial and burial practices (and sati, the self-immolation
of widows) “characterize the burial practice of the majority
of Indo-European peoples: Hittites, Greeks, Germans, Balts, Slavs
etc. It leads to the undisputable statement that the Andronovans
were Indo-Europeans. However, the common Indo-European character
of the whole burial complex does not, strictly speaking, permit
one to declare the Andronovans as Indo-Aryans.” (p.195) However,
she finds that “the variety of Andronovo funeral rites finds
a complete and thorough correlation in early indic texts “.
decides the question for her, is the wealth of correspondences between
her material findings and references in Indian or Iranian texts.
Thus, she describes the typical fireplace and then the corresponding
reference in Vedic literature. These “hearths comprise a shallow
round or oval pit… often covered with flat stone slabs on
the bottom…. This hearth is described in ancient Indian texts
as the domestic fire garhapatya-, ‘fire of the master of the
house’… Such hearths were used for ritual purposes:
a bride would go around it, a widow would perform a ritual dance,
people jumped over it during a feast.” (p.45)
type of hearth “has a rectangular form… and was made
of closely adjusted rectangular stone slabs inserted into the ground
on their narrow ends. Such hearths were found in the centre of a
house, kept clean, and it is likely that they had a ritual function…
This type of hearth corresponded to the early Indian special cult
hearth ahavaniya…” (p.45) As she notes, round and rectangular
hearths had different functions among the Indo-Europeans. Thus,
in Rome, round hearths were sacred to the goddess Vesta, rectangular
(including square) ones to male deities.
could be coincidence, for there are only that many ways of making
a fireplace, and it may have been by coincidence that Indo-Iranians
and Andronovans hit upon the same design. But let us assume a genealogical
relationship: either the Andronovan hearth became the Vedic one,
as Kuzmina assumes, or vice-versa. Then everything depends on the
chronology. South-Asians may have left their homes and taken the
fireplace design with them to Central Asia, where from 2000 BCE
they participated in the Andronovo culture.
of course, presupposes that an “Aryan emigration from India”
took place at the very least 500 years before the AIT posits its
own Aryan invasion of India. Indeed, this would fit what Shrikant
Talageri says in his The Rigveda and the Avesta, a Final Analysis:
the proto-Mitanni/Kassite Indo-Aryans left India ca. 2000 BCE (for
West Asia, but some of them may have branched off to Central Asia),
the Iranians even earlier.
and Iranians :
Indo-Aryan and Iranian, together with Dardic, are usually reckoned
as branches of a single linguistic group, there is evidence for
a conflict between an Indo-Aryan and an Iranian population connected
with the Vedic c.q. Avestan tradition: “H. Oldenberg showed
that in spite of the genetic closeness of religious beliefs, the
Vedas and Avesta differ considerably, and that in the Avesta many
of the heroes play opposite roles to their counterparts in the Veda.”
starts at the level of the gods, where Indra is glorified in the
Vedas and demonized in the Avesta. Rjashva, the Vedic king in the
Varshagira battle, is glorified in the Rg-Veda, but demonized in
the Avesta. And yet, except for Shrikant Talageri, no one has drawn
the logical conclusion: that Indians and Iranians waged a war against
one another, in which one side’s heroes were the other side’s
fought even though they were linguistically and religiously very
close. That is one thing most Western or Western-trained scholars
miss out on in their study of Vedic conflicts: the battles are not
between the very different cultures of an invader group and the
natives, they are between different groups of “Aryans”.
Even in the Aryan Invasion paradigm, where Indo-Aryans and Iranians
are like colonizers of adjoining territories after penetrating south
of Bactria, this should have been thought of.
compare with the colonial wars: the English against the Spanish
on the high seas (pirates), the French against the English in Canada,
the Dutch against the Portuguese in Sri Lanka, the English against
the Dutch Boers in South Africa: after the initial conquest, subsequent
conflicts were between different groups of conquerors. So it didn’t
even take the Out-of-India Theory to see that the Vedic Aryans were
not fighting the “black aboriginals” in the Battle of
the Ten Kings, but their own proto-Avestan cousins.
mapping the connections between Indo-Aryans and Iranians, her grasp
of social and family relations and how these are different between
the two groups, is a bit hazy and ultimately incorrect: “Kinsmen
marry each other among modern Iranian peoples (…) This could
be attributed to the caste system in India when marriage was within
a caste without taking into account kinship affiliation.”
(p.195) Good try, but this analysis from a distance obscures the
thorough difference between the Iranian and Indian family structures.
is definitely mistaken in linking cousin marriage with the caste
system. Iranian cousin marriage probably predated the caste system.
Even in the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), the invasion predated and
occasioned the genesis of the caste system, which took place in
India, where the Iranians never set foot. Indian sources too indicate
that caste endogamy (not even cousin marriage) was only gradually
formed, and that initially caste was passed on only in the paternal
line, regardless of the mother’s provenance.
Brahmin law books prohibited cousin marriage and enacted what the
Catholic Church was to call “forbidden degrees of consanguinity”.
This prohibition happens to make biological sense too, for a population
with frequent cousin marriages produces more handicapped or malformed
children (as can be seen by a comparison between native Britons
and the worse-afflicted British-Pakistani community, where cousin
marriages often form the majority). So, Iranian cousin-marriage
can safely be disconnected from Indian caste endogamy.
was just to illustrate how her knowledge of the Indo-Iranian cultures
she is dealing with, is not as good as her undoubtedly first-class
knowledge of Andronovo archaeology. That is not an argument in itself,
but it is good to keep in mind before accepting her correlation
between scripturally attested cultures and archaeology.
difference is the Iranian predilection for sheep, partly replacing
the central place of cattle among the Vedic people: “An ancient
term for ‘cattle’ was recorded in the Avesta and was
later attributed to ‘sheep’ in the Iranian languages;
Yima’s sacrifice of cattle (Yasna 32:8) was replaced by a
sheep sacrifice. These facts indicate that the rise of sheep-raising
in Iranian society occurred after the collapse of Indo-Iranian unity.”
facts, including their chronological order, are not explained by
any Central-Asian development, but fit Shrikant Talageri’s
Out-of-India scenario precisely. The first Indo-Aryans and Iranians
were neighbours in Northwest India; they developed a conflict in
which the Vedic people were victorious while the Iranian regrouped
in a territory where some of them had already migrated: Afghanistan.
In this mountainous territory, sheep flourished much better than
cattle, and therefore became the centre of the Iranian economy.
Fedorovo culture :
Within the Andronovo horizon, one culture stands out as especially
related to the Vedic culture of the Indo-Aryans: the Fedorovo culture.
While she finds plenty of Iranian toponyms, many probably stemming
from the later Scythian period (1st mill. BCE, as far west as Ukraine),
yet “part of the Andronovo toponyms can only be interpreted
as Indo-Aryan”. Moreover, ”the Indo-Iranian toponyms
of the pre-Scythian period have been found on the territory populated
by the Fedorovo tribes”.
us assume, with the author, that the Fedorovo culture is Indo-Aryan;
though mixed in its classical habitat on the eastern slopes of the
Urals with Ugrian, the Uralic branch that was to spawn Hungarian.
It flourished around 1700 BC, just in time to reach India for an
invasion ca. 1500. That looks neat and surely AIT believers will
seize upon it as supporting their invasion scenario.
then, Kuzmina herself provides material reasons for inverting this
northwest-to-southeast scenario: “The hypothesis of an origin
of the Fedorovo type in the Urals has been disputed. The sources
for Fedorovo ceramic technology and triangular ornamentation are
found in the Eneolithic of central and eastern Kazakhstan.”
even eastern Kazakhstan and beyond: “Federovo monuments are
discovered not only in the Urals, but also in the south of Central
Asia and Afghanistan, where Ugrians have never lived.” (p.201)
Moreover, elsewhere she designates central Kazakhstan as the Fedorovo
heartland: “The further one moves from central Kazakhstan,
the frequency of the complex diminishes and substratum elements
won’t take any special pleading to have the Fedorovans migrate
from Bactria to the Urals instead. At best we could agree that at
present, the distribution of Fedorovo findings across Central Asia
can be interpreted in more ways than just the Urals-to-Bactria scenario.
Moreover, any movement understood as going to Bactria, is never
traced as going beyond it, entering India. Here too, we notice a
disappointment for those who expected an underpinning for AIT-compliant
migrations from the Andronovo data.
of Aryan Invasion :
When it comes to the AIT, we note that Elena Kuzmina totally relies
on an outdated and certainly wrong racial account: “In the
Rigveda light skin alongside language is the main feature of the
Aryans, differentiating them from the aboriginal Dasa-Dasyu population,
who were a dark-skinned, small people speaking another language
and who did not believe in the Vedic gods.” (p.172) This is
strictly separate from her archaeological findings, but it strongly
colours her interpretation of those findings in favour of a northwest-to-southeast
migration. It is mostly based on the usual reading of the Vedic
references to the Battle of the Ten Kings, which is in fact not
against any dark aboriginals but against the Iranians.
her view, three stages are discernible in the movement from Andronovo
1 takes place in the 20th-17th century BCE. Material culture, including
“a cult of the horse” moves from the eastern slopes
of the Urals to Central Asia, but: “There is no evidence that
they reached India.” (p.452) She naturally rejects whatever
might still remain of a belief in the invaders’ violent destruction
of the Harappan cities.
to the northwest, on the Amu Darya near the Aral Lake, “the
newcomers were not numerous, but they employed horses and chariots
and established elite dominance and adopted the culture of the BMAC.”
(p.452, Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex) So what she has
actually found, is the cultural elements of BMAC near the Aral Lake.
This means the BMAC was expanding northward, precisely what you
would expect if you assume the Iranians first settled in Bactria
and then expanded into Kazakhstan and onwards to the Urals. We will
meet a later movement from Bactria to the west, but this movement
took place several times, including in ca. 2000 BCE.
she jumps to India, without positing any causal link with any Andronovo
development, and quotes G. Possehl to the effect that “the
way of life essentially changed in India in this period” (453):
urban culture became a village culture, luxuries and international
trade disappeared, but means of transport, types of pottery and
procedures of house-building continued. “So the opinion of
the Indian scholars, who emphasize the conservation of the Harappan
traditions in the culture of the subsequent periods is quite correct.”
2 is situated in the 16th-14th century BCE. All kinds of movements
take place north of (or at most, in the north of) present-day Afghanistan,
such as the Timber Grave culture mixing with the Andronovo culture
around Samarkand, far away from India. No sign, apparently, of an
invasion of Andronovans into India, confirming the non-discovery
of Andronovan elements by Indian archaeologists. Yet, this is precisely
the age of the supposed Aryan invasion, that AIT believers go around
declaring to have been confirmed by Kuzmina’s research.
is when the “Fedorovan tribes reached the Amu Darya…
And actively interacted with the bearers of the farming Bactria-Margiana
culture.” (453) We note “the penetration of the Andronovo
population in the BMAC and the probable subjugation of the indigenous
population” (454), the “synthesis of the Andronovo Fedorovo
culture and BMAC” (454). Fine, but none of that amounts to
an invasion of India.
3 really comes too late for the Aryan invasion of India: 13th-9th
century BC. It was “caused by the cultural transformation
of the Eurasian steppes as a result of internal development and
ecological crises”. (p.454) That is richly vague, but it has
no effect anymore on a putative invasion of India around 1500 BCE.
migration that is identified, however, is east-to-west: “a
part of of the Timber-grave tribes moved [from Uzbekistan or even
the Amu Darya basin] to the North Caucasus because of the crisis;
they had already begun appearing and settling in the Caucasus at
an earlier time”. (p.454) This must be the Scythian migration,
which only added to the already existing Iranian presence near and
beyond the Urals. Intermittently, groups of Iranians must have moved
from Bactria to the Urals and even to Ukraine for more than a thousand
years. (One of the later migrating tribes were apparently the Hrvat,
now known as the Croats. Before migrating west and adopting the
Slavic language of the Serbs, they belonged to the Harahvaita tribe
in Afghanistan mentioned as tribute-payers to the Persian empire
in an Achaemenid document.)
is important here that we can recognize a historically known migration,
viz. from Bactria westwards. This means that archaeology, though
uncertain and vague, is nonetheless relevant for history. That makes
the archaeological silence on another supposed historical development,
viz. the Aryan invasion of India, all the more significant.
We have nothing to add to the wealth of archaeological data on the
Andronovo culture that Elena Kuzmina provides. Her interpretative
framework, however, is flawed and limited by the rather dated presuppositions
about the Homeland and the invasion of India. Moreover, a culture
beginning in 2000 BCE comes a bit late to stage an Aryan invasion,
especially given the many indications that the concomitant chronology
of ancient Indian literature is late.
would be more challenging, if we had been shown a rootedness of
the Andronovo culture in preceding cultures, thousands of years
that case, it would be difficult to deduce those earlier cultures
from an emigration from India, and the case for an intrusion from
a non-Indian Homeland would be that much stronger. Perhaps this
was not the object of her book, and another archaeologist might
be able to trace Andronovo to earlier cultures, to the exclusion
of Indian influences. There are many might-have-beens in the Homeland
debate, but this deeper non-Indian genealogy of cultures has at
any rate not been offered in this book. Nor, to our knowledge, anywhere
else. If it had been, it would be mustered by interested parties
all the time.
this is undoubtedly an important book, and as far as I can judge,
it is a classic of Andronovo archaeology, but it fails in its primary
mission: to show that this culture was the staging-ground for an
Aryan invasion of Iran and India. It only assumes that much, but
doesn’t demonstrate it.