6. Departing thoughts
6.2. Things To Do
6.2.1. The archaeological job
Not being an archaeologist, I do not want to evaluate the status quaestionis of the archaeological search for IE origins. All I can do is note that the archaeologists themselves don’t seem to have mapped out the trail of the early Indo-Europeans in South and Central Asia with a convincing amount of detail. Asko Parpola and Bernard Sergent have made a valiant attempt, and invasionists are hopeful that if pursued further, these efforts should lead to the definitive proof of the AIT. However, we have seen that the interpretation which Parpola and Sergent give to the crucial Bactrian Bronze Age culture as Indo-Aryan is uncertain, and that their own data could better support the identification of that culture as Iranian. More importantly, we have seen that they have not succeeded in getting the Bactrians into India, i.e. in proving an actual migration of people and of a culture into India.
The Bactrian Bronze Age culture is a rather late affair in IE history, which started at least 3,000 years earlier. The focus should be on the origins of the Kurgan culture in ca. 5000 BC. There is sufficient evidence to conclude provisionally that it originated in Asia, to the east of the Caspian Sea, e.g. Russian scholar N. Merpert traces the Kurgan culture to the ‘Volga-Ural region, developing there under the influence of Neolithic cultures of the south-east Caspian zone’.1 And where do we go back to from there? If India is the homeland of the IE family, there should be traces of a cultural expansion or migration from India to the Caspian region around 5,000 BC, the pre-Vedic age.
Another thing to do is to dig up the ancient settlements in the Ganga basin. Unlike the mighty Indus-Saraswati cities, these won’t be readily visible, nor are they easily accessible as abandoned ruins: many of them lie underneath bustling cities. But there, as much as in the Harappan area, a very important part of India’s (and possibly the Indo-European language family’s) history lies waiting for discovery.
6.2.2. Literary testimony to Harappan decline
If it is true that Harappan civilization was prominently Indo-Aryan and that much of Sanskrit literature was written in the Harappan period, then a certain chronological stage in this literary tradition should correspond to the decline and ruination of the Harappan cities. So far, the only literary reference to this process that I’ve heard of, is a Mahabharata line mentioning the sinking and drying up of the Saraswati river, and attributing it to the goddess’s disgust with the decline in moral and cultural standards among the population. That hardly suffices as literary testimony to such a vast civilizational crisis as the abandonment of the Harappan cities. So, this will become an object of mockery for the skeptics, unless the non-invasionists meet the challenge and present the literary evidence.
6.2.3. Let us keep on doubting
One thing which keeps on astonishing me in the present debate is the complete lack of doubt in both camps. Personally, I don’t think that either theory, of Aryan invasion and of Aryan indigenousness, can claim to have been ‘proven’ by prevalent standards of proof; eventhough one of the contenders is getting closer. Indeed, while I have enjoyed pointing out the flaws in the AIT statements of the politicized Indian academic establishment and its American amplifiers, I cannot rule out the possibility that the theory which they are defending may still have its merits.
On both sides, I have seen so much self-satisfaction, the conceit of the academic establishment disdaining the contributions of ‘amateurs’, the bad faith among the Indian Marxists dismissing every word uttered by ‘Hindu chauvinists’, the triumphalism among the non-invasionists about having exposed ‘the myth of the Aryan invasion’. Many seem to think that all the questions have been answered, that only mad or evil people can still adhere to the rivalling school of thought, so that there is also no need to listen to their objections; but what I see is that at least many parts of the question are still waiting for an answer.
For example, the non-invasionists should recognize the merits in the invasionist skepticism of the horse evidence found in the Harappan cities. It is one thing for Prof. B.B. Lal (one of those healthy doubters who only came to dismiss the ‘myth of the Aryan invasion’ gradually) to cite recent finds of horse bones as proving that ‘the horse was duly known to the Harappans’ and to quote archaeozoologist Prof. Sandor Bokonyi as confirming that the horses found in Surkotada were indeed horses (which some had refused to believe due to their AIT bias), and that ‘the domestic nature of the Surkotada horses is undoubtful’.2 It is another to deduce that the horse was simply part of Harappan life rather than an exotic curiosity; AIT defenders have a point when they maintain that the horse was not part of the Harappan lifestyle the way it was in the Kurgan culture. More work is to be done, both in digging and incorrectly interpreting the data.
Likewise, invasionists reproach non-invasionists for disregarding the fact of kinship between IE languages, and for behaving as if the presence of IE languages in both India and Europe needs no explanation. They really have a point: most Indian publications focus exclusively on Indian history, and show absolutely no interest in explaining how, if IE was native to India, it made its way to distant countries. True, research is also guided by the actual facts which are being discovered, i.c. findings in India which undermine the AIT, so it is normal to focus on India. But a scholar must not be satisfied with giving some answers; he must aim for a theory which answers all relevant questions.
Paraphrase by J.P. Mallory: ‘The chronology of the early Kurgan tradition’, Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1977/4, p.339, with reference to a Russian article by N. Merpert, Moscow 1974. ↩
Sandor Bokonyi: letter to the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, 13-12-1993, quoted in B.B. Lal: The Myth of Aryan Invasion: Some Reflections on the Authorship of the Harappan Civilization, inaugural address delivered at the Second International Conference of the World Association for Vedic Studies, Los Angeles, 7-8-1998. ↩