Ancient people were not static

By Razib Khan | September 12, 2013 9:53 pm

Citation: Witas HW, Tomczyk J, Jędrychowska-Dańska K, Chaubey G, Płoszaj T (2013) mtDNA from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman Period Suggests a Genetic Link between the Indian Subcontinent and Mesopotamian Cradle of Civilization. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73682. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073682

Today Dienekes points to a PLoS ONE paper, mtDNA from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman Period Suggests a Genetic Link between the Indian Subcontinent and Mesopotamian Cradle of Civilization. The title is pretty self-explanatory, though above I’ve posted a figure which shows the mtDNA haplogroup affiliations of the four individuals dated to between 2500 BC and 500 AD. If you are a even moderately familiar with the human mtDNA phylogeographic literature then you know that haplogroup M is not West Eurasian, and these lineages are often South Asian. The existence of people of South Asian origin in West Asia during the Roman period is rather unsurprising, the Persian (and Hellenistic) polities spanned West and South Asia (albeit, in a liminal sense in the latter case). But what about extremely ancient finds? This too has an explanation. From Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East:

…around 2060 BCe, in the Ur III period, men from the “Meluhha village” were mentioned…living and working next to local Mesopotamians.The Meluhhan foreigners still spoke their native language, but, to judge from the inscriptions on their seals, it was changing. By then they probably had no direct contact with ther homland.

Meluhhan in ancient Near Eastern parlance almost certainly refers to inhabitants of what we would term the Indus Valley civilization in western India. The ships of Meluhha certainly docked in the wharf of the great cities of Mesopotamia between 3000 and 2000 BCE; they’re specifically mentioned. But after the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization (and the decline of Sumer) the contacts disappeared. What needs to be remembered is that pre-modern history was much more cyclical. There were repeated eras of “globalization,” so to speak, which abated and gave way to dark ages. Incongruous genetic data like the one reported above makes more sense when we recall that trade and human contacts repeated went through flurries of interaction, and then long periods of regress.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: History
MORE ABOUT: History
  • marcel proust

    What needs to be remembered is that pre-modern history was much more cyclical.

    I imagine you mean “than modern history”.

    If so, do you really think that that is correct? I am not sure what is a reasonable definition for this question of “the modern era”: 500-700 years seems about right. Did upswings in the pre-modern era last so much less than this that we can say with confidence that it is no longer cyclical? Even ignoring things like climate change and the potential for nuclear or other environmental disasters of worldwide proportions?

    i too would like to think so, but am less certain than you appear to be. In the (most likely improperly understood – link requires registration: this one does not) words of Zhou enlai, it is probably “Too early to say.”

    • razibkhan

      i struggled with this when writing that. i think it’s a fair point.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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