To tell us the story of our ancestry, journalist Tony Joseph goes 65,000 years into the past – when a band of modern humans, or Homo sapiens, first made their way from Africa into the Indian subcontinent. Citing recent DNA evidence, he traces the subsequent large migrations of modern humans into India – of agriculturalists from Iran between 7000 and 3000 bce and pastoralists from the Central Asian Steppe between 2000 and 1000 bce, among others. As Joseph unravels our history using the results of genetic and other research, he takes head-on some of the most controversial and uncomfortable questions of Indian history: Who were the Harappans? Did the ‘Aryans’ really migrate to India? Are North Indians genetically different from South Indians? And are the various castes genetically distinct groups? This book relies heavily on path-breaking DNA research of recent years.
The book launch as followed by a conversation between the author and Nitin Pai.
Tony Joseph took the gathering through the origins of the Indian population. “The Indian population is formed by four major prehistoric migrations – the first was 65,000 years ago out of Africa, the second was 9,000 or so years ago from West Asia, the third was 3,500 to 4,000 years ago from southeast Asia and the final migration was 3,000 to 4,000 years ago was from the central Asia steppe region around Kazakhstan,” said Joseph.
Tony Joseph then went on to explain how the Indian population was like pizza – the foundation is formed by the 1st Indian ancestry migration, the Harappan Civilization is the sauce and the Austro-Asiatic people and other ethnicities are like the toppings. Archeology also gives us clues about migration patterns and changes in ethnic groups across the country, he said.
“The period from about 4000 years ago to 2000 years included the Harappan civilization falling apart, and migrations to the east and south. Around the same time, a major migration came from Southeast Asia with new languages and agricultural practices. Afterwards, a migration with people coming from the steppes brought new technology and practices. This 2000 year period was an incredibly impactful one and it left no population untouched. The only people to escape the mixing lived in the Andamans. It’s interesting about people who had mixed for 2000 years or so suddenly stopped mixing around 100 CE. Most people think of India as having a very large population. That’s a slightly misguided view. The Han Chinese is a large population. India is just a large number of small populations,” explained Joseph.
Joseph also explained the relevance of single mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and how they have helped trace the origins of mankind back to the first Homo sapiens who left Africa.