Planet Earth

Ancient people were not static

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanSep 13, 2013 1:53 AM

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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.

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