Re: AIT- Indus-Sarasvati civilization

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 8963
Date: 2001-09-02

Original messages
From: "Mark DeFillo" <ategnatos@...>
Date: Fri Aug 31, 2001 7:14/7:30 pm
Subject: AIT/AIT-Indus-Sarasvati civilization

[Mark:] OK, I believe you that it is not a representation of modern
("Western") scholarship- but the current ideas have NOT trickled down
much out of the ivory tower.

[Piotr:] Well, some of us are doing our best to share our `current
ideas' with any people who might be interested. What else am i doing
on this list?


[Mark:] Also it has been brought to my attention that it is
exceedinly unfair and inaccurate to characterize all opponents of the
AIT as Hindutva nationalists. It is opposed by a wide range of Indian
and non-Indian scholars, some of whom are Hindu or otherwise
traditional (including "retro" or reconstructionalist) IE, but others
who are part of the modern Western conglomerate culture.

[Piotr:] It is equally unfair to use a catch-all term like `AIT' with
reference to any theory that questions Aryan autochthony in India. As
I have said many times, _invasion_ is hardly the correct word to
describe the arrival and acculturation of Indo-Aryan groups in India.
For this reason I am myself opposed to the notion of an `Aryan
invasion'. But if by `opponents of the AIT' you mean proponents of
Aryan indigenism and the Out-of-India theory of Indo-European
origins, I can't agree with the assertion that such ideas are
supported by a wide range of scholars (I mean people who actually do
serious research, not self-styled scholars and Internet gurus). In my
own field, I'm not aware of any respectable linguists who would take
an IE homeland in India seriously. I know this doesn't trouble the
proponents of the autochthonous theory very much, since they usually
know precious little about the methods of historical linguistics and
fail to appreciate the importance of arguments based on linguistic

I am sure you are aware of the fact that there are a number of
eminent Indian historians and who reject Aryan indigenism -- not
because it is the cornerstone of the fundamentalist interpretation of
Indian history but because they find it untenable by scholarly


> [Piotr:] For one thing, the collapse of the Indus Valley
civilisation took place a couple of centuries too early for Indo-
Aryan-speakers to have conceivably played a significant role in it.

[Mark:] Opponents of AIT specifically argue this point, as they find
no reason to say that the Indus-Sarasvati civilization was not Indo-
Aryan. Until the script is conclusively deciphered, that will remain
an open question.

[Piotr:] Again, why don't you refer to `proponents of the Aryan
indigenism theory', not to `opponents of the Aryan invasion theory'
if you actually mean the former? It is quite imaginable that the
Indus script will never be conclusively deciphered (touch wood),
which should not stop us drawing sensible conclusions from the
available evidence.


> [Piotr:] Vedic society arose in the cultural context of the system
of village agriculture that replaced the urban civilisation of the
Indus Valley.

[Mark:] Not true, the Vedas clearly speak of cities, both belonging
to Aryas and to their various enemies. Early proponents of the AIT
based it partly on the verses describing Aryans and/or the Gods
as "breakers of cities", but ignoring the verses that described them
as having cities of their own.

[Piotr:] The Rigveda does not describe large cities or urban life.
Vedic pur- is a fortified enclosure or shelter, not a city like those
of the Harappan culture. Ruins and potsherds are mentioned, but that
is hardly surprising. But talking the realities of Rigveda -- what
occurs there again and again and again is the `status package' of the
Indo-Aryan upper class -- their horses and chariots. Where is the
archaeological or palaeontological evidence of the presence of
domesticated (or any other) horses in the subcontinent before the
second millennium BC?


[Mark:] One major point... all modern scholars, pro or anti AIT, seem
to recognize that the real cause of the decline of the Indus-
Sarasvati civilization was the ecological change, which included the
drying up of the Sarasvati River as the main event.

[Piotr:] The main event? This depends on how mighty the Sarasvati
looms in your imagination. Its superiority over the Indus is a
figment of wishful thinking. The high concentration of Harappan-
period settlements discovered in the Ghaggar/Hakra area reflects not
so much the importance of that region as its favourable taphonomic
conditions. The key sites of the Harappan culture located all along
the Indus Valley were also given up although the Indus did not
disappear. The decline of the Harappan culture was a case of system
collapse, probably triggered off by a complex combination of
ecological, economic and political factors. To quote Renfrew, `it did
not have a single, simple cause'. In fact, a period of prolonged
drought came a few centuries _after_ the great cities were abandoned
(ca. 1600 BC). It forced the post-Harappan farming population to
leave the most severely affected areas and probably undermined their
social organisation, creating favourable opportunities for an
immigrant Indo-Aryan elite to replace the local leaders.


[Mark:] Since the Vedas speak of the Sarasvati River and related
geography, it is clearly a mistake to date the Aryans or the Vedic
culture in India to a period after this ecological disaster.

[Piotr:] This is circular logic. First, references to the Sarasvati
in the Rigveda are identified with the (full length of) the palaeo-
Ghaggar/Hakra channel, and the name Sarasvati is applied to the
latter. Then the fact that the Vedic literature speaks of Sarasvati
and its disappearance in the desert is taken as proof that the Vedic
people were familiar with a still functional Ghaggar/Hakra river, and
that the authors of the Brahmanas must have witnessed its drying up.
Finally, an arbitrary date of the drying-up event is assumed based on
the belief that it was _the_ disaster that marked the decline of the
Indus Valley civilisation, and that, consequently, the relevant Vedic
literature must be dated so far back. However, as Witzel points out
in his `Autochthonous Aryans?', the channel dried up gradually and a
perennial river ending in an inland delta and a cluster of marshy
lakes may have existed well into post-Harappan times. The river-names
of Panjab echo those of Afghanistan, as if the early Indo-Aryans had
moved to a new home transplanting their traditional `river map' to
it, as their Iranian cousins took over and Iranised the original
river-names. The prototypical Sarasvati -- the one that provided the
mythological and metaphorical aspects of the river, can be identified
with the Helmand. The striking similarity of even the modern Helmand
(and of its Avestan descriptions) to the Rigvedic descriptions of
Sarasvati, and the location of Arachosia/Haraxvaiti in the Helmand
system can hardly be a matter of coincidence.