By Elena Camacho
Madrid, Sep 5 (EFE).- The Yamnaya, the tribe from the Asian steppes who – after conquering Europe – arrived at the Iberian Peninsula and replaced the prehistoric Iberian genome there some 5,000 years ago, later advanced through Asia and into the Indian subcontinent, a huge geographic area where they not only left their genetic imprint but also their language and culture.
The incredible history of this nomadic people from the steppes between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea – in modern-day Russia – has been reconstructed in several studies by two well-known geneticists: David Reich of Harvard Medical School and Carles Lalueza-Fox, with Barcelona’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology.
In earlier work in which they analyzed ancient genomes from the Iberian Peninsula, the two researchers revealed that some 4,500 years ago, in the transition from the Copper to the Bronze Age, the Yamyana culture replaced the Iberian paternal line with its own, a genetic imprint that continues to be the most common on the peninsula.
On Thursday, Reich and Lalueza-Fox published a new study in Science magazine based on the analysis of 523 ancient genomes that they had not studied before, all of them from people living in the Neolithic and in the Bronze Age – from between 5,000 to 3,000 years ago – in an enormous geographic area in Asia and the northern part of the Indian subcontinent.
“The study of these genomes has allowed us to reconstruct the migrations of the people from the steppes who arrived in Europe and the Iberian Peninsula 5,000 years ago and who afterwards expanded to the east as far as India, bringing with them to the Indian continent a series of very important social, political and genetic changes,” the Spanish scientist told EFE.
The results of the study show that the steppe nomads had a great deal to do with the disappearance of the civilization in the Indus Valley – one of the three great ancient civilizations, along with those of Mesopotamia and Egypt – located in Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India.
Lalueza-Fox said that the conquests of the steppe nomads had a “tremendous impact” on Europe and Asia thanks to the military advantages that they had over their enemies, noting that “they were nomads who domesticated horses … and they even (fought) from (horseback), which gave them a great advantage.”
The results of the genetic analysis show that in India, the steppe nomads left a significant genetic trace that nowadays remains predominant among the peoples of the north (where the invasion was first felt), while there are tribes in the southern part of the subcontinent that don’t have it.
The study also explains the origin of the European genetic component that was discovered years ago among the Brahmins in India – the highest caste in that country’s social system – the origins of which were unknown up to now.
The authors of the study say that the origin of India’s caste system is probably linked to the arrival of these nomads, who after their conquests occupied the higher slots in the social hierarchy.
In addition, the Brahmins, a caste made up of priests and teachers, since ancient times has been charged with keeping custody of texts written in Sanskrit, which is an Indo-European language.
Finally, the study, which constitutes a great interdisciplinary collaborative effort, explains how the Indo-European languages could spread into distant and remote locations and give rise to such distinct language branches as the Indo-Iranian and Slavic tongues.
All these languages stem from a common language – that of the Yamnayas – a group of shepherds from the steppes who migrated toward Europe five millennia ago and in the 1,500 years after that expanded through central and southern Asia.
Their study provides a simple explanation in ancient migration terms for the disconcerting common linguistic characteristics of these two Indo-European branches, which currently are widely geographically separated, Reich said.