Genetic Chaos

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Status of Austro-Asiatic groups in the peopling of India: An exploratory study based on the available prehistoric, linguistic and biological evidences

Among the most contentious currently debated issues is about the people who had settled first in the Indian subcontinent. It has been suggested that the communities affiliated to the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family are perhaps the first to settle in India and the palaeoanthropological evidences suggest the earliest settlement probably around 60,000 years BP. Recent speculations, based on both traditional genetic markers and DNA markers, seem to corroborate the aforesaid view. However, these studies are inadequate both in terms of the representation of the constituent groups within this broad linguistic category as well as the number of samples that represent each of them. We strongly feel that, before making any formidable conclusions on the peopling of India and/or the history of settlement, it is necessary to ascertain that the Austro-Asiatic speakers, represented by over 30 different tribal groups, either genetically constitute a homogenous single entity or are a heterogeneous conglomeration, derived from different sources. As a first step towards this we tried to collate and analyse the existing information – geographic, ethno-historic, cultural and biological. The results of the analyses of anthropometric and genetic marker data indicate that the Austro-Asiatic groups, particularly the Mundari speakers, with certain exceptions, show greater homogeneity among them when compared to the other linguistic groups, although certain groups show as outliers. However, traditional genetic markers show lower within population heterozygosity compared to Dravidian and other Indian populations. This is contrary to what has been claimed in case of certain DNA markers. Given that relatively greater heterozygosity among the Austro-Asiatic populations has been taken as one of the important evidences supporting greater antiquity of these populations one should await results of detailed DNA studies being currently undertaken by us, involving a number of Austro-Asiatic and other ethnic populations of India to resolve the issue unequivocally.

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A prehistory of Indian Y chromosomes: Evaluating demic diffusion scenarios

Understanding the genetic origins and demographic history of Indian populations is important both for questions concerning the early settlement of Eurasia and more recent events, including the appearance of Indo-Aryan languages and settled agriculture in the subcontinent. Although there is general agreement that Indian caste and tribal populations share a common late Pleistocene maternal ancestry in India, some studies of the Y-chromosome markers have suggested a recent, substantial incursion from Central or West Eurasia. To investigate the origin of paternal lineages of Indian populations, 936 Y chromosomes, representing 32 tribal and 45 caste groups from all four major linguistic groups of India, were analyzed for 38 single-nucleotide polymorphic markers. Phylogeography of the major Y-chromosomal haplogroups in India, genetic distance, and admixture analyses all indicate that the recent external contribution to Dravidian- and Hindi-speaking caste groups has been low. The sharing of some Y-chromosomal haplogroups between Indian and Central Asian populations is most parsimoniously explained by a deep, common ancestry between
the two regions, with diffusion of some Indian-specific lineages northward. The Y-chromosomal data consistently suggest a largely South Asian origin for Indian caste communities and therefore argue against any major influx, from regions north and west of India, of people associated either with the development of agriculture or the spread of the Indo-Aryan language family. The dyadic Y-chromosome composition of Tibeto-Burman speakers of India, however, can be attributed to a recent demographic process, which appears to have absorbed and overlain populations who previously spoke Austro-Asiatic languages.

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