Aryan Culture and Language: A Possible Candidate for the Linguistic Identity of the Indus Civilization and Script
Abstract: Does the proto-Indo-European language and culture originate from the Indus Valley Civilization (ancient India)? Are the Vedic Aryans and their Sanskrit language the originators of the proto-Indo-European language family? This article will address some of these questions in addition to examining some of the more widespread theories that exist in relation to Indo-European cultural origins (Aryan Myth, the Aryan Invasion Theory, the Out-of-India Theory or Indian Urheimat Theory).
Radiocarbon dating has confidently permitted archaeologists to date early farming settlements in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, revealing them to have been established there sometime during the 5th millennium BC (McIntosh 2002: 25-26). It also been established that these same Borderlands communities that would finally give rise to towns in some areas during the 4th millennium BC were in fact culturally related to later communities that would (in the course of the second half of the 4th millennium) be accepted to have formed the nucleus of those Early Indus settlers who colonized the Indus Valley river basin in what is now termed to be the Early Indus Period, circa 3500 to 3000 BC (McIntosh 2002). The culmination of this complex regional networks of interplay that formed the "the beginnings" of the Indus Age, as it called, is the fully-fledged Mature (Harappan) Period, ca. 2600-1900 BC of the Indus Civilization (Possehl 2002). Because of all of these interrelated complex developments that occurred over long periods of space and time, archaeologists no longer simply speak of the Indus Civilization as being clearly defined in terms of its more “classic” and easily recognizable Mature (Harappan) Period. Rather, instead, the maturity of the Indus (or Harappan) culture is now considered by researchers as a later phase of development of the great Indus system. Therefore, the Indus Civilization forms an integral part of a greater whole - a piece of a bigger puzzle – which is commonly termed the Indus Age, and it is periodized accordingly into distinctly separate periods and phases (McIntosh 2002: 25-26; see also Possehl 1999; Allchin & Allchin 1982: 131-65).
|The Indus (or Harappan) Civilization is shown in blue, along with ancient Mesopotamia (in orange) and Egypt (in green). Image Source: http://matrix.msu.edu|
The polemical debate that revolves around the unresolved question of the cultural and linguistic identity of the ancient Indus Valley people and their culture is a particularly an important one for Indian scholars because they are “committed to exerting a major role on the construction and representation of the history of South Asia” in what is the present-day “postcolonial context of ancient Indian historical construction” (Bryant 2005: 468). To a great extent, this re-evaluation of the ancient past to which belongs the Indus civilization, “involves revisiting and scrutinizing the versions of history inherited from the colonial period” (Bryant 2005: 468). It is therefore not in the least surprising that scholars are attempting to reconstruct the history of the Vedic and pre-Vedic Indo-Aryan speakers since this is also a fundamental part of the cultural re-evaluation process. Vedic culture along with the Sanskrit language, evidently, situate themselves as key cultural components both at the heart of Hinduism (whatever this term may be taken to mean, for it is a conundrum unto itself) and the Indian identity – whether North or South Indian. For all these various reasons, it can reasonably be understood then why this topic is of particular interest and concerns scholars who hail from this part of the world, even if they are a accused by “Eurocentric” Indologists of being too “Indocentric” in their approach (Witzel 2005).
|Friedrich Schlegel. Image Source: http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/autor/520|
|Indus Valley swastikas. Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IndusValleySeals_swastikas.JPG|
In linguistic circles, the original 18th century Enlightenment version of this Out-of-India scenario fell into disfavour with a proposal made by the Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1879) proposal that the hypothetical language that should qualify as PIE should contain “laryngeals,” of which no surviving IE language possesses – Sanskrit included. Only in the 20th century, with the discovery of Hittite – long after Saussure’s death – were his observations corroborated by the decipherment of Hittite cuneiform texts, which date from the 16th to 13th century BC (Bryant 2001: 68-75). It is specifically with the decipherment of Hittite and the validation of Saussure’s laryngeal theory – as it relates to identifying PIE – that Sanskrit was officially dethroned, so to say, by historical linguists as a main contender for PIE. And consequently, the homeland (Urheimat in German) of the Āryans – which had been formerly identified with ancient India in very general terms by Enlightenment Indo-Europeanists (IEists) – and the preeminent role it played in this Out-of-India scenario; was altogether marginalized before finally being disqualified as a forerunner in this theoretical debate surrounding Indo-European origins.
|Archaeological ruins at Mohenjo-daro. Image Source: http://unescoplaces.org/features/399|