Two long-awaited papers based on the science of ancient DNA, published in the journals Cell and Science, have confirmed and expanded on what has been reported in the recent past about human settlement in South Asia. Unfortunately, their reception has proved that, while they reveal much about our past, what is more worrying is what they reveal about our present.
The study in Cell is based on the DNA from a single sample, a female, from a 4,500-year-old burial site in the Harappan city of Rakhigarhi. A summary of the results highlighted in the paper states three key findings: the individual was from a population that is the largest source of ancestry for South Asians; Iranian-related ancestry in South Asia split from the Iranian-plateau lineages more than twelve thousand years ago; and the first farmers of the Fertile Crescent—a region that was the cradle of the Egyptian, Phoenician, Assyrian and Mesopotamian civilisations—contributed little to no ancestry to later South Asians.
These results, thus, not only suggest that the greater part of most South Asians’ genome is derived from the Harappan people, but also indicate that farming may well have an independent origin in the region—and was certainly not brought here by migrants from the Fertile Crescent, though the possibility of dissemination of knowledge remains open.