Jul 012012

From The Mongols of Afghanistan (1962: 292):

In some parts of the Hazâraǰât, the old Turkic animal calendar is still used to designate the years. This calendar was still used in Kâbul in the not too distant past, and some old people still remember the Turkic year designations. In the Hazâraǰât, it is still common to hear a man say that he was born in the year of such and such an animal. The following “calendar poem”, recited in a mixture of Turkic and Persian, was used in the old days to explain the meanings of the Turkic animal terms:

Sačqân zi mûš
Pars az palang
Lûî az nähäng
Yûnût faras
Pîč îl zi šâdî
Et îl zi kalb dân
Tangûz zi khûk dân

Sačqan is from mouse
Pars is from leopard
Lûî is from dragon
Yûnût is horse
Pîč îl (year) is from monkey
Et îl know ye is from dog, swiftly he rushes against everything
ûd (~hûd) baqar
tušqân zi khargûš
hilân zi mâr
qôî gusfänd
takhâ murgh-é têz čäng
farâkhîš šay-é khîz
bî-abäd zäd-äš bâ-säng.

ûd (~hûd) is ox
tušqân is from rabbit
hilân is from snake
qôî is sheep
takhâ is the hen, fleet of claw
tangûz know ye is from hog, ye must strike him with stones

The correspondence to the Chinese zodiac’s animal ascriptions is not coincidental (and the same would seem to go for the very similar Mongolic and Tibetan animal calendars). I’m not up-to-date with the contemporary scholarly consensus — if one exists — but the the inclusion of dragon and monkey (forgone for more locally familiar substitutes in other Turkic versions) together suggest a Chinese or other southern East Asian origin.

Schurmann, F. (1962). The Mongols of Afghanistan: An ethnography of the Moghôls and related peoples of Afghanistan. ‘s-Gravenhage: Mouton.

Jul 012012

Here are some plates of Sakhalin natives taken by Japanese anthropologist Y. Koya, from the photographic appendix of a 1937 book concerned mostly with the Ainu — an oasis of visual relief in a trackless wild of anthropometric tables (from Jugomandibularindex all the way to Häufigkeit des Vorkommens der Tuberculum Carabelli). There is something irresistibly captivating about these portraits — and all kindred photographs from that age of unsardonic, un-scare-quoted Rassenkunde. It resides in the pathos of bewilderment, or defiance, or minutely furrowed skins of tranquil resignation, and all the evocations of physiognomy: the recollection, like upward-writhing names on the tongue, of other faces, other islands — or, at the extremes of projection and concavity, sharpness and softness, the visage of a polar star.

The Orotschonen (Orochi or Orochs, not to be confused with the Oroks of Sakhalin or the Oroqen of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia) are historically Tungusic-speaking people originally from southern Khabarovsk Krai; shown here would seem to be some of the descendants of a 19th-century wave of migration to Sakhalin.

The Gyljaken (Gilyaks or Nivkhs), by contrast, are (or were) speakers of a “Paleosiberian” tongue (a jumbled grab-bag of North Asian languages rather than any sort of rigorously characterized family) who were much longer resident on Sakhalin but, like the Orochis, also inhabited the Amur River region of the adjacent mainland.

English Translations — Fig. 145: (left Orochi girl, right Gilyak boy); Fig. 146: (Gilyak family)

Koya, Y. (1937). Rassenkunde der Aino. Tokyo: Japanische Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Foschungen.

Jun 212012

Robert Irwin on a relatively little-known episode of Inner Asian movement into Egypt:

As has already been noted, Mongol immigrants were settled in al-Husayniyya as early as the 1260s. In the years 1294 to 1296 a new wave of immigrants, the Oirats (that is, the western tribe of Mongols, also known as Kalmucks), deserted to the Mamluks, and Sultan Kitbugha settled them in al-Husayniyya. The Arab chroniclers remarked on a number of things concerning the Oirats: First, that they were not Muslims and therefore did not observe Ramadan and also un-Islamically clubbed horses about the head before eating them. Second, that they were astonishingly beautiful, and therefore Oirat women were much sought-after as brides by the Mamluk elite. Also, according to al-Maqrizi’s Khiṭaṭ, the Oirats “became known for their zu’ara (gangsterism) and shujā’a (boldness), and they were called al-Badūra. So an individual Oirat might be called al-Badr such-and-such. They adopted the dress of futuwwa and they carried weapons. Stories about these people proliferated.” Later on their fortunes declined, and many ended up working as menial servants in the Citadel. These Mongol immigrants may be seen as the medieval Cairene precursors of the Sicilian mafiosi of New York. It also seems likely that they organized their activities on the basis of futuwwa lodges. (Indeed it is possible that there was no such thing as popular futuwwa in Egypt prior to the arrival of the Oirats and that they brought its rituals with them from Ilkhanid Iraq. While al-Maqrizi clearly did not think that the Oirats were Muslims, they may still have thought of themselves as such.)

Irwin, R. (2004). Futuwwa: Chivalry and Gangsterism in Medieval Cairo. In Necipoğlu, G., Behrens-Abouseif, D., & Contadini, A. (Eds.), Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World, XXI, 161-170.

Jun 212012

Science Magazine highlights a presentation in the Bioarchaeology session of the 8th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (DNA of people living in the middle Euphrates valley 2.5-4.5 Kyrs ago):

But at the meeting, biologist Henryk Witas of the University of Łódź in Poland presented preliminary evidence of ancient mitochondrial DNA from human teeth from a half-dozen skeletons at two sites in eastern Syria dated to various times in the 3rd millennium B.C.E. Most of the DNA was related to [haplogroup] M, which is not found in people living in the Middle East today but is common among those now living in northern Pakistan, India, and Tibet. Witas concluded that people migrated from the northern part of the Indian subcontinent along trade routes to the west as early as 2500 B.C.E.

This surprising conclusion was hotly disputed by others who suspect that the M group once existed in the Near East but has been diluted since. “There is no archaeological evidence of Central Asian migration” before medieval times, notes archaeologist Maria Grazia Masetti-Rouault of the Sorbonne University in Paris, who excavated the Syrian sites. “it is way too premature to make any conclusions from this,” adds Reinhard Bernbeck of the Free University in Berlin.

Bad reporting aside, M is a huge and extremely diverse clade with divisions on every inhabited continent, not just South Asia (and it’s definitely not completely unknown from the modern Near East — see here — though, yes, it only holds a minority share, and owes something to relatively recent gene flow from South Asia). I assume the sequences in question belong to characteristically South Asian branches of M — among them, perhaps, M6, though that’s just speculation on my part (see left for isofrequency map from Metspalu et al. (2005) … it probably actually drops off much more steeply north of the Himalayas).

This more recent article in the Polish press presents some additional details:

Analysis by Prof. Henryk Witas from the Department of Molecular Biology, Medical University of Łódź, showed that people from the Indian subcontinent had lived among the inhabitants of the area of Mesopotamia.

The scientist isolated mitochondrial DNA from the human remains found by Dr. Jacek Tomczyk, anthropologist from the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, at the Syrian archaeological sites Tell Mesaikh and Terqa in the valley of the middle Euphrates. These people lived in different periods between 2500 BC and 500 AD [typo in congress title, or additional samples?].

“It turned out that among the analyzed individuals some represented clades [...] of macro-haplogroup M that is [sic?] not found in today’s Syria. We also know that they originated in the Indian subcontinent (Tibet, Pakistan, India) at least 30 thousand years ago” – explained Prof. Witas.

The researcher suggested that while one of the test subjects from the beginning of our era could have come to Mesopotamia on silk route, the presence of people from the East in the third millennium BC may indicate the existence of trade routes as early as the Bronze Age.

“It is also possible that examined remains belonged to the descendants of the founders of the first civilization in the region. It should be emphasized that so far there is no other evidence to support this theory” – added Prof. Witas.

Polish scientists plan to collect a much larger number of specimens by extending the study to other periods and regions of Mesopotamia, which may help to explain the puzzling findings.

In other words, stay tuned.

May 232012

Sykes has just announced the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project, an admirably open-minded attempt (in collaboration with Michel Sartori of the Musée de Zoologie in Lausanne, Switzerland) to systematically establish the genetic affinities of remains attributed to “yetis” or the other undescribed hominids purported to grace forests, swamps, and lonely crags the world over.

The certainty of being sniggered out of court, I suspect, would have made this project — at least with this big a name behind it, however skeptically, and with this seemingly ambitious a scope — inconceivable even a few years ago, but the unexpected windfalls of Denisova and Flores have, in combination with aDNA revelations about archaic introgression in modern humans, definitely altered the climate at least as far as Eurasian “cryptic hominids” are concerned. I, at least, am much more sorely tempted to see the ebu gogo tradition, if not Palaearctic tales of wildmen and trolls, as being underpinned by bonafide folk memories. The initiative will apparently focus on an archive of remains aggregated by Bernard Heuvelmans, the “father of cryptozoology” himself, but the sample submission window for other individuals and institutions will last until September 2012. After that: DNA extraction, preliminary sequence evaluation (just mtDNA at first, I presume, to prune out the serow and bears), and then — who knows? One can hope.

May 022012

Waterhouse (1991: 75):

In 654, according to the Nihon shoki, two men and two women of Tukhāra (Japanese, Tokara), together with one woman from Śrāvasti (Japanese, Sha-e), were driven by a storm to Hyūga Province, in southern Kyūshū (Iida 1940: V, 3311; Aston 1896: II, 246). They appear to have stayed several years, and we learn from an entry for 659 that the Indian lady was in fact the wife of one of the Tocharians (Iida 1940: V, 3348; Aston 1896: II, 259). In the autumn of the following year this Tocharian, whose name is given as Katsuhashitatsua, wished to return to his native country, and requested an escort, saying: ‘At a later date I desire to pay respects to the court of your great country, and therefore in token of this I shall leave my wife with you.’ He then took a course through the Western Sea, with several tens of men (Iida 1940: V, 3360; Aston 1896: 266).

[EDIT: It's become clear since I wrote this that there's a good amount of uncertainty about the actual identity of "Tukhāra"/"Tokara" that Waterhouse failed to convey. Follow-up to this post possible.]

Waterhouse, D. (1991). Where did Toragaku come from? In Marett, A. (Ed.). Musica Asiatica (Vol. 6) (pp. 73-94). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Apr 302012

A footnote in Christopher Beckwith’s The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia (1987: 142):

Then, on December 16, 755, the Turco-Sogdian military governor An Lu-shan rebelled against the T’ang and shook “all under Heaven.”212

212 CTS, 104:3213; HTS, 135:4570; TCTC, 216:6916. These three sources quote a conversation that took place between An Lu-shan and his bitter enemy Qośu Khan that took place prior to the rebellion in the presence of Hsüan-tsung. Trying to placate Qośu, An said: “My father was an Indo-European, my mother a Turk; your father was a Turk, your mother an Indo-European.” Qośu Khan’s father was indeed a Türgiś. (Cf. Des Rotours, 1962:1-2.) In An Lu-shan’s case, the word hu [胡] (“Indo-European, especially Sogdian”) almost certainly identifies him as a Sogdian because his surname (An) was commonly used to refer to Sogdians originally from Bukhara. Hu did not mean just “Serindian” during the T’ang period, but anyone of Indo-European race (p. 1[n. 3]).

I’m sure this last line raised some eyebrows (the sin of brachycephalic grammar and all that), but those who would berate Beckwith should cluck their tongues too at the Pashtuns and Taimannîs, for “Aryan” in present day Afghan parlance means simply Afghano-Iranoid (Schurmann, 1962: 66) — if not in the exact same sense of Carleton Coon’s “Irano-Afghan” type, then nonetheless in a more-than-linguistic one (for what do the Hazaras speak?).

See also this earlier post on historical use of *arya as an Indo-Iranian self-designation.

Works Cited:

Beckwith, C.I. (1987). The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Schurmann, H.F. (1962). The Mongols of Afghanistan: An ethnography of the Moghôls and related peoples of Afghanistan. ‘s-Gravenhage: Mouton.

Mar 062012

An ongoing discussion I’ve been having at GNXP led me to recall one of Razib’s posts (prompted by these ADMIXTURE runs) from last year:

I don’t think that the “Classic Solutrean hypothesis” is viable, where Paleolithic Europeans manage to jump across the polar fringe to North America. Rather, my contention that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a set of post-Gravettian societies spanned the northern fringe of Eurasia, and that one branch went east to populate North America. Of those that remained it may be that on the milder fringes of western Eurasia, what became Europe, they were almost totally marginalized or absorbed. Only across the great expanse of Siberia where agriculture was marginalized did this people persist down the modern day. To bring it back to the present and over romanticizing the the possibilities one might then suggest that the displacement of Amerindians in North America over the past few centuries recapitulated the marginalization of their distant cousins in Europe between 5 and 10 thousand years ago!

This sentence in The Tribes and the States stood out as weirdly self-assured when I first read it, even in a section that took for granted Atlantean outposts in Michigan and Africa, but maybe Sidis was more prescient than I gave him credit for!

In connection with the pre-history of the red peoples, an important fact is that there were red men at one time in Europe as well as in America.

(Yes, that Sidis wrote a book on American Indian history. And no, this intuition, if you’re sanguine enough to call it that, doesn’t really make Ch. 1 any less auspicious of a start. Give it a look and you’ll see what I mean.)

More seriously, Kyle Bristow and all the other U.S. White nationalists champing at the bit for a Holocaust to call their own may — in light of future aDNA revelations about European and American prehistory — well end up regretting what they’d wished for.

Mar 062012

From the 1971 English translation of Zarevand’s Miatzyal yev angach Turania gam intch gu dzrarken Turkeru (United and independent Turania: Aims and designs of the Turks) (1926):

Typical and quite revealing is the bragging of a Magyar who considers himself a ‘Turanian’ (meaning Ural-Altaic) kinsman of the Turks. In the course of an interview he tells an author in 1919 in Buda-Pest: “All these subject nationalities, Serbs, Slovaks, Rumanians, whom the Supreme Council (of the Paris Peace Conference) is cutting off from our body politic, must inevitably return (to us), for they are naturally subordinate, and we are naturally the masters. But you can’t be expected to understand that, for you are Indo-European, Aryan, and we are Turanians”.

From a more unexpected place — the liner notes for the komuz piece “Attila Khan”, Track 8 in the Smithsonian Folkways album Tengir-Too: Mountain music of Kyrgyztan:

“I dedicate this küü to the honor of the great Attila Khan. The melody represents a spiritual connection to those times. The Turks are one people, and the Mongols and Huns were our ancestors.” — Nurak Abdrakhmanov (b. 1947), composer and performer

Possibly some Meskhetians and Uzbeks feel differently.

Mar 052012

A new paper in Human Genetics reports:

We have surveyed 15 high-altitude adaptation candidate decision’s for signals of positive selection in North Caucasian highlanders using targeted re-sequencing. A total of 49 unrelated Daghestani from three ethnic groups (Avars, Kubachians, and Laks) living in ancient villages located at around 2,000 m above sea level were chosen as the study population. Caucasian (Adygei living at sea level, N = 20) and CEU (CEPH Utah residents with ancestry from northern and western Europe; N = 20) were used as controls. Candidate genes were compared with 20 putatively neutral control regions resequenced in the same individuals. The regions of interest were amplified by long-PCR, pooled according to individual, indexed by adding an eight-nucleotide tag, and sequenced using the Illumina GAII platform. 1,066 SNPs were called using false discovery and false negative thresholds of ~6%. The neutral regions provided an empirical null distribution to compare with the candidate genes for signals of selection. Two genes stood out. In Laks, a non-synonymous variant within HIF1A already known to be associated with improvement in oxygen metabolism was rediscovered, and in Kubachians a cluster of 13 SNPs located in a conserved intronic region within EGLN1 showing high population differentiation was found. These variants illustrate both the common pathways of adaptation to high altitude in different populations and features specific to the Daghestani populations, showing how even a mildly hypoxic environment can lead to genetic adaptation.

For some perspective, Denver is 1600 m above sea level, Kabul’s 1800 m, Mexico City’s 2200 m, and the Tibetan Plateau is on average 4500 m.

If you’re familiar with chronic mountain sickness and increased risk of miscarriage for lowland migrants in Tibet or the Andes but aren’t aware of any outcomes worse than marathon victory for highlanders going the other way, this segment should be especially interesting:

When populations of highlanders moved to the lowlands as a consequence of a Soviet government decision [is there any more deadpan a way to put it?] the mortality rate increased dramatically. Although this increased mortality could be partly explained by novel pathogens encountered in the lowlands, it could not be entirely accounted for in this way (Bulaeva et al. 1995, 1996), so might also reflect a reduction of low-altitude fitness due to genetic adaptation to the high altitude or low genetic diversity in these populations.

Bulayeva et al. (2008) have the numbers:

Migrants from highlands to the lowlands experienced dramatically increased morbidity and mortality in 1944–1947: up to 65–70% of total migrants had suffered malaria, typhus and other new infections and about 35–37% of total migrants had died. Genetic-epidemiological study support that non-survived migrants were characterized by a higher inbreeding rate, lower heterozygosity and higher physiological sensitivity to the environmental stress. This inter-connected complex had advantage for adaptation of the highlanders to the native environment but diminished their adaptability in the new and/or changing environment.

And it’s not just men:

As [Tibetan] horses were adjusted [and more than merely acclimated] to life in the mountains, they were inferior to the bigger horses of the steppes and did not stand life in humid plains too well. Therefore, Tibetans fighting in China proper were mostly infantry warriors.

Pagani, L., Ayub, Q., MacArthur, D. G., Xue, Y., Baillie, J. K., Chen, Y., Kozarewa, I., Turner, D. J., Tofanelli, S., Bulayeva, K., Kidd, K., Paoli, G., Tyler-Smith, C. (2012). High altitude adaptation in Daghestani populations from the Caucasus. Hum. Genet., 131, 423-433.