Solving the mega-mystery of prehistory: Who were the Austro-Asiatic peoples(Australoids) and Austronesia peoples, and what migratory route did they take?

Kivisild et al., The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Indian Tribal and Caste Populations

Haplogroup R1a, previously associated with the putative Indo-Aryan invasion, was found at its highest frequency in Punjab but also at a relatively high frequency (26%) in the Chenchu tribe. This finding, together with the higher R1a-associated short tandem repeat diversity in India and Iran compared with Europe and central Asia, suggests that southern and western Asia might be the source of this haplogroup.

In mtDNA phylogenetic analyses, the Chenchus and Koyas coalesce at Indian-specific branches of haplogroups M and N that cover populations of different social rank from all over the subcontinent. Coalescence times suggest early late Pleistocene settlement of southern Asia and suggest that there has not been total replacement of these settlers by later migrations. H, L, and R2 are the major Indian Y-chromosomal haplogroups that occur both in castes and in tribal populations and are rarely found outside the subcontinent. Haplotype frequencies of the MX1 locus of chromosome 21 distinguish Koyas and Chenchus, along with Indian caste groups, from European and eastern Asian populations. Taken together, these results show that Indian tribal and caste populations derive largely from the same genetic heritage of Pleistocene southern and western Asians and have received limited gene flow from external regions since the Holocene. The phylogeography of the primal mtDNA and Y-chromosome founders suggests that these southern Asian Pleistocene coastal settlers from Africa would have provided the inocula for the subsequent differentiation of the distinctive eastern and western Eurasian gene pools.

The Y-SNP markers that are likely to have an Indian origin [F* (M89), H (M52), and O (M95)], as suggested earlier [5], were found in high frequency (Table ​(Table4),4), both in the tribes and in the lower castes. Around 89% of the samples with these clads belongs to either the tribes or the lower castes. Previously, it was reported that M52 should not be considered a tribal marker, as its frequency is concentrated regionally around AP [4]. However, in our study of 250 tribal samples from AP, its frequency was 0.25, while for 112 samples from two lower caste populations from Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, the frequency was found to be 0.36. Hence, it is a lower caste/tribal marker, rather than a tribal marker alone, and is widely distributed. The origin of M52 within the subcontinent, immediately after late Pleistocene settlement, cannot be ruled out, since it is the major Y lineage of more than 85% of the hierarchical Hindu caste system, and spread throughout the country except the North East. Limited presence of this clad in Central Asia and in European gypsy populations [16] may be due to the recent back migrations, and there are several theories about their Indian ancestry [17].

M 95- genetic footprints of earliest settlers?

The M95 lineage (O2) is a predominantly Southeast Asian haplogroup among the Austro Asiatic speakers [18]. In our analysis, M95 mutation was detected in 6.3% of the Indian samples with highest frequency in lower castes and tribesA high frequency of M95 is also expected from the Indian Austro-Asiatic speaking populations, like their Southeast Asian counterparts, who were hypothesized to be the earliest settlers of the Indian sub-continent [19]. Of the two major groups of Austro-Asiatic tribes in the Indian subcontinent, the Mundari speakers are proposed to be non-Asian/African in origin, who arrived in the subcontinent taking a southern coastal route [20]. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that the higher frequency of M95 in South Indian tribal populations is the footprints of these initial settlers, who already carried the defining mutation, and later spread to Southeast Asia. The higher STR variance observed among the M95 samples of the present study also supports their early settlement in the Indian sub-continent. Interestingly, the TMRCA (time to most recent common ancestory) of the Southeast Asian M95 is estimated to be only ~8000 years, with a star of population expansion ~4,400 years ago [18].


The  major continental eastern Asian clade O was virtually absent both in tribal and caste populations, although one particular O subcluster, defined by M95, has been reported in three other tribes of Andhra Pradesh (Ramana et al. 2001) and in castes and tribes of Tamil Nadu (Wells et al. 2001). The frequency of M95 is highest in Austro-Asiatic speakers, Burmese-Lolo, and the Karen of Yunnan, China (Su et al. 19992000) and is virtually absent (1/984) in central Asia (Wells et al. 2001). Its irregular distribution from India to Yunnan might possibly be related to the equally uneven spread of the Austro-Asiatic speakers. Source: The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Tribal and Caste Populations  [see Y-DNA phylogeny chart]

Haplogroup O-M95 is distributed widely in Asia, from southern India to the Altai Mountains and Central Asia in the west, and from Indonesia to northern China and Japan in the east. It is found only at marginally low frequencies of approximately 1% at the periphery of its distribution in southern India, Central Asia, northern China, and Japan, but many populations within the vast intervening territory in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and southern China display a greatly elevated frequency of Haplogroup O-M95 Y-chromosomes. Patrilines within Haplogroup O-M95 predominate among the Austroasiatic-speaking populations of South and Southeast Asia, such as the Khmer of Cambodia and the Khasi of Meghalaya in northeastern India. Some researchers have reported that slightly over half of all men in a composite sample of Austroasiatic speakers belonged to Haplogroup O-M95.

The hypothesis that Haplogroup O-M95 was the major Y-chromosome haplogroup of the proto-Austroasiatic population is strengthened by the fact that Haplogroup O-M95 is the only haplogroup found among many Austroasiatic-speaking tribes, such as the Mlabri people of Thailand, Mang people of southern China and northern Vietnam, Juang of mainland India, and the Nicobarese and Shompen of the Nicobar Islands (Sahoo 2006 and Trivedi 2006).O-M95 This lineage is considered typical of Austroasiatic peoples, Tai–Kadai peoples, MalaysIndonesians, and Malagasy, with a moderate distribution throughout South AsiaSoutheast AsiaEast AsiaCentral Asia, and Han Chinese

Haplogroup O-M95 also has been observed with high frequency in samples of Tai–Kadai-speaking peoples of Thailand and neighboring areas, which may reflect assimilation of the older Austroasiatic Mon–Khmer populations that have left ample evidence of their presence in the region prior to the immigration of Tai–Kadai speakers. Outside of the region in which Austroasiatic languages are currently spoken or have a historically attested presence, Haplogroup O-M95 reaches its highest frequencies among the populations of the islands of SumatraJavaBali, and Borneo in western and central Indonesia (Underhill 2001). Haplogroup O-M95 has been found to be by far the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup among the Balinese, occurring in approximately 58.6% (323/551) of a sample of Balinese men. Haplogroup O-M95 has also been found to be the most frequently occurring haplogroup among Malay men in Singapore (Yong 2006). The reason for its substantial presence in these populations, all of which are Austronesian-speaking. Source: Wikipedia: Haplogroup_O-M95  One of these subclades, Haplogroup O-M95, is found among some (mostly tribal) populations of South and Southeast Asia, as well as among the Khmers of Cambodia and the Balinese of Indonesia. The other major subclade, Haplogroup O-M176, is found almost exclusively among the JapaneseKoreans, and some Manchurians.

Note: Upstream of O-M95 is O-PK4 which is a branch descendant of O-P31: The o-PK4 lineage has been relocated upstream of M95 following a paper published on the subject in 2011.(Shi Yan et al. 2011) Found in three samples of Han Chinese: 3/65 = 4.6% South China, 1/129 = 0.8% North China, 1/167 = 0.6% East China. /  Haplogroup O-P31 is generally found only among certain populations, such as the Austroasiatic peoples of India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, the Nicobarese of the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, Koreans, and Japanese. Haplogroup O-P31 is also notable for the fact that it can be divided into two major subclades that show almost completely disjunct distribution.

See the genebase tutorial on origin and distribution of haplogroup O / pt 2 which is hereby summarized as follows:

O1 is associated with Taiwanese, and with the Austronesian expansion, and also appears in the Han Chinese

O1a arose 35,000 years bp in South China or SEA

O1a2 is found only in SEA

O2 arose around 30,000 years bp has a unique distribution, but has a disjointed distribution.

O2a found in all tribal populations of SEA and also in India tribals but not in Indian caste populations.

O2b Korean and Japanese O2b1a mainly in Japanese men (occurrences outside Japan are mainly from those descendants of Japanese soldiers or civilians of the Japanese empire).

03 arose 10-24000 yrs bp likely from a man in China. it is a common haplogroup in East Asia, especially in Han Chinese and  Tibetan groups and is associated with the spread of ancestors of first race farmers in China.

O3 haplogroups are most common haplogroup detected in Polynesian

O3a3b most commonly found in historical populations along the Yangtse river in China

The Genebase distribution map of the occurrences of O haplogroups and their subclades suggest that haplogroup arrived from the northern route into Central Asia rather than via a Southern coastal route into India.


Kumar and Reddy, Status of Austro-Asiatic groups in the peopling of India J. Biosci. | Vol. 28 | No. 4 | June 2003 | 507–522 | © Indian Academy of Sciences, was not conclusive on the route taken by the Australoids or proto-Australoids into India or Southeast Asia, indicating that further comparative studies between the ethnic elements of different Indian groups  were necessary before reaching a conclusion. The study did however, provide details of the relationships between the different ethnic groups.

Parts of the paper are excerpted below:

Although cultural evidences for the existence and activities of the hominid populations are abundant throughout the Indian subcontinent during the middle and late Pleistocene, negligible fossil records of any Paleolithic man have been found except for the sites in Sri Lanka. While thermo-luminescence dates of 74,000–64,000 BP and 28,000 BP were assigned for samples from the two sites near Bundala, Hambantola district (Singhvi et al 1986), skeletal remains from Batadomba lena and Beli Lena Kitulgala (the basal layer) in Sri Lanka are dated, respectively, to 28,000 BP and 24,500 BP. The archaeological evidences from Bundala-Patirajawela further indicate settlement prior to 75,000 to 65,000 BP (Deraniyagala 1985, 1986). In the light of above evidences it may be suggested that the anatomically modern humans were present in the Indian subcontinent before the last interglacial period.

The studies of specimens from Fa Hien, Batadomba Lena and Beli Lena Kitulgala sites in Sri Lanka and the extant aboriginal people, the Veddas/Veddoid, indicate that they share a number of similar biological features of the skeleton and dentition. A few other late-Pleistocene  anatomically modern Homo sapiens skeletal remains have  been discovered from Darr-I-Kur in Afghanistan and Hathnora in India. Further, the Veddoid skeletal types have been found in Iran and Mesopotamia (Sergent 1997).

These evidences may suggest that the Veddoid/ Australoid types were probably the earliest anatomically modern humans to arrive in the Indian sub-continent around 60,000–70,000 years ago and then went to Sri Lanka. In India, extensive fossil evidences come from the Mesolithic sites (especially of the Gangetic plain), dated to Holocene period. These hominids retained large body size, robustness and megadonty that are characteristics of terminal Pleistocene populations from other parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. This constellation of features survives among certain hunting-gathering populations of both prehistoric and  modern times (Kennedy 1984), who were probably affiliated to Austro-Asiatic linguistic family such as Hos, Santhals and Korkus (Gordon 1958). Consistent with the foregoing observations, is the hypothesis that the people speaking Austro-Asiatic languages were probably the earliest to arrive in India. Gadgil et al (1998) state that they have compiled words for universally used nouns in AustroAsiatic, Dravidian, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan  languages and although a more objective analysis of the extent of such variation is yet to be done, it appears that Austro-Asiatic languages show the greatest and IndoEuropean the least divergence. An interesting corollary to  this is that among the Austro-Asiatic speakers, one finds all of them to be not only tribes but also practicing relatively more primitive technologies.

Very few genetic studies have been undertaken whichfocus on the issue of peopling of India. In one of the recent papers, based on mtDNA HVS1 sequence and RFLPdata, Majumder (2001) concludes that Austro-Asiatic tribes show a higher diversity than the Dravidian tribes,implying their greater antiquity. However, this inference is based on inadequate data, both in terms of populations representing the two ethnic group/linguistic categories and also in terms of sample sizes representing these groups. Therefore, the spectrum of genomic diversity within each of these categories was not adequately reflected, hence the conclusions based on this study can at best be tentative.

The routes by which the first migrants entered India are also not clearly understood. Basically, there are two major schools of thought on this and figure 1 depicts the plausible scenarios of the earliest migration into India.

According to some scholars (Ballinger et al 1992; Gadgil  et al 1998; Diamond 1997) the Austrics had their origin in China, entered India through northeast corridor and then passed onto islands beyond. A strong support for this theory comes from the fact that almost all the AustroAsiatic tribes are located in eastern and north-easterncentral India. Archaeological evidences provided by Lal (1956) Mohapatra (1975, 1985) and Gupta (1979) support this theory. The second principal component, derived from the analysis of 69 genes from 42 populations of  Asia, which explains 17×7% of the variation is also compatible with fanning out of people from southeast Asia and China into India (Cavalli-Sforza et al 1994).

A more recent view is that the Austro-Asiatic speakers were another wave of migration from Africa to India and then to southeast Asia (Nei and Ota 1991; Chu et al 1998; Su et al 1999; Majumder 2001). The skull and the general anatomy of the fossil specimen, near Panchmari, in the village of Langhnaj in Gujrat, India, were similar to the specimens found in the Northeast Africa (Kennedy 2000). Nei and Ota (1991) also suggests that Mundari groups (branch of Austro-Asiatic linguistic family) in India, which are known to have dark skin, constitute perhaps another wave of migration from Africa. The Australoid-looking skeletons have also been found in Iran and Mesopotamia (Sergent 1997). All these related evidences may suggest that the probable migratory route of Austro-Asiatic people was from Africa to the Indian subcontinent and then to Indonesia and Australia.

An early wave of migration into India, actually from Africa through India, to southeast Asia has also been proposed using nuclear DNA microsatellite markers (Chu et al 1998) and Y-chromosomal DNA markers (Su et al 1999). This view is reinforced by the fact that the 9bp deletion, which was hypothesized to have arisen in Central China and radiated out from this region to southeast Asia (Ballinger et al 1992), is absent in most Indian populations and present in low frequency in southeast Asia (Majumder 2001). However, this inference seems to have limited value as many recent studies indicate that a number of south Indian caste and tribal populations showed 9bp deletion in variable frequency ranging up to 50% (Watkins et al 1999; Clark et al 2000; Reddy B M, Naidu V M, Madhavi V K, Thangaraj K and Singh L, unpublished results). On the basis of high frequency of haplogroup M, Quintana-Murci et al (1999) have proposed that this haplogroup has originated in East Africa approximately 60,000 years BP and that it was carried into India through an East African exit route by an early dispersal event of modern humans out of Africa. Concurrent to this,   the first principal component based on 69 genes from 42 populations of Asia (Cavalli-sforza et al 1994), which explains about 35% of the total variation in the gene frequency, suggests movement of people radially fanning from Middle East.

The fact that Mundari speaking tribes inhabit mostly eastern, central and north-eastern region of India has been considered as an indirect evidence for the first theory of migration. This can be, however countered by hypothesizing the assimilation of some of the Austro-Asiatic  tribes by later migrants; the disinterest of the later migrants in accessing the difficult terrain of hills and forests of central and eastern India had probably resulted in the survival of the Mundari and the other Austro-Asiatic  groups inhabiting such tracts. Further, Sergent (1997) noted that the Austro-Asiatic groups were once predominant in a continuous belt, from central India to Vietnam, but later many of the Mundari speaking tribes might have been absorbed by the Indo-European populations, leaving  the peripheral ones in the inaccessible hills untouched.

This explanation is consistent with the fact that east-Asia  marker of ancient origin i.e. to say the concomitant presence of two sites Ddel at 10,394 and Alul at 10,397 in Austrics, Melanesians and native Americans has also been found in more than 50% of Indians with Caucasoid characteristics, not only in nuclear DNA but also in mtDNA (Passarino et al 1996). This explanation is also reflected in  the study conducted by Roychoudhury et al (2000) that haplogroup M is ubiquitous in India although tribal populations have higher frequencies than the caste populations, most probably due to the process of assimilation.

It may be pertinent at this juncture to consider that the Austro-Asiatic speakers in India are represented by almost 30 different tribal groups, covering a wide geographic  area. Although having broad linguistic and cultural similarity, they do represent two different subgroups of languages – Mundari and Mon-Khmer – and physically belong to two racial types, the Mongoloids and Australoids. Therefore, before inferring on the origin, migration and/or antiquity of these people, it is necessary to first ascertain if all the Austro-Asiatic groups in India genetically constitute a single entity or are they derived from different sources. …

3. Cultural homogeneity
All these communities are exclusively tribes, which are further divided into endogamous sub-tribes. Each of these tribes and sub-tribes constitutes within them a number of exogamous clans that are generally totemic i.e. named after plants, animals, birds and insects. These are basically hunting and food-gathering societies, supplemented by shifting cultivation. These tribes are also unique in practicing primitive technologies (Gadgil et al 1998).

Their political organization is found to be very traditional, constituting a very simple structure. One of the cultural traits exclusively found in Mundari groups is the use of vermilion by the women of these tribes to indicate their marital status (S Barua, personal communication).

From the foregoing account, it appears probable that these Austro-Asiatic tribal communities, particularly the Mundari speakers, are a homogenous cultural entity .

4. Ethnic affiliation
With exceptions to the Mon-Khmer groups, which are classified as Mongloid, ethnically these tribal communities belong to Proto-Australoid type that is believed to be the basic element in the Indian population (Thapar 1966).

Many scholars have classified these tribal communities under different headings. Lapicaque (1905) used the term pre-Dravidian while Chandra (1916) favoured the term Nishada. Hutton (1933) used the term proto-Australoid and even put the Veddas of Sri Lanka within this ambit.

While Hooton (1930) replaced the term proto-Australoid  as pseudo-Australoid, Guha (1937) used the term protoAustraloid to designate these tribal groups. Taking into account the different classifications proposed, it is clear that all these authors agree that these tribal communities belong to one ethnic group although there is no agreement on the names used for the classification. A comprehensive picture will probably emerge only when we look at biological similarities shared by Austro-Asiatic speaking tribal communities.

5. Biological affinities
Recently published data pertaining to molecular genetic markers are very patchy and quite inadequate to unequivocally conclude that the Austro-Asiatic tribal groups belong to a single and genetically homogeneous ethnic group. Although data on anthropometric variables such as  stature, cephalic index and nasal index etc. and on certain  genetic marker were available in literature on a number of Austro-Asiatic tribes, no comprehensive analysis has yet been attempted. Therefore, in order to empirically ascertain the nature and extent of genetic heterogeneity among the Austro-Asiatic groups, we tried to collate published data on these groups and have attempted a comprehensive analysis of the anthropometric and traditional genetic marker data. We have also included few transitional groups, which were once considered to be AustroAsiatic and at present are identified with the neighbouring non Austro-Asiatic groups. For the sake of comparison we have further included few non Austro-Asiatic populations, which have geographic proximity to the Austro-Asiatic tribes.

A total of thirty populations were considered for the present study, which includes twenty-three tribal groups and seven caste populations. Out of these, fourteen communities (all tribal groups) are affiliated to Austro-Asiatic linguistic family, ten to Dravidian and one tribal group speaks Tibeto-Burman language. The remaining five groups are affiliated to Indo-European linguistic family. …

6. Anthropometric variation
Four anthropometric variables viz. stature, cephalic index, nasal index and facial index that are common to 22 of the  30 populations are analysed for the present study. Out of these, twelve belong to Austro-Asiatic family whereas five, four and one group(s), respectively, affiliated to Dravidian, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan linguistic  families. For the sake of brevity, the basic data are not presented here and can be supplied on request. …

Broadly speaking, this tree depicts two major clusters, one formed mostly by the Mundari groups and the second by the others. Although the Santhal joins the main cluster of Mundari groups, it is a single point cluster. The clustering of Oraon and the Mal Paharia, the two nonMundari tribes, with the Mundari groups can perhaps be explained by their overlapping geographic distribution and a possible role of admixture. Basu (1934), Dutta and Gupta (1967) and Bhattacharjee and Kumar (1969) suggest that the current affiliation of the Oraons is with the Munda speaking tribal groups and the results of anthropometric analysis corroborate with this. In fact, Kumar and Mukherjee (1975) goes to the extent of saying that the Dravidian language of the Oraon is a later adoption and the Oraon originally belonged to some Munda speaking group. On the other hand, based on a study of myth of the Oraon Roy (1915) suggests that it is an immigrant population from South India. It is intriguing to note that within the second cluster constituting non-Mundari groups certain Mon-Khmer groups such as Khasi and Nicobarese, along with the other Mongloid populations like Riang from Tripura and other eastern Indian populations  are included as a major subcluster, reflecting geographical contiguity and ethnic similarity. This pattern is also reflected in the study done by Dixon (1922) who on the basis of physical measurements of the Khasi and the surrounding Mongoloid populations concludes that the Khasi are racially related to the majority of the Tibeto-Burman  tribes. The Khasi and the Nicobarese being ethnically  Mongloid and linguistically belong to subfamily MonKhmer of the larger Austro-Asiatic family cluster neither with the Mundari groups nor closely with each other. It seems probable that the Khasi and Nicobarese genetically drifted apart, as geographical, and social and cultural factors favoured prolonged isolation between these groups (Kumar and Mukherjee 1975). Four other groups, Agharia from Uttar Pradesh and Ollaro Gadaba and Khond from Orissa,  along with Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh form as outer lements to this subcluster and are a part of the 2nd main cluster. The clustering of Agharia with the Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh is intriguing since they are linguistically and geographically different. Overall, it appears that the biological affinities among the Austro-Asiatic populations are structured mainly along the broad linguistic divisions and to a degree on geographic affiliations …

Broadly speaking, most of the Mundari groups form a compact constellation, separated from particularly the non Austro-Asiatic groups on the first dimension, having placed on the right half of the multivariate space.
Whereas Austro-Asiatic Agharia is separated from the rest on the second dimension, the Nicobarese from Nicobar islands form as an extreme outlier, separated from the rest of the groups on both the dimensions. Lodha and  Juang also seem to have relatively more diverged from the rest of Austro-Asiatic groups on the second dimension. …

7. Genetic heterogeneity
Gene frequency data for five genetic markers namely A1A2BO, Rh and MN blood groups, ABH secretion in saliva and sickle cell trait, commonly available for a total of twenty-one populations, were gathered from the literature. Out of these, eighteen are tribal populations and three caste populations. Ten of these tribal populations are affiliated to Austro-Asiatic linguistic family, eight are Dravidians, one Tibeto-Burman tribe and the remaining two groups belong to Indo-European linguistic family.
We have already discussed the criteria for selecting populations other than Austro-Asiatic groups. Since the data pertaining to sickle cell trait was not available for all  the communities and is also absent in most of the AustroAsiatic groups, the gene diversity and genetic distance  analyses were done on the basis of remaining four loci only …

we have presented only the UPGMA tree (figure 5). In this tree the earliest divergence is shown by the  Oraon, which is considered to be Dravidian linguistically but otherwise has greater affinity with the Mundari  speaking tribal groups. Broadly speaking, this dendrogram consists of three major clusters, the first one constituted by nine out of the twenty-one populations, most of which (with exception to Brahmins of West Bengal) can be considered as Mundari or closely affined to Mundari groups. Within this broad cluster there are three subclusters: the first formed by the Santhal, Kharia and Munda; the second by Ho, Bareng Paroja, Bhumij and Rajbanshi; and the third by Brahmins of West Bengal in association with the Dhurwa. It may be noted that Kumar and Mukherjee (1975), on the basis of a small genetic distance of Bareng Paroja with most of the Munda speaking tribes conclude that Bareng Paroja is an offshoot of  some Munda speaking group, which is perhaps concurrent with the present study. On the other hand, the Rajbanshi of West Bengal has been considered by Grierson (1906) to be formerly Austro-Asiatic group, and Bhattacharjee and Kumar (1969) observed complete homogeneity of Rajbanshi with the Munda speaking groups in a study of four genetic characters. Therefore, the clustering of Rajbanshi with the Mundari groups is expected. Ollaro Gadaba, Pareng Gadaba, Bado Gadaba and Konda Paroja form the second cluster. The clustering of Ollaro Gadaba and Konda Paroja with the other two Gadaba tribes, although linguistically different, is not surprising because they are geographically proximate to each other, inhabiting the Koraput district of Orissa. Furthermore, the Ollaro Gadaba is considered to be a subtribe of the larger Gadaba tribe. This cluster joins the first cluster to form a major cluster. Thus the pattern of sub-clustering within the major cluster, consisting of 13 of the 21 studied populations subtly reflects linguistic, ethno-historic and geographic affiliations. The remaining eight populations, form loose congregation of independent elements of Oraon, Riang and Khasi and the two subclusters formed by Lanjia Saora and Khond on the one hand and Nicobarese,  Chenchu and Kamma on the other. Even in this certain degree of geographic and linguistic affiliations can be perceived. For example, the cluster of Khasi and Riang is consistent with the study of Bhattacharjee (1975) who infer that probably Khasi are genetically affiliated to the adjoining Tibeto-Burman Mongloid populations, despite  the linguistic barrier. Similarly, Chenchu and Kamma from Andhra Pradesh and Lanjia Saora and Khond from the neighbouring Orissa tend to form subclusters suggesting implicit geographic and/or linguistic similarity. Lanjia Saora is a subgroup of Saora of Andhra Pradesh and clustering of this Austro-Asiatic group with the three Dravidian groups may also reflect possible admixture.

The results of multidimensional scaling of the genetic distances of the twenty-one populations are shown in figure 6. The plot of populations on the two-dimensions,  which explains 88×3% of the total variation depicts Oraon, Chenchu, Kamma and Nicobarese on the one hand and Lanjia Saora and Khond on the other hand as clear outliers. Except in case of Oraon and Nicobarese, most of the differentiation is on the first axis. It is apparent that most of the Mundari groups lie close to the centroid,  while transitional groups like Gadaba and Mon-Khmer  groups, Khasi and Nicobarese, form as peripheral elements to the core cluster of Mundari groups, subtly depicting relative linguistic and geographical similarities….

8. Population structure and patterns of gene flow
To understand the local genetic differentiation and the underlying processes responsible for the present pattern of population structure among the Austro-Asiatic groups, we have used Harpending and Ward (1982) model, which  is somewhat analogous to the Wright’s island model.
According to this model, given the uniform systematic pressure (gene flow) from outside, the average heterozygosity of a population is negatively correlated with its genetic distance from the centroid of the gene frequency  array (rii). Higher than average gene flow into any of the subgroups is expected to reflect higher than average heterozygosity than predicted by the regression model and lie above the theoretical regression line. Conversely, populations experiencing isolation and less than average gene flow from outside show lower values of heterozygosity and lie below the regression line. Regression plot of average heterozygosity vs. distance from the centroid for the Austro-Asiatic groups is shown in figure 7, along with the theoretical regression line. In the regression plot, the Nicobarese of Nicobar Island is an extreme outlier below the theoretical regression line and also far moved from the centroid. This may suggest their long isolation and effect of drift. This is concurrent with the fact that the Nicobarese are both culturally and geographically isolated even from their neighboring groups. On the other hand, Dudh Kharia and Bado Gadaba are outliers above the regression line, which may suggest that they have  experienced more external gene flow than any of the other tribes. While Bado Gadaba inhabits the Koraput district in Southern Orissa, Dudh Kharia is the most advanced sub-section of the Kharia having much greater interactions with outsiders. Therefore, it is probable that they have received considerable gene flow from the surrounding populations. The remaining populations are placed nearer to theoretical regression line as well as relatively closer to the centroid. Since the Khasi and Nicobarese do not belong to the same linguistic sub-family as that of the Mundaris and are also geographically somewhat separated from them, the Harpending and Ward model was employed exclusively for the eight Munda tribes (figure 8). In this regression plot, while Dudh Kharia and Bado Gadaba are placed as extreme outliers above the theoretical regression line, Bhumij and Lanjia Saora are placed below the line as outliers. As discussed earlier the ethnography of Lanjia Saora suggest that it has migrated to the forests and hills of Koraput and Ganjam districts of Orissa from the plains of Mandasa in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh after they were driven away by their kinsmen. Therefore, their position in the above regression plot may reflect bottleneck effect of certain degree. Another regression plot (figure 9) considering transitional groups (Ollaro Gadaba, Bareng Paroja, Rajbanshi and Oraon), which are once considered to be Mundari and at present share geographic proximity with them, presents the Rajbanshi and Oraon as outliers below and above the regression line, respectively, suggesting greater isolation and drift in case of the former and excessive gene flow into the latter. It is probable that the Oraon have not only adapted the Dravidian language but indeed have also experienced genetic admixture.
9. Conclusion
From the available prehistoric, ethno-historic, linguistic and biological evidences, it appears that the Indian subcontinent was probably first peopled approximately 60,000 years BP. There has also been some speculation that populations affiliated to the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family were probably the earliest to settle in the subcontinent. One of the hypotheses tracing the migratory routes indicate that Austro-Asiatic languages speaking tribes probably came from Africa, entered India through western corridor (Nei and Ota 1991; Chu et al 1998; Su et al 1999; Majumder 2001).

There is an alternative hypothesis in vogue, which speculates that these groups have migrated from China into India through northeastern corridor (Ballinger et al 1992; Gadgil et al 1998; Diamond 1997). Neither of these hypotheses however could so far muster adequate and unequivocal empirical support so as to validate any of the competing hypotheses  with reasonable confidence. The absence of 9 bp deletion in most Indian populations, which was claimed as evidence for the western Indian route of migration does not seem to be valid any more as many populations recently studied show 9 bp deletion in varying frequency, ranging even up to 50% (Watkins et al 1999; Clark et al 2000; Reddy B M, Naidu V M, Madhavi V K, Thangaraj K and Singh L, unpublished results). As has been pointed out earlier, there have also been problems on several other counts. First of all, the so called Austro-Asiatic groups in India represent more than 30 endogamous tribal populations but only a group or two were included in the past studies, leading to the all important conclusions on the peopling of the subcontinent, disregarding the implicit enetic/linguistic heterogeneity among them. Further more, those groups were represented only by a handful of  individuals constituting very small samples. In addition  to this, the representation of the other linguistic and ethnic elements forming the comparative perspective was very inadequate, given that they constitute predominant section of the Indian population. It is therefore imperative  that a comprehensive study including  representative samples from the Austro-Asiatic tribes should be undertaken  to ascertain the magnitude of heterogeneity among them vis-à-vis the other ethnic elements in the Indian population before any formidable conclusions can be drawn on the peopling of the subcontinent.

The analyses of few genetic markers and the anthropometric variables attempted here although suggest relative homogeneity particularly among the Mundari component of the Austro-Asiatic tribes, the number of markers/variables available for this study makes this observation rather tentative. In any case, the Mon-Khmer constituents of the Austro-Asiatic tribes behave somewhat differently than the others in this category, hence lie somewhat as outliers in the multivariate space. Ethnically, Mundari groups are considered to be Proto-Australoid  whereas Mon-Khmer groups are classified as Mongloid.
However, that the transitional groups, particularly the Ollaro Gadaba and Oraon, lie as outliers above the line in  the regression plot may hint at the possibility of assimilation of certain Austro-Asiatic groups into later migrants speaking different other languages. This may indirectly support the hypothesis that the Austro-Asiatic people might have entered through the western Indian route, although this observation again needs validation with more appropriate data. Relatively greater heterozygosity of the Austro-Asiatic groups, when compared to others that was considered as one of the evidences for inferring greater antiquity of these people in India (Majumder et al 1999; Majumder 2001), is not reflected in the traditional markers and in fact, on the contrary, it is the Dravidian groups that show greater heterozygosity.


Beliefs and tales of the Santhal Tribes 

Elements of the Santhal “Sarna” religion include:

  • animistic beliefs: the Santhali pray for favors from intermediaries including ancestor ghosts and gods of natural features,)
  • recognize ghosts
  • god of the mountains Marangburu
  • Creator Thakurji created a pair of birds that laid eggs in a Karam Tree. The first humans emerged from those eggs, making roofed huts and cultivating crops.
  • Today, their supreme god is however, the sun god Singabonga…but
  • they also have firm belief in an Almighty Creator god as well as in “Mother Earth”, in addition to the pantheon of Hindu deities added to their basic religion.
  • music and dance ritual ceremonies feature importantly; The flute and drum are typically elaborately decorated instruments and are believed to have the power to communicate with the dead.

See also Varia Folklorica – Page 254 – Santhal FolktalesSanthal Folklore: The Invention of the Plough | Pratichi (India) Trust; History of the Santhali people

Mundari beliefs and religion

The Mundari are highly religious. They believe God ””Ngun”” hears what men say and assesses people’s deeds. This belief helps shape one’s life and social behaviour. The Mundari conduct religious and rituals through mediums, landowning chiefs (Monyekak), who are responsible for the well-being of their chiefdoms, and the doctors (Buniton), who are also diviners and treat sicknesses — Mundari  

The Mundaris like the Santhals, believe in a god called Singbonga… the Supreme Being (who was, before becoming the Supreme Being in the Sky, earlier associated with Barang Buru, the spirit of the mountain, and then the moon, but in a later subphase of the growing body of traditions, emerged…) his elder brother, Baranda, the mountain god…who is also responsible for introducing witchcraft. Source: p. 122 Gender relations in Forest Societies: Patriarchy at Odds (Women celebrate the Flower Feast, which is the only occasion when women are allowed to propitiate the spirits. According to Hoffman, the Aryans may have been responsible for introducing witchcraft as well as the solar supreme being in the Sky.

Rites of Soso Tapa (which consist of protracted praises of Singabonga) are performed to ward off the impact of the evil eye upon the family…these rites are thought to have been introduced at a later stage. The cult of Baranda Bonga, is also thought to have been a later introduction of non-Mundaic origin, introduced by the Barae blacksmith and Turi, the Basketmaker, both Hinduized artisan groups…as the Munda groups became submerged among the conquering Aryan society, (at p. 125) or alternatively, by the Hinduized aborigines of Dravidian origins.

They also have the myth of the Making of the Plough, called the Hasur or Asur Kani tale

From the Wikipedia article, The Munda People:

Buried ancestors are memorialized as ‘Guardian” spirit of the khunt or genealogical family symbolized by burial stone sasandiri (not to be confused with sasangdiri, which means turmeric (crushing) stone). These are placed flat on the ground, but do not mark “graves” as such. Rather, bones of the deceased, who are cremated or buried immediately after death, are placed under the sasandiri, where previous ancestors’ bones are also present. They are usually put in an earthen pot and kept there from the time of the cremation or burial till the time of the jangtopa ceremony when the actual placing of bones in the sasandiri can take place. Once every year, all members of the family are required to visit burial stones to pay their respects….There are other stones for ancestors as well, e.g., the memorial stones (bhodiri, headstones), which are placed in an erect position, usually closer to the homestead. The landscape of chotanagpur is dotted with clusters of these two types of stones, sasandiri (burial stones) and bhodiri (head-stones).


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