Saturday, 17 March 2018

Reich and the Genetic Barbarians at the Gates

Leading geneticist David Reich's recent interview with Atlantic reveals so much about how the field is simultaneously challenging left wing narratives of history and science, and also being used to shape them.

Since WWII, historians and archaeologists have disputed long held beliefs about ancient population replacements. Epochal events like the Anglo-Saxon migration, the spread of the Indo-Europeans and the Northern origin (Corded Ware) of the Aryans of India were all either "re-examined" or dismissed entirely as the product of "old" Nationalistic ideas. Genetic science is now vindicating many of the early 20th century theories, causing a great deal of kvetching in the ivory towers.

"Reich: So after the Second World War, there was a very strong reaction in the European archaeological community—not just the Germans, but the broad continental European archaeological community—to the fact that their discipline had been used for these terrible political ends. And there was a retreat from the ideas of Kossinna.
Zhang: You actually had German collaborators drop out of a study because of these exact concerns, right? One of them wrote, “We must(!) avoid ... being compared with the so-called ‘siedlungsarchäologie Method’ from Gustaf Kossinna!”
Reich: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things the ancient DNA is showing is actually the Corded Ware culture does correspond coherently to a group of people. [Editor’s note: The Corded Ware made pottery with cord-like ornamentation and according to ancient DNA studies, they descended from steppe ancestry.] I think that was a very sensitive issue to some of our coauthors, and one of the coauthors resigned because he felt we were returning to that idea of migration in archaeology that pots are the same as people. There have been a fair number of other coauthors from different parts of continental Europe who shared this anxiety."
Although population geneticists like Reich are regarded as a threat to the comfy hug-box that modern historians and archeologists have created, with Reich comparing his team to "barbarians at the gates", he is still just as much a part of the zeitgeist as the archeologists. He says, "You have to be more open to immigration. You have to be more open to the mixing of different peoples. That’s your own history."

Slavs, Germanics, Celts, the Romans, the Iranics and the Aryans etc are all directly descended from the Corded Ware peoples of Northern and Eastern Europe and these people were like modern Nordic/Baltic/Slavic people. This fact makes the establishment nervous so it needs to be sanitised by calling them "immigrants" saying they "came from the East" etc - They want to equate a conquering, ruling people with modern economic migrants, so that instead of being ignited with pride by the achievements of your ancestors, you instead shame them by destroying their legacy. Don't dismiss modern science as "left-wing lies", instead pick out the real facts from within the narrative-friendly media statements.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Indo-European Archery Contest Myth

While reading the Hindu epic Mahābhārata for the first time, I was struck by several quite obvious parallels in European literature regarding archery, which immediately aroused my suspicion of a common Proto-Indo-European origin. Not just because both Indian and Homeric sources use similar language, such as describing arrows as "winged" and bows as "shining" (West, 2007) but because of similar kinds of contests of archery.

The first simply involves the stringing of an incredibly strong bow. In Mahābhārata it is a bow so strong that it can be strung by none but Arjuna the son of Indra the thunder god. This feat Arjuna performs at a contest where he shoots five arrows into a horn. The story has the same origin as one in the Odyssey, in which Penelope, wife of Odysseus, says to her suitors in her husband's absence that she will marry any who can string his bow. All fail but Odysseus himself, who strings the bow while in disguise and thus woos his own wife. This follows an Indo-European tradition of heroic wooing.

In the Iliad at the funeral of Patroclus there is an archery contest in which a bird must be shot from the top of a mast, and this is very like Drona's archery test in Mahābhārata in which a fake bird is used as the target instead.

Another Greek source tells the story of how Heracles seeks a throne through marriage and hears that Eurytus, king of the city of Oechalia, is holding an archery contest with his daughter Iole as a bride for a winner. Of course Heracles beats everybody.

Another example in Mahābhārata was the archery contest in which the hand of Princess Draupadi is the prize at her Swayamvara. The five Pandavas all attend in disguise as Brahmins. Here we see both the theme of the archery contest with a Princess bride as the prize, and also the the theme of the heroic suitor in disguise.

You may recognise this story from Robin Hood? I did! Michael Nagler wrote that the origin of this story, widespread in mythology and fairy tales, is an Indo-European contest "with a disguised hero whose invincible identity is hidden behind a mask of social inferiority, the former arousing the suitors' fear and the latter their indignant rejection."

The contest is recorded in 'A Gest of Robyn Hode", one of the oldest surviving tales of Robin Hood, printed between 1492 and 1534, but was based on much older stories. It is possible the Robin Hood stories borrowed elements from Greek myths, but it seems to me just as likely that the Robin Hood version is derived from a native English myth, perhaps of Anglo-Saxon or even of Celtic origin?

Let me know if you can shed any light on this in the comments. 


Michael N. (1993) "Penelope's Male Hand: Gender and Violence in the Odyssey,"

Indo-European Poetry and Myth By M. L. West (2007)