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The Andronovo cradle of Indo-Iranian?
(Dr. Koenraad Elst, in India Facts, 31 May 2016)
In 2006, the late Russian archaeologist Elena Kuzmina wrote a hefty book on the Origin of the Indo-Iranians (Brill, Leiden). It gives a very detailed history of the Andronovo culture and its surroundings in time and space. The Andronovo culture spanned most of Central Asia in the 2nd millennium BCE, from the Urals to Bactria. At the same time, the book contains a lot of speculation about links with the information given in the Veda and the Avesta, generally convincing. While it has become a very authoritative work on Andronovo, there remains a big question-mark over its presumptuous title: was this culture indeed the cradle of the Indo-Iranians?
No one who is serious about deciding the Indo-European Homeland question can afford to leave this book unread. It promises to give the prehistory of the Aryan invasion, the preceding movements of the tribes concerned, perhaps even the events that triggered their migration into India. No one serious about arguing the case for an Indian Homeland can afford to leave it unanswered. I have had it on my shelves for a few years, hoping to find time to thoroughly review it. Realistically I still haven’t found that time, and I have not yet co-operated with an archaeologist on this. But a review simply cannot wait anymore.
The book ends with a discussion of the procedure for establishing the chronology of Andronovo, and starts with a detailed explanation about the archaeological method and the rules for ethnographic reconstruction. Then follows an analysis of the typical Andronovo features that allow her to define the spatial and temporal boundaries of the culture she studies. Culturally important and archaeologically easily accessible are funeral practices: “Cremation dominates in the Urals; in central and northern Kazakhstan the cemeteries are bi-ritual; in eastern Kazakhstan and south Siberia, inhumation prevails.”
And at once we notice something that will characterize many passages: though convinced of the Aryan invasion, she furnishes data that are compatible with, or even point to, an opposite Bactria-to-Urals migration. In this case, the Indo-Europeans, historically known to practise both types of disposal of the dead, but mainly cremation (though inhumation will be magnified in the eyes of the archaeologists as it leaves so many more traces), brought cremation with them along the Amu Darya to the Aral Lake area and on to the Urals. The native practice was predominantly inhumation, and it was preserved far from this trajectory, in areas where the Indo-Europeans didn’t come.
An Indo-Iranian culture
While the observation has no evidential value in itself, it deserves noting that the cultural identity of the Andronovo culture has now virtually become a matter of consensus: the Andronovo culture was Indo-Iranian. This book itself has greatly contributed to that consensus, for before its publication, there was still some hesitation.
Thus, many sacrificial and burial practices (and sati, the self-immolation of widows) “characterize the burial practice of the majority of Indo-European peoples: Hittites, Greeks, Germans, Balts, Slavs etc. It leads to the undisputable statement that the Andronovans were Indo-Europeans. However, the common Indo-European character of the whole burial complex does not, strictly speaking, permit one to declare the Andronovans as Indo-Aryans.” (p.195) However, she finds that ęthe variety of Andronovo funeral rites finds a complete and thorough correlation in early indic texts Ľ. (p.195)
What decides the question for her, is the wealth of correspondences beween her material findings and references in Indian or Iranian texts. Thus, she describes the typical fireplace and then the corresponding reference in Vedic literature. These “hearths comprise a shallow round or oval pit… often covered with flat stone slabs on the bottom…. This hearth is described in ancient Indian texts as
 

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