Monday, January 21, 2013

Bactria and the Later Tocharians

This blog sketches the wanderings of the Indo-Europeans who came down from the steppes above the Caspian and through the North Central part of Iran into the Margiana high desert oases, and farther East to settle along the Amu Darya.

At the same time, a group of European clans that had wandered from the steppes above the Danube crossed much of Eurasia to the Volga region and came down to settle among the Late Neolithic planters along the Yellow River in what is now called Inner Mongolia.  This is a simplification of the route that is proposed by David Anthony in his work The Horse, the Wheel and Language.  As they followed the Yellow River upstream, they built settlements and left cultural remains, finally settling so far west in Taklamakan Desert that they left their very bodies entombed as mummies as a witness to their one-time habitation there as early as about 1500 BC.   You can judge their appearance from this forensically re-structured corpse from the Tarim Basin of the Taklamakan Desert, dating about 1200 BC.

When Greeks, following the route of Alexander the Great, came into this region about the first century A.D., they began to record their observations about the people, the geography and the flora and fauna.  They found first in Bactria a Greco-Persian people speaking a language that had many of the words and sounds of their own Koine Greek language, which is the language of the Christian Bible, but is now passed out of popular usage.  From these people there descended a type that still exists.  They have the Greco Persian complexion and body structure.   And their Dari language is an Indo-European language related in sentence structure to the French language.  For the two years I lived in Afghanistan, the location of Bactria, I was able to manage a bit of everyday life in Dari.  It is quite beautiful when spoken or when written in the Arabic alphabet.

But back now to the European face and body that we see in the grave uncovered in very recent decades  among a group of bodies of this type and types mixed with the Mongol Chinese.  These are the ones that were supposed by David W. Anthony, author of The Wheel, the Horse and Language,  to have come through the Tian Shan range from the Northern Steppes into Mongolia and up the Yellow River to the Tarim Basin.  They too were found by the first century A.D. Greek travelers and were called the Tocharians.  Their language could be recognized to have much in common with the Greek language of the time, but not as understandable as the Bactrian language spoken by the Indo-European type across the Pamir range from the Tarim Basin.

Several archeologists and linguists place the Tarim Basin European types within the same group of wanderers as the Bactrians, except that they did not go to Bactria.  They ended up in the area of Swat which is located now within the country of Pakistan.   There they developed a more Hindu (Indian) culture than a Zoroastrian culture (Persian).  And then after a time, the Tocharians went North over the Himalayas and into what is now the Xinjiang autonomous region of China.  The Tocharians there became Buddhist, moving away from the Hindi culture as missionary monks came over the Himalayas from India where Buddhism was born.

All these Greco-Indo-Persians shared many similarities in the practices and symbols of their habitations as Anatolian Greeks, as Kerman Desert Persians, as the Margiana Persians, as the Bactrian Greco-Persians, and the Tocharians.  We have to remind ourselves here that the Greeks in that area of that time would have resembled the archaic and classic Greek types, not most of the modern Greeks.  They would have appeared more like somewhat paler modern Persians. But it is their culture that is the important and interesting part of their heritage, not their genetics.  Nevertheless, their remains have been tested and found naturally to be mixed with the people they emigrated into from their steppe origins.  But the tests also showed that the European genes showed up very often in their samples.

As an almost final note, we acknowledge that by the time Greek travelers came through, the Tocharians from the Tarim Basin on the East side of the Pamir range had become rulers over Bactria and the Xinjiang region.  They had established what is known to history as the Kushan Dynasty.

Ending here, I will only add that I collected several artifacts from Kabul merchants who sold the findings from unofficial excavations of the ruins of Bactria.  Contact me privately by using the private message form above. 

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