Saturday, February 3, 2007 -- posted by Michele
Here’s a great site about the Harappan civilization, which flourished from 2600-1700 BC in the Indus River Vally in India and Pakistan. This civilization had been forgotten by the ages until archaeologists began uncovering it in the 1920s. It had huge, well-planned cities which compared favorably to the older civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Unlike those civilizations, however, it had little in the way of elaborate palaces, temples, or monumental artwork. Since the Harappan script has not been deciphered, what this might mean for the political and religious organization of the Harappan cities is largely unknown.
About 1500 BC, the “Vedic Aryans” moved into the region. The “Vedic” refers to the group as the originators of the “Vedas,” the Hindu scriptures; while the term “Aryan” is derived from the word the originators of the Vedas used to refer to themselves. The same word is used in the Zoroastrian texts, and in fact the place name Iran is a version of the word “Aryan” . 19th-century (AD) scholars made a linguistic link between these groups and groups moving at about the same time into Greece and across Europe–all of these groups spoke related languages, from the Indo-European family, at least by the time that the languages started to be written down. Based on the racial thinking of the time, these scholars dubbed all of these groups “Aryan”, and attributed to them a racial capacity for building great civilizations.
Which gives one to ask a number of questions: First, does a shared language equate to a shared race? Modern scholars would say no, especially because “races” are impossible to define biologically (much less linguistically), and are largely a product of politics rather than science.
Second, if the Aryans were such great civilization-builders, how do we address the fact that at least in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley, great civiiizations arose with no help from “Aryans”? And that it took 1000 years after the end of the Harappan civilization and the arrival of the Aryans for another urbanized civilization to appear? Not to mention that it took close to another thousand years and the influence of Rome for anything like civilization to develop anywhere in Europe?
It comes as news to no one that the concept of the “Aryan race” has been discarded by scholars over time. But it’s a little alarming to think how much “politics” is capable of influencing supposedly scientific notions, not to mention the softer social sciences. I wonder which of our deeply held, supposedly scientific notions will one day prove to have led us astray?