- Proto Indo European (PIE) - the original Indo European peoples, the progenitor of all the Indo European peoples
- Proto Indo Iranians (PII) - the eastern branch of the Indo Europeans (IE), and the progenitor of the Indo Aryans and Iranians. The prefix proto in both the above cases may be missed at many places.
- Aryans or Indo Aryans - the Rig Vedic Aryans who entered India
- Iranians - the Persians, Avestans, Scythians, Parthians and all other peoples of Iranian descent.
- Kalash Culture (1600 BC till date): A very unique group of Indo-Aryans in Hindukush have preserved many of the Rig Vedic and early Indo-Aryan features including language and culture. Kalash is the last place in the Aryan trail before entering into the final destination of Punjab.
- Gandhara Grave Culture (1700 - 1400 BC): Rig Vedic Culture in Punjab in Pakistan & India
The people of the Catacomb Culture practiced herding and primitive subsistence farming and produced metal objects. During its existence the patriarchal system replaced the matriarchal order. The dead were usually buried in a crouched position in catacomb niches of burial pits and sprinkled with red ocher dye. Excavations of the graves goods reveal three social groups similar to the later Aryan Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya - the priests, the warriors and the traders. Major excavations took place in the 1950s at the Kut burial site, which is now inundated by the Kakhivka Reservoir on the Dnieper River. The tribes of the culture are known to have had cultural and trade relations with the peoples of northern Caucasia. Later stages are marked with conflicts for lands, cattle and water.
3. Timber Grave: 2000 - 800 BC
From the coastal area of Sea of Azov the Indo Iranians might have moved along the Don and Volga rivers till they reached the Big Crescent, the Samara Bend near Samara. Eventually the Indo Aryans separated from the Iranians and moved eastward to Arkaim and Sintashta in search of more minerals. Timber Grave Culture may be initially Indo Iranian and then Iranian. An important site is Potapovka near Samara on the Sok river.
Excavations conducted from 1985-1988 in Potapovka exposed four burial mounds, or kurgans, dated between 2200-2000 BC. Beneath kurgan 3 the central grave pit had remains of a man buried with at least two horse heads and the head of a sheep, in addition to pottery vessels and weapons. After the grave pit was filled, a human male was decapitated, his head was replaced with the head of a horse, and he was laid down over the filled grave shaft. This unique ritual provides a convincing antecedent for the Rig Vedic myth of Dadhyac Atharvan who knows the secret of making Soma juice, the nectar of immortality. The Asvins insists that Dadhyac tell them the secret. He refuses. They cut off his head and replaces it with the head of a horse, through which he becomes an oracle and tells them the secret.
4. Andronovo Culture, Arkaim Sintashta: 1800 - 900 BC
East of Potapovka near the Ural Mountains is the Arkaim-Sintashta where the earliest known chariot was discovered at Krivoye Lake (a small lake in the Chelyabinsk Oblast of Russia, southeast of Magnitogorsk, near the Kazakhstan border) and dates to around 2000 BC. This settlement is a part of the large Andronovo Culture that spreads across a wide area of Russia and Kazakhstan.
Funeral rites of Andronovo include kurgan graves in wooden lining or stone box. Grave items may be horse, ox, ram, hand made and potter wheel based pottery items, good metallurgical works and even chariots. They invented the light weight chariots with spoked wheels. It's evident that horse and chariots are very special to this culture. This is a very strong connection to the Rig Vedic Aryans who have horse, spoked wheel and chariot. There are horse hymns in Rig Veda. Spokes, wheels, chariots appear in multiple places in Rig Veda as metaphors. For example, in the verse 1.32.15 (15th verse of 32nd hymn of the 1st book or Rig Veda) it's said that Indra protects the world like a wheel encircling the spokes. Each and every part of a spoked wheel of a chariot - the rim nemi; spoke ara; axle aksha; center of the wheel, nabha; even the peg of the axle, dhura - appear in hymns.
As discussed earlier, the chariots and spoked wheels being much later creation than the age of Indo European unity there is no cognate for either chariot and spoke across various IE languages.
Social structure here is again stratified. Very much like an Aryan society they have elites and commoners, as evident from grave goods.
Sintashta settlements are square, oval or round layouts fortified with two concentric walls built from clay, sometimes with stone base. It's further fortified by a wooden fence or wall or a moat. In the center is a common square. Small trapezoidal or rectangular lodgings are enclosed between the walls and the central square. Copper is smelted in the center. Each house can also have provision for smelting. Metallurgy is a very important aspect of this culture. The settlements are not far from sources of copper and tin or fertile plots. Fortified settlements imply conflicts.
The settlement at Arkaim is very well preserved. It resembles the Vedic tripura, the three fold fort. It also resembles a spoked wheel.
This is a very crucial phase of the Aryan Trail. It's quite close to India and also quite young compared to the other cultures. But still it's equally mysterious to historians due to the lack of proper linguistic and archaeological evidences. We'll present a very interesting scenario proposed by Asko Parpola and J P Mallory.
In Rig Veda (RV) it's mentioned that the Panis steal the cows and imprison them in a cave. The cows are freed by the Angirasa seers. The Panis are said to be miser, niggards and envious demons watching over wealth. They are shown as enemies. Another group of people inimical to the Aryans are the Dasas. Indra kills many Dasa Kings, one of whom is Pipru. The Gods of the Dasas are called asuras, generally considered demons by the Aryans whose Gods are called devas. The Dasas have forts with concentric, often multiple concentric walls. Moreover the Dasa forts are not regularly inhabited cities but were temporary shelters, especially for the protection of the cattle. Indra is often called the slayer of asuras. A very confusing thing in RV is that though the Dasas are held as enemies and their Godsasuras demon, there are also instances where asuras and devas are both treated as Gods. The Monier Williams Sanskrit dictionary states one of the meanings of asura as the supreme spirit, said of Varuna and Varun is indeed the highest God of the Dasas, like Indra is of the Rig Vedic Aryans. In one instance it's mentioned in RV that a Dasa King Balbutha Taruksha starts worshiping Indra. Similarly Varuna is elevated to the ranks of one of the RV Gods.
The names Dasa and Pipru seem to be Indo European - dasa coming from the Sanskrit root das and Pipru from pri. Also asura and Varuna are Indo European words. Asura comes from the Sanskrit root as meaning to become, to dwell and is akin to Latin est and English is. Etymologically asura can't be associated with demon. Asura also has an Iranian cognate, Ahura (Ahura Mazda), the highest God of east Iranian Zoroastrians. Varuna is one of the oldest Indo European Gods akin to the Greek Uranos. So it's evident that none of the words dasa and asura means enemies or demons.
Interestingly Ptolemy's Geography written in 2nd century AD talks about a North Iranian tribe called Daha (Daai in Greek texts and Dahi in Latin) who lived in the lower course of Margos (Murghab River). The 1st century Greek historian Strabo mentions Parnoi (Iranian Parna) as one of the Daha tribes. Daha is a cognate of Dasa and Pani can be a derivative of Prini, a low grade variant of Parnoi. Prini like Pipru should come from the root pri.
The Wakhi language of Iranian origin spoken in the Pamirs has a word dai that means a man, a male person. A related but now extinct Khotanese language of the ancient Khotan Kingdom in the nearby Xinjiang province of China had the noun daha that also meant man. Many people call themselves by their native word for man or human beings. A very common example is the word arya that means a noble man and which along with its cognates have been self designations of many IE peoples. This means that Daha or Dasa, which also means man, might have been the self designation of the tribe known by that name. This also means that the Wakhi language has preserved the original meaning of dasa, that has nothing to do with enemies or demons. Wakhi and the Rig Vedic Sanskrit descend from the same Indo Iranian branch of IE. This implies that the meaning of dasa got changed in the branch that's perpetuated through the Rig Vedic Aryans. So now the question comes - why did it happen.
That's where scholars have reconstructed a scenario that clarifies all the confusions. It's possible that the Indo Aryans from Sintashta and Arkaim came to Central Asia where already a civilization of fortified towns, something similar to and contemporaneous to the last phase of Indus Valley Civilization, had flourished since long.
This civilization that stretched between the ancient Bactria (modern Balkh in northern Afghanistan) and Margiana (around modern Mary in Turkmenistan) is called Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC). The remnants of BMAC have been excavated recently at Gonur and Togolok near Mary and Dashly near Balk. At all these places fortified temple forts with protected by three walls have been excavated. The most striking among these is the complex with circular walls which resemble closely with the definition of tripura, forts protected by three walls.
This structure no doubts reminds us of the structure at Arkaim. More interestingly traces of ephedra, a candidate for the Rig Vedic Soma plant, have been found at many of these temples. All these connect them both to Arkaim and also the Rig Veda where the Soma is a very important aspect.
There was a sudden surge of wealth in BMAC around 1900 BC. This could have been due to the arrival of the sophisticated Indo Aryans from the northern Arkaim-Sintashta settlements. It's seen that the structured society of Arkaim with very good leadership from the elites helped them to exploit the abundant natural resources and create a prosperous culture. A similar leadership and direction lead to a very effective use of the natural resources and made the people of BMAC prosperous. They happily accepted the leadership of the Indo Aryan elites, who could have been the Dasas or the Panis (or Prini or Greek Parnoi or Iranian Parna). Pipru could have been one of the Dasa or Pani Kings. Eventually the BMAC natives adopted the language and culture of the Dasas whole heartedly. Interestingly there are quite a few Central Asian loan words in Sanskrit and Iranian languages. There are no corresponding IE cognates in any other IE languages for these words. Some of these words are Sanskrit ishtaka and Persian histmeaning bricks, Sanskrit kadru and Persian qahd meaning brown, Skt. ushtra and Per. ushtur meaning camel, kharmeaning donkey in both Skt. and Per., Skt. bhang and Per. bang meaning marijuana, Skt. kapota and Per. kabutarmeaning pigeon, Skt. kashyap and Per. kashaf meaning tortoise (later kashyap became kacchap in Skt.), etc. As there were no corresponding words for these things in vocabulary of the Indo Aryans the BMAC people retained their native words.
After a hundred years or so (around 1700 BC) a second lot of Indo Aryans from the north would have again arrived in BMAC. This lot of Indo Aryans, who eventually composed the Rig Veda, can be called Rig Vedic Aryans and the older Indo Aryans Dasas. It's very likely that the RV Aryans fought with the Dasas and also the other BMAC natives. That was when the defeated Dasas came to be known as slaves and their Gods demons to the RV Aryans who had to fight against the rich Dasa kings staying in tripura like forts. The Panis surely tried to protect their wealth and hence came to be known as envious demons watching over their wealth. But eventually the RV Aryans would have figured out continuous warfares were not good for prosperity and made a compromise. That was when the asura became a RV God and Varuna promoted to the same rank as Indra's.
Central Asia is extensively mentioned in the Zoroastrian texts. The Zoroastrians were the Indo Aryans who stayed back in Central Asia. Then they moved to Iran. Thereafter they stayed close to the Iranian peoples who started immigrating from their homelands in middle Volga (Timber Grave Culture) few centuries later than the Indo Aryans. During the time frame of BMAC Culture the predecessors of Zarathrustra, whose followers are known as Zoroastrians, and that of the Rig Vedic Aryans were the same lot. The separation of the Zoroastrians and the Vedic Aryans (few hundred years later than RV, sometimg around 1000 BC) might have been due to intellectual conflict between them. Zarathrustra might have risen against the Vedic cult of worshiping Deva Indra, something that's referred in Zoroastrian texts as Deva Yasna, yasna being an Avestan cognate of Skt. yajna, the Vedic sacrificial ritual and Persian yashn meaning celebration. Zarathrustra propagated the cult of worshiping Ahur Varun, something that's referred to as Ahur Yasna. It lay importance on moral character and righteousness and stuck to monotheism, where as Deva Yasna supposedly paid less importance to morality in religion.
Zoroastrian texts talks about an Airyanem Vaejo, the Aryan expanse, surrounded by fifteen Aryan countries, all of which are in Central Asia. The names of the fifteen Aryan countries seem to be enumerated in an anti clock-wise manner. The commonly identified places from the list are as follows:
- Sughdha - modern Sughd Province in Tajikistan and ancient Sogdiana
- Bakhdi - modern Balkh in Afghanistan and ancient Bactria, Skt. Vahlika
- Mouru - ancient Margiana, areas around modern day Mary/Merv in Turkmenistan. Mouru may be a cognate of Skt. maru meaning desert and also mountain.
- Vehrkana - modern day Gorgan in Iran, Skt. Vrika
- Haroyu - modern day area around Herat in Afghanistan, Skt. Sarayu, Persian Harirud River.
- Haraxvaiti - cognate of Vedic Saraswati, modern Arghandab, Greek Arachosia, a tributary of Helmand.
- Haetumant - modern Helmand River in Afghanistan. Though Arghandab matches etymologically with Saraswati, but Helmand basin is generally identified with Saraswati.
- Varena - modern Bannu, Skt. Varnu
- Hapta Hindu - Skt. Sapta Sindhu or the land of the Seven Rivers, that's the Punjab.