Programme Schedule

Keynote: The Eastern Himalayan corridor in prehistory

George van Driem

Outside of Africa, the Indian subcontinent is the oldest major land mass inhabited by anatomically modern humans and to this day South Asia is the genetically most diverse part of the planet outside of Africa. In the history of peopling of Eurasia, Oceania and the Americas, the Himalayan corridor played a key role not just once, but at many different times during the long course of prehistory. Data from languages and genes can be corrolated to reconstruct episodes of our shared past. The phylogenies of language families that together comprise the hypothetical East Asian linguistic phylum will be correlated and contrasted with molecular lineages. The Eastern Himalaya, stretching 1800 km from the Dhaulāgiri at the geographical midpoint of the Himalayan range to the Liangshān mountains in the east, will be discussed in terms of the ancestry of major language families of eastern Eurasia and salient Y chromosomal haplogroups. New insights on the distribution of the Denisovan epas1 haplotype and its presence and absence in certain Himalayan populations has revealed another episode of our past. Recent finds have also indicated that the Himalayan corridor, with its luxuriant mid hill habitats, was used not only by our ancestors, but also in earlier episodes of hominin prehistory as well. The Eastern Himalaya holds the key to understanding many distinct chronological layers of peopling in our ethnolinguistic prehistory.


Biography: Prof. George van Driem is the chair of Historical Linguistics at the University of Bern. He is also the director of the Linguistics Institute of the university.  Prof. van Driem has worked extensively on Himalayan languages. As part of his research he has collected DNA samples from many ethnic communities in the Himalayas. His interdisciplinary research in collaboration with geneticists has led to advances in the reconstruction of Asian ethnolinguistic prehistory. Based on linguistic palaeontology, ethnolinguistic phylogeography, rice genetics and the Holocene distribution of faunal species, he identified the ancient Hmong-Mien and Austroasiatics as the first domesticators of Asian rice and published a theory on the homelands and prehistoric dispersal of the Hmong-Mien, Austroasiatic and Trans-Himalayan linguistic phyla. Prof. van Driem is the recipient of 1996 Rolex Awards for Enterprise for setting up the Himalayan Languages Project. He is one of the founders of the Himalayan Languages Symposium.