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The Maritime Munda Hypothesis

Rau, Felix; Sidwell, Paul

On the basis of historical linguistic and language geographic evidence, the authors advance the novel hypothesis that the Munda languages originated on the east coast of India after their Austroasiatic precursor arrived via a maritime route from Southeast Asia, 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Based on the linguistic evidence, we argue that pre-Proto-Munda arose in Mainland Southeast Asia after the spread of rice agriculture in the late Neolithic period, sometime after 4,500 years ago. A small Austroasiatic population then brought pre-Proto-Munda by means of a maritime route across the Bay of Bengal to the Mahanadi Delta region – an important hub location for maritime trade in historic and pre-historic times. The interaction with a local South Asian population gave rise to proto-Munda and the Munda branch of Austroasiatic. The Maritime Hypothesis accounts for the linguistic evidence better than other scenarios such as an Indian origin of Austroasiatic or a migration from Southeast Asia through the Brahmaputra basin. The available evidence from archaeology and genetics further supports the hypothesis of a small founder population of Austroasiatic speakers arriving in Odisha from Southeast Asia before the Aryan conquest in the Iron-Age.

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