Kalash: White survivalists in Afghanistan?
Remember the National Geographic cover of the Afghan woman with pale skin and green eyes? It wasn’t the image that most people had of the peoples of Afghanistan. Razib Khan has been shedding some light on Afghan genes in the science magazine Discover this week. In particular Khan looks at the enigmatic.
The Kalash, a little-known, largely isolated, and religiously pagan tribe, in Afghanistan claim to be the descendants of Alexander the Great.
Numbering only a few thousand, the Kalash have been pressured by Islamic extremists in Afghanistan to convert to Islam. Female Kalash in particular are targeted for conversion, undermining the small tribal community.
Khaliq, a Kalash elder, complained the Guardian that Pakistan had also “treated us like animals, and [the] valley [home of the Kalash] like a zoo.”
But the Kalsh appear to have the type of character that has allowed them to survive in a historically extremely hostile environment. But culture isn’t the only thing that has set the Kalash apart. Peculiarly, this small tribe has pale skin and fair hair, and looks every bit European. Khan even says — half jokes, I think — that the Kalash and Burusho “are the best refutation of the ‘blondes going extinct meme‘.” But he doesn’t buy their claims to be descendants of Alexander the Great.
“The Kalash mtDNA is almost totally West Eurasian,” he says, “but looking at the “Kalash” component above you don’t see particular closeness to the Russian/European modal component in comparison to the South Asian ones. Yet looking through the images at the links above I think you’ll be struck by how European some of the Kalash and Burusho seem in visible appearance, as well as how similar to each other they look.”
The Kalash “arise from the fringes of the ancient admixture between West Eurasians and South Eurasians, but their phenotype exhibits far less of the South Eurasian imprint than the lowland peoples of the Punjab. I have no good model for why mountains would foster such a phenotypic difference[...]. ”