Kusunda Genetic Prehistory

The Kusunda are a vanishing tribe of Nepal who speak a language that is unrelated to any other known language or language family, a so-called language isolate. The first word list of Kusunda was collected by Brian Houghton Hodgson in the 1830s and published in 1848. Later some additional words were recorded by Johan Reinhard in 1976. Most recently in 2005, David Watters produced a rather detailed mid-sized grammatical description of the language. Both typologically and lexically the language is an oddity when compared to all other languages of the surrounding major language phyla.

In 2007, the Himalayan Languages Project organised an expedition to collect DNA from the Kusunda of Nepal in collaboration with the National Foundation for the Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN, Ādivāsī Janjāti Utthān Rāṣṭrīya Pratiṣṭhān) and the Ministry of Local Development (Sthānīya Vikās Mantrālaya) of the Government of Nepal. The study was conducted under the Bilateral Agreement for Academic Cooperation between Tribhuvan University (TU) and Leiden University, and the Nepali geneticist Ashish Jha of the University of California at Berkeley also participated in the field campaign. The DNA is being analysed by the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) under the direction of Prof. Dr. Peter de Knijff and the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (LCHES) at Cambridge. The emerging results will shed new light on the population prehistory of the Asian heartland.

Posing with Kusunda participants in the Kusunda genetic prehistory project

 

Posing with Kusunda participants in the Kusunda genetic prehistory project are Nepali geneticist Ashish Jha (University of California at Berkeley, second from left), George van Driem (Leiden University, first from right) and Surendra Raj Dhakal (assistant to the Himalayan Languages Project, lower right). Photo by Jagat Gurung of the Ministry of Local Development of the Government of Nepal.