Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Finnic shared vocabulary from Pitted Ware seal hunters


I said I would write a post about topo-hydronymy in Europe and Iberia based on the most recent research, but it seems we can still enjoy some more discussions about the famous Vasconic Beakers, by people longing for days of yore. I don’t want to spoil that fun with actual linguistic data (which I already summarized) so let’s review in the meantime one of the main Uralic-Indo-European interaction zones: Scandinavia.

Seal hunting

One of the many eye-catching interpretations – and one of the few interesting ones – that could be found in the relatively recent article Talking Neolithic: Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives on How Indo-European Was Implemented in Southern Scandinavia, by Iversen & Kroonen AJA (2017) was this:

The borrowing of lexical items from hunter-gatherers into Germanic refers to the potential adoption of Proto-Germanic *selhaz “seal” (Old Norse selr, Old English seolh, Old High German selah) as well as Early Proto-Balto-Finnic *šülkeš “seal” (Finnish hylje, Estonian hüljes) from the marine-oriented Sub-Neolithic Pitted Ware culture.

Modified from Kristiansen et al. (2017), with red circle around the hypothesized interaction of Germanic with hunter-gatherers. “Schematic representation of how different Indo-European branches have absorbed words (circles) from a lost Neolithic language or language group (dark fill) in the reconstructed European linguistic setting of the third millennium BC, possibly involving one or more hunter gatherer languages (light fill) (after Kroonen & Iversen 2017)”.

This is what Kroonen thought about this word in his Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (2006):

Gmc. *selha– m. ‘seal’ – ON selr m. ‘id.’, Far. selur m. ‘id.’, OSw. siæl m. ‘id.’, Sw. själ c. ‘id.’, OE seolh m. ‘id.’, E seal, OS selah m. ‘id.’, EDu. seel, seel-hont m. ‘id.’, Du. zee-hond c. ‘id.’, OHG selah m. ‘id.’, MHG sele m. ‘id.’ (GM).

A Germanic word with no certain IE etymology. The link with Lith. selė́ti ‘to crawl’ (Torp 1909: 436) is erroneous, as this verb corresponds to PGm. *stelan- (q.v.). The *h may nevertheless correspond to the PIE animal suffix *-ko-, for which see *elha{n)- ‘elk’ and *baruga- ‘boar’.

Focusing on this substrate etymon, coupled with archaeology and ancient DNA, in the recent SAA 84th Annual Meeting (Abstracts in PDF):

Kroonen, Guus (Leiden University) and Rune Iversen

[196] The Linguistic Legacy of the Pitted Ware Culture

The Scandinavian hunter-, fisher- and gatherer-based Pitted Ware culture is chronologically situated in the Neolithic. However, it challenges our traditional view on cultural and social evolution by representing a return to an otherwise abandoned hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In general, the Pitted Ware culture must be seen as an offshoot of the “Sub-Neolithic” societies inhabiting wide parts of northern and northeastern Europe in the fourth and third millennium B.C.E.

Isotopic and aDNA studies have shown that people of the east Swedish Pitted Ware culture, both dietarily and genetically were distinct from the early farmers in this region, the Funnel Beaker culture. Isotopic data shows a marked predominance of seal in the diet, which has given the Pitted Ware people the nickname “Inuit of the Baltic”.

As regards language, it is to be expected that people practicing a Pitted Ware lifestyle spoke a non-Indo-European language. In fact, there is some linguistic evidence that can support this claim. It is conceivable that both the Germanic and Finnish word for “seal” were ultimately borrowed from a language spoken in a Pitted Ware context. Once more, the linguistic evidence turns out to offer important information complementary to that of archaeology and archaeo-genetics.

Stone Age Seal Hunters, by Måns Sjöberg.

Apparently, the idea of non-IE substrate languages in contact with Germanic in Scandinavia is fashionable for the Copenhagen group, probably due to their particular interpretation of the recent genetic papers, hence the multiple Germanic-Fennic connections to be reviewed through this new prism. While the ulterior motive of this proposal may be to try and connect yet again Germanic with CWC Denmark, I would argue that the effect is actually the opposite.

An early borrowing via Uralic

The word has always been considered a more likely loan from one language to the other, and – because of the quite popular idea of Uralic native to Fennoscandia – it was often seen as a likely borrowing of Germanic from Balto-Finnic. In any possible case, the borrowing in either direction must be quite early, for obvious reasons:

  • If the borrowing had been via late Palaeo-Germanic, the ending in *-xa– would have been reflected in Balto-Finnic, hence an early Palaeo-Germanic to Pre-Balto-Finnic stage would be necessary.
  • If the borrowing had been via late Balto-Finnic, the initial sibilant would be already aspirated, being adopted as *-x– in Palaeo-Germanic, while the ending in *-k– would have remained as such if it was adopted after Grimm’s law ceased to be active.
  • Similarly, a borrowing from a common, non-Indo-European & non-Uralic source would require that it happened during the early stages of both proto-languages to have undergone their respective phonetic changes, and both borrowings chronologically close to each other, to assume a similar vocalism and consonantism of the ultimate source.
The idea of seal-hunting Uralic substrate of Pitted Ware is not new. Image modified from The Uralic and Finno-Ugric Phonetic Substratum, by Kalevi Wiik, Linguistica Uralica (1997).

Furthermore, regarding the most likely way of expansion of this loanword, due to the different vowels and sibilants present in Uralic but not in Indo-European:

  • A direct loan from Pre-Germanic **selkos – which shows a regular thematic declension – to Pre-Balto-Finnic *šülkeš doesn’t seem to be a reasonable assumption.
  • NOTE. A Germanic borrowing from alternative Gmc. genitive *silxis could only work in a Pre-Germanic to Pre-Balto-Finnic model, hence only if the Gmc. form can be reconstructed for an earlier stage. Even then, for the same reason stated above, the opposite could be more reasonably argued, i.e. that this form is the original one adopted in Germanic: Pre-PBF *šülkeš > Pre-Gmc. *silkis, reinterpreted as an -o- stem in its declension.

  • If we reconstruct an older Pre-Finno-Samic (i.e. with Finno-Permic-like vocalism) **šëlkëš, a borrowing into Pre-Germanic **selkos would work. Even though no Saami derivative exists to confirm such a possibility, this would be supported by the known common evolution of Finno-Samic dialects in close contact with Pre-Germanic.
  • Admittedly, even accepting the existence of a Finno-Samic stem, a potential substrate word could not be discarded. In fact, while **šëlkë- could perfectly be a Uralic root, the ending in *-š can’t be easily interpreted. Therefore, a third, non-Indo-European & non-Uralic source is a plausible explanation.

NOTE. Arguably, Proto-Finno-Samic could have adopted Gmc. *kh or *x exceptionally as PFS *k. However, early Palaeo-Germanic borrowings in Finno-Samic show a consistent regular consonant change as described above. For more on this, see Finno-Samic borrowings.

This likely Uralic first nature of the loanword is important for the discussion below.

Pitted Ware culture

Middle Neolithic A period. Distribution of Pyheensilta Ware, Funnel Beaker Culture in Sweden, and Pitted Ware Culture in northern Europe during the Middle Neolithic A period, c. 3300–2800 cal BC. Find locations with numbers demarcate sites where cereal grains have been found and later AMS radiocarbon dated. Figure was created by SV using QGIS 3.4. ( and Natural Earth data ( Image from Vanhanen et al. (2019).

About the Pitted Ware culture, this is what the recent paper by Vanhanen et al. (2019), from the University of Finland (including Volker Heyd) had to say:

The origins of the PWC are controversial. In one likely scenario, Comb Ceramic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers first interacted with FBC during the last centuries of the EN and became specialized maritime hunter-gatherers. The PWC pushed south and westwards during the Middle Neolithic (MN), c. 3300–2300 BC, along the northern Baltic shoreline and adjacent islands, eventually reaching as far west as Denmark and southern Norway. Around 2800 BC, after the FBC ceased to exist, the Corded Ware Culture (CWC) migrated into the PWC area. The end date for the PWC and CWC is approximately 2300 BC, when the material culture was replaced by the Late Neolithic (LN) culture<. Spanning nearly a millennium virtually unchanged, the PWC maintained a coherent society and a successful economic model. PWC people lived in marine-oriented settlements, commonly dwelled in huts and produced relatively large amounts of ceramic vessels. This speaks to the partly sedentary nature of their habitation, at least for their base camps. These specialist hunter-gatherers obtained the great majority of their subsistence from maritime sources, such as seal, fish, and sea birds. Considering the amount of bones, sealing was of paramount importance, causing these peoples to be labelled ‘hard-core sealers’ or even the ‘Inuit of the Baltic’.

The Middle Neolithic Pitted Ware culture is dated ca. 3500–2300 BC, so we would be seeing here Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Finnic peoples arriving near the Pitted Ware culture. That would leave us with one of both languages expanding with Corded Ware peoples, and the other with Bell Beakers. Since Battle Axe-derived cultures around the Gulf of Finland are associated with Balto-Finnic groups, and Bell Beakers arriving ca. 2400 started the Dagger Period, commonly associated with the Pre-Germanic community, I think the connection of each group with their language is self-evident.

Middle Neolithic B period. Distribution of Corded Ware Culture and Pitted Ware Culture in northern Europe during the Middle Neolithic B period, c. 2800–2300 cal BC. Find locations with numbers demarcate sites where cereal grains have been found and later AMS radiocarbon dated. Figure was created by SV using QGIS 3.4. ( and Natural Earth data ( Modified from Vanhanen et al. (2019).

NOTE. You can read some interesting information about prehistoric and recent seal hunting in the Baltic in the blog post “Själen” – Seal Hunting in the Northern Baltic Sea.

Germanic-Fennic phonetic evolution

The common Germanic – Balto-Finnic phonetic evolution, especially Verner’s law in Palaeo-Germanic and qualitative gradation in Proto-Balto-Finnic, has been variably interpreted as:

  • Uralic in Scandinavia influenced by Germanic (Verner’s law source of the gradation), by Koivulehto and Vennemann (1996).
  • Germanic over a Uralic substratum in Scandinavia, by Wiik (1997).
  • Both Germanic and Balto-Finnic influenced by a third language, an “extinct non-Uralic source” spoken in Fennoscandia before the arrival of Uralic and Indo-European, by Kallio (2001); maybe the same substrate proposed to have influenced the accent shift in Germanic similar to Uralic.
  • Balto-Finnic speakers adopting Pre-Germanic in Scandinavia, in contact with Balto-Finnic speakers retaining their language, by Schrijver in Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages (2014)– although first suggested by him in the 1990s.

NOTE. There are other (some much older) proposals of a Uralic substrate in Scandinavia, but I think those above summarize the most common positions tenable today.

If you add all linguistic, archaeological, and now genetic connections, it is really strange to keep arguing for so many surprisingly fitting common substrates and/or contact languages for both. Especially because the Pre-Germanic community – if originally from southern Scandinavia and not further south (see e.g. Kortlandt’s theory) – was marked by the Dagger Period, as accepted by most archaeologists (including Kristiansen), and we know that Bell Beakers – who triggered the Dagger period – might have arrived a little late to the Pitted Ware disintegration in most seal-hunting areas of southern Scandinavia.

Density analysis based (Bell Beaker per km2) on the distribution of Bell Beaker per region (ca. 2700-2200 BC). Combination of different levels of b-spline interpolation. Exaltation of the values through square root usage. Modified from Michael Bilger (2018).

In other words, how many common substrate languages can we propose for Germanic (and Balto-Finnic)? Just from Kroonen we have already the Semitic-like TRB, and the seal-hunting Pitted Ware culture. Apparently, the culprit of the common phonetic evolution must be some (other?) culture that both Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Finnic assimilated (or with which both were in contact) in Fennoscandia.

NOTE. I believe no data supports the attribution of those Germanic borrowings to the TRB culture, especially if one assumes they belong to an Afroasiatic branch, as did Kroonen. His initial assumption about an expansion of R1b-M269 associated with the Neolithic from Anatolia, and thus with Afroasiatic, must today be rejected. Much more likely is the incorporation of most of these loanwords during the expansion of North-West Indo-Europeans from Yamna Hungary.

How many “common” substrates from different regions and cultures is too much? Arguably, it’s not a question of quantity (because the overall probability remains the same), but a question of quality of arguments.

In my opinion, both a) the marked seal-hunting subsistence economy of the Pitted Ware culture and b) the difficult reconstruction of a fitting ‘natural’ PIE or PU stem warrant this proposal of a third source, just like the European agricultural substrate of North-West Indo-European and Palaeo-Balkan languages, as well as the Asian agricultural substrate of Indo-Iranian are the most logical interpretation of words not found in other IE dialects. The only problem in this case is the lack of other Scandinavian substrate words to compare its typology against.

Close contacts in Fennoscandia. The distribution of Scandinavian flint daggers (A) in the east and south Baltic region and possible trends of “down the line” trade (B). Good size and quality flint zone in the south-west Baltic region is hatched (C). According to: Wojciechowski 1976; Olausson 1983, fig. 1; Madsen 1993, 126; Libera 2001; Kriiska & Tvauri 2002, 86. Image modified from Piličiauskas (2010).

Common Scandinavian substratum

The theory of a Pitted Ware borrowing is therefore quite convincing from a cultural point of view, at the same time as it fits the linguistic data. However, one reason why I dislike the interpretation of a dual origin is that our knowledge of Uralic languages is fairly limited, whereas that of Indo-European branches and hence Proto-Indo-European is huge. To put it otherwise: if a common word appears in both, and it is most likely (culturally and linguistically) not Indo-European, it certainly means that it was borrowed in Germanic. What are the a priori chances of it coming directly from a third substrate language for both dialects, instead of coming directly from Pre-Balto-Finnic?

From Schrijver (2014):

What did happen, apparently, is that Finnic speakers had enough access to the way in which Germanic speakers pronounced Balto-Finnic in order to model their own pronunciation of Balto-Finnic on it. In other words, Balto-Finns conversed with bilingual speakers of Germanic and Balto-Finnic whose pronunciation of both was essentially Germanic. But access to the Germanic language itself was not sufficient to allow Balto-Finns to become bilingual themselves, either because social segregation prevented this or because contact with Germanic was severed before widespread bilingualism set in. This limited access to Germanic would allow us to understand why Balto-Finnic did not go the way of the vernacular languages that came in contact with Latin in the Roman Empire, where access to Latin was open to almost everybody and massive language shift in favour of Latin ensued.

NOTE. For a more detailed discussion, you can read the whole chapter dedicated to this question. I summarized it in Pre-Germanic born out of a Proto-Finnic substrate in Scandinavia.

On the other hand, about the ad hoc interpretation by Kallio (2001) of hypothetic third languages strongly influencing in the same way both the Palaeo-Germanic- and Balto-Finnic-speaking communities, Schrijver (2014) comments:

The idea that perhaps both languages moved towards a lost third language, whose speakers may have been assimilated to both Balto-Finnic and Germanic, provides a fuller explanation but suffers from the drawback that it shifts the full burden of the explanation to a mysterious ‘language X’ that is called upon only in order to explain the developments in Proto-Germanic and Balto-Finnic. That comes dangerously close to circular reasoning.

Early Bronze Age cultures of Northern Europe (roughly ca. 2200-1750). Dagger period representing the expansion of BBC-derived groups from southern Scandinavia.

NOTE. The proposal of some kind of “SHG/EHG-based Fennoscandian substrate” seems funny to me, for two reasons: firstly, there is usually no talk about which culture spread that common language, how it survived, how it was in contact with both groups and until when, etc. (see below for possibilities); secondly, apparently the evident survival of West European EEF communities driven by at least two cultural groups – El Argar and the poorly known groups from the Atlantic façade north of the Pyrenees – is, for the same people proposing this simplistic SHG/EHG idea, somehow not fitting for the prehistory of Proto-Iberian and Proto-Aquitanian, respectively…

The same argument that one could use against the direct borrowing of both dialects from Pitted Ware, but much more strongly, can be thus wielded against a common, centuries-long phonetic evolution of both Balto-Finnic and Germanic caused by close interactions with (and/or substrate influence of) some third language. Which unitary culture and when exactly could that have happened around the Baltic Sea?

  • Was it Pitted Ware the mysterious substrate language? Seems rather unlikely, due to the early demise of the Pitted Ware culture in contrast to the long-lasting common influence seen in both dialects.
  • Was it Pitted Ware in southern Scandinavia, but Comb Ware in the Gulf of Finland? Is there a direct genetic connection between both cultures? And how likely is a common phonology of an ancestral Comb Ware-like substrate language surviving separately in Finland and Sweden? Even accepting these assumptions, we would be stuck again in the Indo-European Beakers vs. Uralic Battle Axe model.
  • Was it a succession of cultures, from some Scandinavian culture that was replaced by some incoming ethnolinguistic group, then influencing the other? This non-IE, non-Uralic substrate would then need to be proposed, given the chronological and archaeological constraints, as an effect of Pitted Ware over Pre-Finno-Baltic spoken by Battle Axe peoples in Scandinavia, then replaced by Pre-Germanic peoples arriving later with Bell Beakers. A reverse direction and later chronology (say, Germanic replaced by Balto-Finnic from Netted Ware arriving from the Volga) wouldn’t work as well.
  • Was it Asbestos Ware as a late Comb Ware group influencing both? How likely is such a continued influence in Southern Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland? Even if we accepted this influence that miraculously didn’t affect Samic (most likely located between the Balto-Finnic-speaking Gulf of Finland and northern Fennoscandian Asbestos Ware groups), it would necessarily mean that Germanic and Balto-Finnic were spoken neighbouring exactly the same Asbestos Ware groups in Scandinavia. That is, essentially, that the BBC-derived Dagger Period represented Pre-Germanic, while Battle Axe-derived groups around the Gulf of Finland were Balto-Finnic.

Mixing linguistics with archaeology (now complemented with genetics) also risks circular reasoning. But, how else can someone propose a third substrate language for a phonetic change, necessarily represented by Fennoscandian groups potentially separated by thousands of years? In this age of population genomics we can’t simply talk about theoretical models anymore: we must refer to Fennoscandian cultures and populations in a very specific time frame, as Kronen & Iversen do in their proposal. Not only is such a third unknown language usually a weak explanation for a common development of two unrelated languages; in this case it finds no support whatsoever.

Seals and the Arctic

Another interesting aspect about this Fennic-Germanic comparandum is its relevance to the Uralic homeland problem.

Current distribution of Uralic languages. Nenets and Saami are among the best positioned to retain the ‘original’ Uralic seal-hunting vocabulary.

Since the publication of Mittnik et al. (2018), Lamnidis et al. (2018), and Sikora et al. (2018), the new normal is apparently to consider Corded Ware Finland as Germanic-speaking, the Gulf of Finland as Balto-Slavic-speaking, while the Kola peninsula and whichever Palaeo-Arctic peoples preceded Nganasans and Nenets as ancient Uralians. Uh-huh, OK.

But, if prehistoric Arctic peoples practiced specialized seal-hunting economies, and Uralians were one among such populations – supposedly one widespread from the Barents Sea to the Lapteve Sea…how come no common Uralic word for ‘seal’ exists? In other words, why would these True™ Uralic peoples expanding from the Arctic need to borrow a word for ‘seal’ from neighbouring populations in every single seal-hunting region they are attested?

Historical distribution of grey seals, an important part of the diet around the Baltic Sea. Image modified from Wikimedia to include Skagerrak and Kattegat regions.

About Saami, which some have recklessly proposed to be derived from Bronze Age N1c-L392 samples from the Kola Peninsula (against the good judgment of the authors of the paper), this is what we know from their word for ‘seal’, from Grünthal (2004):

Ter Saami vīrre ‘seal; wolf’ displays two meanings that refer to clearly different animals. Neither of them is borrowed from the source language because the word descends from Russian zver’ ‘animal’ (T.I.Itkonen 1958: 756). Another word, Skolt Saami näúdd ‘seal, wolf’, has been similarly used in the two meanings. The evidence of North Saami návdi ‘wolf; creature, fur animal; beast’ (Sammallahti 1989: 305; Lagercrantz (1939: 518) presents the alternative meanings in the opposite order; E. Itkonen (1969: 148) lists the meanings ‘wildes Tier; Raubtier (bes. Wolf); Pelztier’) suggesting that ‘wolf’ is the primary sense and ‘seal’ is a metaphorical extension of it. More precisely, it is an example of a mythic metaphor (cf. Siikala 1992). According to the old folk belief, seal was a wolf and the Skolt Saamis preferred not to eat its meat (T.I.Itkonen 1958: 906). Before that the metonymic meaning ‘wolf’ rose from the less specified meanings, and originally návdi is a Scandinavian or Finnic loan word in Saamic, cf. Old Norse naut ‘vieh, rind’, Icelandic and Norwegian naut, Swedish nöt < Germanic *nauta ‘property’ (Hellquist 1980: 721, T.I.Itkonen 1958: 275, Lagercrantz 1939: 518, de Vries 1961: 406; E. Itkonen (1969: 148) considers Finnic, cf. Finnish nauta ‘bovine’ (< Germanic) as a possible alternative source for the Saamic word).

NOTE. Possibly comparable, for the mythic metaphor proper of Scandinavian folk belief, are Germanic derivatives built as ‘seal-hound’ and/or ‘sea-hound’.

Seals formed a great part of the diet for Palaeo-Arctic populations. Boundaries of regions used to predict sea ice, superimposed over the distributions of the five ringed seal subspecies. Image modified from Kelly et al. (2010).

About Nenets (quite close to the Naganasans of pure “Siberian ancestry”), here is what Edward Vajda, an expert in Palaeo-Siberian languages, has to say:

Nenets techniques for hunting the animals of the Arctic Ocean seem to have been borrowed from the first Arctic aborigines. Thus, the Nenets word for seal is nyak, the Eskimo word is nesak. Also, the Nenets word for a one-piece Arctic clothing is lu; the Korak word on the Kamchatka peninsula for clothing is l’ku. All of these groups may have borrowed the words from some original circumpolar aborigines. More probably, the first settlers of Arctic Europe were cousins of the present-day Eskimo, Chukchi and other residents of the far northeast region of Asia. Nenets folklore also speaks of the aborigines living in ice dugouts (igloos).

On the other hand, Proto-Uralic shows a Chalcolithic steppe-like culture, with common words for metal and metalworking, for agriculture, and for domesticated animals, most likely including cattle. They were close to Indo-Europeans since at least before the Tocharian split, and probably earlier than that (even if one does not accept the Indo-Uralic phylum). And there were clearly strong contacts of Finno-Ugric with Indo-Iranian, and especially of Finno-Samic with Germanic.

Uralic clines from Corded Ware groups to the east. A clear reason for the lack of common seal-hunting vocabulary. Modified from Tambets et al. (2018). Principal component analysis (PCA) and genetic distances of Uralic-speaking populations. a PCA (PC1 vs PC2) of the Uralic-speaking populations. You can see another PCA including ancient samples.

Some among my readers may now be thinking about these totally believable proposals of prehistoric cultures around Lake Baikal representing the True™ Uralic homeland; because haplogroup N1c, and because some 0.5% more “Devil’s Gate Cave ancestry” in Estonians than in Lithuanians; despite the fact that 1) the so-called “Siberian ancestry” formed an ancestral cline with EHG in North Eurasia, that 2) N1c-L392 lineages seem to appear among many Asian peoples of different languages, and that 3) recent prehistoric N1c-L392 lines expanded clearly with Micro-Altaic languages.

Like, who would have hunted seals in Lake Baikal, right? The problem is, seals represented one of their main game, essential for their subsistence economy. From Novokonova et al. (2015):

One of the key reasons for the density of human settlement in the Baikal region compared to adjacent areas of Siberia is that the lake and its nearby rivers offer an abundance of aquatic food resources, including several endemic species, with perhaps the most well known being the Baikal seal. This freshwater seal is only found in Lake Baikal and portions of its tributaries. It shares lifecycle and behavioral patterns with other small northern ice-adapted seals, and is genetically and morphologically most closely related to the ringed seal (Pusa hispida). The nerpa can grow up to 1.8 m long and weigh as much as 130 kg, with the males tending to be slightly larger than the females.

Zooarchaeological analyses of the 16,000 Baikal seal remains from this well-dated site clearly show that sealing began here at least 9000 calendar years ago. The use of these animals at Sagan-Zaba appears to have peaked in the Middle Holocene, when foragers used the site as a spring hunting and processing location for yearling and juvenile seals taken on the lake ice. After 4800 years ago, seal use declined at the site, while the relative importance of ungulate hunting and fishing increased. Pastoralists began occupying Sagan-Zaba at some point during the Late Holocene, and these groups too utilized the lake’s seals. Domesticated animals are increasingly common after about 2000 years ago, a pattern seen elsewhere in the region, but spring and some summer hunting of seals was still occurring. This use of seals by prehistoric herders mirrors patterns of seal use among the region’s historic and modern groups.

Bronze Age movements in Fennoscandia

Regarding the shrinkage and expansion of different farming economic strategies in Scandinavia since the Neolithic, with potential relevance for population movements and thus ethnolinguistic change – either from Balto-Finnic peoples migrating back from eastern Sweden, or Germanic peoples moving to eastern Finland – from Vanhanen et al. (2019):

Cultivated plants at CWC sites in Finland were not discovered in the current investigation (Supplementary Results) or earlier studies. In Finland, the keeping of domestic animals is indicated by the evidence of dairy lipids and mineralized goat hairs. Charred remains and impressions of cultivated plants have been discovered at CWC sites in Estonia and east-central Sweden (Fig. 3: 12). In the eastern Baltic region, the earliest bones of domestic animals and a shift in subsistence occurred with the CWC. Whether CWC produced the cereals and other agricultural products found at PWC sites is difficult to estimate because only small amounts of plant remains have ever been discovered at CWC sites. The CWC seemingly reached east-central Sweden from regions further to the east, where there is evidence of animal husbandry, but only very few signs of plant cultivation.

For the Late Neolithic (LN), cereal grains have been found north of Mälaren and along the Norrland coast. In mainland Finland, the first cereal grains occur during the LN or Bronze Age, c. 1900–1250 cal BC. The earliest bones of sheep/goat from mainland Finland are earlier, dating back to 2200–1950 cal BC. Finds of Scandinavian bronze artefacts indicate an influx from east-central Sweden, which might well be a source area for these agricultural innovations. A similar development is found in the eastern Baltic region, where the earliest directly radiocarbon-dated cereals originate from the Bronze Age, 1392–1123 cal BC (2 sigma). Thus, agriculture was evident during the Bronze Age in the eastern Baltic, but at least animal keeping and probably crop cultivation were present earlier during the CWC phase.

It has been known for a while already that the only options left for the expansion of Finno-Saami into Fennoscandia are either Battle Axe (continued in Textile Ceramics) or Netted Ware (as proposed e.g. by Parpola), based, among other data, on language contacts, language estimates, cultural evolution, and population genomics. Data like this one on seal-hunting vocabulary also support the most likely option, which entails the identification of Corded Ware as the vector of expansion of Uralic languages.

NOTE. Also interesting in this regard is the lack of Slavic words for ‘seal’ – borrowed, in Russian from Samic, and in other Slavic dialects from Russian, Latin, or other languages -, and the coinage of a new term in East Baltic. Rather odd for an “autochthonous” Proto-Baltic (supposedly in contact with Pitted Ware, Germanic, and Balto-Finnic, then), and for a Proto-Slavic stemming from the Baltic. Quite appropriate, though, for a Proto-East Baltic arriving in the Baltic with Trzciniec and for a Proto-Slavic community evolving further south.

So, what new episode in this renewed 2000s R1b/R1a/N1c soap opera is it going to be, when eastern Fennoscandia shows Corded Ware-derived peoples of “steppe ancestry” (and mainly R1a-Z645 lineages) continue during the Bronze Age? Will the resurge and/or infiltration of I2 – maybe even N1c – lineages among Corded Ware-derived cultures of north-eastern Europe support or challenge this model, and why? Make your bet below.


N1c-L392 associated with expanding Turkic lineages in Siberia


Second in popularity for the expansion of haplogroup N1a-L392 (ca. 4400 BC) is, apparently, the association with Turkic, and by extension with Micro-Altaic, after the Uralic link preferred in Europe; at least among certain eastern researchers.

New paper in a recently created journal, by the same main author of the group proposing that Scythians of hg. N1c were Turkic speakers: On the origins of the Sakhas’ paternal lineages: Reconciliation of population genetic / ancient DNA data, archaeological findings and historical narratives, by Tikhonov, Gurkan, Demirdov, and Beyoglu, Siberian Research (2019).

Interesting excerpts:

According to the views of a number of authoritative researchers, the Yakut ethnos was formed in the territory of Yakutia as a result of the mixing of people from the south and the autochthonous population [34].

These three major Sakha paternal lineages may have also arrived in Yakutia at different times and/ or from different places and/or with a difference in several generations instead, or perhaps Y-chromosomal STR mutations may have taken place in situ in Yakutia. Nevertheless, the immediate common ancestor(s) from the Asian Steppe of these three most prevalent Sakha Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes possibly lived during the prominence of the Turkic Khaganates, hence the near-perfect matches observed across a wide range of Eurasian geography, including as far as from Cyprus in the West to Liaoning, China in the East, then Middle Lena in the North and Afghanistan in the South (Table 3 and Figure 5). There may also be haplotypes closely-related to ‘the dominant Elley line’ among Karakalpaks, Uzbeks and Tajiks, however, limitations in the loci coverage for the available dataset (only eight Y-chromosomal STR loci) precludes further conclusions on this matter [25].

17-loci median-joining network analysis of the original/dominant Elley, Unknown and Omogoy Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes with the YHRD matches from outside Yakutia populations.

According to the results presented here, very similar Y-STR haplotypes to that of the original Elley line were found in the west: Afghanistan and northern Cyprus, and in the east: Liaoning Province, China and Ulaanbaator, Northern Mongolia. In the case of the dominant Omogoy line, very closely matching haplotypes differing by a single mutational step were found in the city of Chifen of the Jirin Province, China. The widest range of similar haplotypes was found for the Yakut haplotype Unknown: In Mongolia, China and South Korea. For instance, haplotypes differing by a single step mutation were found in Northern Mongolia (Khalk, Darhad, Uryankhai populations), Ulaanbaator (Khalk) and in the province of Jirin, China (Han population).

14-loci median-joining network analysis for the original/dominant Elley (Ell), Unknown Clan
(Vil), Omogoy (Omo), Eurasian (Eur) and Xiongnu (Xuo) Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes and that for a representative ancient DNA sample (Ch0 or DSQ04) from the Upper Xiajiadian Culture
recovered from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China.

Notably, Tat-C-bearing Y-chromosomes were also observed in ancient DNA samples from the 2700-3000 years-old Upper Xiajiadian culture in Inner Mongolia, as well as those from the Serteya II site at the Upper Dvina region in Russia and the ‘Devichyi gory’ culture of long barrow burials at the Nevel’sky district of Pskovsky region in Russia. A 14-loci Y-chromosomal STR median-joining network of the most prevalent Sakha haplotypes and a Tat-C-bearing haplotype from one of the ancient DNA samples recovered from the Upper Xiajiadian culture in Inner Mongolia (DSQ04) revealed that the contemporary Sakha haplotype ‘Xuo’ (Table 2, Haplotype ID “Xuo”) classified as that of ‘the Xiongnu clan’ in our current study, was the closest to the ancient Xiongnu haplotype (Figure 6). TMRCA estimate for this 14-loci Y-chromosomal STR network was 4357 ± 1038 years or 2341 ± 1038 BCE, which correlated well with the Upper Xiajiadian culture that was dated to the Late Bronze Age (700-1000 BCE).

Geographical location of ancient samples belonging to major clade N of the Y-chromosome.

NOTE. Also interesting from the paper seems to be the proportion of E1b1b among admixed Russian populations, in a proportion similar to R1a or I2a(xI2a1).

It is tempting to associate the prevalent presence of N1c-L392 in ancient Siberian populations with the expansion of Altaic, by simplistically linking the findings (in chronological order) near Lake Baikal (Damgaard et al. 2018), Upper Xiajiadian (Cui et al. 2013), among Khövsgöl (Jeong et al. 2018), in Huns (Damgaard et al. 2018), and in Mongolic-speaking Avars (Csáky et al. 2019).

However, its finding among Palaeo-Laplandic peoples in the Kola peninsula ca. 1500 BC (Lamnidis et al. 2018) and among Palaeo-Siberian populations near the Yana River (Sikora et al. 2018) ca. AD 1200 should be enough to accept the hypothesis of ancestral waves of expansion of the haplogroup over northern Eurasia, with acculturation and further expansions in the different regions since the Iron Age (see more on its potential expansion waves).

Also, a simple look at the TMRCA and modern distribution was enough to hypothesize long ago the lack of connection of N1c-L392 with Altaic or Uralic peoples. From Ilumäe et al. (2016):

Previous research has shown that Y chromosomes of the Turkic-speaking Yakuts (Sakha) belong overwhelmingly to hg N3 (formerly N1c1). We found that nearly all of the more than 150 genotyped Yakut N3 Y chromosomes belong to the N3a2-M2118 clade, just as in the Turkic-speaking Dolgans and the linguistically distant Tungusic-speaking Evenks and Evens living in Yakutia (Table S2). Hence, the N3a2 patrilineage is a prime example of a male population of broad central Siberian ancestry that is not intrinsic to any linguistically defined group of people. Moreover, the deepest branch of hg N3a2 is represented by a Lebanese and a Chinese sample. This finding agrees with the sequence data from Hallast et al., where one Turkish Y chromosome was also assigned to the same sub-clade. Interestingly, N3a2 was also found in one Bhutan individual who represents a separate sub-lineage in the clade. These findings show that although N3a2 reflects a recent strong founder effect primarily in central Siberia (Yakutia, Sakha), the sub-clade has a much wider distribution area with incidental occurrences in the Near East and South Asia.

Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Sub-clades of hg N3a2, by Ilumäe et al. (2016).

The most striking aspect of the phylogeography of hg N is the spread of the N3a3’6-CTS6967 lineages. Considering the three geographically most distant populations in our study—Chukchi, Buryats, and Lithuanians—it is remarkable to find that about half of the Y chromosome pool of each consists of hg N3 and that they share the same sub-clade N3a3’6. The fractionation of N3a3’6 into the four sub-clades that cover such an extraordinarily wide area occurred in the mid-Holocene, about 5.0 kya (95% CI = 4.4–5.7 kya). It is hard to pinpoint the precise region where the split of these lineages occurred. It could have happened somewhere in the middle of their geographic spread around the Urals or further east in West Siberia, where current regional diversity of hg N sub-lineages is the highest (Figure 1B). Yet, it is evident that the spread of the newly arisen sub-clades of N3a3’6 in opposing directions happened very quickly. Today, it unites the East Baltic, East Fennoscandia, Buryatia, Mongolia, and Chukotka-Kamchatka (Beringian) Eurasian regions, which are separated from each other by approximately 5,000–6,700 km by air. N3a3’6 has high frequencies in the patrilineal pools of populations belonging to the Altaic, Uralic, several Indo-European, and Chukotko-Kamchatkan language families. There is no generally agreed, time-resolved linguistic tree that unites these linguistic phyla. Yet, their split is almost certainly at least several millennia older than the rather recent expansion signal of the N3a3’6 sub-clade, suggesting that its spread had little to do with linguistic affinities of men carrying the N3a3’6 lineages.

Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Subclade N3a3 / N1a1a1a1a1a-CTS2929/VL29.

It was thus clear long ago that N1c-L392 lineages must have expanded explosively in the 5th millennium through Northern Eurasia, probably from a region to the north of Lake Baikal, and that this expansion – and succeeding ones through Northern Eurasia – may not be associated to any known language group until well into the common era.


The cradle of Russians, an obvious Finno-Volgaic genetic hotspot


First look of an accepted manuscript (behind paywall), Genome-wide sequence analyses of ethnic populations across Russia, by Zhernakova et al. Genomics (2019).

Interesting excerpts:

There remain ongoing discussions about the origins of the ethnic Russian population. The ancestors of ethnic Russians were among the Slavic tribes that separated from the early Indo-European Group, which included ancestors of modern Slavic, Germanic and Baltic speakers, who appeared in the northeastern part of Europe ca. 1,500 years ago. Slavs were found in the central part of Eastern Europe, where they came in direct contact with (and likely assimilation of) the populations speaking Uralic (Volga-Finnish and Baltic- Finnish), and also Baltic languages [11–13]. In the following centuries, Slavs interacted with the Iranian-Persian, Turkic and Scandinavian peoples, all of which in succession may have contributed to the current pattern of genome diversity across the different parts of Russia. At the end of the Middle Ages and in the early modern period, there occurred a division of the East Slavic unity into Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. It was the Russians who drove the colonization movement to the East, although other Slavic, Turkic and Finnish peoples took part in this movement, as the eastward migrations brought them to the Ural Mountains and further into Siberia, the Far East, and Alaska. During that interval, the Russians encountered the Finns, Ugrians, and Samoyeds speakers in the Urals, but also the Turkic, Mongolian and Tungus speakers of Siberia. Finally, in the great expanse between the Altai Mountains on the border with Mongolia, and the Bering Strait, they encountered paleo-Asiatic groups that may be genetically closest to the ancestors of the Native Americans. Today’s complex patchwork of human diversity in Russia has continued to be augmented by modern migrations from the Caucasus, and from Central Asia, as modern economic migrations take shape.

Sample relatedness based on genotype data. Eurasia: Principal Component plot of 574 modern Russian genomes. Colors reflect geographical regions of collection; shapes reflect the sample source. Red circles show the location of Genome Russia samples.

In the current study, we annotated whole genome sequences of individuals currently living on the territory of Russia and identifying themselves as ethnic Russian or as members of a named ethnic minority (Fig. 1). We analyzed genetic variation in three modern populations of Russia (ethnic Russians from Pskov and Novgorod regions and ethnic Yakut from the Sakha Republic), and compared them to the recently released genome sequences collected from 52 indigenous Russian populations. The incidence of function-altering mutations was explored by identifying known variants and novel variants and their allele frequencies relative to variation in adjacent European, East Asian and South Asian populations. Genomic variation was further used to estimate genetic distance and relationships, historic gene flow and barriers to gene flow, the extent of population admixture, historic population contractions, and linkage disequilibrium patterns. Lastly, we present demographic models estimating historic founder events within Russia, and a preliminary HapMap of ethnic Russians from the European part of Russia and Yakuts from eastern Siberia.

Sample relatedness based on genotype data. Western Russia and neighboring countries: Principal Component plot of 574 modern Russian genomes. Colors reflect geographical regions of collection; shapes reflect the sample source. Red circles show the location of Genome Russia samples.

The collection of identified SNPs was used to inspect quantitative distinctions among 264 individuals from across Eurasia (Fig. 1) using Principal Component Analysis (PCA) (Fig. 2). The first and the second eigenvectors of the PCA plot are associated with longitude and latitude, respectively, of the sample locations and accurately separate Eurasian populations according to geographic origin. East European samples cluster near Pskov and Novgorod samples, which fall between northern Russians, Finno-Ugric peoples (Karelian, Finns, Veps etc.), and other Northeastern European peoples (Swedes, Central Russians, Estonian, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians) (Fig. 2b). Yakut individuals map into the Siberian sample cluster as expected (Fig. 2a). To obtain an extended view of population relationships, we performed a maximum likelihood-based estimation of ancestry and population structure using ADMIXTURE [46](Fig. 2c). The Novgorod and Pskov populations show similar profiles with their Northeastern European ancestors while the Yakut ethnic group showed mixed ancestry similar to the Buryat and Mongolian groups.

Population structure across samples in 178 populations from five major geographic regions (k=5). Samples are pooled across three different studies that covered the territory of Russian Federation (Mallick et al. 2016 [36], Pagani et al. 2016 [37], this study). The optimal k-value was selected by value of cross validation error. Russian samples from all studies (highlighted in bold dark blue) show a slight gradient from Eastern European (Ukrainian, Belorussian, Polish) to North European (Estonian Karelian, Finnish) structures, reflecting population history of northward expansion. Yakut samples from different studies (highlighted in bold red) also show a slight gradient from Mongolian to Siberian people (Evens), as expected from their original admixture and northward expansions. The samples originated from this study are highlighted, and plotted in separated boxes below.

Possible admixture sources of the Genome Russia populations were addressed more formally by calculating F3 statistics, which is an allele frequency-based measure, allowing to test if a target population can be modeled as a mixture of two source populations [48]. Results showed that Yakut individuals are best modeled as an admixture of Evens or Evenks with various European populations (Supplemental Table S4). Pskov and Novgorod showed admixture of European with Siberian or Finno-Ugric populations, with Lithuanian and Latvian populations being the dominant European sources for Pskov samples.

The heatmaps of gene flow barriers show for each point at the geographical map the interpolated differences in allele frequencies (AF) between the estimated AF at the point with AFs in the vicinity of this point. The direction of the maximal difference in allele frequencies is coded by colors and arrows.

So, Russians expanding in the Middle Ages as acculturaded Finno-Volgaic peoples.

Or maybe the true Germano-Slavonic™-speaking area was in north-eastern Europe, until the recent arrival of Finno-Permians with the totally believable Nganasan-Saami horde, whereas Yamna -> Bell Beaker represented Vasconic-Caucasian expanding all over Europe in the Bronze Age. Because steppe ancestry in Fennoscandia and Modern Basques in Iberia.

A really hard choice between equally plausible models.


Common Slavs from the Lower Danube, expanding with haplogroup E1b-V13?


Florin Curta has published online his draft for Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages (500-1300), Brill’s Companions to European History, Vol. 10 (2019), apparently due to appear in June.

Some interesting excerpts, relevant for the latest papers (emphasis mine):

The Archaeology of the Early Slavs

(…) One of the most egregious problems with the current model of the Slavic migration is that it is not at all clear where it started. There is in fact no agreement as to the exact location of the primitive homeland of the Slavs, if there ever was one. The idea of tracing the origin of the Slavs to the Zarubyntsi culture dated between the 3rd century BC and the first century AD is that a gap of about 200 years separates it from the Kiev culture (dated between the 3rd and the 4th century AD), which is also attributed to the Slavs. Furthermore, another century separates the Kiev culture from the earliest assemblages attributed to the Prague culture. It remains unclear as to where the (prehistoric) Slavs went after the first century, and whence they could return, two centuries later, to the same region from which their ancestors had left. The obvious cultural discontinuity in the region of the presumed homeland raises serious doubts about any attempts to write the history of the Slavic migration on such a basis. There is simply no evidence of the material remains of the Zarubyntsi, Kiev, or even Prague culture in the southern and southwestern direction of the presumed migration of the Slavs towards the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire.

Moreover, the material culture revealed by excavations of 6th- to 7th-century settlements and, occasionally, cremation cemeteries in northwestern Russia, Belarus, Poland, Moravia, and Bohemia is radically different from that in the lands north of the Danube river, which according to the early Byzantine sources were inhabited at that time by Sclavenes: no settlement layout with a central, open area; no wheel-made pottery or pottery thrown on a tournette; no clay rolls inside clay ovens; few, if any clay pans; no early Byzantine coins, buckles, or remains of amphorae; no fibulae with bent stem, and few, if any bow fibulae. Conversely, those regions have produced elements of material culture that have no parallels in the lands north of the river Danube: oval, trough-like settlement features (which are believed to be remains of above-ground, log-houses); exclusively handmade pottery of specific forms; very large settlements, with over 300 houses; fortified sites that functioned as religious or communal centers; and burials under barrows. With no written sources to inform about the names and identities of the populations living in the 6th and 7th centuries in East Central and Eastern Europe, those contrasting material culture profiles could hardly be interpreted as ethnic commonality. In other words, there is no serious basis for attributing to the Sclavenes (or, at least, to those whom early Byzantine authors called so) any of the many sites excavated in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Moravia, and Bohemia.

Common Slavic expanding with Prague-Korchak from the east…or was it from the west?


There is of course evidence of migrations in the 6th and 7th centuries, but not in the directions assumed by historians. For example, there are clear signs of settlement discontinuity in northern Germany and in northwestern Poland. German archaeologists believe that the bearers of the Prague culture who reached northern Germany came from the south (from Bohemia and Moravia), and not from the east (from neighboring Poland or the lands farther to the east). At any rate, no archaeological assemblage attributed to the Slavs either in northern Germany or in northern Poland may be dated earlier than ca. 700. In Poland, settlement discontinuity was postulated, to make room for the new, Prague culture introduced gradually from the southeast (from neighboring Ukraine). However, there is increasing evidence of 6th-century settlements in Lower Silesia (western Poland and the lands along the Middle Oder) that have nothing to do with the Prague culture. Nor is it clear how and when did the Prague culture spread over the entire territory of Poland. No site of any of the three archaeological cultures in Eastern Europe that have been attributed to the Slavs (Kolochin, Pen’kivka, and Prague/Korchak) has so far been dated earlier than the sites in the Lower Danube region where the 6th century sources located the Sclavenes. Neither the Kolochin, nor the Pen’kivka cultures expanded westwards into East Central or Southeastern Europe; on the contrary, they were themselves superseded in the late 7th or 8th century by other archaeological cultures originating in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is an increasing body of archaeological evidence pointing to very strong cultural influences from the Lower and Middle Danube to the Middle Dnieper region during the 7th century—the opposite of the alleged direction of Slavic migration.

When did the Slavs appear in those regions of East Central and Eastern Europe where they are mentioned in later sources? A resistant stereotype of the current scholarship on the early Slavs is that “Slavs are Slavonic-speakers; Slavonic-speakers are Slavs.”* If so, when did people in East Central and Eastern Europe become “Slavonic speakers”? There is in fact no evidence that the Sclavenes mentioned by the 6th-century authors spoke Slavic (or what linguists now call Common Slavic). Nor can the moment be established (with any precision), at which Slavic was adopted or introduced in any given region of East Central and Eastern Europe.** To explain the spread of Slavic across those regions, some have recently proposed the model of a koiné, others that of a lingua franca. The latter was most likely used within the Avar polity during the last century of its existence (ca. 700 to ca. 800).

*Ziółkowski, “When did the Slavs originate?” p. 211. On the basis of the meaning of the Old Church Slavonic word ięzyk (“language,” but also “people” or “nation”), Darden, “Who were the Sclaveni?” p. 138 argues that the meaning of the name the Slavs gave to themselves was closely associated with the language they spoke.

**Uncertainty in this respect dominates even in recent studies of contacts between Slavic and Romance languages (particularly Romanian), even though such contacts are presumed to have been established quite early (Paliga, “When could be dated ‘the earliest Slavic borrowings’?”; Boček, Studie). Recent studies of the linguistic interactions between speakers of Germanic and speakers of Slavic languages suggest that the adoption of place names of Slavic origin was directly linked to the social context of language contact between the 9th and the 13th centuries (Klír, “Sociální kontext”).


During the 6th century, the area between the Danube and the Tisza in what is today Hungary, was only sparsely inhabited, and probably a “no man’s land” between the Lombard and Gepid territories. It is only after ca. 600 that this area was densely inhabited, as indicated by a number of new cemeteries that came into being along the Tisza and north of present-day Kecskemét. There can therefore be no doubt about the migration of the Avars into the Carpathian Basin, even though it was probably not a single event and did not involve only one group of population, or even a cohesive ethnic group.

The number of graves with weapons and of burials with horses is particularly large in cemeteries excavated in southwestern Slovakia and in neighboring, eastern Austria. This was a region of special status on the border of the qaganate, perhaps a “militarized frontier.” From that region, the Avar mores and fashions spread farther to the west and to the north, into those areas of East Central Europe in which, for reasons that are still not clear, Avar symbols of social rank were particularly popular, as demonstrated by numerous finds of belt fittings. Emulating the success of the Avar elites sometimes involved borrowing other elements of social representation, such as the preferential deposition of weapons and ornamented belts. For example, in the early 8th century, a few males were buried in Carinthia (southern Austria) with richly decorated belts imitating those in fashion in the land of the Avars, but also with Frankish weapons and spurs. Much like in the Avar-age cemeteries in Slovakia and Hungary, the graves of those socially prominent men are often surrounded by many burials without any grave goods whatsoever.

Territory of the early Avar Qaganate and the location of the investigated sites in the Carpathian Basin in Csáky et al. (2019).


Carantania was a northern neighbor of the Lombard duchy of Friuli, which was inhabited by Slavs. According to Paul the Deacon, who was writing in the late 780s, those Slavs called their country Carantanum, by means of a corruption of the name of ancient Carnuntum (a former Roman legionary camp on the Danube, between Vienna and Bratislava). Carantanians were regarded as Slavs by the author of a report known as the Conversion of the Bavarians and Carantanians, and written in ca. 870 in order to defend the position of the archbishop of Salzburg against the claims of Methodius, the bishop of Pannonia.94 According to this text, a duke named Boruth was ruling over Carantania when he was attacked by Avars in ca. 740. He called for the military assistance of his Bavarian neighbors. The Bavarian duke Odilo (737–748) obliged, defeated the Avars, but in the process also subdued the Carantanians to his authority. Once Bavarian overlordship was established in Carantania, Odilo took with him as hostages Boruth’s son Cacatius and his nephew Chietmar (Hotimir). Both were baptized in Bavaria. During the 743 war between Odilo and Charles Martel’s two sons, Carloman and Pepin (the Mayors of the Palace in Austrasia and Neustria, respectively), Carantanian troops fought on the Bavarian side. The Bavarian domination cleared the field for missions of conversion to Christianity sent by Virgil, the new bishop of Salzburg (746–784). Many missionaries were of Bavarian origin, but some were Irish monks.


Several Late Avar cemeteries dated to the last quarter of the 8th century are known from the lands north of the middle course of the river Danube, in what is today southern Slovakia and the valley of the Lower Morava [see image below]. By contrast, only two cemeteries have so far been found in Moravia (the eastern part of the present-day Czech Republic), along the middle and upper course of the Morava and along its tributary, the Dyje. In both Dolní Dunajovice and Hevlín, the latest graves may be dated by means of strap ends and belt mounts with human figures to the very end of the Late Avar period. (…)

The archaeological evidence pertaining to burial assemblages dated to the early 9th century is completely different. Shortly before or after 800, all traces of cremation—with or without barrows—disappear from the valley of the Morava river and southwestern Slovakia, two regions in which cremation had been the preferred burial rite during the previous centuries. This dramatic cultural change has often been interpreted as a direct influence of both Avar and Frankish burial rites, but it coincides in time with the adoption of Christianity by local elites. In spite of conversion, however, the representation of status through furnished burial continued well into the 9th century. Unlike Avar-age sites in Hungary and the surrounding regions, many men were buried in 9th-century Moravia together with their spurs, in addition to such weapons as battle axes, “winged” lance heads, or swords with high-quality steel blades of Frankish production.

Relevant Moravian sites mentioned in Curta’s new book.

When the Magyars inflicted a crushing defeat on the Bavarians at Bratislava (July 4, 907), the fate of Moravia was sealed as well. Moravia and the Moravians disappear from the radar of the written sources, and historians and archaeologists alike believe that the polity collapsed as a result of the Magyar raids.


(…) although there can be no doubt about the relations between Uelgi and the sites in Hungary attributed to the first generations of Magyars, those relations indicate a migration directly from the Trans-Ural lands, and not gradually, with several other stops in the forest-steppe and steppe zones of Eastern Europe. In the lands west of the Ural Mountains, the Magyars are now associated with the Kushnarenkovo (6th to 8th century) and Karaiakupovo (8th to 10th century) cultures, and with such burial sites as Sterlitamak (near Ufa, Bashkortostan) and Bol’shie Tigany (near Chistopol, Tatarstan).* However, the same problem with chronology makes it difficult to draw the model of a migration from the lands along the Middle Volga. Many parallels for the so typically Magyar sabretache plates found in Hungary are from that region. They have traditionally been dated to the 9th century, but more recent studies point to the coincidence in time between specimens found in Eastern Europe and those from Hungary.

* Ivanov, Drevnie ugry-mad’iary; Ivanov and Ivanova, “Uralo-sibirskie istoki”; Boldog et al., “From the ancient homelands,” p. 3; Ivanov, “Similarities.” Ivanov, “Similarities,” p. 562 points out that the migration out of the lands along of the Middle Volga is implied by the disappearance of both cultures (Kushnarenkovo and Karaiakupovo) in the mid-9th century. For the Kushnarenkovo culture, see Kazakov, “Kushnarenkovskie pamiatniki.” For the Karaiakupovo culture, see Mogil’nikov, “K probleme.”

Given that the Magyars are first mentioned in relation to events taking place in the Lower Danube area in the 830s, the Magyar sojourn in Etelköz must have been no longer than 60 years or so—a generation. (…)

A detail of the Arrival of the Hungarians, Árpád Feszty’s and his assistants’ vast (1800 m2) cyclorama, painted to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary, now displayed at the Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park in Hungary. This specific detail is probably based on the account on The Annals of Fulda, which narrates under the year 894 that the Hungarians crossed the Danube into Pannonia where they “killed men and old women outright and carried off the young women alone with them like cattle to satisfy their lusts and reduced the whole” province “to desert”.

It has become obvious by now that one’s impression of the Magyars as “Easterners” and “steppe-like” was (and still is) primarily based on grave finds, while the settlement material is considerably more aligned with what is otherwise known from other contemporary settlement sites in Central and Southeastern Europe. The dominant feature on the 10th- and 11th-century settlements in Hungary is the sunken-floored building of rectangular plan, with a stone oven in a corner. Similarly, the pottery resulting from the excavation of settlement sites is very similar to that known from many other such sites in Eastern Europe. Moreover, while clear changes taking place in burial customs between ca. 900 and ca. 1100 are visible in the archaeological record from cemeteries, there are no substantial differences between 10th- and the 11th-century settlements in Hungary. (…)

As a matter of fact, the increasing quantity of paleobotanical and zooarchaeological data from 10th-century settlements strongly suggests that the economy of the first generations of Magyars in Hungary was anything but nomadic. To call those Magyars “half-nomad” is not only wrong, but also misleading, as it implies that they were half-way toward civilization, with social changes taking place that must have had material culture correlates otherwise visible in the burial customs.


The origin of “Slavs” (i.e. that of “Slavonic” as a language, whatever the ancestral Proto-Slavic ethnic make-up was) is almost as complicated as the origin of Albanians, Basques, Balts, or Finns. Their entry into history is very recent, with few reliable sources available until well into the Middle Ages. If you add our ignorance of their origin with the desire of every single researcher or amateur out there to connect them to the own region (or, still worse, to all the regions where they were historically attested), we are bound to find contradictory data and a constantly biased selection of information.

Furthermore, it is extremely complicated to connect any recent population to its ancestral (linguistic) one through haplogroups prevalent today, and just absurd to connect them through ancestral components. This, which was already suspected for many populations, has been confirmed recently for Basques in Olalde et al. (2019) and will be confirmed soon for Finns with a study of the Proto-Fennic populations in the Gulf of Finland.

NOTE. Yes, the “my parents look like Corded Ware in this PCA” had no sense. Ever. Why adult people would constantly engage in that kind of false 5,000-year-old connections instead of learning history – or their own family history – escapes all comprehension. But if something is certain about human nature, is that we will still see nativism and ancestry/haplogroup fetishism for any modern region or modern haplogroups and their historically attested ethnolinguistic groups.

Genetic structure of modern Balto-Slavic populations within a European context according to the three genetic systems. Image from Kushniarevich et al. (2015)

As you can see from my maps and writings, I prefer neat and simple concepts: in linguistics, in archaeology, and in population movements. Hence my aversion to this kind of infinite proto-historical accounts (and interpretations of them) necessary to ascertain the origins of recent peoples (Slavs in this case), and my usual preference for:

  • Clear dialectal classifications, whether or not they can be as clear cut as I describe them. The only thing that sets Slavic apart from other recent languages is its connection with Baltic, luckily for both. Even though this connection is disputed by some linguists, and the question is always far from being resolved, a homeland of Proto-Balto-Slavic would almost necessarily need to be set to the north of the Carpathian Mountains in the Bronze Age (or at least close to them).
  • NOTE. A dismissal of a connection with Baltic would leave Slavic a still more complicated orphan, and its dialectal classification within Late PIE more dubious. Its union with Balto-Slavic locates it close to Germanic, and thus as a Bronze Age North-West Indo-European dialect close to northern Germany. So bear with me in accepting this connection, or enter the linguistic hell of arguing for Indo-Slavonic of R1a-Z93 mixed with Temematic….

  • A priori “pots = people” assumption, which may lead to important errors, but fewer than the usual “pots != people” of modern archaeologists. The traditional identification of the Common Slavic expansion with the Prague-Korchak culture – however undefined this culture may be – has clear advantages: it may be connected (although admittedly with many archaeological holes) with western cultures expanding east during the Bronze Age, and then west again after the Iron Age, and thus potentially also with Baltic.
  • A simplistic “haplogroup expansion = ethnolinguistic expansion”, which is quite useful for prehistoric migrations, but enters into evident contradictions as we approach the Iron Age. Common Slavs may be speculatively (for all we know) associated with an expansion of recent R1a-M458 lineages – among other haplogroups – from the east, and possibly Balto-Slavic as an earlier expansion of older subclades from the west, as I proposed in A Clash of Chiefs.
Modern distribution of R1a-M458, after Underhill et al. (2015).

NOTE. The connection of most R1a-Z280 lineages is more obviously done with ancient Finno-Ugric peoples, as it is clear now (see here and here).

Slavs appeared first in the Danube?

No matter what my personal preference is, one can’t ignore the growing evidence, and it seems that Florin Curta‘s long-lasting view of a Danubian origin of expansion for Common Slavic, including its condition as a lingua franca of late Avars, won’t be easy to reject any time soon:

1) Theories concerning Chernyakhov as a Slavic homeland will apparently need to be fully rejected, due to the Germanic-like ancestry that will be reported in the study by Järve et al. (2019).

EDIT (3 MAY 2019). From their poster Shift in the genetic landscape of the western Eurasian Steppe not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths) (download PDF):

(…) the transition from the Scythian to the Chernyakhov culture (~2,100–1,700 cal BP) does mark a shift in the Ponto-Caspian genetic landscape. Our results agree well with the Ostrogothic origins of the Chernyakhov culture and support the hypothesis that Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

PCA of novel and published ancient samples from Scythian/Sarmatian and related groups on the background of modern samples presented as population medians. Δ – ref. 1, ○ – ref. 2, □ – ref. 3, ◊ – this study. Embedded are the locations of some of the samples. Notice the wide cluster formed by the three samples, from Hungarian Scythians in the west to steppe-like peoples in the east.

2) Therefore, unless Przeworsk shows the traditionally described mixture of populations in terms of ancestry and/or haplogroups, it will also be a sign of East Germanic peoples expanding south (and potentially displacing the ancestors of Slavs in either direction, east or south).

It would seem we are stuck in a Danubian vs. Kievan homeland for Common Slavs, then:

3) About the homeland in the Kiev culture, two early Avar females from Szólád have been commented to cluster “among Modern Slavic populations” based on some data in Amorim et al. (2018).

Rather than supporting an origin of Slavs in common with modern Russians, Poles, and Ukranians as observed in the PCA, though, the admixture of AV1 and AV2 (ca. AD 540-640) paradoxically supports an admixture of Modern Slavs of Eastern Europe in common with early Avar peoples (an Altaic-speaking population) and other steppe groups with an origin in East Asia… So this admixture would actually support a western origin of the Common Slavs with which East Asian Avars may have admixed, and whose descendants are necessarily sampled at later times.

Procrustes transformed PCA of medieval ancient samples against POPRES imputed SNP dataset. AV1 and Av2 samples have been circled in red. Color coding of medieval samples is same as in Figs 1 and 2. Two letter and three codes for POPRES samples: AL=Albania, AT=Austria, BA=Bosnia-Herzegovina, BE=Belgium, BG=Bulgaria, CH=Switzerland, CY=Cyprus, CZ=Czech Republic, DE=Germany, DK=Denmark, ES=Spain, FI=Finland, FR=France, GB=United Kingdom, GR, Greece, HR=Croatia, HU=Hungary, IE=Ireland, IT=Italy, KS=Kosovo, LV=Latvia, MK=Macedonia, NO=Norway, NL=Netherlands, PL=Poland, PT=Portugal, RO=Romania, SM=Serbia and Montenegro, RU=Russia, Sct=Scotland, SE=Sweden, SI=Slovenia, SK=Slovakia, TR=Turkey, UA=Ukraine.

4) Favouring Curta’s Danubian origin (or even an origin near Bohemia) at the moment are thus:

  • The “western” cluster of Early Slavs from Brandýsek, Bohemia (ca. AD 600-900).
  • Two likely Slavic individuals from Usedom, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (AD 1200) show hg. R1a-M458 and E1b-M215 (Freder 2010).
  • An early West Slav individual from Hrádek nad Nisou in Northern Bohemia (ca. AD 1330) also shows E1b-M215 (Vanek et al. 2015).
  • One sample from Székkutas-Kápolnadülő (SzK/239) among middle or late Avars (ca. AD 650-710), a supposed Slavonic-speaking polity, of hg. E1b-V13.
  • Two samples from Karosc (K1/13, and K2/6) among Hungarian conquerors (ca. AD 895-950), likely both of hg. E1b-V13, probably connected to the alliance with Moravian elites.
  • Possibly a West Slavic sample from Poland in the High Middle Ages (see below).

A later Hungarian sample (II/53) from the Royal Basilica, where King Béla was interred, of hg. E1b1, supports the importance of this haplogroup among elite conquerors, although its original relation to the other buried individuals is unknown.

NOTE. You can see all ancient samples of haplogroup E to date on this Map of ancient E samples, with care to identify the proper subclades related to south-eastern Europe. About the ancestral origin of the haplogroup in Europe, you may read Potential extra Iberomaurusian-related gene flow into European farmers, by Chad Rohlfsen.

Even assuming that the R1a sample reported from the late Avar period is of a subclade typically associated with Slavs (I know, circular reasoning here), which is not warranted, we would have already 6 E1b1b vs. 1-2 R1a-M458 in populations that can be actually assumed to represent early Slavonic speakers (unlike many earlier cultures potentially associated with them), clearly earlier than other Slavic-speaking populations that will be sampled in eastern Europe. It is more and more likely that Early Slavs are going to strengthen Curta’s view, and this may somehow complicate the link of Proto-Slavic with eastern European BA cultures like Trzciniec or Lusatian.

NOTE. I am still expecting a clear expansion associated with Prague-Korchak, though, including a connection with bottlenecks based on R1a-M458 in the Middle Ages, whether the expansion is eventually shown to be from the west (i.e. Bohemia -> Prague -> Korchak), or from the east (i.e. Kiev -> Korchack -> Prague), and whether or not this cultural community was later replaced by other ‘true’ Slavonic-speaking cultures through acculturation or population movements.

Common theories on Slavic origins.. After “The Early Slavs. Culture and Society in Early Medieval Europe” by P. M. Barford, Cornell University Press (2001). Image by Hxseek at Wikipedia.

5) Back to Przeworsk and the “north of the Carpathians” homeland (i.e. between the Upper Oder and the Upper Dniester), but compatible with Curta’s view: Even if Common Slavic is eventually evidenced to be driven by small migrations north and south of the Danube during the Roman Iron Age, before turning into a mostly “R1a-rich” migration or acculturation to the north in Bohemia and then east (which is what this early E1b-V13 connection suggests), this does not dismiss the traditional idea that Late Bronze Age – Iron Age central-eastern Europe was the Proto-Slavic homeland, i.e. likely the Pomeranian culture disturbed by the East Germanic migrations first (in Przeworsk), and the migrations of steppe nomads later (around the Danube).

Even without taking into account the connection with Baltic, the relevance of haplogroup E1b-V13 among Early Slavs may well be a sign of an ancestral population from the northern or eastern Carpathian region, supported by the finding of this haplogroup among the westernmost Scythians. The expansion of some modern E1b-CTS1273 lineages may link Slavic ancestrally with the Lusatian culture, which is an eastern (very specific) Urnfield culture group, stemming from central-east Europe.

An important paper in this respect is the upcoming Zenczak et al., where another hg. E1b1 will be added to the list above: such a sample is expected from Poland (from Kowalewko, Maslomecz, Legowo or Niemcza), either from the Roman Iron Age or Early Middle Ages, close to an early population of likely Scandinavian origin (eight I1 samples), apart from other varied haplogroups, with little relevance of R1a. Whether this E-V13 sample is an Iron Age one (justifying the bottleneck under E-V13 to the south) or, maybe more likely, a late one from the Middle Ages (maybe supporting a connection of the Gothic/Slavic E1b bottleneck with southern Chernyakhov or further west along the Danube) is unclear.

The finding of south-eastern European ancestry and lineages in both, Early Slavs and East Germanic tribes* suggests therefore a Slavonic homeland near (or within) the Przeworsk culture, close to the Albanoid one, as proposed based on topohydronymy. This may point to a complex process of acculturation of different eastern European populations which formed alliances, as was common during the Iron Age and later periods, and which cannot be interpreted as a clear picture of their languages’ original homeland and ancestral peoples (in the case of East Germanic tribes, apparently originally expanding from Scandinavia under strong I1 bottlenecks).

* Iberian samples of the Visigothic period in Spain show up to 25% E1b-V13 samples, with a mixture of haplogroups including local and foreign lineages, as well as some more E1b-V13 samples later during the Muslim period. Out of the two E1b samples from Longobards in Amorim et al. (2018), only SZ18 from Szólád (ca. AD 412-604) is within E1b-V13, in a very specific early branch (SNP M35.2), further locating the expansion of hg. E1b-V13 near the Danube. Samples of haplogroup J (maybe J2a) or G2a among Germanic tribes (and possibly in Poland’s Roman Iron Age / Early Middle Ages) are impossible to compare with early Hungarian ones without precise subclades.

East Slavic expansion in topo-hydronymy. Image from (Udolph 1997, 2016).

I already interpreted the earlier Slavic samples we had as a sign of a Carpathian origin and very recent bottlenecks under R1a lineages among Modern Slavs:

The finding of haplogroup E1b1b-M215 in two independent early West Slavic individuals further supports that the current distribution of R1a1a1b1a-Z282 lineages in Slavic populations is the product of recent bottlenecks. The lack of a precise subclade within the E1b1b-M215 tree precludes a proper interpretation of a potential origin, but they are probably under European E1b1b1a1b1-L618 subclade E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 (formed ca. 6100 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC), possibly under the mutation CTS1273 (formed ca. 2600 BC, TMRCA ca. 2000 BC), in common with other ancient populations around the Carpathians (see below §viii.11. Thracians and Albanians). This gross geographic origin would support the studies of the Common Slavic homeland based on toponymy (Figure 66), which place it roughly between the Upper Oder and the Upper Dniester, north of the Carpathians (Udolph 1997, 2016).

EDIT (8 APR 2019): Another interesting data is the haplogroup distribution among Modern Slavs and neighbouring peoples (see Wikipedia). For example, the bottleneck seen in Modern Albanians, under Z5017 subclade, also points to an origin of the expansion of E1b-V13 subclades among multiethnic groups around the Lower Danube coinciding with the Roman Iron Age, given the estimates for the arrival of Proto-Albanian close to the Latin and Greek linguistic frontier.

Remarkable is also its distribution among Rusyns, East Slavs from the Carpathians not associated with the Kievan Rus’, isolated thus quite soon from East Slavic expansions to the east. They were reported to show ca. 35% hg. E1b-V13 globally in FTDNA, with a frequency similar to or higher than R1a, in common with South Slavic peoples*, reflecting thus a situation similar to the source of East Slavs before further R1a-based bottlenecks (and/or acculturation events) to the east:

* Although probably due in part to founder effects and biased familial sampling, this should be assumed to be common to all FTDNA sampling, anyway.

Map showing the full geographic extent of the Rusyn people in Central Europe, prior to World War I (Carpatho Rusyn Society).

Repeating what should be already evident: in complex organizations and/or demographically dense populations (more common since the Iron Age), we can’t expect language change to happen in the same way as during the known Neolithic or Chalcolithic population replacements, be it in Finland, Hungary, Iberia, or Poland. For example, no matter whether Romans (2nd c. BC) brought some R1b-U152 and other Mediterranean lineages to Iberia; Germanic peoples entering Hispania (AD 5th c.) were of typically Germanic lineages or not; Muslims who spoke mainly Berber (AD 8th c.) and were mainly of hg. E1b-M81 (and J?) brought North African ancestry; etc. the language or languages of Iberia changed (or not) with the political landscape: neither with radical population replacements (or full population continuity), nor with the dominant haplogroups’ ancestral language.

Y-chromosome haplogroups are, in those cases, useful for ascertaining a more recent origin of the population. Like the finding of certain R1a-Z645, I2a-L621 & N-L392 lineages among Hungarians shows a recent origin near the Trans-Urals forest-steppes, or the finding of I1, R1b-U106 & E1b-V13 among Visigoths shows a recent origin near the Danube, the finding of Early Slavs (ca. AD 6th-7th c.) originally with small elite groups of hg. R1a-M458 & E1b-V13 from the Lower/Middle Danube – if strengthened with more Early Slavic samples, with Slavonic partially expanding as a lingua franca in some regions – is not necessarily representative of the Proto-Slavic community, just as it is clearly not representative of the later expansion of Slavic dialects. It would be representative, though, of the same processes of acculturation repeated all over Eurasia at least since the Iron Age, where no genetic continuity can be found with ancestral languages.


Magyar tribes brought R1a-Z645, I2a-L621, and N1a-L392(xB197) lineages to the Carpathian Basin


The Nightmare Week of “N1c=Uralic” proponents continues, now with preprint Y-chromosome haplogroups from Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian period nomadic people of the Carpathian Basin, by Neparaczki et al. bioRxiv (2019).


Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian nomadic groups arrived into the Carpathian Basin from the Eurasian Steppes and significantly influenced its political and ethnical landscape. In order to shed light on the genetic affinity of above groups we have determined Y chromosomal haplogroups and autosomal loci, from 49 individuals, supposed to represent military leaders. Haplogroups from the Hun-age are consistent with Xiongnu ancestry of European Huns. Most of the Avar-age individuals carry east Eurasian Y haplogroups typical for modern north-eastern Siberian and Buryat populations and their autosomal loci indicate mostly unmixed Asian characteristics. In contrast the conquering Hungarians seem to be a recently assembled population incorporating pure European, Asian and admixed components. Their heterogeneous paternal and maternal lineages indicate similar phylogeographic origin of males and females, derived from Central-Inner Asian and European Pontic Steppe sources. Composition of conquering Hungarian paternal lineages is very similar to that of Baskhirs, supporting historical sources that report identity of the two groups.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

All N-Hg-s identified in the Avars and Conquerors belonged to N1a1a-M178. We have tested 7 subclades of M178; N1a1a2-B187, N1a1a1a2-B211, N1a1a1a1a3-B197, N1a1a1a1a4-M2118, N1a1a1a1a1a-VL29, N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936 and the N1a1a1a1a2a1c1-L1034 subbranch of Z1936. The European subclades VL29 and Z1936 could be excluded in most cases, while the rest of the subclades are prevalent in Siberia 23 from where this Hg dispersed in a counter-clockwise migratory route to Europe (…). All the 5 other Avar samples belonged to N1a1a1a1a3-B197, which is most prevalent in Chukchi, Buryats, Eskimos, Koryaks and appears among Tuvans and Mongols with lower frequency.

First two components of PCA from Hg N1a subbranch distribution in 51 populations including Avars and Conquerors. Colors indicate geographic regions. Three letter codes are given in Supplementary Table S5.

By contrast two Conquerors belonged to N1a1a1a1a4-M2118, the Y lineage of nearly all Yakut males, being also frequent in Evenks, Evens and occurring with lower frequency among Khantys, Mansis and Kazakhs.

Three Conqueror samples belonged to Hg N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936 , the Finno-Permic N1a branch, being most frequent among northeastern European Saami, Finns, Karelians, as well as Komis, Volga Tatars and Bashkirs of the Volga-Ural region.Nevertheless this Hg is also present with lower frequency among Karanogays, Siberian Nenets, Khantys, Mansis, Dolgans, Nganasans, and Siberian Tatars.

The west Eurasian R1a1a1b1a2b-CTS1211 subclade of R1a is most frequent in Eastern Europe especially among Slavic people. This Hg was detected just in the Conqueror group (K2/18, K2/41 and K1/10). Though CTS1211 was not covered in K2/36 but it may also belong to this sub-branch of Z283.

Hg I2a1a2b-L621 was present in 5 Conqueror samples, and a 6th sample form Magyarhomorog (MH/9) most likely also belongs here, as MH/9 is a likely kin of MH/16 (see below). This Hg of European origin is most prominent in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, especially among Slavic speaking groups. It might have been a major lineage of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture and it was present in the Baden culture of the Chalcolithic Carpathian Basin.

Image modified from the paper, with drawn red square around lineages of likely Ugric origin, and squares around R1a-Z93, R1a-Z283, N1a-Z1936, and N1a-M2004 samples. Y-Hg-s determined from 46 males grouped according to sample age, cemetery and Hg. Hg designations are given according to ISOGG Tree 2019. Grey shading designate distinguished individuals with rich grave goods, color shadings denote geographic origin of Hg-s according to Fig. 1. For samples K3/1 and K3/3 the innermost Hg defining marker U106* was not covered, but had been determined previously.

We identified potential relatives within Conqueror cemeteries but not between them. The uniform paternal lineages of the small Karos3 (19 graves) and Magyarhomorog (17 graves) cemeteries approve patrilinear organization of these communities. The identical I2a1a2b Hg-s of Magyarhomorog individuals appears to be frequent among high-ranking Conquerors, as the most distinguished graves in the Karos2 and 3 cemeteries also belong to this lineage. The Karos2 and Karos3 leaders were brothers with identical mitogenomes 11 and Y-chromosomal STR profiles (Fóthi unpublished). The Sárrétudvari commoner cemetery seems distinct from the others, containing other sorts of European Hg-s. Available Y-chromosomal and mtDNA data from this cemetery suggest that common people of the 10th century rather represented resident population than newcomers. The great diversity of Y Hg-s, mtDNA Hg-s, phenotypes and predicted biogeographic classifications of the Conquerors indicate that they were relatively recently associated from very diverse populations.

Surprising about the Hungarian conquerors – although in line with the historical accounts – is the varied patrilineal origin of clans, including Q1a, G2a2b, I1, E1b1b, R1b, J1, or J2 – some of which (depending on specific lineages) may have appeared earlier in the Carpathian Basin or south-eastern Europe.

However, out of the 27 conqueror elite samples, 17 are of haplogroups most likely related to Ugric populations beyond the Urals: R1a-Z645, I2-L621, and two specific N1a-L392 lineages (see below). In fact, there are three high-ranking conqueror elites of hg. I2-L621 (one of them termed a “leader”, brother to an unpublished leader of Karos3, and all of them possibly family), one of hg. R1a-Z280, one of hg. R1a-Z93 (which should be added to the Árpáds), and one of hg. N1a-Z1936, which gives a good idea of the ruling class among the elite Ugric settlers.

NOTE. The Q1a sample is also likely to be found in the mixed population of the West Siberian forest-steppes, since it was found in Mesolithic-Neolithic samples from eastern Europe to Lake Baikal, and in Bronze Age Siberian groups, although admittedly it may have formed part of an Avar Transtisza group, or even earlier Hunnic or Scythian groups along the steppes. Without precise subclades it’s impossible to know.

The seven chieftains of the Hungarians, detail of Arrival of the Hungarians, from Árpád Feszty’s and his assistants’ vast (1800 m2) cyclorama, painted to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary, now displayed at the Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park in Hungary. Image from Wikipedia.


I2a-L621 (xS17250) or I2a1b2 in the old nomenclature, is found in 6 early conquerors (including one leader), on a par with R1a and N samples. This haplogroup is found widely distributed in ancient samples, due to its early split (formed ca. 9200 BC, TMRCA ca. 4500 BC) and expansion, probably with Neolithic populations. I can’t seem to find samples of this early haplogroup from the Carpathian Basin, as mentioned in the text, although it wouldn’t be strange, because it appears also in Neolithic Iberia, and in modern populations from western Europe.

Nevertheless, I2a-L621 samples seem to be concentrated mainly in Mesolithic-Neolithic cultures of Fennoscandia, and appeared also in Sikora et al. (2017) in a sample of the High Middle Ages from Sunghir (ca. AD 1100-1200), probably from the Vladimir-Suzdalian Rus’, in a region where clearly tribes of Volga Finns were being assimilated at the time. The reported SNP call by Genetiker is A16681 (see Yfull), deep within I2a-CTS10228. It is possibly also behind a modern Saami from Chalmny Varre (ca. AD 1800) of hg. I2a in Lamnidis et al. (2018).

Lacking precise subclades from Hungarian conquerors this is pure speculation, but modern samples may also point to I2a-CTS10228 (formed ca. 3100 BC, TMRCA ca. 1800 BC) as a Finno-Ugric lineage in common with R1a, which must have expanded to the Urals and beyond with eastern Corded Ware groups or (more likely) succeeding cultures. This is in line with the association of certain I2a lineages with modern Uralic peoples or populations from their historical regions in eastern Europe, and linked thus to the most likely homeland of Uralians in the eastern European forests:

Additional file 6: Table S5. Y chromosome haplogroup frequencies in Eurasia. Modified by me: in bold haplogroup N1c and R1a from Uralic-speaking populations, with those in red showing where R1a is the major haplogroup. Observe that all Uralic subgroups – Finno-Permic, Ugric, and Samoyedic – have some populations with a majority of R1a, and also of I lineages. Data from Tambets et al. (2018).


Regarding the important question of the ethnic makeup of Ugric populations stemming from the Urals, the most interesting (and expected) data is the presence of R1a-Z645 lineages among high-ranking conquerors, in particular four R1a-Z280 subclades proper of Finno-Ugrians.

This proves that, in line with the old split and expansion of R1a-CTS1211 (formed ca. 2600 BC, TMRCA ca. 2400 BC), and its finding in Bronze Age Fennoscandian samples, only some late R1a-Z280 (xZ92) lineages (see Z280 on YFull) may show a clear identification with early acculturated Uralic speakers, with the main early acculturated Balto-Slavic R1a haplogroup remaining R1a-M458.

I recently hypothesized this late connection of Slavs with very specific R1a-Z280 (xZ92) lineages based on analyses of modern populations (like Slovenians), because the connection of ancient Finno-Ugrians with modern Z92 samples was already evident:

(…) subclades of hg. R1a1a1b1a2-Z280 (xR1a1a1b1a2a-Z92) seem to have also been involved in early Slavic expansions, like R1a1a1b1a2b3a-CTS3402 (formed ca. 2200 BC, TMRCA ca. 2200 BC), found among modern West, South, and East Slavic populations and in Fennoscandia, prevalent e.g. among modern Slovenians which points to a northern origin of its expansion (Maisano Delser et al. 2018).

This finding also supports the expected shared R1a-Z280 lineages among ancient Finno-Ugric populations, as predicted from the study of modern Permic and Ugric peoples in Dudás et al. (2019).

Modified image, from Underhill et al. (2015). Spatial frequency distributions of Z282 (green) and Z93 (blue) affiliated haplogroups. Notice the distribution of R1a-Z280 (xZ92), i.e. R1a-M558, compared to the ancient Finno-Ugric distribution.

Furthermore, while we don’t have precise R1a-Z93 lineages to compare with the new Hunnic sample reported, we already know that some archaic R1a-Z2124 subclades stem from the forest-steppe areas of the Cis- and Trans-Urals, and the two newly reported R1a-Z93 Hungarian conqueror elites, like those of the Árpád dynasty, probably belong to them.

There is an obvious lack of continuity in specific paternal lineages among the Hunnic, the Avar, and the Conqueror periods, which makes any simplistic identification of all R1a-Z93 lineages as stemming from Avars, Huns, or the Iron Age Pontic-Caspian steppes clearly flawed. Comparing R1a-Z93 in Hungarian Conquerors with Huns is like comparing them with samples of the Srubna or earlier periods… Similarly, comparing the Hunnic R1b-U106 or the early Avar I1 to later Hungarian samples is not warranted without precise subclades, because they most likely correspond to different Germanic populations: Goths among Huns, then Longobards, then likely peoples descended from Franks and Irish Monks (the latter with R1b-P312).


Second behind R1a subclades are, as expected, N1a-L392 (N1c in the old nomenclature).

Avars are dominated by a specific N1a-L392 subclade, N1a-B197, as we recently discovered in Csáky et al. (2019).

Hungarian conquerors show three N1a-Z1936 subclades, which is known to stem from the northern Ural region, including the Arctic (likely Palaeo-Laplandic peoples) and cross-stamped cultures of the northern Eurasian forests.

Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Subclade N3a4 / N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936, probably with the Samic (first) and Fennic (later) expansions into Paleo-Lakelandic and Palaeo-Laplandic territories.

On the other hand, the two N1a-M2118 lineages are more clearly associated with Palaeo-Siberian populations east of the Urals, but became incorporated into the Ugric stock in the Trans-Urals region probably in the same way as N1a-Z1936, by infiltration from (and acculturation of) hunter-gatherers of forest and taiga cultures.

NOTE. You can read more about the infiltration of N1a lineages in the recent post Corded Ware—Uralic (IV): Hg R1a and N in Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic expansions, and in the specific sections for each Uralic group in A Clash of Chiefs.

Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Sub-clades of hg N3a2, by Ilumäe et al. (2016).


The picture offered by the paper on Hungarian Conquerors, while in line with historical accounts of multi-ethnic tribes incorporating regional lineages, shows nevertheless patrilineal clans clearly associated with Uralic peoples, in a distribution which could have been easily inferred from ancient Trans-Uralian forest-steppe cultures and modern samples (even regarding I2a-L621).

In spite of this, there is a great deal of discussion in the paper about specific N1a subclades in Hungarian conquerors, while the presence of R1a-Z280 (among early Magyar elites!) is interpreted, as always, as recently acculturated Slavs. This is sadly coupled with the simplistic identification of I2a-L621 as of local origin around the Carpathians.

The introduction of the paper to the history of Hungarians is also weird, for example giving credibility to the mythic accounts of the Árpád dynasty’s origin in Attila, which is in line, I guess, with what the authors intended to support all along, i.e. the association of Magyars with Turks from the Eurasian steppes, which they are apparently willing to achieve by relating them to haplogroup R1a-Z93

The conclusion is thus written to appease modern nation-building myths more than anything else, like many other papers before it:

It is generally accepted that the Hungarian language was brought to the Carpathian Basin by the Conquerors. Uralic speaking populations are characterized by a high frequency of Y-Hg N, which have often been interpreted as a genetic signal of shared ancestry. Indeed, recently a distinct shared ancestry component of likely Siberian origin was identified at the genomic level in these populations, modern Hungarians being a puzzling exception36. The Conqueror elite had a significant proportion of N Hgs, 7% of them carrying N1a1a1a1a4-M2118 and 10% N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936, both of which are present in Ugric speaking Khantys and Mansis. At the same time none of the examined Conquerors belonged to the L1034 subclade of Z1936, while all of the Khanty Z1936 lineages reported in 37 proved to be L1034 which has not been tested in the 23 study. Population genetic data rather position the Conqueror elite among Turkic groups, Bashkirs and Volga Tatars, in agreement with contemporary historical accounts which denominated the Conquerors as “Turks”. This does not exclude the possibility that the Hungarian language could also have been present in the obviously very heterogeneous, probably multiethnic Conqueror tribal alliance.

So, back to square one, and new circular reasoning: If ancient populations from north-eastern Europe believed to represent ancient Finno-Ugrians are of R1a-Z645 lineages, it’s because they were not Finno-Ugric speakers. If ancient and modern populations known to be of Finno-Ugric language show clear connections with R1a-Z645, it’s because they are “multi-ethnic”.

The only stable basis for discussion in genetic papers, apparently, is the own making of geneticists, with their traditional 2000s “R1a=Indo-European” and “N1c=Uralic”, coupled with national beliefs. It does not matter how many predictions based on that have been proven wrong, or how many predictions based on the Corded Ware = Uralic expansion have been proven right.


Scytho-Siberians of Aldy-Bel and Sagly, of haplogroup R1a-Z93, Q1b-L54, and N


Recently, a paper described Eastern Scythian groups as “Uralic-Altaic” just because of the appearance of haplogroup N in two Pazyryk samples.

This simplistic identification is contested by the varied haplogroups found in early Altaic groups, by the early link of Cimmerians with the expansion of hg. N and Q, by the link of N1c-L392 in north-eastern Europe with Palaeo-Laplandic, and now (paradoxically) by the clear link between early Mongolic expansion and N1c-L392 subclades.

A new paper (behind paywall) offers insight into the prevalent presence of R1a-Z93 among eastern Scytho-Siberian groups (most likely including Samoyedic speakers in the forest-steppes), and a new hint to the westward expansion of haplogroups Q and N (probably coupled with the so-called “Siberian ancestry”) from the east with different groups of Iron Age steppe nomads:

Genetic kinship and admixture in Iron Age Scytho-Siberians, by Mary et al. Human Genetics (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

From an archeological and historical point of view, the term “Scythians” refers to Iron Age nomadic or seminomadic populations characterized by the presence of three types of artifacts in male burials: typical weapons, specific horse harnesses and items decorated in the so-called “Animal Style”. This complex of goods has been termed the “Scythian triad” and was considered to be characteristic of nomadic groups belonging to the “Scythian World” (Yablonsky 2001). This “Scythian World” includes both the Classic (or European) Scythians from the North Pontic region (7th–3th century BC) and the Southern Siberian (or Asian) populations of the Scythian period (also called Scytho-Siberians). These include, among others, the Sakas from Kazakhstan, the Tagar population from the Minusinsk Basin (Republic of Khakassia), the Aldy-Bel population from Tuva (Russian Federation) and the Pazyryk and Sagly cultures from the Altai Mountains.

Proportions of Scythian mtDNA haplogroups. Western (blue) and eastern (pink) Eurasian lineages are equally distributed in the Arzhan Scytho-Siberian sample. The U5a2a1 haplogroup shared between the two Scythian groups studied is in bold

In this work, we first aim to address the question of the familial and social organization of Scytho-Siberian groups by studying the genetic relationship of 29 individuals from the Aldy-Bel and Sagly cultures using autosomal STRs. (…) were obtained from 5 archeological sites located in the valley of the Eerbek river in Tuva Republic, Russia (Fig. 1). All the mounds of this archeological site were excavated but DNA samples were not collected from all of them. 14C dates mainly fall within the Hallstatt radiocarbon calibration plateau (ca. 800–400 cal BC) where the chronological resolution is poor. Only one date falls on an earlier segment of calibration curve: Le 9817–2650 ± 25 BP, i.e. 843–792 cal BC with a probability of 94.3% (using the OxCal v4.3.2 program). This sample (Bai-Dag 8, Kurgan 1, grave 10) is not from one of the graves studied but was used to date the kurgan as a whole.

Y-chromosome haplogroups were first assigned using the ISOGG 2018 nomenclature. In order to improve the precision of haplogroup definition, we also analyzed a set of Y-chromosome SNP (Supplementary Table 2). Nine samples belonged to the R1a-M513 haplogroup (defined by marker M513) and two of these nine samples were characterized as belonging to the R1a1a1b2-Z93 haplogroup or one of its subclades. Six samples belonged to the Q1b1a-L54 haplogroup and five of these six samples belonged to the Q1b1a3-L330 subclade. One sample belonged to the N-M231 haplogroup.


The distribution of these haplogroups in the population must be confronted with the prevalence of kinship among the samples. Although five individuals belonged to haplogroup Q1b1a3-L330, three of them (ARZ-T18, ARZ-T19 and ARZ-T20) were paternally related (Fig. 2). It must, therefore, be considered that haplogroup Q1b1a3-L330 is present in three independent instances (given that the remaining two instances exhibit no close familial relationship with other samples or one another). All five were buried on the Eki-Ottug 1 archaeological site (although in two different kurgans).

In the same way, although two groups, of two and three individuals, shared haplotypes belonging to the R1a-M513 haplogroup, these groups likely include a father/son pair (ARZ-T2 and ARZ-T12). Therefore, among nine R1a-M513 men, we found six independent haplotypes, one being present in two independent instances. All R1a-M513 haplotypes, however, including those attributed to the R1a1a1b2-Z93 subclade, only differed by one-step mutations, across 5 loci at most. All R1a-M513 individuals were buried on the same site, Eki-Ottug 2, in a single Kurgan.


Haplogroup R1a-M173 was previously reported for 6 Scytho-Siberian individuals from the Tagar culture (Keyser et al. 2009) and one Altaian Scytho-Siberian from the Sebÿstei site (Ricaut et al. 2004a), whereas haplogroup R1a1a1b2-Z93 (or R1a1a1b-S224) was described for one Scythian from Samara (Mathieson et al. 2015) and two Scytho-Siberians from Berel and the Tuva Republic (Unterländer et al. 2017). On the contrary, North Pontic Scythians were found to belong to the R1b1a1a2 haplogroup (Krzewińska et al. 2018), showing a distinction between the two groups of Scythians. (…) The absence of R1b lineages in the Scytho-Siberian individuals tested so far and their presence in the North Pontic Scythians suggest that these 2 groups had a completely different paternal lineage makeup with nearly no gene flow from male carriers between them.

The seven other male individuals studied in this work were found to carry Eastern Eurasian Y haplogroups Q1b1a and one of its subclades (n = 6) and N (n = 1). Haplogroup Q1b1a-L54 was previously described in four males from the Bronze Age in the Altai Mountains (Hollard et al. 2014, 2018) and was clearly associated with Siberian populations (Regueiro et al. 2013).

The N-M231 haplogroup emerged from haplogroup K in Southern Asia around 21,000 years BCE, maybe in Southern China (Shi et al. 2013; Ilumäe et al. 2016). Previous studies attested to its presence in samples from Neolithic and Bronze Age in China (Li et al. 2011; Cui et al. 2013). Waves of northwestern expansion of this haplogroup are described as beginning during the Paleolithic period (Derenko et al. 2006; Shi et al. 2013) but traces of this expansion in archeological samples were reported only in two Scytho-Siberian males from the Altai (Pilipenko et al. 2015).

The sample of haplogroup N comes from the Aldy-Bel culture (ARZ-T15), from the Eerbek site, but has no radiocarbon date. All Q1b-L330 samples come from the Sagly culture, and three are paternally related. The other Q1b-L54 sample is from other tombs in one kurgan at Aldy Bel.

It seems that – exactly as expected – different waves of steppe nomads brought different lineages at a time (the Iron Age) when many regions incorporated different eastern lineages without necessarily changing language. Just like the expansion of N among Ugrians and Samoyeds, and N1c among Finno-Permic peoples, and like many other lineages expanding with federation-like groups in eastern, central, and western Europe


R1a-Z280 and R1a-Z93 shared by ancient Finno-Ugric populations; N1c-Tat expanded with Micro-Altaic

Two important papers have appeared regarding the supposed link of Uralians with haplogroup N.

Avars of haplogroup N1c-Tat

Preprint Genetic insights into the social organisation of the Avar period elite in the 7th century AD Carpathian Basin, by Csáky et al. bioRxiv (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

After 568 AD the Avars settled in the Carpathian Basin and founded the Avar Qaganate that was an important power in Central Europe until the 9th century. Part of the Avar society was probably of Asian origin, however the localisation of their homeland is hampered by the scarcity of historical and archaeological data.

Here, we study mitogenome and Y chromosomal STR variability of twenty-six individuals, a number of them representing a well-characterised elite group buried at the centre of the Carpathian Basin more than a century after the Avar conquest.

The Y-STR analyses of 17 males give evidence on a surprisingly homogeneous Y chromosomal composition. Y chromosomal STR profiles of 14 males could be assigned to haplogroup N-Tat (also N1a1-M46). N-Tat haplotype I was found in four males from Kunpeszér with identical alleles on at least nine loci. The full Y-STR haplotype I, reconstructed from AC17 with 17 detected STRs, is rare in our days. Only nine matches were found among haplotypes in YHRD database, such as samples from the Ural Region, Northern Europe (Estonia, Finland), and Western Alaska (Yupiks). We performed Median Joining (MJ) network analysis using N-Tat haplotypes with ten shared STR loci (Fig. 3, Table S9). All modern N-Tat samples included in the network had derived allele of L708 as well. Haplotype I (Cluster 1 in Fig. 3) is shared by eight populations on the MJ network among the 24 identical haplotypes. Cluster 1 represents the founding lineage, as it is described in Siberian populations, because this haplotype is shared by the most populations and it is more diverse than Cluster 2.

Nine males share N-Tat haplotype II (on a minimum of eight detected alleles), all of them buried in the Danube-Tisza Interfluve. We found 30 direct matches of this N-Tat haplotype II in the YHRD database, using the complete 17 STR Y-filer profile of AC1, AC12, AC14, AC15, AC19 samples. Most hits came from Mongolia (seven Buryats and one Khalkh) and from Russia (six Yakuts), but identical haplotypes also occur in China (five in Xinjiang and four in Inner Mongolia provinces). On the MJ network, this haplotype II is represented by Cluster 2 and is composed of 45 samples (including 32 Buryats) from six populations (Fig. 3).

Median Joining network of 162 N-Tat Y-STR haplotypes Allelic information of ten Y-STR loci were used for the network. Only those Avar samples were included, which had results for these ten Y-STR loci. The founder haplotype I (Cluster 1) is shared by eight populations including three Mongolian, three Székely, three northern Mansi, two southern Mansi, two Hungarian, eight Khanty, one Finn and two Avar (AC17, AC26) chromosomes. Haplotype II (Cluster 2) includes 45 haplotypes from six populations studied: 32 Buryats, two Mongolians, one Székely, one Uzbek, one Uzbek Madjar, two northern Mansi and six Avars (AC1, AC12, AC14, AC15, AC19 and KSZ 37). Haplotype III (indicated by a red arrow) is AC8. Information on the modern reference samples is seen in Table S9.

A third N-Tat lineage (type III) was represented only once in the Avar dataset (AC8), and has no direct modern parallels from the YHRD database. This haplotype on the MJ network (see red arrow in Fig. 3) seems to be a descendent from other haplotype cluster that is shared by three populations (two Buryat from Mongolia, three Khanty and one Northern Mansi samples). This haplotype cluster also differs one molecular step (locus DYS393) from haplotype II. We classified the Avar samples to downstream subgroup N-F4205 within the N-Tat haplogroup, based on the results of ours and Ilumäe et al.18 and constructed a second network (Fig. S4). The N-F4205 network results support the assumption that the N-Tat Avar samples belong to N-F4205 subgroup (see SI chapter 1d for more details).

Based on our calculation, the age of accumulated STR variance (TMRCA) within N-Tat lineage for all samples is 7.0 kya (95% CI: 4.9 – 9.2 kya), considering the core haplotype (Cluster 1) to be the founding lineage. Y haplogroup N-Tat was not detected by large scale Eurasian ancient DNA studies but it occurs in late Bronze Age Inner Mongolia and late medieval Yakuts, among them N-Tat has still the highest frequency.

Two males (AC4 and AC7) from the Transtisza group belong to two different haplotypes of Y-haplogroup Q1. Both Q1a-F1096 and Q1b-M346 haplotypes have neither direct nor one step neighbour matches in the worldwide YHRD database. A network of the Q1b-M346 haplotype shows that this male had a probable Altaian or South Siberian paternal genetic origin.

EDIT (5 APR 2019): The paper offers an interesting late sample before the arrival of Hungarian conquerors, although we don’t know which precise lineage the sample belongs to:

One sample in our dataset (HC9) comes from this population, and both his mtDNA (T1a1b) and Y chromosome (R1a) support Eastern European connections. (…) Furthermore, we excluded sample HC9 from population-genetic statistical analyses because it belongs to a later period (end of 7th – early 9th centuries)

Apparently, then, results are consistent with what was already known from studies of modern populations:

According to Ilumäe et al. study, the frequency peak of N-F4205 (N3a5-F4205) chromosomes is close to the Transbaikal region of Southern Siberia and Mongolia, and we conclude that most Avar N-Tat chromosomes probably originated from a common source population of people living in this area, completely in line with the results of Ilumäe et al.

Geographic-Distribution Map of hg N3 from Ilumäe et al.

Finno-Ugrians share haplogroup R1a-Z280

Another paper, behind paywall, Genetic history of Bashkirian Mari and Southern Mansi ethnic groups in the Ural region, by Dudás et al. Molecular Genetics and Genomics (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Y‑chromosome diversity

The most frequent haplogroups of the Bashkirian Maris were N1b-P43 (42%), R1a-Z280 (16%), R1a-Z93 (16%), N1c-Tat (13%), and J2-M172 (7%). Furthermore, subgroup R1b-M343 accounted for 4% and I2a-P37 covered 2% of the lineages. None of the Mari N1c Y chromosomes belonged to the N1c subgroups investigated (L1034, VL29, Z1936).

In the case of the Southern Mansi males, the most frequent haplogroups were N1b-P43 (33%), N1c-L1034 (28%) and R1a-Z280 (19%). The frequencies of the remaining haplogroups were as follows: R1a-M458 (6%), I1-L22 (3%), I2a-P37 (3%), and R1b-P312 (3%). The haplotype and haplogroup diversities of the Bashkirian Mari group were 0.9929 and 0.7657, whereas these values for the Southern Mansi were 0.9984 and 0.7873, respectively. The results show that, in both populations, haplotypes are much more diverse than haplogroups.

Haplogroup frequencies of the Bashkirian Mari and the Southern Mansi ethnic groups in Ural region

Genetic structure

(..) the studied Bashkirian Mari and Southern Mansi population groups formed a compact cluster along with two Khanty, Northern Mansi, Mari, and Estonian populations based on close Fst-genetic distances (< 0.05), with nonsignificant p values (p > 0.05) except for the Estonian population. All of these populations belong to the Finno-Ugric language family. Interestingly, the other Mansi population studied by Pimenoff et al. (2008) (pop # 38) was located a great distance from the Southern Mansi group (0.268). In addition, the Bashkir population (pop # 6) did not show a close genetic affinity to the Bashkirian Mari group (0.194), even though it is the host population. However, the Russian population from the Eastern European region of Russia (pop # 49) showed a genetic distance of 0.055 with the Southern Mansi group. All Hungarian speaking populations (pops 13, 22, 23, 24, 50, and 51) showed close genetic affinities to each other and to the neighbouring populations, but not to the two studied populations.

Multidimensional scaling (MDS) plot constructed on Fstgenetic distances of Y haplogroup frequencies of 63 populations compared. The haplogroup frequency data used for population comparison together with references are seen in Online Resource 2 (ESM_2). Pairwise Fst-genetic distances and p values between 63 populations were calculated as shown in Online Resource 3 (ESM_3) Fig. 4 Multidimensional scaling (MDS) plot constructed on Rstgenetic distances of 10 STR-based Y haplotype frequencies of 21 populations compared. Image modified to include labels of modern populations.

Phylogenetic analysis

Median-joining networks were constructed for:

N-P43 (earlier N1b):

(…) TMRCA estimates for this haplogroup were made for all P43 samples (n = 157) 8.7 kya (95% CI 6.7–10.8 kya), for the N-P43 Asian.


(…) 75% of Buryats belonged to Haplotype 2, indicating that the Buryats studied by us is a young and isolated population (Bíró et al. 2015). Bashkirian Mari samples derive from Haplotype 2 via Haplotype 3 (see dark purple circles on the top of Fig. 6a). Haplotype 3 contained six males (2 Buryat, 1 Northern Mansi, and 3 Khanty samples from Pimenoff et al. 2008). The biggest Bashkirian Mari haplotype node (3 Mari samples) was positioned three mutational steps away from Haplotype 1 and the remaining Mari samples can be derived from this haplotype. Southern Mansi haplotypes were scattered within the network except for two, which formed a smaller haplotype node with two Northern Mansi and two Khanty samples from Pimenoff et al. (2008).

Median-Joining Networks (MJ) of 153 N-Tat (a) and 26 N-L1034 (b) haplotypes constructed. The circle sizes are proportional to the haplotype frequencies. The smallest area is equivalent to one individual. For N-Tat network, we used data from Southern Mansi (n = 11), Bashkirian Mari (n = 6) samples with Hungarian (n = 12), Hungarian speaking Székely (n = 6), Northern Mansi (n = 14), Mongolian (n = 16), Buryat (n = 44), Finnish (n = 13), Uzbek Madjar (n = 2), Uzbek (n = 3), Khanty (n = 4) populations studied earlier by us (Fehér et al. 2015; Bíró et al. 2015) and Khanty (n = 18) and Mansi (n = 4) studied by Pimenoff et al. (2008)

R1a-Z280 haplotypes, shared by Maris, Mansis, and Hungarians, hence ancient Finno-Ugrians:

The founder R1a-Z280 haplotype was shared by four samples from four populations (1 Bashkirian Mari; 1 Southern Mansi; 1 Hungarian speaking Székely; and 1 Hungarian), as presented in Fig. 7 (Haplotype 1). Haplotype 2 included five males (3 Bashkirian Mari and 2 Hungarian), as it can be seen in Fig. 7. Haplotype 4 included two shared haplotypes (1 Bashkirian Mari and one Hungarian speaking Csángó). The remaining two Bashkirian Mari haplotypes differ from the founder haplotype (Haplotype 1) by two mutational steps via Hungarian or Hungarian and Bashkirian Mari shared haplotypes. Beside Haplotype 1, the remaining Southern Mansi haplotypes were shared with Hungarians (Haplotype 5 or turquoise blue and red-coloured circles above Haplotype 7) or with Hungarians and Hungarian speaking Székely group (Haplotypes 3, 5, and 6). Haplotype 7 included ten Hungarian speakers (Hungarian, Székely, and Csángó). One Hungarian and one Uzbek Khwarezm shared haplotype can be found in Fig. 7 as well (red and white-coloured circle). All the other haplotypes were scattered in the network. The age of accumulated STR variation within R1a-Z280 lineage for 93 samples is estimated to be 9.4 kya (95% CI 6.5–12.4 kya) considering Haplotype 1 (Fig. 7) to be the founder.

Median-Joining Networks (MJ) of 93 R1a-Z280 haplotypes constructed. The circle sizes are proportional to the haplotype frequencies. The smallest area is equivalent to one individual. We used haplotype data from Bashkirian Mari (n = 7), Southern Mansi (n = 7), Hungarian (n = 52), Hungarian speaking Székely (n = 11), Hungarian speaking Csángó (n = 10), Uzbek Ferghana (n = 2), Uzbek Tashkent (n = 1), Uzbek Khwarezm (n = 1) and Northern Mansi (n = 2) populations

R1a-Z93 as isolated lineages among Permic and Ugric populations:

Figure 8 depicts an MJ network of R1a-Z93* samples using 106 haplotypes from the 14 populations (Fig. 8). All of the Bashkirian Mari samples (7 haplotypes) formed a very isolated branch and differed from the one Hungarian haplotype (Fig. 8, see Haplotype 1) by seven mutational steps as well from two Uzbek Tashkent samples (see Haplotype 3). Another Hungarian sample shared two haplotypes of Uzbek Khwarezm samples in Haplotype 4. This haplotype can be derived from Haplotype 3 (Uzbek Tashkent). Haplotype 2 included one Hungarian and one Khakassian male. The remaining three Hungarian haplotypes are outliers in the network and are not shared by any sample. The other population samples included in the network either form independent clusters such as Altaians, Khakassians, Khanties, and Uzbek Madjars or were scattered in the network. The age of accumulated STR variation (TMRCA) within R1a-Z93* lineage for 106 samples is estimated as 11.6 kya (95% CI 9.3–14.0 kya) considering an Armenian haplotype (Fig. 8, “A”) to be the founder and the median haplotype.

Median-Joining Networks (MJ) of 106 R1a-Z93 haplotypes constructed. The circle sizes are proportional to the haplotype frequencies. The smallest area is equivalent to one individual. We used the next haplotype data: 7 Bashkirian Mari, 6 Khanty, 4 Uzbek Madjar, 5 Uzbek Ferghana, 9 Uzbek Tashkent, 7 Uzbek Khwarezm, 2 Mongolian, 2 Buryat, 6 Hungarian samples tested by us for this study or published earlier (Bíró et al. 2015) and populations (3 Armenian; 3 Afghan Tajik;
16 Altaian; 24 Khakassian; 12 Kyrgyz) from Underhill et al. (2015)


The results of modern populations for N (especially N1c) subclades show really wide clusters and ancient TMRCA, consistent with their known ancient and wide distribution in northern and eastern Eurasian groups, and thus with infiltration of different lineages with eastern nomads (and northern Arctic populations) coupled with later bottlenecks, as well as acculturation of groups.

EDIT (2 APR): Interesting is the specific subclade to which ancient Mongolic-speaking Avars belong (information from Yfull) N1c-F4205 (TMRCA ca. 500 BC), subclade of N1c-Y6058 (formed ca. 2800 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC). This branch also gives the “European” branch N1c-CTS10760 (formed ca. 2800 BC, TMRCA ca. 2100 BC), and is subclade of a branch of N1c-L392 (formed ca. 4400 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC). A northern expansion of N1c-L392 is probably represented by its branch N1c-Z1936 (formed ca. 2800, TMRCA ca. 2100 BC), the most likely candidate to appear in the Kola Peninsula in the Bronze Age as the Palaeo-Laplandic population (see here). Read more about potential routes of expansion of haplogroup N.

On the other hand, R1a-Z280 lineages form a tight cluster connecting Permic with Ugric groups, with R1a-Z93 showing early isolation (probably) between Cis-Urals and Trans-Urals regions. While both Corded Ware lineages in Finno-Ugrians are most likely related to the Abashevo expansion through Seima-Turbino and the Andronovo-like Horizon (and potentially later Eurasian expansions), a plausible hypothesis would be that Finno-Ugrians are related to an expansion of R1a-Z283 haplogroups (we already knew about the Finno-Permic connection), while the ancient connection between Permians and Hungarians with R1a-Z93 would correspond to this haplogroup’s potentially tighter link with an early Samoyedic split.

I don’t think that an explosive expansion of eastern Corded Ware groups of R1a-Z645 lineages will show a clear-cut division of haplogroups among Eastern Uralic groups, though, and culturally I doubt we will have such a clear image, either (similar to how the explosive expansion of Bell Beakers cannot be easily divided by regional/language group into R1b-L151 subclades before the known bottlenecks). Relevant in this regard are the known Z93 samples from the Árpád dynasty.

Nevertheless, this data may represent a slightly more recent wave of R1a-Z280 lineages linked to the expansion of Ugric into the Trans-Uralian region, after their split from Finno-Permic, still in close contact with Indo-Iranians in Poltavka and Sintashta-Potapovka, evident from the early and late Indo-Iranian borrowings, during a common period when Samoyedic had already separated.

Such a “Z283 over Z93” layer in the Trans-Urals (and Cis-Urals?) forest-steppes would be similar to the apparent replacement of Z284 by Z282 in the Eastern Baltic during the Bronze Age (possibly with the second or Estonian Battle Axe wave or, much more likely during later population movements). Such an early R1a-Z93 split could potentially be supported also by the separation into bottlenecks under “Northern” (R1a-Z283) Finno-Ugric-speaking Abashevo-related groups and “Southern” (R1a-Z93) acculturated Indo-Iranian-speaking Abashevo migrants developing Sintashta-Potapovka admixing with Poltavka R1b-Z2103 herders.

Modified image, from Underhill et al. (2015). Spatial frequency distributions of Z282 (green) and Z93 (blue) affiliated haplogroups.. Notice the potential Finno-Ugric-associated distribution of Z282 (especially R1a-M558, a Z280 subclade), the expansion of R1a-Z2123 subclades with Central Asian forest-steppe groups.


Let’s review some of the most common myths about Hungarians (and Finno-Ugrians in general) repeated ad nauseam, side by side with my assertions:

❌ N (especially N1c-Tat) in ancient and modern samples represent the True Uralic™ N1c peoples including Magyar tribes? Nope.

✅ Ancient N (especially N1c-Tat) lineages among Uralic populations expanded relatively recently, and differently in different regions (including eastern steppe nomads and northern arctic populations) not associated with a particular language or language group? Yep (read the series on Corded Ware = Uralic expansion).

❌ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z280 lineages represent the majority of the native population, poor Slavic ‘peasants’ from the Carpathian Basin, forcibly acculturated by a minority of bad bad Hungarian hordes? Nope.

✅ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z280 subclades represent Ugric lineages in common with ancient R1a-Z645 Finno-Ugric populations from north-eastern Europe and the Trans-Urals? Yep (see Avars and Ugrians).

❌ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z93 lineages represent acculturated Iranian/Turkic peoples from the steppes? Not likely.

✅ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z93 lineages represent a remnant of the expansion of Corded Ware to the east, potentially more clearly associated with Samoyedic? Much more likely.

Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

Sooo, the theory of a “diluted” Y-DNA in Modern Hungarians from originally fully N-dominated conquerors subjugating native R1a-Z280 Slavs from the Carpathian Basin is not backed up by genetic studies? The ethnic Iranian-Turkic R1a-Z93 federation in the steppes that ended up speaking Magyar is not real?? Who would’ve thunk.

Another true story whose rejection in genetics could not be predicted, like, not at all.

Totally unexpected, too, the drift of “R1a=IE” fans with the newest genetic findings towards a Molgen-like “Yamna/R1b = Vasconic-Caucasian”, “N1c = Uralic-Altaic”, and “R1a = the origin of the white world in Mother Russia”. So much for the supposed interest in “Steppe ancestry” and fancy statistics.


How the genocidal Yamnaya men loved to switch cultures


After some really interesting fantasy full of arrows, it seems Kristiansen & friends are coming back to their most original idea from 2015, now in New Scientist’s recent clickbait Story of most murderous people of all time revealed in ancient DNA (2019):

Teams led by David Reich at Harvard Medical School and Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark announced, independently, that occupants of Corded Ware graves in Germany could trace about three-quarters of their genetic ancestry to the Yamnaya. It seemed that Corded Ware people weren’t simply copying the Yamnaya; to a large degree they actually were Yamnayan in origin.

If you think you have seen that movie, it’s because you have. They are at it again, Corded Ware from Yamna, and more “steppe ancestry” = “more Indo-European. It seems we haven’t learnt anything about “Steppe ancestry” since 2015. But there’s more:

Genocidal peoples who “switch cultures”

Burial practices shifted dramatically, a warrior class appeared, and there seems to have been a sharp upsurge in lethal violence. “I’ve become increasingly convinced there must have been a kind of genocide,” says Kristian Kristiansen at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The collaboration revealed that the origin and initial spread of Bell Beaker culture had little to do – at least genetically – with the expansion of the Yamnaya or Corded Ware people into central Europe. “It started in It is in that region that the earliest Bell Beaker objects – including arrowheads, copper daggers and distinctive Bell-shaped pots – have been found, in archaeological sites carbon-dated to 4700 years ago. Then, Bell Beaker culture began to spread east, although the people more or less stayed put. By about 4600 years ago, it reached the most westerly Corded Ware people around where the Netherlands now lies. For reasons still unclear, the Corded Ware people fully embraced it. “They simply take on part of the Bell Beaker package and become Beaker people,” says Kristiansen.

The fact that the genetic analysis showed the Britons then all-but disappeared within a couple of generations might be significant. It suggests the capacity for violence that emerged when the Yamnaya lived on the Eurasia steppe remained even as these people moved into Europe, switched identity from Yamnaya to Corded Ware, and then switched again from Corded Ware to Bell Beaker.

Notice what Kristiansen did there? Yamnaya men “switched identities” into Corded Ware, then “switched identities” into Bell Beakers…So, the most aggresive peoples who have ever existed, exterminating all other Europeans, were actually not so violent when embracing wholly different cultures whose main connection is that they built kurgans (yes, Gimbutas lives on).

NOTE. By the way, just so we are clear, only Indo-Europeans are “genocidal”. Not like Neolithic farmers, or Palaeolithic or Mesolithic populations, or more recent Bronze Age or Iron Age peoples, who also replaced Y-DNA from many regions…


In fact, there is much stronger evidence that these Yamnaya Beakers were ruthless. By about 4500 years ago, they had pushed westwards into the Iberian Peninsula, where the Bell Beaker culture originated a few centuries earlier. Within a few generations, about 40 per cent of the DNA of people in the region could be traced back to the incoming Yamnaya Beakers, according to research by a large team including Reich that was published this month. More strikingly, the ancient DNA analysis reveals that essentially all the men have Y chromosomes characteristic of the Yamnaya, suggesting only Yamnaya men had children.

“The collision of these two populations was not a friendly one, not an equal one, but one where the males from outside were displacing local males and did so almost completely,” Reich told New Scientist Live in September. This supports Kristiansen’s view of the Yamnaya and their descendants as an almost unimaginably violent people. Indeed, he is about to publish a paper in which he argues that they were responsible for the genocide of Neolithic Europe’s men. “It’s the only way to explain that no male Neolithic lines survived,” he says.

So these unimaginably violent Yamnaya men had children exclusively with their Y chromosomes…but not Dutch Single Grave peoples. These great great steppe-like northerners switched culture, cephalic index…and Y-chromosome from R1a (and others) to R1b-L151 to expand Italo-Celtic From The West™.

It’s hilarious how (exactly like their latest funny episode of PIE from south of the Caucasus) this new visionary idea copied by Copenhagen from amateur friends (or was it the other way around?) had been already rejected before this article came out, in Olalde et al. (2019), and that “Corded Ware=Indo-European” fans have become a parody of themselves.

What’s not to love about 2019 with all this back-and-forth hopping between old and new pet theories?

NOTE. I would complain (again) that the obsessive idea of the Danes is that Denmark CWC is (surprise!) the Pre-Germanic community, so it has nothing to do with “steppe ancestry = Indo-European” (or even with “Corded Ware = Indo-European”, for that matter), but then again you have Koch still arguing for Celtic from the West, Kortlandt still arguing for Balto-Slavic from the east, and – no doubt worst of all – “R1a=IE / R1b=Vasconic / N1c=Uralic” ethnonationalists arguing for whatever is necessary right now, in spite of genetic research.

So prepare for the next episode in the nativist and haplogroup fetishist comedy, now with western and eastern Europeans hand in hand: Samara -> Khvalynsk -> Yamnaya -> Bell Beaker spoke Vasconic-Tyrsenian, because R1b. Wait for it…

Vanguard Yamnaya groups

On a serious note, interesting comment by Heyd in the article:

A striking example of this distinction is a discovery made near the town of Valencina de la Concepción in southern Spain. Archaeologists working there found a Yamnaya-like kurgan, below which was the body of a man buried with a dagger and Yamnaya-like sandals, and decorated with red pigment just as Yamnaya dead were. But the burial is 4875 years old and genetic information suggests Yamnaya-related people didn’t reach that far west until perhaps 4500 years ago. “Genetically, I’m pretty sure this burial has nothing to do with the Yamnaya or the Corded Ware,” says Heyd. “But culturally – identity-wise – there is an aspect that can be clearly linked with them.” It would appear that the ideology, lifestyle and death rituals of the Yamnaya could sometimes run far ahead of the migrants.

NOTE. I have been trying to find which kurgan is this, reviewing this text on the archaeological site, but didn’t find anything beyond occasional ochre and votive sandals, which are usual. Does some reader know which one is it?

Yamna expansion and succeeding East Bell Beaker expansion, without color on Bell Beaker territories. Notice vanguard Yamna groups in blue where East Bell Beakers later emerge. See original image with Bell Beaker territories.

Notice how, if you add all those vanguard Yamna findings of Central and Western Europe, including this one from southern Spain, you begin to get a good idea of the territories occupied by East Bell Beakers expanding later. More or less like vanguard Abashevo and Sintashta finds in the Zeravshan valley heralded the steppe-related Srubna-Andronovo expansions in Turan…

It doesn’t seem like Proto-Beaker and Yamna just “crossed paths” at some precise time around the Lower Danube, and Yamna men “switched cultures”. It seems that many Yamna vanguard groups, probably still in long-distance contact with Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin, were already settled in different European regions in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, before the explosive expansion of East Bell Beakers ca. 2500 BC. As Heyd says, there are potentially many Yamna settlements along the Middle and Lower Danube and tributaries not yet found, connecting the Carpathian Basin to Western and Northern Europe.

These vanguard groups would have more easily transformed their weakened eastern Yamna connections with the fashionable Proto-Beaker package expanding from the west (and surrounding all of these loosely connected settlements), just like the Yamna materials from Seville probably represent a close cultural contact of Chalcolithic Iberia with a Yamna settlement (the closest known site with Yamna traits is near Alsace, where high Yamna ancestry is probably going to be found in a Bell Beaker R1b-L151 individual).

This does not mean that there wasn’t a secondary full-scale migration from the Carpathian Basin and nearby settlements, just like Corded Ware shows a secondary (A-horizon?) migration to the east with R1a-Z645. It just means that there was a complex picture of contacts between Yamna and European Chalcolithic groups before the expansion of Bell Beakers. Doesn’t seem genocidal enough for a popular movie, tho.