More Hungarian Conquerors of hg. N1c-Z1936, and the expansion of ‘Altaic-Uralic’ N1c

Open access Y-chromosomal connection between Hungarians and geographically distant populations of the Ural Mountain region and West Siberia, by Post et al. Scientific Reports (2019) 9:7786.

Hungarian Conquerors

More interesting than the study of modern populations of the paper is the following excerpt from the introduction, referring to a paper that is likely in preparation, Európai És Ázsiai Apai Genetikai Vonalak A Honfoglaló Magyar Törzsekben, by Fóthi, E., Fehér, T., Fóthi, Á. & Keyser, C., Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (2019):

Certain chr-Y lineages from haplogroup (hg) N have been proposed to be associated with the spread of Uralic languages. So far, hg N3 has not been reported for Indo-European speaking populations in Central Europe, but it is present among Hungarians, although the proportion of hg N in the paternal gene pool of present-day Hungarians is only marginal (up to 4%) compared to other Uralic speaking populations. It has been shown earlier that one of the sub-clades of hg N – N3a4-Z1936 – could be a potential link between two Ugric speaking populations: the Hungarians and the Mansi. It is also notable that some ancient Hungarian samples from the 9th and 10th century Carpathian Basin belonged to this hg N sub-clade: Three Z1936 samples were found in the Upper-Tisza area (Karos II, Bodrogszerdahely/Streda nad Bodrogom) and two in the Middle-Tisza basin cemeteries (Nagykörű and Tiszakécske). The haplotype of the Nagykörű sample is identical with one contemporary Hungarian sample from Transylvania that tested positive for B545 marker downstream of N3a4-Z193632. Similar findings come from the maternal gene pool of historical Hungarians: the analyses of early medieval aDNA samples from Karos-Eperjesszög cemeteries revealed the presence of mtDNA hgs of East Asian provenance.

A commenter recently wrote that in a study by Fehér (probably this one) two Hungarian conquerors, from Ormenykut and Tuzser, will be of hg. N1c-2110. Assuming no other lineages will appear, this would leave the proportion of N1c-L392 vs. R1a-Z280/Z93 closer to the reported proportion of hg. N vs. R1a (5 vs. 2) among Sargat samples, and is thus compatible with a direct migration of Hungarians from around the Urals.

However, the sampling of Iron Age populations around the Urals is scarce, and we don’t know what other lineages these studied Magyars will have, but – based on the known variability of the published ones, and on the ca. 50-60 early Magyar males available to date in previous studies to obtain Y-chromosome haplogroups – I would say these reported N1c lineages are just a tiny proportion of what’s to come…

“Altaic-Uralic” N1c

Phylogenetic tree of hg N3a4. Phylogenetic tree of 33 high coverage Y-chromosomes from
haplogroup N3a4 was reconstructed with BEAST v.1.7.5 software package.

Archaeogenetic studies based on mtDNA haplotypes have shown that ancient Hungarians were relatively close to contemporary Bashkirs who are a Turkic speaking population residing in the Volga-Ural region. Another study reported excessive identical-by-descent (IBD) genomic segments shared between the Ob-Ugric speaking Khantys and Bashkirs but a moderate IBD sharing between Turkic speaking Tatars and their neighbours including Bashkirs.

Phylogenetic tree of hg N3a4 has two main sub-clades defined by markers B535 and B539 that diverged around 4.9 kya (95% confidence interval [CI] = 3.7–6.3 kya). Inner sub-clades of N3a4-B539 (defined by markers B540 and B545) split 4.2 kya (95% CI = 3.0–5.6 kya). (…) The phylogenetic tree reveals that all five Hungarian samples belong to N3a4-B539 sub-clade that they share with Ob-Ugric speaking Khanty and Mansi, and Turkic speaking Bashkirs and Tatars from the Volga-Ural region. Hungarian and Bashkir chrY lineages belong to both sub-clades of N3a4-B539.

Modern distribution of the “Ugric N1c”

To test the presence and proportions of hg N3a4 lineages in a more comprehensive sample set and with a higher phylogenetic resolution level compared to earlier studies, we analysed the genotyping data of about 5000 Eurasian individuals, including West Siberian Mansi and Khanty who are linguistically closest to Hungarians

Map of the entire hg N3a4.

There is a clear difference in geographic distribution patterns of these two hg N3a4 sub-clades. Hg N3a4-B535 (Fig. 3b) is common mostly among Finnic (Finns, Karelians, Vepsas, Estonians) and Saami speaking populations in North eastern Europe. The highest frequency is detected in Finns (~44%) but it also reaches up to 32% in Vepsas and around 20% in Karelians, Saamis and North Russians. The latter are known to have changed their language or to be an admixed population with reported similar genetic composition to their Finnic speaking neighbors. The frequency of N3a4-B535 rapidly decreases towards south to around 5% in Estonians, being almost absent in Latvians (1%) and not found among Lithuanians. Towards east its frequency is from 1–9% among Eastern European Russians and populations of the Volga-Ural region such as Komis, Mordvins and Chuvashes (…)

Map of N3a4 subclades defined by B535.

Hg N3a4-B539, on the other hand, is prevalent among Turkic speaking Bashkirs and also found in Tatars but is entirely missing from other populations of the Volga-Ural region such as Uralic speaking Udmurts, Maris, Komis and Mordvins, and in Northeast Europe, where instead N3a4-B535 lineages are frequent. Besides Bashkirs and Tatars in Volga-Ural region, N3a4-B539 is substantially represented in West Siberia among Ugric speaking Mansis and Khantys. Among Hungarians, however, N3a4-B539 has a subtle frequency of 1–4%.

Map of N3a4 subclades defined by B539, with a local snapshot showing the N3a4-B539 distribution among Hungarian speakers.

The battle to appropriate N1c-L392

So, basically, the team of Kristiina Tambets is arguing that N1c-VL29 expanded Finnic to the East Baltic (hence from a common Finno-Mordvinic dialect splitting ca. 600 BC on?) because, you know, apparently the agreed separation of known Uralic dialects from ca. 2000 BC, and their Bronze Age presence around the Baltic, is not valid when you follow haplogroups instead of languages or archaeology.

But now this other group of Tambets (co-author of this paper) considers that hg. N1c-Z1936 – which is probably behind the N1c-L392 samples from Lovozero Ware in the Kola Peninsula – represent either the True Uralic-speaking Palaeo-Arctic peoples, or else merely Ugric-speaking peoples which happened to expand to Fennoscandia but left no trace of their language…

To accept this identification you only have to NOT ask why:

  • N1c is first found in ancient cultures close to Lake Baikal.
  • N1c-L392 appears in ancient East Asian populations speaking completely different languages, with Altaic and Uralic being just some among many Palaeo-Siberian populations where the haplogroup will pop up.
  • Turkic populations like Bashkirs and Tatars (who expanded to the Volga through the southern Urals before the expansion of Hungarians) show a shared distribution of the B539 haplotype with Hungarians.
  • The phylogenetic tree and areas of N1c-L392 expansions don’t make any sense in light of the known linguistic and cultural expansions of Uralic-speaking peoples.

In fact, the Hungarian research group of Neparáczki – publishing the recent paper on Hungarian Conquerors – was apparently looking for a connection with Turkic peoples to support some traditional Turanian myths, and they found it in some scattered R1a-Z93 samples which supposedly connect Hungarian Conquerors to Huns (?), instead of looking for this closer link through N1c-Z1936 (especially haplotype B539)…

Also, is it me or are there two opposed trends with completely different interpretations among researchers publishing papers about hg. N1c: one systematically arguing for Altaic origins, and another for Uralic ones?

If somebody sees some complex reasoning behind the discussions of all these recent papers, beyond the simplest “let’s follow N for Uralic/Altaic”, feel free to comment below. Just so I can understand what I might be doing wrong in assessing Neolithic and Bronze Age migrations in linguistics and archaeology with help of ancient haplogroups coupled with ancestral components, but these researchers are doing right by playing with obsessive ideas born out of the 2000s coupled with phylogenetic trees and maps of modern haplogroup distributions…

This is probably going to be this blog’s most used image in 2019:



Iron Age bottleneck of the Proto-Fennic population in Estonia


Demographic data and figures derived from Estonian Iron Age graves, by Raili Allmäe, Papers on Anthropology (2018) 27(2).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


Inhumation and cremation burials were both common in Iron Age Estonia; however, the pattern which burials were prevalent has regional as well temporal peculiarities. In Estonia, cremation burials appear in the Late Bronze Age (1100–500 BC), for example, in stone-cist graves and ship graves, although inhumation is still characteristic of the period [28, 18]. Cremation burials have occasionally been found beneath the Late Bronze Age cists and the Early Iron Age (500 BC–450 AD) tarand graves [30, 28]. In south-eastern Estonia, including Setumaa, the tradition to bury cremated human remains in pit graves also appeared in the Bronze Age and lasted during the Pre-Roman period (500 BC–50 AD) and the Roman Iron Age (50–450 AD), and even up to the medieval times [30, 23, 33, 9]. During the Early Iron Age, cremations appear in cairn graves and have occasionally been found in many Pre-Roman early tarand graves where they appear with inhumations [27, 28, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24]. In Roman Iron Age tarand graves, cremation as well inhumation were practiced [28, 36, 37]; however, cremation was the prevailing burial practice during the Roman Iron Age, for example, in tarand graves in south-eastern Estonia [30, 28]. Roman Iron Age (50 AD–450 AD) burial sites have not been found in continental west Estonia [28, 38]). At the beginning of the Middle Iron Age (450–800 AD), burial sites, for example stone graves without a formal structure, like Maidla I, Lihula and Ehmja ‘Varetemägi’, appear in Läänemaa, west Estonia; in these graves cremations as well inhumations have been found [39, 48]. Like underground cremation burial, the stone grave without a formal structure was the most common grave type during the Late Iron Age (800– 1200 AD) in west Estonia [39, 35, 48]. In south-eastern and eastern Estonia, sand barrows with cremation burials appeared at the beginning of the Middle Iron Age. Cremation barrows are attributed to the Culture of Long Barrows and are most numerous in the villages Laossina and Rõsna in northern Setomaa, on the western shore of Lake Peipsi [8, 48]. Apparently during the Iron Age, the practiced burial customs varied in Estonia.

Typical prehistoric Estonian graves. Top: Cist-graves common during the Bronze Age, by Terker (GNU FDL 1.2). Bottom: Tarand graves of the Iron Age, by Marika Mägi (2017)


Three Iron Age cremation graves from south-eastern Estonia and four graves including cremations as well inhumations from western Estonia were analysed by osteological and palaeodemographic methods in order to estimate the age and sex composition of burial sites, and to propose some possible demographic figures and models for living communities.

The crude birth/death rate estimated on the basis of juvenility indices varied between 55.1‰ and 60.0‰ (58.5‰ on average) at Rõsna village in south-eastern Estonia in the Middle Iron Age. The birth/death rates based on juvenility indices for south eastern graves varied to a greater degree. The estimated crude birth/death rate was somewhat lower (38.9‰) at Maidla in the Late Iron Age and extremely high (92.1‰) at Maidla in the Middle Iron Age, which indicates an unsustainable community. High crude birth/death rates are also characteristic of Poanse tarand graves from the Pre-Roman Iron Age – 92.3‰ for the 1st grave and 69.6‰for the 2nd grave. Expectedly, newborn life expectancies are extremely low in both communities – 10.8 years at Poanse I and 14.4 years at Poanse II. Most likely, both Maidla I and Poanse I were unsustainable communities.

Locations of the investigated Estonian Iron Age graves. Map by R. Allmäe

According to the main model where the given period of grave usage is 150 years, the burial grounds were most likely exploited by communities of 3–14 people. In most cases, this corresponds to one family or household. In comparison with other graves, Maidla II stone grave in western Estonia and Rõsna-Saare I barrow cemetery in south-eastern Estonia could have been used by a somewhat larger community, which may mean an extended family, a larger household or usage by two nuclear families.

More papers on the same subject by the author – who participated in the recent Mittnik et al. (2018) paper – include Observations On Estonian Iron Age Cremations (2013), and The demography of Iron Age graves in Estonia (2014).

Fast life history in Iron Age Estonia

While the demographic situation in the Gulf of Finland during the Iron Age is not well known – and demography is always difficult to estimate based on burials, especially when cremation is prevalent – , there is a clear genetic bottleneck in Finns, which has been estimated precisely to this period, coincident with the expansion of Proto-Fennic.

PCA of Estonian samples from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval times. Tambets et al. (2018, upcoming).

The infiltration of N1c lineages in Estonia – the homeland of Proto-Fennic – happened during the Iron Age – as of yet found in 3 out of 5 sampled Tarand graves – , while the previous period was dominated by 100% R1a and Corded Ware + Baltic HG ancestry. With the Iron Age, a slight shift towards Corded Ware ancestry can be seen, which probably signals the arrival of warrior-traders from the Alanino culture, close to the steppe. They became integrated through alliances and intermarriages in a culture of chiefdoms dominated by hill forts. Their origin in the Mid-Volga area is witnessed by their material culture, such as Tarand-like graves (read here a full account of events).

This new political structure, reminiscent of the chiefdom system in Sintashta (with a similar fast life history causing a bottleneck of R1a-Z645 lineages), coupled with the expansion of Fennic (and displaced Saamic) peoples to the north, probably caused the spread of N1c-L392 among Finnic peoples. The linguistic influence of these early Iron Age trading movements from the Middle Volga region can be seen in similarities between Fennic and Mordvinic, which proves that the Fenno-Saamic community was by then not only separated linguistically, but also physically (unlike the period of long-term Palaeo-Germanic influence, where loanwords could diffuse from one to the other).

NOTE. Either this, or the alternative version: an increase in Corded Ware ancestry in Estonia during the Iron Age marks the arrival of the first Fennic speakers ca. 800 BC or later, splitting from Mordvinic? A ‘Mordvin-Fennic’ group in the Volga, of mainly Corded Ware ancestry…?? Which comes in turn from a ‘Volga-Saamic’ population of Siberian ancestry in the Artic region??? And, of course, Palaeo-Germanic widely distributed in North-Eastern Europe with R1a during the Bronze Age! Whichever model you find more logical.