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December 28, 2002


In the early part of the 20th century many Finns were dismayed when anthropologists labeled them
"Mongoloids" because of the peculiarity of their language. Finnish is not Indo-European, but Finno-Ugric
(a branch of the Ural-Altaic family of languages [1]). Similarly the Hungarians were also thought to be
Mongoloids, despite their European physical appearance (Zsa Zsa Gabor's inhuman countenance not
withstanding). Most of the other Finno-Ugric languages aside from Estonian are to be found in Siberia
among Mongoloid peoples.

How to explain this conundrum? The most obvious solution was to posit that the Finno-Ugric peoples
entered Europe from the east and mixed with the Scandinavian population already extent in the region,
because there is one record historically of such an occurrence, the Magyars in the 7th and 8th centuries,
later to become the "Hungarians." The intrusion into Europe by nomadic peoples, often of Ural-Altaic
origin, was common right up until the Mongols [2]. While the southern Finno-Ugric peoples took up
nomadism, it was assumed that the northern branch, later to become the Finnish peoples, continued the
ancient sub-Arctic hunting and fishing tradition that dominated the northern fringe of Eurasia in the
boreal forest zone. These people were assumed to have entered Scandinavia and the Baltic through the
northern forests of what would become Russia, beyond the limit of conventional agriculture.

So this href="http://www26.brinkster.com/archived/viewnews.asp?newsID=685863673687">article,
translated and posted on the Human Races Archive
(run by a brown guy from what I know) is very interesting because it pops that neat little narrative that
passes as "conventional wisdom" about the Finno-Ugrics.

The gist: A Y-chromosome polymorph, Tat C, is found among the Finno-Ugric and Baltic (Latvians and
Lithuanians) peoples of Europe as well as the affiliated peoples in Siberia, and even among the Inuit that
eventually reached Greenland! But the story becomes even more peculiar on closer observation, for the
Tat C lineages of Europe are more diverse than those of the eastern peoples. The implication is
obvious, it is the Tat C lineages of Europe that have a greater time depth, allowing them to change and
diversify [3].

But it does not end there-these lineages are found at lower levels among the Norwegians and Swedes. But
the polymorph becomes negligible among the Slavic peoples! The article makes clear that there is a sharp
demarcation between the Lithuanians and Poles, peoples that are historically associated. Tat C is almost
nonexistent among other European peoples. What to make of all this?

First, let us remind ourselves of what else we know about European "archaeogenetics". Europeans are a
mixture of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, and Neolithic "newcomers," that is agreed. But the quotient of
each is debated, whether that be href="http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/medicalscience/story/0,9837,505080,00.html">20%
Neolithic or href="http://www26.brinkster.com/archived/viewnews.asp?newsID=492046535015">50%. But an
aproximate SE => NW gradient or cline seems to appear in both models. The Basques are
generally used to represent the pristine Paleolithic stock of Europe, and most studies that I have seen tend
to confirm that they lack the markers that are associated with Neolithic migrants. So add to this a third
component, the Finno-Ugrics. It seems plausible that the ice sheet over Scandinavia separated two
Paleolithic populations in what was to become "Europe." Along the western edge, there were the people
that represent what early 20th century anthropologists would term the "Nordic" type, and on the eastern
edge there were the "East Baltics." The aforementioned studies seem to indicate that despite linguistic
affinities between Swedes and Greeks as compared to the Finns, the Scandinavian groups are mixtures
between the "Nordic" and "Finno-Ugric" populations, while the Greeks share more with the peoples of
Anatolia (to their chagrin) and the Levant [4].

Now what about the sharp difference between the Slavic peoples and the Finno-Ugric & Baltic peoples?
This is the most tantalizing mystery in the article. It is noted that the Lithuanians and Poles have
traditionally been closely associated, but it must be clarified that this did not imply intermarriage between
ethnic groups. The first two centuries of Polish-Lithuanian union were royal and personal,
in other words, though ruled by the same royal house, created by the marriage of a Lithuanian Grand
Duke and a Polish princess, the two nations kept their own institutions . Late in the 16th century the
Polish and Lithuanian states merged more thoroughly, and this resulted in the total absorption of the
Lithuanian aristocracy into Polish culture. By the 19th century Lithuanian culture was village centered
and functionally illiterate and pre-modern. The backward and isolated nature of rural Lithuania preserved
it from being assimilated into the relatively sophisticated Polish ethnos, and the dissolution of
Poland-Lithuania and the rise of nationalism resulted in the creation of an indigenous Lithuanian
intelligentsia. Prior to the Counter-Reformation the Lithuanians of the country were de facto
pagan. Until the latter portion of the 18th century Catholic priests were still seeking out "snake groves"
and burning the reptiles venerated by the ignorant pagan peasants. The Lithuanians were a people set
apart, their dense forests saved them from the genocide that awaited the Prussian tribes at the hands of the
crusading Germans and rebuffed the expansion of the Russian principalities of Novgorod and Moscow
after the fall of Kievan Rus. Poland by its nature is rich agricultural land and is today the most populous
of the east-central European nations. Lithuania in sharp contrast is still a small and sparsely populated
state, and there is no doubt that it was so in ancient times. But it did produce fierce warriors, explaining
why the Poles sought an alliance with them. The Mongols did not touch them in their deep forests,
though they did destroy Kievan Rus and Piast Poland, allowing the pagan Balts to fill that power vacuum
in the next century.

And yet if the dark forests of the Baltic were such a barrier to Slavic demographic penetration, it is
peculiar that the Lithuanians (and Latvians) speak what some consider to be the most archaic of modern
Indo-European languages. Some have even postulated that the original Indo-European homeland was the
Baltic shore. Indo-Europeanologists have sometimes classed Baltic and Slavic together as the "Balto-
Slavic" group. Other linguists have objected to this, and assert that any similarities between the two
groups is the result of intimate contact over thousands of years. And yet I have just argued in the prior
paragraph that the two groups did not in fact interact much despite their geographic proximity. In
addition, the Tat C polymorph is nearly as prominent among the Baltic people as among the Finns! This
does not fit well with the idea that the Lithuanians represent a hybrid median between two populations,
rather it seems that either the Finns or the Balts were acculturated at some point in the past.

The genetic footprint of the "Indo-Europeans" on Europe is indeterminate. Cavalli-Sforza indicated that
he saw a possible cline from the east to the west that indicated a "Kurgan" expansion from the steppes. Of
course, he later seemed to side with Colin Renfrew's theory that the Indo-Europeans were the farmers that
brought agriculture to Europe 10,000 years ago. It seems likely to me that the Indo-Europeans did not
leave much of a genetic footprint throughout much of the region that they linguistically assimilated.
Though the Basques are a genetic isolate, they are not different enough from other western European
populations to give credence to a theory that postulates a demographic change concomitant with the
expansion of Indo-European languages.

Indo-European exists above a non-Indo-European substrate in much of its range. In India the "Dravidian"
substrate has been gleaned in languages such as Marathi. The common Greek nth seems to be
non-Indo-European (and 40% of the vocabulary of Greek as well as most of the ancient gods are non-
Indo-European). Before Romanization it seems plausible that the "Iberians" who were neither Basque nor
Celtiberian spoke a non-Indo-European language in what is today Andalusia and Valencia with some
relationship to Basque. The non-Indo-European substrate of Germanic is also known. To me this argues
compellingly for a model of elite cultural diffusion [5].

So why was it that the Scandinavian peoples of the west but not the east became "Indo-Europeans," while
the Baltic peoples of the south but not the north did as well? We might ask also why the Indo-Europeans
did not penetrate into Iberia or southern India. The most obvious answer is geography. Spain was farther
from the central point of radiation of Indo-European culture than Italy or Greece. Both the latter
peninsulas seem to have had non-Indo-European populations. The Minoans and the later "Pelasgians"
seemed to have spoken non-Indo-European languages (some Greek city-states asserted Pelasgian origins,
claiming to be "autochthonous," Athens being the most prominent). The Etruscans were certainly non-
Indo-European, though there are indications that their origin was in Asia Minor. A minority of the non-
Latin tribes of Italy seem to have been non-Indo-European (generally the more isolated ones). In Spain, it
seems only the Celtiberians of Galicia and its environs, almost certainly settlers from the north, were
Indo-European speakers prior to the arrival of the Greeks and Romans. Along the northwest edge of
Europe there are still debates as to whether the Picts are Indo-European or not. In any case, it is clear that
a flood of Indo-Europeans did not overwhelm any given region of Europe, but that the spread of that
family of languages was piece-meal and haphazard.

Likely the Lithuanians and Latvians were "Indo-Europeanized" at a very early point in their history. The
presence of Estonian could indicate a "reconquest" of territory by Finno-Ugric tribes that moved south
from Finland during a period of colder conditions in northern Europe. The lack of genetic similarity
between Slavs and Baltics might be simply because both groups become "Indo-European" via cultural
diffusion, possibly from the same tribe of Indo-Europeans (they are both of the satem sub-group,
along with Indo-Iranian, Armenian and Greek). Until historic times, most of northern Sweden and
Norway was the domain of the Finno-Ugric Sami, reindeer herders, so it seems that the Indo-Europeans
succeeded in imposing their language only on areas with some level of agriculture, and so possibly greater
division of labor between classes and a more complex tribal system.

In sharp contrast it seems that a plausible scenario of elite cultural diffusion going from the western sub-
Arctic zone into Siberia seems to have left a genetic footprint. This might be because the population bases
of cultures that practiced agriculture was far greater than the hunting and fishing societies that the Finno-
Ugrics penetrated, explaining why the latter show a clear Finno-Ugric connection while the Indo-
European peoples seem rather unrelated to each other [6].

The west-east progression of the Finno-Ugrics actually is reminiscent of ideas about Indo-European
expansion east. The Tocharian people of what is today Xinjiang (East Turkestan) were Indo-Europeans
who seemed to the superficially have a "Celtic" flavor (they spoke a centum language, grouped
with Romance, Celtic and Germanic, were European in appearance and even wore kilts!). The original
horse-people of the Altai region of western Mongolia were quite possibly of the same phenotype. While
the Indo-Europeans probably left a light genetic footprint on the settled and dense populations of western
and southern Eurasia, they almost certainly made their impact felt among the people of Inner Asia. In
fact, the revelation that the people of Xinjiang have affinities with Europeans is probably the echo of the
ancient Indo-European expansion into the east, south of the Finno-Ugrics in the grasslands between the
deserts and the ice [7].

Finally, I would like to add that I believe this sort of cultural and genetic change has occurred many times
throughout human history, only the later ones of the Indo-Europeans, Semitic peoples and Finno-Ugrics
were crystallized and preserved by the creation of literacy, statecraft and national units that imposed stasis
on what was previously a multi-tribal world where ties of blood, language and religions were fluid and
ever changing. I suspect that the megalith builders that left their marks from the eastern Mediterranean to
Cornwall brought their language, only to have been superseded by later cultural innovators.

[1] Finno-Ugric is the most prominent Uralic group of languages. The Altaic group is represented by the
Turkish and Mongolian tongues.

[2] Huns, Avars, Pechenegs, Magyars and Bulgars to name a few.

[3] This is the standard logic behind "Out-of-Africa."

[4] Please note that a few studies, in addition to the primary one cited here on the Finno-Ugrics, indicates
that the maternal lineages of both Finns and Swedes are rather more similar than their paternal ones.
This I believe in partially a result of patrilocal marriage patterns that seem the human norm. The transfer
of women from village to village along a great chain seems to shuffle mt-DNA rather more than the more
prominent volkswanderung that is the stuff of legend and would move diverse paternal lineages
across the globe.

[5] Note that in ancient times Indo-Europeans ruled large portions of the Levant. The Mitanni of Syria
were Indo-Aryans, while some have indicated that the Kassite ruling dynasty of post-Amorite Babylonia
were also Indo-Europeans. In neither case did the Indo-European language or culture survive the fall of
their dynasties. The difference is that Indo-Europeans could impose their culture on marginal and less
advanced areas of the ancient Middle East, Anatolia, Armenia and Iran, but the model of elite cultural
transfer breaks down when the conquered people come bearing the gifts of literacy and sophisticated

[6] If the Finno-Ugrics are indigenous European people that date to the last Ice Age, and the Sami are at
least as authentic as the Finns in their Finno-Ugric character (it could be that the Sami have more
"Mongoloid" in their maternal lineage than the Finns), it would seem to lend some credence to the idea
that blondism has no direct adaptive value, but is rather sexually selected. The Sami are a relatively
swarthy people, and many would assert that the Finns are a degree darker than the Swedes (southern
Sweden is the only region of the world where a majority of the population has both blonde hair
and blue eyes). If the Finno-Ugric presence in northern Europe is as ancient the pre-Indo-European
Nordic peoples, it is curious to consider why blondism is traditionally more prevelant in one group than
the other if adaptive considerations are paramount.

[7] All that I have said is unoriginal and highly tendentious. For obvious reasons the Mongolian and
Turkic peoples of Inner Asia bristle at the notion of "culture bearers" from the west bringing with them
the accoutrements of their lifestyle. In addition, I think it is plausible that there was not one particular
racial type (as in "Nordic" for instance) that was dominant among Indo-Europeans. Rather they were a
coalition of tribes that spanned several areas of the west-central Eurasian steppe that by happenstance
were bestowed pasturelands that made them predisposed to domesticating and using the horse to its
greatest extent. Perhaps the settled tribes of eastern Europe viewed the horse riding Indo-European bands
as the Aztecs viewed the Spaniards-almost god-like beings who sat upon great noble beasts beyond legend.
The eastern people of Eurasia would in this scenario be more like the plains Indians, taking the horse and
making it their own, and in the end reversing the conveyer belt of migration and invasion from west-to-
east to east-to-west. And so history goes round and round.

Posted by razib at 02:35 AM

I am exhausted just reading that.
I guess that putting together a jigsaw with half the pieces missing IS difficult

Posted by: John Ray at January 3, 2003 07:18 PM

comes naturally to some :) naw, i have a passion for archaeogenetics though. nice to see SOMEONE
read it. though i wouldn't care if no one did.

Posted by: razib at January 4, 2003 01:25 AM

My favorite Razib posts are the ones that leave me utterly dumbfounded. Such unified treatments remind
me of why authors such as Jared Diamond are always so interesting.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at January 4, 2003 02:33 AM

Yeah, not a bad read that.

But did you know that the latest theory is that the Slavs of Central-Eastern Europe are the closest living
relatives of the Indo-Europeans? This theory is supported by latest genetic studies.

Here's a link to an interesting document...


Check out page 5.

Posted by: dpwes at March 8, 2003 12:43 AM