The “Finns” are probably an Iron Age intrusion into the East Baltic

One of the first things I wrote at length about historical population genetics, in late 2002, happened to be a rumination on the Y chromosomal phylogeography of Finnic peoples. At the time there was debate as to the provenance of the N1c Y chromosomal haplotype (this is the haplotype of the Rurikids by the way). Just as R1b is ubiquitous in Western Europe, and R1a in Eastern Europe (and to some extent in Indo-Iranian lands), N1c has an extensive distribution in the northern zone of Eurasia.

The question at the time was whether N1c was from Europe and in particular the Finnic peoples, or, whether it was from Siberia.

NJ Tree of Pairwise Fst

Today we have many of the questions resolved. At this point, we know that the Finns, Sami, and Estonians, all exhibit evidence of gene flow from a Siberian-like population. This is clear on any genome-wide analyses. Though this is very much a minority component, even among the Sami, because it is genetically very different from the Northern European background, it is clear on any analysis.

Ancient DNA has also established the likelihood that this Siberian-like element is relatively new to the Baltic region. In a recent paper, The genetic prehistory of the Baltic Sea region:

We suggest that the Siberian and East Asian related ancestry in Estonia, and Y-haplogroup N in north-eastern Europe, where it is widespread today, arrived there after the Bronze Age, ca. 500 calBCE, as we detect neither in our Bronze Age samples from Lithuania and Latvia.

This is not the only ancient DNA paper that shows this. Of course, sampling is imperfect, and perhaps they’ve missed pockets of ancient Finnic peoples. But the most thorough analysis of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Scandinavian does not pick them up either, Population genomics of Mesolithic Scandinavia: Investigating early postglacial migration routes and high-latitude adaptation. Populations, such as the Comb Ceramic Culture, which have been identified as possible ancestors of the modern Finnic culture and ethnicity, lack the distinctive Siberian-like component.

At the SMBE 2017, I saw a poster which had results that were sampled from Finland proper, and distinctive ancestry of Siberian-like peoples was present in an individual who lived after 500 AD. This means that in all likelihood the circumpolar Siberian population which introduced this new element into the East Baltic arrived in the period between 500 BC and 500 AD.

Someone with more knowledge of paleoclimatology and archaeology needs to comment at this point. Something happened in this period, and it probably left a big ethno-linguistic impact. But I don’t know enough detail to say much (the Wikipedia entries are out of date or don’t illuminate).

I will add when I run Treemix Finns get the Siberian gene flow you’d expect. But the Lithuanians get something from the Finns. Since the Lithuanians have appreciable levels of N1c, that is not entirely surprising to me (the basal flow from the Yakut/European region to Belorussians may be more CHG/ANE).

Additionally, I will note that on a f-3 test Lithuanians have nearly as high a z-score (absolute) as Swedes (i.e., Finn; Swede/Lithuanian, Yakut), indicating that the predominant Northern European ancestry isn’t necessarily Scandinavian, as much as something between Lithuanian-like and Swedish-like (on Admixture tests the Finns do seem to have less EEF than Swedes, and Lithuanians probably the least of all among non-Finn peoples).

Addendum: I should note here that the genetics is getting clearer, but I have no great insight into the ethno-linguistic aspect. Perhaps the Siberian-like people did not introduce Finnic languages into the Baltic. Perhaps that was someone else. But I doubt it. That being said, though the Siberian-like component adds great distinctiveness to the Finns, it is important to add that by and large Finns are actually generic (if highly drifted) Northern Europeans.


16 thoughts on “The “Finns” are probably an Iron Age intrusion into the East Baltic

  1. The archaeological and linguistic evidence points towards the idea that Finnic (excluding Saamic which was never spoken in the region) arrived to the Eastern Baltic south of Finland first, and to Finland only afterwards.

    The 500 AD people from Finland are apparently proposed to be Sami in the abstract of the paper that had its result presented in SMBE. Now, note that Sami are their own distinct branch of Uralic languages instead of being part of the Finn/Estonian group, like Iranics are distinct from Slavs, and likely have a different population history since splitting.
    That distinction visualized with NeighborNet:
    The abstract of an upcoming study:
    “The population history of Finland is the subject of an ongoing debate, in particular with respect to the relationship and origins of modern Finnish and Saami people. In this study we analyse genome-wide SNP data, extracted from teeth found in the archaeological site of Levänluhta, in coastal western Finland. Artefacts from the site have been dated to the Iron Age, ranging from the 5th century to the end of 8th century AD, while the radiocarbon dating results of scattered femurs from the site span 350-730 AD. When analysed together with previously published ancient European samples and with modern European populations, these ancient individuals from Finland show a smaller proportion of the genetic component found in early Neolithic Farmers and all modern European populations today. However, we observe a closer genetic relationship with Siberian and East Asian populations than seen in modern Finnish and other Europeans, a pattern also observed in genetic data from modern Saami individuals. Our results suggest that the ancestral Saami population 1500 years ago inhabited a larger region than today, extending at least as far south as Levänluhta. Such a scenario is also supported by linguistic evidence, which suggests most of Finland having spoken Saami languages before 1000 AD. Additionally, we observe genetic differences between modern Saami and the ancient individuals from Levänluhta, which might be the result of admixture with Finnish people during the last 1500 years.”

    We see that Siberian ancestry in Finland is a product of specifically Saami admixture with a PCA:

    With a more focused PCA we see modern Finnish-specific drift. This shows that Estonians have recent Finnish ancestry rather than Sami or Volgan. Logical, because there never were Sami in Estonia but Finns moved there during Swedish rule.

    Lithuanian Y-dna N is surely originally from an Uralic-speaking population but not from one with Sami ancestry. A Russian study (Chekunova 2014) found some N1c dated to 800-400 BC and 2500 BC in this region:
    The younger sample was from a long barrow which might involve the arrival of Finnic speakers. International studes haven’t unfortunately yet focused on that region and the Russian paper only has low-resolution uniparental haplogroups.

  2. @Rutger Vos
    Might be plausible if Sami reindeer herding was old, but so far evidence suggests it’s very recent.
    That paper proposes Sami independently domesticated their reindeers and didn’t import them, as they’re distinct from Russian domestic reindeer.

    “Similar to the analysis at population level, genetic variability at an individual level shows a partition of the sample into three main groups (figure 3a–c), supporting independent origins of domestic reindeer in Fennoscandia and Russia. Reindeer herding in Fennoscandia, and particularly in the northern part, has traditionally been connected to the Saami culture. Thus, our analyses strongly point towards an independent origin of Saami reindeer herding. Notably, the domestic gene pools in Fennoscandia and Russia seem to meet in eastern Finland, where the examined herds appear as a mixture of the two origins (figure 3c). This may reflect the frequent trade and transport of animals that occurred in the eighteenth century between the reindeer herders in eastern Finland (traditionally of Finnish origin) and the indigenous reindeer herding people towards the east as well as the north (Nieminen 2006). In contrast to the sharp genetic boundary between Russia and areas inhabited by the Saami people, the Russian domestic gene pool appears remarkably homogeneous across a vast region (figure 1b). ”

    There is a documented explanation for the gene flow from more eastern Russian reindeer too. Izhemsky Komis, who were reindeer herders on a large commercial scale unlike Sami or Nenets back in Russia, moved to eastern Lappland in 1800’s and brought their own herds which inevitably meant introgression into local herds.

  3. @Gade
    Oh well, back to the drawing board. Is there still wiggle room in that Finns and Sami are not the same thing? I.e. Sami reindeer herding was copied from whoever brought it from the east and introgressed himself in the Finns?

  4. @Rutger Vos

    Unlikely since Finnish reindeer herding was started by early Finnish settlers to Lappland in 1600’s and 1700’s, by then Sami had been herding for some time (though not millennia).

  5. @Gade
    mmm… interesting, thanks! Speculating always goes so much better when unhindered by facts 🙂

  6. @Greg Pandatshang

    I don’t see him arguing that Proto-Sámi was particularly close to Proto-Finnish (do you mean proto-Finnic?), beyond of course being Uralic – they seem to have separated early enough that at that point Uralic speakers were perhaps around Oka river in Russia, not in the Baltic. The paper appears to be about Paleo-Laplandic substrate in Samis and their post-Roman Iron Age arrival to Lappland which seems to be correct and was made by historical linguists earlier.

    I would however assume that this substrate wasn’t WHG or SHG but composed of something such as these people:
    Large amount of Z1a and D mtDNA which had arrived to Lappland by 1500 BC.

  7. Is there any evidence of where the Siberian source population for the Proto-Finns (and presumably Proto-Uralic in general) was located? In the modern era I’m fairly certain that every Uralic population shows significant West Eurasian admixture, so presumably none are a good genetic fit. Unless Yukaghir really is the most basal branch of Uralic. Though looking online, a study from 2013 seems to indicate that modern day Yukaghirs have had heavy levels of gene flow with other Siberian populations like the Evans.

    IIRC, there is also a hypothesis that proto-Indo-Aryan (e.g., after it split from the Iranian languages) developed in some area where it had lexical contact with Uralic languages, due to some seeming Uralic loanwords in Sanskrit. This would seem to imply that by the late Bronze Age Uralic Languages must have been present already on the forest-steppe boundary in modern Russia.

  8. Gade, you’re right, now that I’m thinking about it, that he doesn’t really make an argument for the closeness of proto-Sami and Finnish. He does assert it in the first sentence of the paper: “Proto-Sámi, a reconstructed Finno-Ugric tongue closely related to Proto-Finnish …” I’ve never encountered “Proto-Finnish” before, but I would have assumed it means something more specific than Proto-Finnic, i.e. exclusive of Estonian, etc. But I don’t really know what Weinstock has in mind.

  9. Karl, regarding early II and Uralic contacts, an interesting example is the Finnish word orja “slave” (< Proto-Finnic *orja, i.e. no change). This has often been proposed to be a loan from Indo-Iranian *arya-. Of course, this doesn't prove the that early Finnics were in contact with Proto-Indo-Iranian; it might have been later II speaking groups (e.g. Beckwith suggests evidence for specifically a specifically Indic etymology for the Wusun 烏孫 people in ancient Xinjiang). Also, there’s an alternative etymology which makes *orja a loan from PIE *werǵ- / Iranian *warĵ- “make, work, till”. So none of this really proves PII and Uralic contacts specifically.

  10. @Greg

    Surely that has to mean proto-Finnic, there are loanwords btwn Finnish and Sami that are absent in Estonian but that’s due to recent contact.

  11. There is no reason whatsoever to expect a “Siberian” component in Finns since there is zero evidence of such a migration but plentiful evidence that Uralic languages are intruders in northern Siberia from the European side of the Urals. The genetic results so far are perfectly consistent with the Uralic Urheimat theory near the Volga-Kama confluence.

    Mongoloid influences were already at the Volga 5000 years ago so the standard theory of linguistics easily matches people racially similar to most Uralic speakers today – northern Caucasoids with a Mongoloid component of unknown older origin. The Central Asian steppe is another and probably better candidate route for this old Mongoloid component given the number of known steppe migrations that influenced the Volga region just downstream of the presumed Uralic Urheimat.

    N1c does not suggest northern Siberia as it only found there in peoples that are already known to be intruders in their present territory, it is not close to older Siberian lineages like R and Q and in ancient DNA it shows up in steppe cultures and Neolithic China.

    Only the few predominantly Mongoloid looking Uralic speakers have paleo-Siberian lineages and in fact these are perfectly matching the ethnogenesis theories of Uralic linguists identified generations before DNA was even known. For example, a Ket linguistic substrate was identified for Selkups and thus we would expect the Selkups to be genetically a Uralic/Ket hybrid of some sort – and that’s exactly what Selkup haplogroups look like, a mixture of N matching other Uralic speakers and Q matching Kets.

    All the predominantly Mongoloid looking Uralic speakers have evidence of recent admixture with paleo-Siberians that is not shared by other Uralic speakers. They also have the older, small Mongoloid component shared by all Uralic speakers (ie the component that traveled with N1c). Volga Uralic speakers are predominantly Caucasoid and Mordvins, the closest linguistic match to Finns at the Volga, are also the closest genetic match. The people that brought Uralic languages to the Baltic Sea are expected to be Caucasoids with a Mongoloid component, not pure Mongoloids.

    A pure Mongoloid migration to the Baltic Sea would not be expected to be the one that brought Uralic languages. If someone suggests an identification of pure Mongoloids in the Baltic Sea with Uralic they’d need to come up with another explanation for the similarity of Finns, Estonians etc to some Volga populations (you can take some random Erzyas from the Volga and they will 100 % pass in Finland).

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