Thursday, May 10, 2007

Long distance migration....   posted by Razib @ 5/10/2007 05:33:00 PM

I've been having a correspondence with a reader about phylogeographic issues, and one thing that I told him was that I think he underestimates the possibility of long distance travel for steppe peoples. It may be correct that in pre-modern times that "most people did not move more than 10 miles from where they were born." I also believe that it is likely correct that the size of "barbarian hordes" was relatively small in proportion to the local peasant population which they ruled after the fall of Rome. But, none of this negates the possibility that in particular circumstances long distance travel and migration did occur. Obviously living a world where European descended peoples dominate North American, Australasia and are non-trivial presences in South America, we are aware that such migrations do occur. But even 4,000 years ago, a man born in what is today Switzerland found himself buried at Stonehenge! Though the expectation of travel was low in pre-modern times, there was a variance. I think one illustration of this can be the Alan peoples. Today the remnants of this Iranian speaking ethnic group reside in the North Caucasus region as the Ossetes. 2,000 years ago their precursors as the Alans were part of the Sarmatian hordes which battled the Roman Empire. In the 4th century some were driven forward from the plains of Pannonia (Hungary) and they eventually settled parts of France as Roman federates. Others became the dominant power in early 5th century Spain, but after their defeat at the hands of Roman armies they were absorbed by the Vandal monarchy. When the Vandals set up their kingdom based out of Carthage in modern Tunisia the Alans were still a distinctive part of their nation. The rulers of North Africa were the "kings of the Vandals and Alans" up until their conquest in the early 6th century. Another portion of the Alan peoples roamed the West Eurasian steppes (between the Carpathian mountains and the Volga). These eventually gave rise to the Ossetes. But, interestingly, I read once that there were Christian priests in the Mongol capital in the 13th century because there were Alans who served the Khan. So here you have an ethnic group whose members have spanned the World Island, from Tunisia to China.

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