Gene Expression

From where came the Slavs?

i-80718ae7316b3b0cb059d7378f2914aa-19.jpgIn my previous post I contended that biology is an important causal factor to keep in mind when we model the behavioral ecology (a.k.a., history) of H. sapiens. A separate, but complementary, tack is to use genetic data to supplement what we know from other historical sciences (history, archeology, economic history, etc.) to obtain a better picture of the dynamics which were operative in the past and the sequence of events which result in the shape of the present. The Etruscan genetics story is a perfect case study; genetic data pretty much sealed the deal in allowing us to distinguish between equally plausible hypotheses (or, more honestly, it radically altered the weights of plausibility). Another historical demographic question that I’ve been mulling recently: how is it that the Slavic speaking peoples expanded to occupy their current range with the last 2,000 years? Did they migrate or expand through demic diffusion? Maybe a small elite acculturated a pre-Slavic substratum? Or was it a combination of both contingent upon the period and locale?

The question isn’t going to be an easy one to answer. Until relatively recently Slavic languages were preliterate, the critical period of their expansion west into Central and Southeast Europe is going to never bee resolved through analysis of documents because those documents simply do not exist. There are references to Slavs from the outside, such as the Byzantines who noted how they swept across the Balkans between the 6th and 9th centuries. To the east we obviously have a better record of Russian expansion out to the Pacific, but it is not inconsequential to note that Slavic speaking peoples were already extant across a great swath of West-Central Eurasia by the time that Kievan Rus emerged as a superpower. Even the ethnogenesis of Rus is an issue of debate; specifically, the extent and role of Scandinavians in serving as a stimulus for state formation and their contribution to the overall culture.

All that being said, genetics does have something to say about this. It seems that to make a broad sweeping claim: Slavicization was not always a function of genetic replacement, but in part one of assimilative absorption of local substratum. There is data on this from the Balkans, which I will address at some point, but Dienekes points me to a new paper, Two sources of the Russian patrilineal heritage in their Eurasian context:

…we show that the patrilineages within the pre-Ivan the Terrible historic borders of Russia have two main distinct sources. One of these antedates the linguistic split between West and East Slavonic-speaking people and is common for the two groups; the other is genetically highlighted by the pre-eminence of haplogroup (hg) N3 and is most parsimoniously explained by extensive assimilation of (or language change in) northeastern indigenous Finno-Ugric tribes. Although hg N3 is common for both East European and Siberian Y chromosomes, other typically Siberian or Mongolian hgs (Q and C) have negligible influence within the studied Russian Y chromosome pool. The distribution of all frequent Y chromosome haplogroups (which account for 95% of the Y chromosomal spectrum in Russians) follows a similar north-south clinal pattern among autosomal markers, apparent from synthetic maps….

i-ff443bfbde595efb37095d5dbea54d84-lebed.jpgThe late Russian general Alexander Lebed might seem to have a vague “Mongolian” caste to his features, but the likelihood is that this is not Kalmyk ancestry, but an expression of the underlying normal range of appearance among Northeast European peoples. If we (that is, Anglo-Americans) take the normal range of Western European facial features as exemplars then naturally some Eastern Europeans will fall outside of that range because of differences between the two groups. There was a saying that if you scratch a Russian you’ll find a Tartar; I suspect a much more accurate expression would be that if you scratch a Russian you might stumble upon a Finn.

Note: Unlike the Etruscan genetics work this is not resolving an issue, but rather calibrating and quantitizing a likely model. The distribution of Finno-Ugric languages as well as historical linguistics strongly implies the expansion of Slavs into the lands of the Finns, it seems unlikely that genetic admixture would not have occurred. But phylogenetic analysis makes our understanding more precise and gives more confidence to our background assumptions.

Comments

  1. #1 Lassi Hippeläinen
    January 10, 2008

    The spread of the Slavs could be clarified fairly easily by digging the ground for evidence. However, such practices have always been discouraged. As a result we Finns don’t know important parts of our own history.

    During the rule of the Czar, it was just unthinkable to do anything that would have begun to start to suggest that the Holy Russia had been inhabited by someone else before the Russians arrived.

    The Soviet rule was seemingly multinational, but in real life other cultures were allowed only in dresses and dancing. Elsewhere russification continued. For example, there was a serious effort to force the Carelians to switch from Latin to Cyrillic alphabet.

    Today things aren’t that different. There is still pressure against non-Russian ethnic groups. Oppression of the Maris has been in the news quite recently. Even the European Union reacted to it.

    (BTW, I was somewhat amused to see you calling yourself Anglo-American. You have every right to do so, but still…)

  2. #2 razib
    January 10, 2008

    The spread of the Slavs could be clarified fairly easily by digging the ground for evidence. However, such practices have always been discouraged. As a result we Finns don’t know important parts of our own history.

    cremation is the biggest technical hurdle. this was a common practice before christianization….

  3. #3 Lassi Hippeläinen
    January 10, 2008

    Cremation is an issue only for funerals. There are many other kinds of archeological finds. We don’t even know much about pre-Russian village sites, unless they happen to be where modern people live.
    http://www.kermen.ru/EngVer/ancient_kazan.php

    So why did the Slavs conquer the land? My guess is agriculture. The sparse Finnic tribes were still to large extent hunter-gatherers. When they learned from the Slavs how to cultivate land, they also learned the language, and were eventually assimilated.

  4. #4 razib
    January 10, 2008

    So why did the Slavs conquer the land? My guess is agriculture. The sparse Finnic tribes were still to large extent hunter-gatherers. When they learned from the Slavs how to cultivate land, they also learned the language, and were eventually assimilated.

    yes. the dynamic wasn’t the same in the balkans, since there were peasant populations already extant…but there is strong evidence for cultural assimilation there as well (and the genetic data seem to point to a stronger imprint of the indigenous substratum than in russia because of larger initial numbers).

  5. #5 windy
    January 10, 2008

    The Slavic expansion to N Russia was way too late to be explained by an introduction of agriculture, although the Finnic tribes probably practiced a mixture of low intensity farming and HG, so new methods/more intensive agriculture may have been a factor? Several agricultural terms have common roots in the Baltic and Volga Finnic languages, including ‘cow’ and ‘wheat’. Last spring Razib mentioned ancient Indo-Iranian loans in Finno-Ugric languages: these include porsas (piglet), and words for ‘grain’ and ‘honey’.

  6. #6 razib
    January 10, 2008

    so new methods/more intensive agriculture may have been a factor?

    yes, i was going to clarify on that issue. i assume that they had a better cultural toolkit for the far north. people can often be quite conservative so i would imagine that gave the slavic cultures a leg enough so that they could absorb a bunch of finns before the finns changed their practices enough so that they were at competitive parity in terms of exploitation of resources (just imagine that slavs and finns-turned-slavs had a slightly higher fertility range for a a dozen generations or so and that might tip the scales enough).

  7. #7 Lassi Hippeläinen
    January 11, 2008

    Yes, I agree. That’s why I wrote “…were still to large extent hunter-gatherers” in the first place.

    Systematic agriculture arrived to Finland about 5000 years ago in the form of a Baltic war axe culture. The new overlords were soon (in a few centuries) assimilated to the old population, as evidenced by burial practices. The only thing that remains of them is a layer of Baltic agricultural terminology in the Finnish language.

    However, there is no clear cut-off date. The change was gradual and slow. Up to 19th century many men still went to long hunting expeditions, leaving women home to tend the cattle. After tilling the fields, they had free time until harvest, when they returned home with loads of meat and fish. The HG pattern survived five millennia of agriculture.

    I don’t know when agriculture arrived in which part of northern Russia. That is one of the things that could be defined from excavations. But obviously the Slavs arrived in greater numbers than the war axe culture, because they became the ones to assimilate the old population.

  8. #8 windy
    January 11, 2008

    Up to 19th century many men still went to long hunting expeditions, leaving women home to tend the cattle. After tilling the fields, they had free time until harvest, when they returned home with loads of meat and fish. The HG pattern survived five millennia of agriculture.

    On the other hand, it would have been silly to abandon the mixed economy when the Slavs turned up, since suddenly there was a much bigger market for your furs and fish!

    I don’t know when agriculture arrived in which part of northern Russia. That is one of the things that could be defined from excavations.

    Yes, it would be nice if someone finds a link to some archaeological studies. But the center of diversity for Finnic languages is quite far south, so we can’t assume that agriculture was the same there as in Finland proper.

    But obviously the Slavs arrived in greater numbers than the war axe culture, because they became the ones to assimilate the old population.

    Not necessarily, since people may adopt the language and culture of a smaller elite. The original article should give some clue about the numbers involved, but it doesn’t seem to be at the AHJG site yet.

  9. #9 John Emerson
    January 11, 2008

    Maybe the most western Finns resisted the Slavs because they had trade connections and allies in that direction, whereas the Finns in what is now Russia were more isolated in the face of Slavs with southward trade connections.

    In the earliest records (ca. 800 AD) of the Varangians who went between the Baltic and the Black Seas, Finnish names are found. This is approximately the earliest record of Scandinavian culture anywhere.

    The Varangians, too, were eventually Slavified as Rus’ (by about 1000 AD). Nationalist Russians have a lot of trouble with this period, since it can be said that “The first Russian State was founded by Swedes.)

    Groups of the Varangian type found new nations and are not usually submitted to already-existing nations, and are often or even usually multicultural in origin.

  10. #10 Martin R
    January 11, 2008

    You equate language groups with ethnic, even political, groups. That’s quite a stretch. Western archaeologists abandoned that idea in the 1970s.

  11. #11 razib
    January 11, 2008

    You equate language groups with ethnic, even political, groups. That’s quite a stretch. Western archaeologists abandoned that idea in the 1970s.

    they should read some cavalli-sforza. i don’t really care what archeologists think about things non-artifactual. to be short about it there is a pretty large body of work which shows difference in gene frequencies which aren’t clinal between ethno-linguistic groups. cultures didn’t always just move while people stood still, and pretty soon it will be part of the archeological toolkit to get DNA samples when possible for analysis. if you look at the etruscan model your colleagues were totally wrong, and multiple genetic angles have confirmed exogenous origin (male and female human DNA, contemporary & ancient DNA and cattle DNA).

  12. #12 Martin R
    January 12, 2008

    I’m afraid you misunderstand me. It is possible for a bunch of people to be genetically and linguistically close, and still not be a single ethnic or political unit. This means that even if you can establish genetic and linguistic continuity, you may not have caught the grouping that was seen as most important by the people themselves.

    Take, for instance, today’s Croatians and Serbs. They sure wouldn’t be happy if you told them they’re basically the same guys. Take, on the other hand, today’s speakers of Mandarin and Cantonese in China. They’re entirely distinct, yet cultivate the fiction that they are the same guys.

    The Etruscans’ ideas about where they came from and who they were related to may not have been very similar to the actual origins documented in that study.

    I’m not saying this to be contrary. But I think we can agree that what people think about their origins is often more important from a practical perspective than their actual origins.

  13. #13 razib
    January 12, 2008

    I’m not saying this to be contrary. But I think we can agree that what people think about their origins is often more important from a practical perspective than their actual origins.

    sure, but i don’t care about that much to be honest. at least in this context. most of the readers of this weblog are not particular invested in their national-ethnic identity to the point where they would tear their hair out if they perceived themselves to be related to group X instead of group Y. i’m interested in how peoples and cultures interact and the dynamic processes which result in the shape of variation we see around us. e.g., why did bulgars become absorbed by the slavs while the hungarians imposed their language upon their slavic and latinate speaking subjects? i don’t care if hungarians or turks have mythologies which are totally at variance with the reality of their origins.

  14. #14 razib
    January 12, 2008

    The Etruscans’ ideas about where they came from and who they were related to may not have been very similar to the actual origins documented in that study.

    this is actually not a theoretical question. herodotus, a greek, seemed to be aware of the anatolian provenance of the etruscans. that’s why when the genetic results came back it was a shock; the father of lies might have been telling the truth! so it seems implausible that the etruscans, recent migrants that they were, would have been unaware of their antecedents. additionally, it seems that they maintained some sort of colony or trading base in the aegean relatively late in history or a proportion of the anatolian etruscans remained where they were. it seems more likely that in the case of recent migrations or emergence of new groups the legends will have partial truth, but overplay one aspect and deny another. e.g., the greeks of sicily were predominantly male, so they had to obtain wives from the local population. but their descendants were uniformly greek in their identity. a similar process occurs among many ‘arabs’ in africa, who exhibit a large proportion of sub-saharan ancestry but have no cultural association with their matrilineage.

  15. #15 razib
    January 12, 2008

    Take, for instance, today’s Croatians and Serbs. They sure wouldn’t be happy if you told them they’re basically the same guys. Take, on the other hand, today’s speakers of Mandarin and Cantonese in China. They’re entirely distinct, yet cultivate the fiction that they are the same guys.

    by the way, your example is pretty funny. the croats and serbs speak almost the same language, but use different scripts. mandarian dialects and cantonese are basically different spoken languages, but are the same written language! so i assume you used the example to show how identity is contorted; but that doesn’t speak to prehistoric variation as much, since i don’t think ideological national consciousness exists much in tribal peoples (though germans and slavs clearly knew that linguistic differences meant that tribes of other language groups were more alien). and the han and cantonese are not “entirely” distinct, the historical record is pretty clear that there was north to south migration and back and forth over the course of chinese history (most of the action would be between 500 and 1500 AD). the cantonese are probably a hybrid population genetically (inferences differ depending on which markers you look at ), as they are culturally, if not linguistically and via identification.

  16. #16 David Marjanović
    January 13, 2008

    mandarian dialects and cantonese are basically different spoken languages, but are the same written language!

    There is actually written Cantonese, and it’s pretty different from Mandarin. The grammar is visibly different, and characters have been created for words that don’t exist in Mandarin. There’s even a Wikipedia in it. Still, of course, Standard Mandarin is considered the standard language by Cantonese speakers, who, incidentally, also consider themselves Hàn.

  17. #17 Yacub
    January 15, 2008

    razib: “the cantonese are probably a hybrid population genetically (inferences differ depending on which markers you look at)”

    Well yeah if you look only at the markers that imply a hybrid population then that’s what you’ll get.

  18. #18 Nikolay
    February 9, 2010

    Bad example. Father General Lebed was a Ukrainian, the mother is a Cossack. He is originally from southern Russia where gallogruppa N practically does not occur. And his nose is deformed as it was broken. :)

    Russian and Finnish languages are very different. My native language is Russian and I have never taught Serbian, but partly understand their speech, sentence structure, even the words of the contemporary significance, of which I do not understand, the meaning is clear from the etymology. In the Finnish or Baltic languages I do not understand anything.

    In the north-west Russia were assimilated by the people, it’s not a secret, some people make the initial still live there with their language and culture they do not have to dig.

    Agriculture Slavs distinguished from its neighbors and it was very important, but you forgot about the main factor in overeating Slavs in Rus State, and enable them to pursue further expansion, it is the orthodox christian religion.

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