The Genographic Project, map of historical migrations (Q-M242)
One of my favorite activities this year has been genealogy. I think it’s fascinating that in this day and age we’re nearing the uncovering of the routes or ancestors took before they eventually ended up in our country of birth. Having taken a DNA test and subsequently compared my results with other participants in the Genographic Project, I was able to confirm my Norwegian ancestry. Also, I came to find out where my ancestors in all likelihood resided some 2,000 years ago; somewhere alongside the Yenisei river in Siberia. In this post I will try to back up and explain my general conclusions in a way that will make my findings understandable for people who haven’t the slightest idea how to interpret the kind of results you get from testing your DNA.
Round about five months ago I ordered a DNA test from the aforementioned Genographic Project, “a five-year genetic anthropology study that aims to map historical human migration patterns by collecting and analyzing DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of people from around the world”. A couple months later, after having sampled my DNA with a Buccal Swab kit and sent it over to Texas, I found my results uploaded on the Project’s site. To my astonishment I was shown a map of Asia, Norway being nowhere in sight, identifying me and my male relatives as descendants of a man who lived in Siberia, some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. The route of my forebears somehow had managed to cross the Bering-strait into the Americas; but surely I wasn’t descended from a band of Cherokees or Navajos?
Basically this is all based on your Y-chromosome, a part of DNA which is only passed on from father to son. Whenever there occurs a mutation in the Y-chromosome, all descendants from there on will have it. All the descendants of this man are ordered by scientists into “haplogroups”, mine being “Q”. The highest concentration of Q in any population in the Old World is to be found in Siberia, the Kets (~95%) and the Selkups (~75%) being the only two majority Q groups.
When I first lay my eyes on this map I thought there surely must be a mistake of some kind. And even if what I was being told somehow coalesced with reality, it sure as heck didn’t explain how my forebears had gotten all the way from Siberia to Scandinavia. There and then I couldn’t make heads or tails of the information, so I decided to do some digging on my own.
As it turned out, you could actually go further with the results on another site. From there I managed to get hold of a map which told a more comprehensive story as to how my ancestors happened to end up in Norway. As it turned out, I hadn’t been able to wrap my head around the fact that people in Siberia were constantly on the move. These were nomads who lived in rhythm with the seasons, they were never in the same place for prolonged periods of time. It’s likely some of them were pastoral nomads, keeping herds of reindeer; much like the Sami people in Scandinavia.
Family Tree DNA, map of historical migrations (Q-m242)
If you highlight each haplogroup on this map you get information as to when they came into being. According to Family Tree DNA “Qs who journeyed west after the split from P in Central Asia made their way into Europe. Many of these Q’s settled in Russia and Scandinavia.” This split occurred, as I’ve already mentioned, some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. So they’re not really saying anything concrete as to when these people journeyed westward. We could be talking anywhere between 20 to 20,000 years ago. At least, that’s what I’m able to deduce from what I’ve gathered this far.
After this I started googling “Haplogroup Q”, and read up on what little there was about the subject at Wikipedia. Apparently, only a small percentage of European men belonged to this group, which primarily had to do with it being Asian. The general theory as to how Q made its way into Europe revolved around Attila and the Huns. Eupedia seemed to confirm this:
Q is thought to be the dominant haplogroup of the Huns, who invaded Europe in the 5th century, and is only found in 2% of the people in Hungary, where the one Hunnic tribe finally settled. Another group of Huns could have settled in Sweden and/or Norway, where Q is also found in among 0.5% of the population.
So from this much I was able to conclude that my family in all likelihood didn’t come from the Americas, no matter if some of my distant relatives at some point had made it across the Bering strait. We most likely came from somewhere alongside the Yenisei river. If I choose to accept, as I to a certain degree already have, that my ancestors indeed were the Huns, then reading about them is in a sense also reading about my own ancient ancestry.
A few months after having gotten the notion of a Hunnic ancestry, I got an e-mail from FamilyTreeDNA concerning a match in their database. I was positively surprised to find that I have an exact match living in the US. Apparently we are both the direct ancestors of someone who lived some 800 years ago; mounting up to about 30 generations. After hesitating for a while I decided to contact this newfound cousin of mine, seeing as I only could gain from what knowledge he had about his origins.
At this point I had come to a dead end with the church registers. Having being able to go as far back as 400 years in the same general area, the records didn’t seem to want to take me any further. From what little I was told by the wife of my American cousin, his Norwegian ancestor, born in 1795, had more or less come from the same general area as the rest of my other known male ancestors. But this, however, still proved to take me even further back. Having gone all the way back to 1632 in a matter of 13 generations, I was able to gather that another 17 generations would amount to about 800 years in total. The interesting thing about this was that it more or less confirmed that my family had been staying in the same area at least since the 13th century.
Further on I began to look for other cousins on Ysearch, a database affiliated with FamilyTreeDNA, and found, among others, a cousin from Shetland. What peeked my interest about this case, was that I had previously read something about the person in question while looking up information on my group. Dr. David Faux seemed to confirm and elaborate indirectly on my own history:
What this seemed to entail, in short, was that my ancestors could have been among the Asians mentioned in the Norse sagas. With this in mind I started researching the Huns, interested in their origins. At a later point I noticed that Dr. Faux had written a somewhat interesting article which he dubbed “The Genetic Link of the Viking – Era Norse to Central Asia”. Among other things, he notes:
This haplotype is, considering the pattern of matches, doubtless Norse Viking. The DNA evidence supports the family tradition. The haplogroup is very rare, and not found (to date) anywhere but the above mentioned locations (not Mainland Scotland). While there is little doubt that at the time of the Viking occupation of Shetland circa 800AD the HAY ancestor was residing in Norway, the ancient origins are not European. Haplogroup Q is only found among Central and East Asians as well as Native Americans. A Central Asian origin seems most likely, especially considering that in one classic study of Icelandic Y chromosomes, 7% were Q. There has never been any suggestion of any Greenland Inuit presence in Iceland, but the Edda sagas give Asia as the ancestral homeland of a substantial contingent of the Norse in pre – Viking times.
In conclusion, the archaeological record indicates a significant change in religious practices occurring in Scandinavia in the 5th Century AD. The dramatic alterations in artifact assemblages and burial practices strongly point to a change “coming from thesouth around 450 or a little earlier” (Brandt, p.30) a people who would have a significant impact on all aspects of life in Scandinavia – and yet it goes unnoticed in the standard texts.
All of this starts to make sense when you take into consideration that the Hunnic empire had disintegrated around 450 AD. My own understanding of this is that these people were some kind of an elite that maybe radically changed Scandinavia. According to Wikipedia “the Western Hunnic Empire stretched from the steppes of Central Asia into modern Germany, and from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea”, so I doubt they would have been ignorant of Scandinavia. Professor Kenneth W. Harl notes that the Huns must have spoken some form of Germanic lingua franca, which made it possible to communicate even the most complex of utterances to the Scandinavians at the time. Only after about the 8th century does it get too difficult for speakers of West-Germanic languages to communicate with speakers of North-Germanic languages, according to Professor Harl.
The Western Hunnic Empire
At this moment I’m halfway through Attila by John Man. It’s quite an interesting read, and the author clearly supports the idea of identifying the Huns with the Xiongnu; a people who, according to Chinese sources, were active in southern Siberia, western Manchuria, and the modern Chinese provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, and Xinjiang. Traditionally the name Xiongnu may be cognate to the name Huns, but the evidence for this is thought very controversial.
A Mongolian scholar, only mentioned as “Erigtse”, emphasized that the word for Hun in Mongolian is “Hun-nu” (the H being pronounced as Scottish “ch”; loch) . Khun is Mongolian for “man” and “human”. He goes on saying that he thinks the Mongolian “khun” became the Chinese “xiong”, which means “bad”, and “nu” means slave. Xiongnu — “bad slaves”.
Man goes on to emphasize an archeological find, excavated by a Russo-Mongolian expedition in 1986 in the Altai mountains, far west in Mongolia. Their rapport described the site as being “Hunnic”, expressing a wish of seeing the Huns and the Xiongnu as the one and same people. It was, however, clearly Xiongnu. Among other things, they were able to uncover asymmetric bows. This type of weapon was also characteristic of the Huns.
Having looked into the matter, I think I can be fairly sure of my origins. But at the same time I’m not saying this is how it necessarily must have come about. This is how it might have come about; I may be proven wrong. Nevertheless, I think this experience has made me aware of how complex the past sometimes can be. It’s definitely made me more interested in history, that’s for sure. I guess we’re more related than we sometimes might think.
As a small token of my gratitude for you having read all of this, I’ve included a video which illustrates how the Huns might have fought in battle. I recommend reading everything Conn Iggulden has written on Genghis Khan if I somehow miraculously managed to spark your interest.
Happy new year!