Haplogroup Q, and the Huns

Haplogroup I1 is the most common I subclade in northern Europe. It is found mostly in Scandinavia and Finland, where it typically represent over 35% of the male Y-chromosomes. Associated with the Norse ethnicity, I1 is found in all places invaded by ancient Germanic tribes and the Vikings. Other parts of Europe speaking Germanic languages come next in frequency. Germany, Austria, the Low Countries, England and the Scottish Lowlands all have between 10% and 20% of I1 lineages.

Haplogroup I is the oldest major haplogroup in Europe and in all probability the only one that originated there (apart from very minor haplogroups like C6 and deep subclades of other haplogroups). It is thought to have arrived from the Middle East as haplogroup IJ sometime between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago, and developed into haplogroup I approximately 25,000 years ago. In other words, Cro-Magnons most probably belonged to IJ and I (alongside older haplogroups like F and C6).

The I1 branch is estimated to have split away 20,000 years ago and evolved in isolation in Scandinavia during the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic. I1 is defined by at least 25 unique mutations, which indicates that this lineage experienced a serious population bottleneck. Men belonging to this haplogroup all descend from a single ancestor who lived between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago.

During the Mesolithic period, pre-I1 and I1 people were part of the successive Ertebølle culture (5300-3950 BCE), Funnelbeaker culture (4000-2700 BCE) and Pitted Ware culture (3200-2300 BCE). The latter two are sometimes considered as Neolithic cultures due the introduction of farming. However, Neolithic farmers from Germany penetrated late into Scandinavia and in small numbers, and the lifestyle remained primarily one of hunter-gatherers. This is probably the reason why Scandinavia retained one of the most substantial Paleolithic ancestry in Europe.

From 2800 BCE, a large-scale cultural and genetic upheaval hit Scandinavia with the arrival of the Indo-Europeans from Eastern Europe, who brought the Copper Age and Early Bronze Age practically without Neolithic transition. The first Indo-Europeans to reach Scandinavia were the Corded Ware people from modern Russia, Belarus and Poland, who are thought to have belonged predominantly to haplogroup R1a. These people carried similar maternal lineages as Scandinavian I1 inhabitants – in great majority mtDNA haplogroups U4 and U5.

The second major Indo-European migration to Scandinavia was that of haplogroup R1b, the branch that is thought to have introduced Proto-Germanic languages, as an offshoot of the Proto-Celto-Germanic speakers from Central Europe. R1b probably entered Scandinavia from present-day Germany as a northward expansion of the late Unetice culture (2300-1600 BCE).

According to the Germanic substrate hypothesis, first proposed by Sigmund Feist in 1932, Proto-Germanic was a hybrid language mixing Indo-European (R1b, and to a lower extent R1a) and pre-Indo-European (native Nordic I1) elements. This hybridisation would have taken place during the Bronze Age and given birth to the first truly Germanic civilization, the Nordic Bronze Age (1700-500 BCE).

Sharp genetic borders within a geographically restricted region are known to exist among the populations around the northern Baltic Sea on the northern edge of Europe. Haplogroup N3, being abundant on the eastern side of the Baltic, differentiates between eastern and western sides of the Baltic Sea, just like R1b that has a reverse frequency pattern to N3. The typically Scandinavian haplogroup Ia1 has a high frequency of up to 40%, separating not only Sweden but also Western Finland from the other populations. The frequency of haplogroup R1a1, most characteristic to Slavic peoples, varied substantially across the populations.

We also analyzed mtDNA markers with special interest for sub-haplogroups of H and U, that among other haplogroups, show substantial variation between the populations (e.g. haplogroups H1, H2, T and J1). In conclusion, our current Y-chromosomal and mtDNA data suggest various incidents of gene flow from different sources, each reaching partly different areas of the Baltic region, which can be thus seen as a meeting point of a not only culturally but also genetically diverse set of populations.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variability was studied in a sample of 179 individuals representing Czech population from west Bohemia. MtDNA analysis revealed that the majority of Czech mtDNAs belongs to the common West Eurasian mitochondrial haplogroups. However, about 3 per cent of Czech mtDNAs encompass East Eurasian lineages (A, N9a, D4, M*).

Comparative analysis of published data has shown that different Slavonic populations contain small but marked amount of East Eurasian mtDNAs (e.g. 1.3 per cent in Eastern Slavs, 1.8 per cent in Western Slavs, and 1.2 per cent in Southern Slavs). It is noteworthy that Baltic populations (Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians) have avoided a marked influence of maternal lineages of East Eurasian origin (0.3-0.6 per cent).

The two East Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups, Z1 and D5, are present in gene pools of North European Finnic populations (Saami, Finns, and Karelians). Unlike them, Slavonic populations in general are characterized by heterogeneous mtDNA structure, defined, in addition to Z1 and D5, by haplogroups A, C, D4, G2a, M*, N9a, F and Y. Therefore, different scenarios of female-mediated East Eurasian genetic influence on Northern and Eastern Europeans should be highlighted.

The most ancient, probably originated in the early Holocene, influx of Asian tribes, which brought a few selected East Asian mtDNA haplotypes (like Z and D5) to Fennoscandia (Tambets et al. 2004), and gradual gene flows of historic times occurred mostly in the Middle Ages due to migrations of nomadic peoples (such as the Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Mongols) to Eastern and Central European territories inhabited mainly by Slavonic tribes.

The presence of East Eurasian mtDNA haplotypes is not original feature of gene pool of the proto-Slavs, but mostly is a consequence of admixture with Central Asian nomadic tribes, who migrated into Central and Eastern Europe in the early middle Ages.

Haplogroup Q is thought to have originated in Central Asia or North Asia during of shortly after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, 26,000 to 19,000 years ago). Q descends from haplogroup P, which is also the ancestor of haplogroups R1a and R1b.

Haplogroup Q quickly split into two main branches: Q1a and Q1b. While Q1a is more Mongolian, Siberian and Native American, Q1b appears to have originated in Central Asia and migrated early to South Asia and the Middle East.

The northern Q1a tribes expanded over Siberia as the climate warmed up after the LGM. Some Q1a crossed the still frozen Bering Strait to the American continent some time between 16,500 and 13,000 years ago.

In Europe, haplogroup Q1a is believed to have been brought by the Huns, the Mongols and the Turks, who all originated in the Altai region, around modern Mongolia. Haplogroup Q has been identified in Iron Age remains from Hunnic sites in Mongolia by Petkovski et al. (2006) and in Xinjiang by Kang et al. (2013). Modern Mongols belong to various subclades of Q1a, including by order of frequency Q1a2a1c (L330), Q1a1a1 (M120), Q1a1b (M25) and Q1a2a* (L53).

In the 1st century CE, some Goths migrated from Sweden to Poland, then in the 2nd century settled on the northern shores of the Black Sea around modern Moldova. The Huns, which most likely the Huns were from eastern Asian origins, conquered the Goths in the Pontic Steppe in the 4th century, forcing some of them to flee the Dnieper region and settled in the Eastern Roman Empire (Balkans).

The Huns were a nomadic tribe of people that arrived from eastern Asia around 150 AD. They built a European empire that lasted until 469 AD.  The height of the empire was under the reign of Attila. The Huns were not a homogeneous group. They integrated those that they conquered. The Alani and the Ostrogoths were a few of the assimilated groups. Their DNA would have been eastern European, perhaps R1a, G2a, I1 or I2 and a minority proportion, but the core and the majority of the Huns, based on historical reference, would have been East Asian.

The Huns were a group of nomadic people who first appeared in Europe from east of the Volga River, region of the earlier Scythians, with a migration intertwined with the Alans. They were first mentioned as Hunnoi by Tacitus. Initially being near the Caspian Sea in 91 AD, the Huns migrated to the southeastern area of the Caucasus by about 150 AD and into Europe by 370 AD, where they established a vast Hunnic Empire.

Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who migrated out of the Mongolia region some three hundred years before and who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns, considerable scholarly effort has been devoted to investigating such a connection. However, there is no scholarly consensus on a direct connection between the dominant element of the Xiongnu and that of the Huns.

The cause of the Hunnic move into Europe may have been expansion of the Rouran,  a nomadic Mongolian empire on the northern borders of Inner China from the late 4th century until the middle 6th century and who had created a massive empire across the Asian continent in the mid-4th century, including the Tatar lands as well, which they took over from the Xianbei. It is supposed that this westward spread of Rouran power pushed the Huns into Europe over the years.

It has sometimes been hypothesized that the Rouran are identical to the Eurasian Avars, a group of professional equestrian warriors, who established an empire spanning considerable areas of Central and Eastern Europe from the late 6th to the early 9th century.

Although the name Avar first appeared in the mid-fifth century, the Avars of Europe enter the historical scene in the mid-sixth century AD, having formed as a mixed band of warriors in the Pontic-Caspian steppe wishing to escape Göktürk rule. Their linguistic affiliation may be tentatively deduced from a variety of sources, betraying a variety of languages spoken by ruling and subject clans. Oghur, a distinct branch of the Turkic languages, figures prominently for the original Avar language. In any event, Slavic ultimately became the lingua franca in the Avar Khaganate.

The Caucasian Avars constitute a Caucasian native ethnic group, the most predominant of several ethnic groups living in the Russian republic of Dagestan. The Avar language spoken by the Caucasian Avars belongs to the family of Northeast Caucasian languages and is also known as Nakh–Dagestanian.

It is suggested that the presence of East Eurasian mtDNA haplotypes is not original feature of gene pool of the proto-Slavs, but mostly is a consequence of admixture with Central Asian nomadic tribes, who migrated into Central and Eastern Europe in the early middle Ages.

Contemporary scholars are less inclined to view the tribal groupings mentioned in historical texts as monolithic and long-lived ‘nations’, but were rather volatile and fluid political formations whose dynamic depended on the sedentary civilizations they bordered as well as internal power struggles within the barbarian lands.

Such views are mirrored by Csanad Balint. “The ethnogenesis of early medieval peoples of steppe origin ..cannot be conceived in a single linear fashion due to their great and constant mobility”, with no ethnogenetic “point zero”, theoretical “proto-people” or proto-language.

Walter Pohl recently summarized the formation of nomadic empires:

1. Many steppe empires were founded by groups who had been defeated in previous power struggles but had fled from the dominion of the stronger group. The Avars were likely a losing faction previously subordinate to the (legitimate) Ashina clan in the West Turk khanate, this fled west of the Dnieper.

2. These groups usually were of mixed origin, and each of its components was part of a previous group.

3. Crucial in the process was the elevation of a khagan, which signified a claim to independent power and an expansionist strategy. This group also needed a new name that would give all of its initial followers a sense of identity.

4. The name for a new group of steppe riders was often taken from a repertoire of prestigious names which did not necessarily denote any direct affiliation to or descent from groups of the same name; in the early middle ages, Huns, Avars, Bulgars, and Ogurs, or names connected with -(o)gur (Cutrigurs, Utigurs, Onogurs, etc.), were most important. In the process of name-giving, both perceptions by outsiders and self-designation played a role.

These names were also connected with prestigious traditions that directly expressed political pretensions and programmes, and had to be endorsed by success. In the world of the steppe, where agglomerations of groups were rather fluid, it was vital to know how to deal with a newly-emergent power. The symbolical hierarchy of prestige expressed through names provided some orientation for friend and foe alike

Moreover, Avar identity was strongly linked to Avar political institutions. Groups who rebelled or fled from the Avar realm could never be called “Avars”, but were rather termed “Bulgars”. Similarly, with the final demise of Avar power in the early 9th century, Avar identity disappeared almost instantaneously.

Anthropological research has revealed few skeletons with Mongoloid-type features, although there was continuing cultural influence from the Eurasian nomadic steppe. The late Avar period shows more hybridization, resulting in higher frequencies of Euro-Mongoloids. Mongoloid and Euro-Mongoloid types compose about one-third of the total population of the Avar graves of the eighth century, but as the Avars conquered more Europoid populations, the percentage of Europoids amongst the Avars became much higher.

According to Pál Lipták the early Avar anthropological material was almost exclusively Europoid in the 7th century, while grave-goods indicated Middle and Central Asian parallels. On the other hand, cemeteries dated for the 8th century contained Mongoloid elements among others. He analysed population of the Danube-Tisza midland region in the Avar period and found that 80% of them showed Europoid characteristics.

The power of the Rouran was broken by an alliance of Göktürks, a nomadic confederation of Turkic peoples in medieval Inner Asia that revolted against the Rouran, the Chinese Northern Qi and Northern Zhou dynasties and revolting tribes in Central Asia in 552.

The Göktürks, under the leadership of Bumin Qaghan (d. 552) and his sons, succeeded the Rouran as the main power in the region and established the First Turkish or Türk Empire (552-581), which rapidly expanded to rule huge territories in Central Asia. The Türks interacted extensively with various dynasties based in north China, and for significant periods exercised considerable control over the lucrative Silk Road trade.

The First Türk Empire collapsed in 581, and fifty years later Kutlugh (d. 692) established the Second Turkish or Türk empire (683-734), which controlled much of the eastern portion of the former First Türk Empire and produced the Orkhon inscriptions that have survived to the present.

Priscus mentions that the Huns had a language of their own; little of it has survived and its relationships have been the subject of debate for centuries. Numerous other languages were spoken within the Hun Pax, including Gothic (East Germanic), which was widely used as a lingua franca in the Hunnic territories. Their main military technique was mounted archery.

The Huns may have stimulated the Great Migration, a contributing factor in the collapse of the western Roman Empire. They formed a unified empire under Attila the Hun, who died in 453; their empire broke up the next year. Their descendants, or successors with similar names, are recorded by neighbouring populations to the south, east, and west as having occupied parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia approximately from the 4th century to the 6th century. Variants of the Hun name are recorded in the Caucasus until the early 8th century.

By the end of the Hunnic Empire, the Huns had spent over 300 years, 12 generations, in Europe. Unlike the later Mongol invaders, the Huns had no Asian home to return to. They, in turn, were assimilated into the cultures they once ruled and left descendants across Europe.

The Huns belonged to haplogroups C – ‘Mongol’, D – ‘Tibetan’, N – ‘Han/Finn’, O – ‘Manchurian’ and Q – ‘Altaic’. Groups D and O were isolated individuals, easily attributed to Silk Road travelers who settled in Europe. Group C was predominantly C3 and related to the later Mongol invasion. N was either heavily Finnic or a few isolated Siberian individuals.  Q was a different story completely.

The Romans reported that the Huns consisted of a small ruling elite and their armies comprised mostly of Germanic warriors. Gotland and Götaland is the presumed homeland of the ancient Goths. Götaland and Gotland in southern Sweden now have the highest frequency of haplogroup Q in Europe (5%) and almost all of it belong to the Q1a2b1 (L527) subclade.

It would not be improbable that some Goths and Huns moved back to southern Sweden, either before invading the Roman Empire, or after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, displaced by the Slavic migrations to Central Europe. After all, even ancient people kept the nostalgia of their ancestral homeland and knew exactly where their ancestors a few hundreds years earlier came from.

Haplogroup Q has origins in Siberia, most likely north of the Altai Mountains. Q is also the origin of the Native Americans.  The majority of the Native America haplogroup is Q1a3a.  What I found was a significant Q1b and Q1a2 population in Eastern Europe. When I map the Q1b genetic footprint using TribeMapper they fall exactly north of the Danube River and east of the Rhine. This corresponds to the territory of the Hunnic Empire. The Q1a2 group maps to Hungary, the royal seat of the empire.

These Q1b and Q1a2 are close-knit tribes each with common ancestry within the last 2100 years. The timing of their common ancestry and their geographic footprint make a strong argument that these two Q groups were the genetic core of the Hun invaders.

A few caveats.  Not every European in haplogroup Q is a Hun. There is a population of Q1a3a, a closer relation to Native Americans, living in Sweden that doesn’t correlate. Not every Hun is a Q, there are bound to be some other groups mixed in like the isolated N individuals as well as the folks the Huns picked up along the way.

When we think of the Huns, probably the first person who comes to mind is Attila. Attila was the second to last ruler of the Huns at the height of the empire. He died in 453 and the empire crumbled in 469 AD. There is no evidence to say that Attila fits into either the Q1b or Q1a2 group.  If I had to pose a theory, I would say that Attila is Q1a2, part of the royal class of Huns living in Hungary.

The Huns (Q1a2 & Q1b) and the Native Americans (Q1a3a) share a common Asian ancestor around 18,000 years ago, most likely from the Altai Mountain region.  Not all of the ancestral Q1a3a traveled to the new world.  Some remained in the old world and are found across Siberia and into Scandinavia.  If you live in the Americas and you have been tested as a Q, don’t automatically assume that you are Native American.  Get a deep clade SNP test for confirmation.

The combined evidence of DNA, geography and history leads to the conclusion that at the end of the Hunnic Empire, the core East Asian Huns assimilated into the eastern European cultures.  They left behind a strong genetic footprint in the same territory that they historically inhabited.  The next time I’m asked, “What about the Huns?”  I can point to Europe and say, “They’re still there.”

Q1b tribes stayed in Central Asia and later migrated south towards the Middle East. The highest frequency of Q1b in Europe is found among Ashkenazi Jews (5%) and Sephardic Jews (2%), suggesting that Q1b was present in the Levant before the Jewish disapora 2,000 years ago.

Q1b is also found in Lebanon (2%), and in isolated places settled by the Phoenicians in southern Europe (Crete, Sicily, south-west Iberia). This means that Q1b must have been present in the Levant at latest around 1200 BCE, a very long time before the Hunnic migrations.

One hypothesis is that Q1b reached the Middle East alongside haplogroup R1a-Z93 with the Indo-Iranian migrations from Central Asia during the Late Bronze Age.

Haplogroup Q (Y-chromosomal DNA) – Eupedia


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