Ancient North Eurasians

Ancient North Eurasians lived in Siberia during the Ice Age. Their DNA is a genetic ‘missing link’ between Europeans, Iranians, Siberians and the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Japan.

Ancient North Eurasians lived 25,000 years ago, during the last Glacial Maximum. At the time, homo sapiens lived-in scattered bands across Africa, Eurasia and Australia who seldom met. Some groups survived and passed on their genes; others did not. As these bands lived in different climates and lived distinct lifestyles for thousands of years, they tended to look different. Because most modern peoples descend from numerous lineages, groups like the Ancient North Eurasians do not correspond to any one people today.

Ancient hunter-gatherers periodically returned to the same sites where they deposited tools, the bones of hunted animals and their dead. Archaeologists link sites to common cultures. Archaeogeneticists connect archaeological sites with genetic lineages.

Three sites are associated with the Ancient North Eurasians:

  • Mal’ta Buret’ culture
  • Yana Rhinocerous Site
  • Anfontova Gora

Remains indicate the ANE were hunter-gatherers with partial Neanderthal ancestry. They hunted hares, bears, bison, mammoths, horses and reindeer and built their houses from antlers and bone. Their tools were made from ivory and flint, their clothes from wool and hide. The Mal’ta Buret culture left over 30 ‘Venus figurines’ made from mammoth ivory (pictured). A 2021 study suggests ANE were the first people to domesticate dogs.

The Mal’ta boy was a four-year-old child buried near Lake Baikal, Siberia. He wore an ivory crown, a bead necklace and a pendant shaped like a bird. Genetic sequencing indicates the boy was a typical Ancient North Eurasian who shares DNA with both modern Europeans and Native Americans.

Until the 2000s, scientists thought Native Americans were of entirely East Asian origin. The Mal’ta boy, however, shares no DNA with modern East Asians, indicating the humans who first crossed the Bering Landbridge were of mixed East Asian and ANE ancestry.

Preserved bodies like the Mal’ta boy had brown hair, dark eyes and medium-light skin. The Anfontova Gora site contains the oldest known person to have blonde hair – a woman living around 16,000 BC. 

Over time, the Ancient North Eurasians dispersed and interbred with different populations. In the west, they became herders who spoke proto-Indo-European languages. Others interbred with hunter-gatherers from East Asia, crossed the Bering Land bridge and populated the Americas.

Estimated ANE ancestry among modern peoples:

  • Indigenous Americans – 14-38 (highest among Andean peoples)
  • Modern Europeans – 10-25%
  • Ainu – 21%
  • South Asians (Indians) – 10 – 20%
  • Iranians – 10-20%

The Kets (above), an isolated group of Siberian hunter-gatherers, have 40% Ancient North Eurasian ancestry.

By noting common elements across mythologies, legends and folk beliefs of their descendants, we can theorise what the ANE might have believed. The traditions of India, Scandinavia, Greece, Siberia and the Americas – from the Sioux to the Aztec – have only one ‘mytheme’ in common: a dog who guards the entrance to the afterlife.

Sources: BBC, DNA Consultants, Nature, National Library of Medicine

See Also:

The Sarmatians

Sarmatia: Poland’s Mythic Golden Age? – Crazy Polish Guy

The Sarmatians were a nomadic people who lived in the Black Sea steppe (modern-day Ukraine) at the time of the Roman Empire. They spoke an East Iranian language and lived on horseback and in covered wagons. Renowned warriors, the Sarmatians inspired legends as far as England and Greece.

Sarmatians and their predecessors the Scythians shared a similar culture. Both smoked cannabis, scalped their enemies and drank horse milk from human skulls. They were taller than their settled neighbours, and allegedly had red hair and light eyes.  Herodotus claimed women held equal social status to men and fought in battle alongside them. Modern historians denied his claims as fanciful until 20th century grave discoveries revealed Sarmatian women buried with armour and weapons.

According to legend, the Sarmatians were born of Scythian fathers and Amazon mothers. Herodotus claimed when the Greeks defeated the Amazons – a mythical nation of warrior women – they loaded prisoners onto a ship in the Black Sea. The captives mutinied and escaped into the marshes of Crimea. Here they met the Scythians, the land’s nomadic inhabitants. A group of Scythian men interloped with the escaped Amazons and their children became the Sarmatians.

According to the archaeological record, the Sarmatians originally lived east of the Scythians in modern-day Kazakhstan. Around the 3rd century BC, they migrated west and absorbed the Scythians, now ‘softened’ by sedentary Greek culture.

A HISTORY OF UKRAINE. EPISODE 10. THE SARMATIANSThe Sarmatians were not a single nation but a collection of nomadic tribes sharing a common culture. These included the Roxolani, Iazeges and Alans. Sarmatian warriors often raided the Roman Empire and were later part of the migrations which brought Rome to her knees.

Unlike other steppe nations such as the Scythians and Huns, Sarmatians favoured armoured lancers over mobile horse archers.  Their cavalry dominated ancient battlefields. Hippocrates, a Roman doctor, claimed Sarmatian women could not marry until they killed three men in battle.

In the winter of AD 171, Emperor Marcus Aurelius defeated a Sarmatian army on the frozen Danube. As tribute, 5,500 Sarmatian horsemen joined the Roman army. The emperor resettled the Sarmatian recruits to the frontier of Roman Britain to hold back the Celts beyond Hadrian’s Wall. These mounted warriors may have inspired the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Scythians and Sarmatians – Renegade Tribune

When the Huns invaded the Sarmatian homeland, only the Alan tribe survived. One group headed west, the other south. The first group joined Goths, Huns and Vandals as they moved into the Roman Empire, with some travelling as far as North Africa. Sarmatian cavalry were critical in the defeat of Attila the Hun at the Battle of Catalaunian Plains in AD 451.

Some Sarmatians forged a small kingdom in Central Europe, ruling over Slavic peasants. Their descendants are the Sorbs (or Wends), a West Slavic minority who still live in Germany today. The old Polish aristocracy also claimed descent from Sarmatian conquerors. Ultimately, the western Sarmatians assimilated into the developing Slavic and western European nations. The Spanish region of Catalonia is named after the Alans, as is the English name Alan.

The second group settled in the defensible Caucasus Mountains, where they became the Ossetians, an ethnic group who still speak an East Iranian language today.

Sources:, Herodotus – The Histories, Iranica Online, John Man – Amazons: the Warrior Women of the Ancient World

See Also:

Peoples of Afghanistan

afghanistan ethnic map 3Afghanistan is home to five major ethnic groups and nine smaller ones. Being a mountainous land at the crossroads of empires, Afghanistan was historically settled by various people and nations. Today each group practises its own distinct culture and generally lives in different parts of the country while mingling in the cities. Though they might all be seen as ‘Afghans’ to outsiders, within the country ethnic divisions predominate.

afghan girl natgeo2

Pashtuns make up 42% of the country. They are represented in both the urban elite and the rural poor. After the British invasion of Afghanistan, the Pashtun homeland was split in two. As a result, over 500,000 also live in neighbouring Pakistan, mainly in the mountainous border region. Sunni Muslims since the 9th century, Pashtuns live in a tribal society where clan loyalty is paramount. Rural Pashtuns still wear traditional clothing and follow an honour system called ‘Pashtunwali’. Pashto, their native language, is an Indo-European tongue related to Persian. Many also speak Persian (Dari) and Urdu.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tajik.jpg

Tajiks are a Persian speaking people indigenous to Central Asia. They are 27% of Afghanistan and the majority in neighbouring Tajikstan. The 19th-century Russian invasion of Central Asia cut their homeland in two as the British did the Pashtuns. Tajiks were highly represented in the ‘Northern Alliance’ who fought the Taliban. Also known as ‘East Persians’, Tajiks descend from the settled Persian communities of Afghanistan, in contrast to the traditionally pastoral Pashtuns. Unlike the Persians of Iran, they are mainly Sunni Muslim.


Hazaras are 9% of Afghanistan and hail from its mountainous centre. Though they speak Persian, Hazaras descend from 13th century Mongol invaders and their appearance is distinctly more East Asian than other Afghans. Being Shia Muslims in a Sunni dominated state, Hazaras face severe discrimination. The Taliban massacred thousands of Hazara between 1996 and 2001.

Screenshot of a news report featuring Soyra Saddot, Afghanistan's first female district governor

Uzbeks, at 9% of the population, descend from the Uzbek Khanate, a 11th-century Turkic state. In the ‘Great Game’ of the 1800s, the British-backed Pashtuns seized land from the Russian-backed Uzbeks and made it Afghan. Many Uzbeks supported Afghanistan’s Communist government against the Mujahideen in the 1970s. Neighboring Uzbekistan is named after them. The Uzbek language is of the Karluk Turkic branch.


Nomadic peoples of Afghanistan include the Turkmens, Aimaqs and Balochs. The Nuristani people (above) are unique in their light featured appearance. They claim descent from Greek soldiers who settled the region when Alexander the Great conquered Bactria in the 300s BC, though most scholars believe the Nuristanis are indigenous to the region.

Sources: Encyclopedia Iranica, Minority Rights, NPR, World Population Review

See Also:

The Tarim Mummies

Fun Times With Demon of Light - ancientpeoples: The Tarim ...Buried beneath the sands of China’s largest desert, the 2,000-year-old Tarim mummies are better preserved than the pharaohs of Egypt. The arid climate conserved them so well even their eyelashes remain intact. Strangely, they look more European than Chinese.

Takla Makan Desert | Climate, Animals, & Facts ...

Taklamakan means ‘place of no return’. In the dead centre of Asia and surrounded by the world’s tallest mountains on three sides, it is one of the driest and most inhospitable places on earth. The salt-filled desert covers most of the Tarim Basin, a key part of the Silk Road. Temperatures range between 40 and -30 °C and less than 1cm of rain falls each year – perfect conditions for preserving the dead.

loulan tomb

Scattered along the Tarim Basin’s dry riverbeds and oases, the tombs were excavated in the 20th century. Each layered necropolis housed its dead in wooden boat coffins beside carvings of phalluses and vulvas.  Some mummies, both children and adults, had gouged out eyes and were possibly buried alive. Horn cups, wheels, saddles, pottery and bronze tools indicate an advanced horse-riding culture. There are 200 mummies in total.

Though some of the more recent mummies look East Asian, the majority have light hair, narrow noses and deep-set, round eyes. Their plaid woollen clothing resembles that of Bronze Age Europe, their tattoos the ancient Scythians.

The Beauty of Xiaohe | Real Mummy from the Secrets of the ...

The ‘Beauty of Loulan’ is the oldest. According to radiocarbon dating, she died of lung cancer age 40 around 1,800 BC.  Her red hair was braided and she was buried in a twill woollen robe with a wooden phallus and basket of wheat. Neither wheat nor sheep are native to China.

The ‘Cherchen Man’, who lived around 1,000 BC had a red beard and was six foot six. He wore a purple tunic and tartan trousers, deerskin boots and yellow socks with ochre suns painted on his cheeks. His coffin contained a collection of ten different hats. Cherchen Man was around 50 when he died, probably from disease, and was buried beside a woman and baby child.

In 2015 scientists sequenced the DNA of 92 Tarim mummies from the Xiaohe site – the Tarim Basin’s oldest cemetery and the largest collection of mummies in the world. Their maternal lineage (mtDNA) indicates a mixture of Siberian and west Eurasian ancestry – represented by haplogroups C, H and K. Their yDNA, which is passed from father to son, belongs overwhelmingly to haplogroup R1a, a marker associated with Eastern Europe and the proto-Indo-Europeans.

Palaeolexicon - Word study tool for ancient languagesWho were the Tarim Mummies? The archaeological and genetic record suggests they were Indo-European speakers who migrated east from the Russian steppe around 2,000 BC and took Siberian wives. They are likely Tocharians (or Yuezhi), a nomadic people whom the Chinese describe living in the Tarim Basin in ancient times. The Tocharians spoke an isolated Indo-European tongue closer to Latin than the eastern branches and traded jade with China. Migrations by the Scythians, Xiongnu, Han and Turks followed.

(Chinise)Uighur | Exotic people | Pinterest | Traditional ...Today the Tarim Basin falls under China’s Xinjiang region. Uyghur separatists claim the mummies as their ancestors, saying they, not the Han Chinese, are Xinjiang’s native inhabitants and rightful rulers. Though the Turkic speaking Uyghurs did not settle the Tarim Basin until 842 AD, they absorbed its earlier inhabitants. Some still have red hair today.

Sources: China Daily Mail, Encyclopaedia Britannica, NCBI, New York Times, Sino-Platonic, UPenn, Wikimedia Commons

See Also:

Steppe People

Mongolia – Pure adventure with a Nomadic family – The Inspirer
The Eurasian steppe is a sea of grass stretching from Hungary to Manchuria.
In the old days, it supported neither agriculture nor cities. Its inhabitants were pastoral nomads who lived in felt tents and moved with the seasons, living on a diet of meat and dairy from their herds.

The harsh steppe climate and nomadic life bred tough warriors. Steppe peoples like the Turks and Mongols were raised on the saddle, and masters of the bow. What nomads couldn’t raise themselves they took from others. Farmers proved easy targets. Raiders plundered settled communities of animals, valuables and slaves then melted away before organised armies could respond.  In the cutthroat world of the steppe, only the warlike survived.

south korena mounted archer.jpg

Skilled mounted archers fire when all four hooves are off the ground to get a clear shot.

The saddle, stirrups and composite bow revolutionised nomadic warfare. Mounted archers could stand in their stirrups and fire at full gallop, controlling their horse with their knees. Under Genghis Khan the average Mongol warrior could twelve arrows a minute and hit a bird mid-flight. Man for man, cumbersome foot soldiers were little match for an organised nomadic army.

What nomads lacked, however, was the unity and numbers of their civilized neighbours. Canny rulers strove to keep the steppe tribes weak and divided through tribute, espionage or bribery. Chinese and Roman Emperors and Arab caliphs hired nomadic cavalry to fight on their behalf.

Eurasian steppe

The Eurasian steppe (blue) covers parts of modern-day China, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Hungary

Occasionally a charismatic warlord or khan united the tribes against their neighbours – a constant fear for the peoples of Europe, China and the Middle East. Men like Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and Attila the Hun slaughtered millions. After a few generations, however, barbarian overlords would typically ‘civilise’, settle down and adopt the ways of their subjects. In some cases – as in Turkey or Hungary – they retained their language and cultural identity; in others they assimilated completely – like the Mongols in Iran and China.

The Orkhon Inscription of 8th century Mongolia reads:orkhon.jpg

“The Chinese with silver and gold and sweet enticements draw the [Turkic] peoples into their style of life. Their lazy courts drew our peoples to them and as a result many have died and have been ultimately conquered by the Chinese. Deserting the dark forest many looked toward the south saying ‘I would settle in the plains’. O Turks if you go and settle in that country, you will perish! But if you remain nomads in the forest, where there are neither riches nor cares, you will preserve an ever-lasting empire O Turks!”

Indo-Europeans were the first to domesticate the horse. In ancient times they roamed the steppe on chariots and spread their languages across India, Europe and Iran. Notable examples are the Scythians, Sarmatians and Goths.

The Huns triggered the Germanic Migrations which destroyed Rome, and forged a brief empire in Eastern Europe. Their cousins, the Hephthalites and Sveta Hunna, ravaged Central Asia and northern India in the 5th century.

The Turks arose in Eastern Mongolia in the 500s. When the Chinese expelled them they migrated west. After Genghis Khan annihilated the Iranians of Central Asia, Turkic peoples took their place.

Magyars from the Ural Mountains terrorised Europe in the 900s. In 1000 they converted to Catholicism and founded Hungary.

Charge of the Mongol cavalry in Northern China | East ...

The Mongols conquered history’s greatest land empire in the 12th century. Of their successors, however, only the Golden Horde in Russia maintained a nomadic existence. The Mongols and ancient Turks lived similar lifestyles but spoke different languages. They worshipped the sky god Tengri and called their rulers ‘Khagans’. By 1000 AD most Turks were Muslim.

Despite their prowess, nomadic warriors could not compete against firearms. A rifle, unlike the bow, requires little skill to use. From the 15th to 19th centuries, the Russians and Chinese tamed the steppe and subjugated its people.  The age of the nomadic empire was at an end.

Today (outer) Mongolia and the Turkic nations of Central Asia are independent. East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia remain part of China. Roughly 40% of Mongolia’s people still live as nomads.

See Also:

The Historical Context of Cheddar Man

Cheddar Man | Know Your MemeThe Cheddar Man is the oldest complete human skeleton found in Britain.  He died a violent death around 7150 BC in Gough’s Cave in Chedder Gorge, Somerset, where his remains were uncovered in 1903. Cheddar Man made headlines when the latest forensic reconstruction from London’s Natural History Museum depicted him as dark skinned, a surprising revelation some criticised as politically motivated.

What we know:

  • Cheddar Man was not the first Briton: human fossils have been found in Gough’s cave predating Cheddar Man by 5,000 years. However, these early inhabitants did not survive the ice age and bear no relation to either Cheddar Man or modern Britons.
  • He was young, most likely in his mid-20s.
  • Cheddar Man belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup U5 (from the female line), a genome found mainly in Finns and Laplanders today.
  • His Y chromosomal haplogroup was I2A2.
  • He was 5’4 tall.
  • He was lactose intolerant.
  • According to the latest genome sequencing, Cheddar Man had blue eyes, ‘dark to black’ skin and curly, black hair.

Cheddar Man belonged to a wave of ‘Mesolithic’ (Middle Stone Age) settlers, blue-eyed hunters-gatherers who crossed to Britain by land as the ice sheets retreated.  Typical of hunter-gatherers, their numbers were small; probably only 12,000 in Cheddar Man’s time. They are not the main ancestors of modern Britain.

Eupedia ForumEurope in Cheddar Man’s time

In the Neolithic Era (New Stone Age), lighter-skinned, brown-eyed farmers of Middle Eastern origin settled across Europe, introducing livestock herding, grains and a milk-based diet. They interbred with and ultimately replaced, the smaller indigenous population. In Britain, they constructed Stonehenge and Skara Brae. Neolithic farmer ancestry is strongest in Sardinians today.

A third wave settled in Britain during the mid-Bronze Age, 5,000 years after Cheddar Man’s time. The demographic transformation is evidenced by the spread of Bell Breaker pottery around the time and the replacement of stone monoliths with humbler burial mounds. The ‘Bell Beakers’ were part of a larger migration of Indo-European speakers across Europe and South Asia. They introduced horses, bronze weaponry and the Y chromosomal haplogroup R1-B, which was not present in Western Europeans before but dominates today. More numerous, they engulfed the earlier populations and left a stronger genetic imprint. They were the progenitors of the ancient Celts.

The Genetic Map Of Europe – Brilliant MapsModern European Y chromosomal haplogroups

Further, better-known migrations of the Anglo Saxons and Norse followed in the Middle Ages. Disproportionate to their cultural influence, the Roman and Norman invasions had little impact on Britain’s genetic makeup.

In a recent article published by the ‘New Scientist’, published on the 21st February 2018, geneticist Susan Walsh, who worked on Cheddar Man project, admitted the data on Cheddar Man’s skin colour is not conclusive.

“It’s not a simple statement of ‘this person was dark-skinned’, it is his most probable profile, based on current research.”

The article further stipulates that recent genetic research on indigenous populations in Southern Africa by Brenna Henn of Stony Brook University demonstrated substantial variations in skin colour among individuals with similar genotypes. Like the colour of dinosaurs, discerning Cheddar Man’s complexion is educated guesswork.

Related imageDespite this, scientists have speculated Mesolithic Europeans were dark-skinned for some time. The genes for blue eyes evolved before the genes which determine light skin and blond hair. The Spanish LaBrana man (pictured right), a contemporary of Cheddar Man, exhibited similar traits.

Britain’s Mesolithic population, of which Cheddar Man belonged, were healthy and ate mainly fish, which is rich in vitamin D. Europeans evolved light skin to extract more vitamin D from the sun, so when excessive sunlight or a high seafood diet makes it abundant, these genes do not develop. This is why the Inuit maintain dark skin despite living in the boreal extremes of North America.

Originating from Anatolia and the steppes of southern Russia respectively, and eating milk products and bread over seafood, the Neolithic farmers and Bell Beaker people were lighter-skinned than Cheddar Man’s ilk. It is normal for dark-skinned people to develop lighter skin after millennia in cold European climates too, as did Ashkenazi Jews.

Today 10% of British DNA traces back to the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers like Cheddar Man, roughly 10% from Neolithic farmers and the rest, perhaps even up to 90%, from the Bell Beakers and later immigrants.

Genetics is a dynamic discipline. New technology, discoveries and research are constantly introducing new evidence and debunking the old. Yes, media coverage of the Cheddar Man was sensationalist, but that is their nature.

It is important to remember these migrations occurred over centuries, with interbreeding always occurring. What information we can discern from a handful of fossilised cavemen remains a murky glimpse to a long lost past.

Note: Studies on prehistoric migrations and genomes is convoluted but fascinating. I’ve linked some resources for further reading. The Eupedia and Nature posts are particularly detailed.

Sources: Nature, National Geographic, New Scientist, Eupedia, BBC, The Guardian, Abroad in the Yard

See Also: