Academic journal article Trames

The Concepts of Richard Indreko about the Origin of the Finno-Ugric Speakers and the Population Genetics of the Extant North-East European Populations

Academic journal article Trames

The Concepts of Richard Indreko about the Origin of the Finno-Ugric Speakers and the Population Genetics of the Extant North-East European Populations

Article excerpt

University of Tartu and Estonian Biocentre


Anthropological data concerning the populations speaking Finno-Ugric languages started to emerge in the 19th century. Although the first studies were almost anecdotal in their methods and conclusions, they regretfully continued to be influential in one aspect: in speculating about the mongoloidness in the genetic substratum of the Finno-Ugrians. Namely, an acknowledged French anthropologist Paul Broca deduced from three crania that Estonians, together with the Finns, belong to the Mongoloid race. Although later much more detailed anthropometric studies (Aul 1964, Mark 1956) have disputed such an interpretation, the notion of Asian origin of the Finno-Ugric people has found its way from textbook to textbook and the idea surfaces now and then in recent articles as well (Zerjal et al. 1997; Zerjal et al. 1999).

From the eighties onwards, the breakthrough in DNA sequence analysis paved the way for molecular anthropology, the potential of which lies now in the abundance of possible markers that can be used in phylogenetic studies. Selectively neutral markers that lie within the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or Y chromosome have become particularly popular because they are inherited uniparentally, i.e. only maternally or paternally. They thereby allow establishing lineages of individuals in a similar fashion that family trees are constructed. The concert of such lineages collected from a population can therefore have an internal or external most recent common ancestor (MRCA) in respect to other populations. Furthermore, applying the steadiness of molecular clock (the number of randomly accumulated mutations is nearly constant in time), coalescence time can be calculated for all the lineages or those of particular interest.

From the broader circle of questions being addressed in the paper by Richard Indreko (1948) we have chosen the following few basic concepts, and analyse their concordance with the evidence available from mtDNA and Y-chromosomal studies. Here are the statements taken from Indreko (1948) and formulated by us as questions:

1. The earliest, pre-Neolithic layer of human population in eastern Baltic and Finland was established by the descendants of Palaeolithic Europeans from western and central Europe who followed the receding ice border together with the reindeer.

Question 1. Can we find lineages among the extant Finno-Ugric populations that can be traced back to common European founder motifs within a period of 10,000 to 60,000 years? The latter estimate is the maximum time limit, according to current archaeological evidence, for the entry of modern humans to Europe.

2. At the end of Upper Palaeolithic, a branch of the original Europeans moved over the present southern Russia to the upper course of Yenisei River and mixed there with original Asian people. This mixed population spread further northwards to the Arctic Zone and thence back west up to Scandinavia. There this branch intermixed again with local northern populations, the result of which can still be recognised in extant Laplanders (Saamis) and Samoyeds.

Question 2. Do we find traces of lineages of Asian origin among the present day Saamis that do not exist among other Finno-Ugrians, or among Indo-Europeans in Western Europe either?

3. The Neolithic Combed Ware culture developed locally from that of the original Europeans and belongs, though not fully, to the Finno-Ugrians. The Asiatic centre of culture showed considerable deviations, and no communications existed with the woodland zone of Eastern Europe. Because of the improvement of environmental conditions, there was a general tendency of the proto-Finno-Ugric populations to spread towards northern and eastern territories (Fig. 10, 11 in Indreko 1948 see the present issue, p. 18).

Question 3. According to this point, we should not find any lineage clusters specific to the Finno-Ugrians older than roughly 10,000 years. …

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