The Origin of the Baltic-Finns from the Physical Anthropological Point of View

By Niskanen, Markku | Mankind Quarterly, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

The Origin of the Baltic-Finns from the Physical Anthropological Point of View


Niskanen, Markku, Mankind Quarterly


The author provides a comprehensive analysis of the physical anthropology of the Finns and Saami, comparing them with other Scandinavian peoples and contrasting them genetically with the Mongoloid peoples of Asia, notwithstanding the affinities which link the Finnish language with the Uralic and to a lesser extent the Altaic languages. He concludes that both the Finns and the Saami are genetically Caucasoid or European, and that the Finns especially are closely akin to the other North European peoples of Scandinavia.

Key Words: Finns, Saami, Samoyeds, mitochondrial DNA, nuclear DNA, Y-chromosomal DNA, cranionietry, facial index, Caucasoids, Mongoloids.

Introduction

It is impossible to reconstruct the origins of ethnic groups without information about their genetic relationships. This information provides knowledge about inter-population contacts, assists in determining the geographic areas of origins of the populations in question, and sometimes even reveals how long these populations have lived in their present territories. Therefore, these reconstructed genetic relationships can be used to test hypotheses and theories of ethnic origins based on linguistic and/or archeological evidence. In this article, craniometric and nuclear DNA data, as well as the findings of recent studies of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomal DNA variation are used to determine whether the origin of the Baltic-- Finns is better explained by the traditional migration theory or by the more recent settlement continuity theory. These two competing theories are reviewed briefly below.

According to the traditional migration theory based primarily on the linguists' family tree model and estimated dates of linguistic divergences, the Finno-Ugrians (the Baltic-Finns and Saami/Lapps) arrived in the Baltic region only about three thousand years ago from the Proto-Uralic homeland in the east (see Hakkinen 1996 for a review). Most researchers locate this homeland in northeastern Europe (Setala 1926, Korhonen 1984, Hakkinen 1996), but some in northwestern Siberia (Hajdu 1976, Fodor 1976). Although supported by a minority of the researchers, the Siberian homeland theory is more commonly known than the European one outside the main centers of the uralistic studies.

The Baltic-Finns and Saami are argued to have arrived in their present locations either as a still undifferentiated ethnolinguistic group or as linguistically and ethnically separate people. Supporters of the latter view assume the Saami arrived in Fennoscandia before the Baltic-Finns. The Proto-Baltic-Finns started to separate into different "tribes" with their own languages during the last 2000 years. For example, the separation of the Estonians and Finns would have occurred during the first millennium BC, when the latter moved into Finland (see Hakkinen 1996 for a review).

The continuity theory practically replaced the migration theory in 1980 at the "roots" symposium in Tvarminne, Finland. According to the continuity theory, the Uralic-speakers arrived in the Baltic region either about 6000 years ago with the Typical Comb Ware culture (Meinander 1984, Korhonen 1984), or when the earliest post-Glacial inhabitants of the region arrived about 11,000 years ago (Nunez 1987, Julku 1995, Wiik 1995, Salo 1996). Supporters of the continuity theory commonly argue that the Uralic-speaking territory extended in the past further west in Central Europe than is traditionally proposed. For example, Kalevi Wiik (this volume) argues that the Finno-Ugric-speaking people lived during the Mesolithic period as far west as the westernmost regions of the North European Plain.

As this article demonstrates, the human biological data (craniometric, nuclear genetic markers, mitochoidrian DNA, and Y-chromosomal DNA) supports the continuity theory by showing the Baltic-Finns to have closer genetic affinities with their Scandinavian neighbors than with the eastern Finno-Ugric-- speaking populations. …

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