The European Origin of the Finns and Their Relation to the Indo-Europeans

By Julku, Kyosti | Mankind Quarterly, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

The European Origin of the Finns and Their Relation to the Indo-Europeans


Julku, Kyosti, Mankind Quarterly


The author traces the history of the prevailing hypothesis which assumes that the ancestors of the present-day Finns and Estonians migrated into their contemporary north European homeland as recently as two thousand years ago. Instead, he suggests that during the latter part of the Wurm glaciation, more than ten thousand years ago, when northern Europe was still covered by ice, they and the Saami (Suomi) were hunters and fishers who occupied an area between the Danube and the Ukraine. They subsequently followed the retreating ice northwards into the eastern Baltic, as that area became habitable. His theory, which is regarded as controversial, would see FinnoUgrian speakers inhabiting northern Europe before IndoEuropean speaking farmers displaced them in Northern Germany and western Scandinavia.

Key Words: Finns, Estonians, Saami (Suomi), Finno-Ugric languages, Indo-European Languages, Basque language, northern Europe, Baltic Sea, Scandinavia, North European plain, Wurm glaciation, Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic.

I once defended a hypothesis in an international conference that the Finno-Ugric people must have lived a long time ago both further west and south than indicated by their recent territories. I based my hypothesis, above all, on the picture provided by modern archeology, which shows that when the ice gradually melted after the glacial maximum and people were able to live in more northern regions the main direction of the gradual settlement expansion was from south to north and not from east to west. The most prominent counter-argument was the following: The process described is a process in world history, but our purpose is to discuss a possible east-to-west migration of the Finno-Ugric people from their original homeland to their more recent territories during the relatively recent times. My response was naturally that we are discussing the same thing, but that we date and derive the direction of the Finno-Ugric migration entirely differently, and, furthermore, the history of the Finno-Ugrians is part of the world's history, as is the history of any other people.2

I have often been asked in Finland - as also Kalevi Wiik has been asked - whether my views of the Finno-Ugrian origin reflect Finland's recent membership in the European Union are an attempt to forcefully acquire European roots for the Finns. Of course, the answer has been that the purpose is to make Finns aware of what international research has discovered of their origins.

The relationships of the Indo-European and the Finno-Ugric people, cultures, and languages have been the most varied during the past millennia. Hardly a single hypothesis presented so far is capable of explaining the entire history of the IndoEuropeans, nor the millennia of developmental stages taking place in the large territory inhabited by the Finno-Ugrians.

The problem of the origin of the Indo-Europeans has been discussed for some 400 years, since the Bonaventura paper, which demonstrated that the German and Persian languages include 22 common words (cognates), was published in 1597.3 Since then possibly three to four hundred different hypotheses of the original Indo-European homeland have been proposed, but none of them has gained a dominant and widely-accepted position.

The discussion about the Finno-Ugric people's original homeland and migrations has continued for over a century, but to the present only one hypothesis - that the Finno-Ugrians originate from the Volga Bend or the Urals - has been proposed. When heretical ideas have been presented, the ruling consensus has ignored them. The research has focused on answering four prominent research questions: 1. Where was the original Fino-Ugrian homeland? .2. How did the linguistic relationships of the Finno-Ugrians develop? 3. How did the Finno-Ugrians spread from their area of origin? 4. What linguistic loans have the Finno-Ugrians received from the IndoEuropean and possibly other languages? …

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