According to hvg.hu, it seems that the argument about the Hungarians’ Hun origin re-emerges. Based on the analysis of findings from the time of the Hungarian conquest, geneticists believe that our ancestors’ DNA was quite similar to the Huns’. Moreover, they suggest that not the conquerors spoke the Hungarian language, but the Avars, who lived in the Carpathian Basin when the Hungarians arrived.
Archaeological genetics is a young field of study which aims to reconstruct historic events and origins with the help of DNA mainly extracted from bone remains. The oldest findings that were successfully analysed genetically are tens of thousands years old. The method of examining ancient DNA was also used in the process when scientists concluded that the Neanderthals were not completely wiped out from the Earth. According to findings, the genomes of modern humans still harbour around 2-4 per cent Neanderthal ancestry which must have been caused by interbreeding.
Tibor Török university professor and his team study the genetics of our ancestors at the Genetics Department of the University of Szeged. The researchers aim to trace back the origin of the Hungarians by analysing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from bone remains.
In their study, they came to the surprising conclusion that the Hungarian conquerors partly originate from the Huns.
This theory, which was popular for a long time, seems to be proven false after newly emerged linguistic/archaeological findings. It is no surprise that this genetic discovery made quite a noise in the scientific world.
Several earlier studies have proven that 4 per cent of the DNA of today’s Hungarians carry Asian ancestry. Interestingly, it is a relatively high rate compared to neighbouring nations, which is probably due to the Hun, Avar migration. However, the Szeged research group was also interested in the remaining 96 per cent components. It seems that the majority of the components can be found in the ancient European layer of the Neolithic-Bronze Age. More details could be found out through an elaborated, well-structured genetic examination.
Regarding the genetic setup of the Hungarian conquerors, the scientists detected 30-40 per cent Asian components. The fact that this rate has fallen to 4 per cent means that the examined conquerors contributed to the genetic map of today’s Hungarians with only 10 per cent. Since no major population change occurred in the Carpathian Basin after the conquest, the results support a previous theory, according to which the Hungarian conquerors consisted of a relatively small group.
The research group spent a significant time mapping down the origin of the Asian components. They resequenced the entire mtDNA genome to look for clues. Theoretically, the Asian component could be originated from Finno-Ugric nations such as the Scythians, Huns or Avars. However, they ruled out the Finno-Ugric origin and came to the conclusion that it is the Huns who best fit the concept. Although, the contribution of the other two groups could not be entirely excluded either.
According to Tibor Török, archaeologists nowadays mostly support the Finno-Ugric theory. Although, this is actually not an archaeological theory, since the remains of the conquerors imply a steppe culture. Nonetheless, many archaeologists objected to the results of the new study as they believed that the linguistic relation was independent of the genetic relation, thus the research group contradicted a non-existent viewpoint.
Still, Török’s team firmly believed that linguistics and genetics are not completely independent of each other.
They argued that these two fields cannot be separated entirely as every existing language that survived for centuries must be traced back to a genetically distinct relatively large population. They also refer to a dominant theory according to which the Hungarian language was adopted from the conquerors, so they were supposed to carry more genetic prints than today’s Hungarians. Also, academics still originate the conquerors from proto-Uralic nations as no one has come up with a better alternative.
The social strata of the conquerors are one of the most important archaeological questions. For a long time, the conquerors were believed to be a small group of armed elite. However, it raises some questions as an elite group that only consisted of a few members could not possibly influence a much large crowd to adopt their language. In the Middle Ages, every elite group who later founded a state, such as the Goths, Franks, Lombards, Bulgars, linguistically blended with the natives who already resided in the area.
Scientists have already collected two hundred conquerors’ genetic data from 26 cemeteries and the findings all support the theory of a smaller elite group. However, the excavation of more “impoverished” cemeteries where common people were buried in the time of the Hungarian conquest has only started recently. The urging question of whether these cemeteries conceal the remains of the earlier native residents or of the common people who belonged to the migrant conquerors can be answered only if the two population groups will be genetically separated. However, it is only feasible if the genomes of the earlier native residents will be also examined.
The other main statement of the study is that Hungarian could have been already spoken by the people who originally lived in the Carpathian Basin when the conquerors arrived.
This theory would point to the Avar population, but the research group did not go as far as to state that the Avars spoke Hungarian since they were not able to draw linguistic conclusions from the genes alone. This hypothesis is actually not new among the debates between archaeologists and historians.
The genetic data also seem to support this theory since the Onoğur Bulgarians (who were part of the Hun alliance) spoke Turkish, and if it was truly a small Onoğur team that undertook the conquest, then the Hungarian language must have been already spoken in the region prior to this event. It would also explain the fact that a significant number of words of Turkish origin can be found in the Hungarian language. If this hypothesis is true, then only the population of the Avar era could be considered when looking for the people who spoke the Hungarian language. Naturally, the Avar chiefs would be excluded in this case as they must have consisted of a similarly small elite group like the Hungarian conquerors.
All in all, Török and his team’s findings seem to support the well-known hypothesis, according to which the conquerors could have been a small group among the Onoğur Bulgarians, who originated from Middle Asia and previously had a tight cousinship-alliance with the Huns.
The issue remains a topic of debate.
Featured image: Invasion of the Barbarians or The Huns approaching Rome (colour painting) – Wiki Commons By Ulpiano Checa