Huns with elongated skulls . Source: Europeana

The Genetic Origin of Huns, Avars, and conquering Hungarians

Who were the Huns? The Avars? And the conquering Hungarians? New studies of aDNA tell the story of a series of nomadic peoples, who may have kept themselves apart when migrating across the Eurasian Steppe.

Were the Huns a motley gang of nomads of diverse ancestry living on the great Eurasian steppes, who mixed up with the people, which they encountered drifting across the Eurasian Steppe? Or a people, who kept themselves apart while forging their nomadic confederations? A new study of the aDNA indicate the migrants kept apart while taking over the Carpathian Basin.

The genetic origin of Huns, Avars, and conquering Hungarians
By Zoltán Maróti, Endre Neparáczki, Oszkár Schüt, Kitti Maár, Gergely I.B.Varga, Bence Kovács, TiborKalmár, Emil Nyerki, István Nagy, Dóra Latinovics, alázs Tihanyi, Antónia Marcsik, yörgy Pálfi, Zsolt Bernert, Zsolt Gallina, Ciprián Horváth, Sándor Varga, László Költő, István Raskó, Péter L. Nagy, Csilla Balogh, Albert Zink, Frank Maixner, Anders Götherström, Robert George, Csaba Szalontai, Gergely Szenthe, Erwin Gáll, Attila P.Kiss, Bence Gulyás, Bernadett Ny. Kovacsóczy, Szilárd Sándor Gál, PéterTomka, and Tibor Török
In: Current Biology (2022) Vol 32, 2858–2870, Open Access


A Hunnic Woman Photo: Moesgaard Museum.
Reconstruction of a Hunnic woman. This Hunnic woman belongs to one of the first generations of Huns to arrive in Europe around AD 370. To comply with the contemporary Hunnic beauty ideal of an extremely elongated head she had her head tightly bound during the first years of her life. The new study of the genetics show that the core of the nomadic people likely kept apart – genetically and culturally. Photo: Moesgaard Museum.

New study indicates, the Huns, the Avars, and the so-called conquering Hungarians were migration-period nomadic tribal confederations that arrived in three successive waves in the Carpathian Basin between the 5th and 9th centuries.

Based on the historical data, each of these groups are thought to have arrived from Asia, although their exact origin and relation to other ancient and modern populations have been debated.

Recently, hundreds of ancient genomes from Central Asia, Mongolia, and China were analysed. The aim was to identify putative source populations for the above-mentioned groups. In this study, a group of scientists have sequenced 9 Hun, 143 Avar, and 113 Hungarian conquest period samples and identified three core populations, representing immigrants from each period with no recent European ancestry. Thus, the Carpathian Basin continued to “welcome” an influx of herdsmen and nomadic people until the Magyars in the 13th century.

Our results reveal that this ‘‘immigrant core’’ of both Huns and Avars likely originated in present day Mongolia, and that their origin can be traced back to Xiongnus (Asian Huns), as suggested by several historians.

On the other hand, the ‘‘immigrant core’’ of the conquering Hungarians had Ugric ancestry and later admixed with early Sarmatians, and descendants of late Xiongnus. We have also shown that a common ‘‘proto-Ugric’’ gene pool appeared in the Bronze Age from the admixture of Mezhovskaya and Nganasan people, supporting genetic and linguistic data.

In addition, the scientists detected shared Hun-related ancestry in numerous Avar and Hungarian conquest period genetic outliers, indicating a genetic link between these successive nomadic groups.

However, aside from the immigrant core groups, the scientists  identified that the majority of the individuals from each period were local residents harbouring ‘‘native European’’ ancestry.

Based on this study – hopefully to be followed up by similar studies in the future – the Huns were indeed a nomadic people migrating from outer Mongolia and likely driven by the 40-year-long megadrought, which struck Central Asia after AD 360, followed by a second drought in the 430s, and finally recurring around AD 550. To what extent and when these people turned into a formalised nomadic confederation operating in the steppe north of the Black Sea, the new study does not explore. However, the present study shows that at least some of the people called “Huns” preserved their ethnic identity while traipsing across the great Eurasian Steppe.


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