Genetic markers in the Hungarian population: Then and now

Due to the scarcity of written sources the origin of Hungarians has been the object of passionate debate among historians, archeologists, and linguists. Lately they were joined by geneticists. With the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, genetic mapping of ethnic groups became much easier, cheaper and therefore more widely carried out. István Raskó, head of a group of geneticists at the University of Szeged, gave his first lecture on the subject in the popular "Mindentudás Egyeteme" (University of All Knowledge) in 2004. He outlined the group's research on the DNA composition of human remains from graves dating to the early tenth century. On the basis of their findings the Szeged reseachers came to the conclusion that the number of invaders was most likely very small because even in these very early graves only 36% of the people had markers indicating Asiatic origin. Fifty percent of them were of purely European origin, and their DNA composition indicated that their ancestors had lived in Europe for at least 40-50,000 years. By now this Asiatic element has almost disappeared: 84% of Hungarians are totally of European origin and only 16% carry Asiatic markers. One ought to keep in mind that in the thirteenth century the Cumans, a decidedly Asiatic tribe, fleeing the Mongol onslaught, sought refuge in Hungary. The Cumans (or in Hungarian the "kunok") settled in one bloc south of Budapest on the left bank of the Danube, that is, the Great Plains.  Their opportunity to intermarry with non-Cumans was somewhat limited. Even in the second half of the twentieth century one could find Hungarians who bore a close resemblance to their Asiatic relatives.

The occasion for the topic surfacing in the popular press is an exhibition that just opened in the Museum of Natural Science. It is entitled "The Genetic Family Tree of Our People." The exhibit relies heavily on the research of István Raskó and his fellow scientists in Szeged. As a result of their research there are many new discoveries and also the "reaffirmation" of earlier held views. About a hundred years ago it was commonly believed that the richer graves contained the remains of the newcomers who ruled over the local Slavic population while the simpler graves contained the bones of the local common people. That theory was replaced in the 1950s by one that claimed that even in the simplest graves less well-off Asiatic newcomers could be found. Now DNA research has at last put an end to the debate. The DNA found in the modest graves is practically identical to the make-up of the present-day Hungarian population. In brief, the earlier theory was correct. Moreover this research offers further proof that the newcomers were very few in number.

I must say that this finding surprised me because I, simply using common sense, figured that if the size of the invading group was very small and the population of the occupied territories large then it would be logical to assume that the invaders would soon be absorbed by the local population. Moreover, I figured, their language would be supplanted for the most part by that of the locals. Anyone who was thinking along these lines was obviously wrong. For some strange reason the linguistic and cultural influence of this small group was important beyond its size while their genetic components pretty well disappeared.

And that leads us to the linguistic debate. As you most likely know by now, the Hungarian extreme right is very dissatisfied with the universally held belief in the Finno-Ugric linguistic relationship. The Szeged group's findings prove that Finns, Estonians, and Hungarians are related even genetically. Although this genetic relationship cannot be established by examining the present populations, the study of the contents of the richer tenth-century graves without exception showed a close relationship with the Finno-Ugric groups (based on an analysis of their Y-chromosomes).

It is most likely that by the end of the thirteenth century the Asian markers pretty well disappeared from the population mix. However, in order to pinpoint the exact development of the population, the geneticists would  have to expand the research to later centuries. I'm pretty sure that this will be the next step taken in Szeged.

Meanwhile there are other anthropological studies dealing with the same period. There is in fact a group of twenty-two researchers from various disciplines (Magyar Őstörténeti Munkaközösség Egyesület = Association of Hungarian Preshistory Workshop) who pool resources. Although the members seem to be bona fide researchers, I'm a bit troubled by the fact that their findings are so enthusiastically welcomed in far-right circles. In any case, I will summarize an earlier lecture of one of its members, Erzsébet Fóthi, who works in the Museum of Natural Sciences where the exhibit outlining the family tree of Hungarians is currently on display. The Workshop held a conference in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2004 where several people gave lectures. Although they might have been engaging, in comparison to DNA studies a lecture on the similarities of Hungarian and Caucasian cooking sounds a tad unscientific to me. I'm equally dubious about the activities of the organizer of the group, István Erdélyi, whose list of publications is a mile long but whose studies of Hun-Hungarian relations are not terribly convincing.

According to the description of the conference the most interesting lecture was delivered by Erzsébet Fóthi using "anthropological-statistical analysis" of graves from the tenth century. According to her in the "rich graves" the shape of the skulls was different from the skulls found in the poor graves. In the former the skulls were "short and wide" while in the latter the skulls were "long and narrow." According to Ms Fóthi the "short and wide" skulls are typical of people living in the East, perhaps as far away as Siberia. The "long and narrow" skulls cannot be found farther east than the Black Sea. She checked the skulls of 475 males and 374 females. Apparently she managed to identify the first-generation skulls, that is skulls belonging to people who were not born in the Carpathian Basin and in this group she could not find "long and narrow" skulls. According to her this skull type shows great similarity to the "early Bulgarians who lived in Magna Hungaria, or in other words, in today's Bashkiria." Apparently these early Bulgarians began their journey from the northern shores of the Black Sea. Some of them went to the area of the Lower Danube and became mixed with the Slavs living there. These people are the ancestors of our Bulgarians of today. The second group, according to her, moved to Magna Hungaria, today's Bashkiria. She claims that the early Hungarian upper class's anthropological measurements show a great deal of similarity to the people of today's Bashkiria. Well, if this is true, no wonder that the western Europeans described the Hungarians in not the most flattering terms.Bashkir woman See the chronicler of St. Gallen, Switzerland, who described the Hungarians as very ugly. If these "wide and short" skulled people showed up in Switzerland among the "long and narrow" skulled people it is not at all surprising that the good old ancestors of the Swiss were a bit taken aback! Apparently the Bashkirs are a Turkic people and Fóthi assumes a close relationship between early Hungarian invaders and the Bashkirs. When National Geographic pushed her, she admitted that "the similar anthropological characteristics between the two groups don't necessarily mean that they were one and the same but that both groups came from the same genetic basis."

One gets to the point of actually feeling sorry for these anthropologists who since the discovery and application of DNA for genetic research still rely on wide and narrow or long and short skulls. Because it seems to me that the Hungarian extreme right loves the idea of Bashkiria as the original homeland (Magna Hungaria) it might not be a bad idea to check the genetic markers between today's and yesteryear's Bashkirs and the remains of early Hungarian settlers in the Carpathian Basin. However, I doubt that even if the genetic markers proved that the Bashkirs and Hungarians don't have much in common one could convince the true believers. I read with some interest lately that one of the three Jobbik EP members had a long and I hope fruitful conversation with the Kazakh representative to the European Union about the close relationship between Kazakhs and Hungarians. In case one is a bit foggy on Central Asian geography, Bashkiria, part of Russia, is just north of Kazakhstan.Bashkiria Where the Hungarians started their westward journey is obviously controversial, but at some point they must have gotten in close contact with Persian-speaking people. The number of Persian words in the Hungarian vocabulary is strikingly high. See arany = gold, hét = week, tej = milk, tíz = ten, and so on. Today, we know a bit more on this part of the Hungarians' journey from genetic sources. Not human genetics, but genetic studies of horses. Early Hungarian graves, especially those of rich men, also contained the bones of the man's horse. Originally Hungarian researchers believed that the horses the Hungarians used were short, small animals. Well, they turned out to be horses related to horses that can be found in today's Turkmenistan called "akhal teke" types. These horses were considered the Cadillac of horses in the Middle Ages because on very little fodder they could easily cover 120-130 kilometers a day. And, yes, Turkmenistan is just north of Iran.

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Sophist
Guest

“Hungarian extreme right loves the idea of Bashkiria as the original homeland”
I thought that the far right argued that the Hungarians (or their ancestors) had always lived in the Capathian basin (Atilla and all that): that the asiatic origins of the Magyars was a myth put about to undermine the legitimacy of the Hungarian state, and vindicate Trianon, etc…

kouvola
Guest

Greetings from Finland and thanks for the interesting article! I have a couple of questions for Hungarians:
Has anybody studied the (genetical) relations between Hungarians and their closest linguistic relatives, Khanty and Mansi people? And what a bout Finns/Estonians/Sami/those millions of finnic minorities in Russia?
Conserning Finns it might interesting, as the Finnish genes are very different from anything else: http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2008/08/18/306-the-genetic-map-of-europe/ (It wouldn’t be so isolated if they had researched also the Baltics)
And why doesn’t the Hungarian far right accept the Finno-Ugric theory? It’s not glorious enough?

Katalin
Guest

“one of the three Jobbik EP members had a long and I hope fruitful conversation with the Kazakh representative to the European Union about the close relationship between Kazakhs and Hungarians.”
Jobbik wants to make this supposed genetic relation a basis of their new foreign/economic policy. Finally they found their “real brothers” who’ll embrace them on the basis of their shared genetic heritage. They want Hungary to become Europe’s economic link to Central Asia, rather than being an “exploited servant state” of the EU.
I just found this German translation of their meeting with the Kazah embassador. These people are crazy.
http://pusztaranger.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/ungarische-ausenpolitik-a-la-jobbik-ab-nach-kasachstan/

Pistefka
Guest

I have always been baffled by the way Hungarian nationalist types seem to shun the (rather convincingly proven)Finno-Ugric origin of the language. I think kuovola that you have got it spot on – not “glorious” enough. (Or perhaps its just tht they want to believe something radical and different just for the kuruc kudos of it.)
Although if you ask me the Finns have plenty of achievements to be proud of. (Probably more than the Bashkirs or Turkmens – I have never heard of a mobile phone designed by the Turkic tribes of central Asia.)

M2
Guest

Pistefka, you do not see the bigger picture. The Turkic tribes are but a stepping stone to a yet more glorious ancestry, the Sumerians. Through them, Christ is also a Hungarian. You will understand, of course, that the suppression of these obvious facts is a Napoleonic-Habsburg-Communist conspiracy in order to keep the Hungarians submissive and ignorant of the heroic deeds of their predecessors.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Mr Kouvola, If you read Mr M2’s contribution to this article you will begin to understand where the ‘Rancid Right’ are coming from. They wish to create a myth that the ‘True Magyars’ are a unique people. They do not wish to be associated with a puny little people like the Suomi. Puny indeed? Look at http://www.winterwar.com/mainpage.htm by Sami Korhaven it is in English. Visit it Mr M2 and learn the truth! I have met quite a few Suomi in my time and they are good sailors! My wife, a Hungarian, was sea sick on Brighton pier. I am a mongrel English man and have no claim to be anything special. No the neo-national socialists have to convince the people of Hungary that they are a very special people. This will lead them into the idea of the ‘Master Race’. The last time that people claimed to be that, we all know what happened. They and their allies (the Hungarians were one such) had to by slapped down one very hard by the ‘Untermench’. As to the relationship between Hungarian and Sumerian is rather more than tenuous and I suspect based on the fact that both are agglutinative languages. Sumerian… Read more »
Pistefka
Guest

Odin’s lost eye – turn your sarcasm detector back on.

Jaded
Guest
What strikes me most about this kind of pointless speculation about the origin of Hungarians is that it plays completely into the hands of the kind of ideologues who worship the concept of “nation”. Surely the truly interesting historical questions are about the question of national identity and the process through which it was created? I spent an otherwise enjoyable Saturday afternoon at the Natural history museum last month. The exhibition of live snakes and various insects provided much amusement for my 4 year old companion. However I found the plentiful supply of exhibits speculating on the racial origins of the current inhabitants of the region quite offensive. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in any other natural history museum and I’ve visited quite a few. Even more shocking is the extraordinary juxtaposition of a black african charicature opposite the exhibit of african animals. Using the logic of this exhibition, if the museum ever decides to show the animals of the North American plains they will have to find a cigar store Indian to go with them. One of the more sickening aspects of Hungarian society is its knee jerk racist attitudes. Perhaps I should not be surprised that… Read more »
ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

Present-day Hungarians are the whitest nation of Carpatian-basin. Just travel to Slovakia Romania or the balkan, or look anthropology maps about average pigmentations in Europe. Type in google image searcher: “hair color map” or “eye color map” All present-day neighbour countries have darker average pigmentation (except Austria)
Read my short web-page: educator.uw.hu

Vándorló
Guest

@Anthropology: I took your advice and did the search you suggested, but it appears that you are either ill informed or misguided at best: http://www.eupedia.com/europe/maps_of_europe.shtml
For those of us with ‘szeplős bőr’ of a hyperborean complexion, Hungarians are clearly in the Mediterranean skin, hair, eye colour bracket. All of which is tediously irrelevant to anything unless you can make some argument linking phenotype to genotype, also.

ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

People from the great Hungarian plain are the less Hungarian. Real Hungarian Territories: The Transdanubia Hungarian upperland and Székelyföld in Transylvania. There are an idiom in Hungarian language for people with olive skin dark eyes and black hair : “cigányforma” gypsy-look. In Hungarian literature there are an idiom for people of balkan (like average serbians romanians etc.. “cigány népek” or “gypsy look nations”. Did you see the European anthropology maps about hair eye and skin colors?

ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

Look again your maps. GYPSY-look or in other words : mediterranian are the balkanians like “Alföldi” see the map of “Predominant ethnic groups by region in Europe” They are similar gypsy look people as serbians romanians with similar culture. And there are a lot of people with brown (monkey eyes in my vocablurary)eyes like the slovaks romans serians. Don’t forget it is a genetic fact: Skin color is determined by the eye color.

ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

Az alföldiek nem magyarok, Árpád-korban is csomó más népeket telepítettek be oda. Utána meg törökkori délszláv beszivárgás szlovák telepítés is megtörtént. Primitiv anyagi kultúrájuk épített környezetük pedig inkább hasonlít Szerbiára mint a rendes magyar területekre (rendes magyar területek dunántúl felvidék erdély székelyföld). Nyitott kémény vályog viskókban laktak mint a balkáni állatok. Kinézetül pigmentációjuk is sötétebb. Egyszerűen nem magyarok, csak nyelvileg magyarosodott tömegek.

Vándorló
Guest

@Anthropology: Only a racist such as yourself would be so desperate to consider yourself whiter than white. As with the Jobbik’s in the UK, they would simply not pass as indigenous, but no-one would care anyway outside of the BNP.
Skin colour is not “determined” by eye colour. Have a read of Jablonski, Nina G.; Chaplin, George (2000), “The evolution of human skin coloration”, Journal of Human Evolution 39: 57–106, doi:10.1006/jhev.2000.0403
http://bit.ly/8DVWPo
In brief: skin tone lightness W is related to the annual UV available for skin exposure AUV according to W = 70 – (UAV / 10)
p.s. Your own maps (not the best or most details) contradict you own statements and assertions regarding Hungarian skin colour.

ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

Mónika show tipikus nem-cigány vendégei mind “alföldrű gyüttek” Mintha egy teljesen más országban kultúrkörben járna az ember. Ők az ország kitartottjai GDP-jük alacsony elmaradottak . Szutyok vidék szutyok emberekkel. Ahogy felénk Dunántúlon mondják: “Bunkó alföldiek”

Vándorló
Guest

@Anthropology: Only a racist such as yourself would be so desperate to consider yourself whiter than white. As with the Jobbik’s in the UK, they would simply not pass as indigenous, but no-one would care anyway outside of the BNP.
Skin colour is not “determined” by eye colour. Have a read of Jablonski, Nina G.; Chaplin, George (2000), “The evolution of human skin coloration”, Journal of Human Evolution 39: 57–106, doi:10.1006/jhev.2000.0403
http://bit.ly/8DVWPo
In brief: skin tone lightness W is related to the annual UV available for skin exposure AUV according to W = 70 – (UAV / 10)
p.s. Your own maps (not the best or most details) contradict you own statements and assertions regarding Hungarian skin colour.

ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

You are not geneticist, you are just a layman. The basic skin color based on genetics, and related to eye color.
Egy barna szemű ember sosem lehet teljesen fehérbőrű, előbb barnul le a napsütés hatására is és tovább marad barna is. Nézzed meg a barna szemű emberek nemi szervének szinét is, míg a kék szeműeknek rózsaszín (mellbimbó nemi szerv színe is) addig a barna szeműeknek barnás.

ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

I don’t like Jobbik. They consider the Hungarian term as a cultural background, I consider it as a racial term.

Josh
Guest

Hungarians also have one of the highest suicide rate in the world, due to mood disorder. Gloomy Sunday(the suicidal song) was composed in the early 30’s by Rezső Seress.
http://www.phespirit.info/gloomysunday/article_02.htm
The “more catholic than the Pope” ethnic group among them are the szekely minority from Romania.

Conces
Guest

Miért fáj nektek, ha egy nép a múltját kutatja, ha büszke valamire? Nem a finnugor kapcsolatról van szó, vagy az ázsiairól, vagy a Nokiáról. Elég buta az aki Jézust, zsidókat meg rasszizmust emleget.

ANTHROPOLOGY
Guest

Speak about genetic origin of Slovaks. The roma (gypsy) genetic relation with slovaks are fact. Slovaks are the only nation in Europe which have gypsy admixature
Read the scientific researches of leading laboratories: http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2008/01/mtdna-of-slovaks.html

Salavat
Guest

Hello from Bashkiria!

Attila
Guest
“Relatively convincingly proven”?Are you out of your mind? The theory is VERY weak, and based upon very *scant* linguistic evidence at best. There is no historical records written that concur with this theory, nor are there any archeological findings that were discovered, any anthropological evidence, cultural connection, etc. Even these so-called “genetic connections” are BS because there are other studies that say the exact opposite. Furthermore, many researchers in China believe in the direct descent of the Magyars from the Huns such as Wang Shiping (historian of the Shaanxi Museum of History, the province where the southern half of the Huns settled), Lin Gan, Wang Zu, and even some Mongolian professors like Uchiratu. The Ugrian theory is very outdated, holds very little credibility, and was born out of European nationalism in the late 19th century (the same thing that was a major cause of WW1) It is only actually believed by a small group in the west. There is a stronger genetics connection between the Madjars in Kazakhstan with Magyars in Hungary than their geographic neighbors. This is from the Haplogroup G, which originates in the middle east (Persia has the largest population of people with G). The Scythians, who mixed with the Huns were from Persia. Grave findings in Dzungaria are the same… Read more »
Moki
Guest

The only problem dear Attila, that other famous foreign laboratories don’t belive it. Therefore the Hun-Magyar connection will remain a romantic dream.

Attila
Guest
On the contrary, dear Moki, it is much more popular in Asia than in Europe. In China, there are many scholars such as Wang Shiping (who is a historian at the Shaanxi Museum of History, which is the province where the southern half of the Huns settled), Wang Zu, Lin Gan, as well as some Mongolian scholars like Professor Uchiratu. The Ugrian Theory was created and propagated in Europe by Europeans, not Hungarians. (I’ve stated this before. It is the reason the Chinese call Hungary as “Xiongyali”, as in “Xiongnu”) As I’ve said before, the Ugrian Theory is very weak, many things can’t be explained by it (nor have you offered any explanations), and many scholars simply don’t buy it today. It is the “Finno-Ugrian Theory” which remains the romantic dream. Besides, as Gyula Laszlo points out, the Magyars in 896 numbered too few to leave much of an impact linguistically or culturally on the population of Hungary at the time. The previous waves of nomads they encountered spoke the same language and were more likely than not an earlier wave of the same people. He also uses geological evidence of the Siberian Tundra to show that the suggested or… Read more »
moki
Guest

You are wrong again. I don’t support the finnougrian theory and the
fantasy theory of Huns. I believe only in genetics.

Attila
Guest

Call it a “fantasy theory” all you want, but there is much evidence which supports this, which is believed not only by scholars in the west, but in the east as well. You also have no explanation for the presence of Tungusic words in the Hungarian language, nor do you have an explanation for much.

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