In the last few days quite a few articles appeared in the Hungarian media about a genetic map, created by eupedia.com, showing the genetic makeup of European countries based on Haplogroups. The map was constructed using Y-DNA, so it shows only male common ancestors. The creators of the genetic map point out some relationships that will probably come as a surprise to most of us. Among them, that the people of the British Isles have genetically little to do with the Germanic people of Scandinavia, which indicates that the number of Viking invaders was small. Another observation is that “Austria and Germany, despite both being German speaking, have quite different Y-DNA groups. However, Austria and Hungary look remarkably similar.”
It was this reference to the Austrian genetic connection that excited Hungarians. It seems that the Austrians are more than “in-laws” (sógorok), as they are called in Hungary, which of course is a reference to the long-standing constitutional relationship that existed between Austria and Hungary. They are in fact brothers and most likely sisters as far as their DNA makeup is concerned.
Critics point out that assigning names of ethnic groups to haplogroups may lead some people to wrong conclusions, but without some reference to currently known entities we would be totally lost among a great number of haplogroups designated by letters and numbers only. Eupedia.com has detailed descriptions of the ones found on the map with individual maps of their occurrence. It is great fun to browse the site.
One of the Hungarian internet sites that published an article about the map is Nyelv és Tudomány (Language and Science, a publication I can highly recommend). The editors of Nyest, as it is known in Hungary, warn us that the size of the samples varies greatly from country to country. Interestingly, Hungary has a high number of samples, somewhere between 500 and 1,000, while Switzerland, although the size of its population is about the same as Hungary’s, has only between 100 and 250. Such differences naturally affect the outcomes.
While this map deals with Europe as a whole, a group of scientists focused on one particular region, the Great Hungarian Plain (Nagyalföld). A team of international scientists unearthed skeletons of a number of people who lived there between 7,000 and 2,800 years ago. From the work of David Reich, a geneticist at the Harvard Medical School, we know that today’s Europeans carry genes from three very different populations. The first settlers were hunter-gatherers, and the second were farmers coming from the Middle East. The skeletons and DNA found on the Great Hungarian Plain belong to this farming community. Reich and his team also identified a third group that arrived later from Northern Eurasia.
The Great Hungarian Plain farmer community, whose members the scientists named the Tisza people, for almost 4,000 years continued with their traditional ways–growing barley, lentils, and chickpeas and raising livestock such as pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle. But with the coming of the Iron Age new genes also arrived, most likely from Northern Eurasia. Although some highly technical studies of the excavations of these early farming communities are available online, one short description gives us an introduction to what the Great Plain must have looked liked in those days. The scientists envisage a very fertile land where the Tisza River meandered, with plentiful water for the agriculturalists who lived in “tells.” A tell is a mound, found especially in the Middle East. It was made out of a succession of settlements. Houses were built from woven sticks and mud, which were often burned down, and in their place new houses were erected. Hence the “tell.”
The assumption is that these people arrived in Europe through the Balkans, where most of the land was not suitable for agricultural activities. The Great Hungarian Plain must have been the first region ideally suited for their traditional activity. Therefore, if scientists are right about this second wave of immigrant farmers to Europe, the Great Plain had to be the place from where agriculture spread to the rest of the continent. It was for a while something of a Fertile Crescent of Europe.
DNA research routinely comes up with new findings. As one of the scientists of the Reich team of Harvard said, “the past is going to be a different country, and it’s going to surprise us.”