Genetics speaks – Who is who on Balkans

When it comes to genes one thing is certain – it is every man for himself. There is no such thing as a genetically pure nation. However, some patterns can be observed by tracing the haplogroups of the Y chromosome. Recently I came across a very interesting chart of haplogroups in European countries and I would like to share it here with you. Note that I am by no means an expert in genetics but luckily this chart is simplified enough and quite easy to understand. The full chart, as well as the list of all the sources used to compose it can be found at the following link: ydna.eu

But before you check out the page, let me give you the basics of how it works. Haplogroups are divided by the most common ethnicities in which  they are present today (simplified). Also, they are divided by the age in which they appear on the world stage: Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age.

haplogroups

The beauty of this chart is also that, just like in Excel spreadsheet you can sort all the data by columns. So let’s see what happens when we sort it by the I2a2, Dinaric, Danubian genes of Mesolithic Europe.

I2a2

As you can see, our top 10 list would look something like this: 1. Bosnia 2. Sardinia 3. Croatia 4. Serbia 5. Montenegro 6. Romania 7. Macedonia 8. Moldova 9. Slovenia 10. Bulgaria

If you are surprised to see Sardinia here, you can read on some possible connections in my article: Bes, Egyptian God that is not Egyptian

As for the rest of the list, we can clearly see that this Mesolithic, Dinaric and Danubian haplogroup is still quite present in modern day Balkans. There can be two logical explanations for this:

  1. Modern Balkan nations are direct descendants from the tribes of Mesolithic Europe (Bosnia has whooping 55-71 of I2a2)
  2. Slavs absorbed local population in the VI century AD when, according to some, they had settled on Balkans for the first time.

However, there are few issues with the second option. “Slavic haplogroup” R1a appears in Bronze age and comes from Yamna culture of modern Ukraine. It is believed that Scythian and Sarmatian tribes brought it to Europe. Today it is clearly dominant in countries like Poland, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but even though it is indeed a second dominant haplogroup with Southern Slavs, it is really not so significant and you will see Balkan countries quite further down on this list.

R1a

One logical explanation for this could be that in the VI century AD a small group of Slavs mixed with the large indigenous population of Balkans. Slavs influenced them with culture and language to the point that just a few centuries later when Old Church Slavonic was institutionalized, there were literally no traces of these ancient cultures to be seen. We do know from Byzanthian chronicles that once the Roman armies had retreated from Balkans the land was quite empty and desolate, that is why Heraclius allows Serbs to settle here.  This theory could somehow explain the easy takeover of Slavic language, but not the dominant I2a2 presence in Serbs!

So we come to the second important component, the language. But the problem here is that we do not know where the Slavic language first originated. You see, according to the mainstream theory, the answer is pretty much – nowhere! (?) Let me illustrate what I mean by that:

  1. It is not East (officially),  as Scythians and Sarmatians had spoken an Iranian language, closest to the modern day Ossetian – Iron language!
  2. It is not South, as in Balkans, indigenous tribes like Illyrians and Thracians had languages which are presumed to be totally different.
  3. It is not North, as Northern Europe was inhabited by Celts and Gauls, not Slavs.

No theory (that I am aware of) explains how Slavic language has managed to spread so quickly and so far, trough such a vast area that is today covered by modern Slavic nations, who are as we just saw, genetically mainly descendants of Sarmatians in the North and East and indigenous tribes of lower Danube in the South.

However, we can see on the map of R1a migration presented bellow that one of the first and oldest migrations of R1a went from Ukraine to lower Danube in 4200-3000BC. (click to enlarge)

R1a migration

R1a migration from Neolithic to Bronze age

This is very interesting as in the period of this migration in lower Danube existed a highly developed civilization, known today as “Vinca culture” or “Old Europe”, as labeled by famous Maria Gimbutas. Official dating of Vinca culture is from 5700BC to 4200BC, the later date being exactly the moment when Sarmatian tribes will appear according to the genetic map above. Maria Gimbutas was surely not aware of this genetic study, she relied solely on results from archaeology. However, I doubt that this analysis would have been anything new to her, as she claimed that “Old Europe was invaded and destroyed by horse-riding pastoral nomads from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (the “Kurgan culture”) who brought with them violence, patriarchy, and Indo-European languages.”

As for the Indo-European languages, there are two main hypothesis, Anatolian and Steppe hypothesis. Whatever way you look at it, as far as Europe is concerned, Vinca culture is the epicenter of these two waves.

Steppe

Two possible theories on the development of Indo-European language. Source here.

When Sarmatian nomads first arrived, Vinca was a fully developed civilization with language and (probably) first writing system. It’s people lived in cities and traded as far as Anatolia and Middle East. Could this also be the place where Slavic language had developed?

In this case, we also have two possible scenarios:

  1. People of Vinca had spoken some form of Proto-Slavic, that got developed and spread further with the arrival of Sarmatian tribes.
  2. Sarmatians had spoken some form of Proto-Slavic (not Iranian) and they mixed it with indigenous language of Vinca.

This theory is (of course) just hypothetical. However, it would provide for enough of a timeline for Slavic language to spread to all these areas where it is present today. We cannot be sure until (if ever) Vinca script gets deciphered. But as mentioned many times on this blog, almost all medieval Slavic sources do point to Balkans as the place where Slavs originated. Surely there had to be some reason for that.

On the side note, some theories point to Albanians as descendants of Illyrians. However, as you can check on the above list, the presence of I2a2 in their DNA is quite insignificant, which means that they are not an indigenous tribe, neither that they had mixed too much with the indigenous tribes at some later date. Their most dominant haplogroup is E1b1b, which appears on Balkans later in Neolithic and comes from Near East and North Africa. Together with J2, Bronze age Greco-Anatolian, Mesopotamian and Caucasian, they contribute to 50% of their DNA material. The other significant part goes to the mix of Celtic R1b and indigenous I2a2. So it seems that Albanians are indeed present on Balkans for a long time, but as a mix of 4 different groups, and definitely not long enough to be indigenous people of Balkans (at least compared with the rest of the Balkan countries).

E1b1b

As you can see, this is a really long and complicated story and I am trying to keep these articles short and readable, but I do encourage you to make further research yourselves. Here are some good links to start with:

More on I2 haplogroup

More on R1a haplogroup

Y DNA maps

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