Genes and Peoples

Western European archaeology is largely a humanistic tradition where many scholars have little knowledge of the natural sciences. For instance, I myself haven’t studied natural sciences in any organised way since high school. Still, in my field, I’m known as an unusually science-orientated guy. (Just look at me now, merrily blogging away at Sb.) I believe that human societies are to a fairly large extent shaped by human nature, which has long been controversial in anthro circles. I also favour stringent methods of data collection and analysis: archaeology should study and interpret its object in basically the same way as a palaeontologist does, not in the way a lit-crit scholar studies and interprets a body of fiction. Because the archaeological record ain’t fiction.

Being seen as such a hard-nosed science type at home, I’m amused to find that I often come across as this fuzzy humanities person here on Sb. Most recently, I’ve disagreed with Razib’s interpretation of some interesting genetic studies over at Gene Expression.

My objections to Razib’s thinking start already with his entry’s headline: “From where came the Slavs?“. BEEP goes my humanistic b-s detector. What is a Slav? Is that a well-defined and relevant category? As it turns out, Razib has stepped squarely into a trap where many other smart people have also gotten stuck through the ages. Razib believes that Slavs are people who speak Slavic languages and/or share certain genetic traits and/or share certain traits of material culture. His Slavs all belong together somehow, wherever they are and at whatever point in time. This model is called ethnic essentialism and has been abandoned in archaeology and social anthropology long ago.

My point is that ethnicity does not map 1:1 with either language, genetic ancestry, religion nor political organisation. It is possible for a bunch of people to be genetically and linguistically close, and still not be a single ethnic or political unit. This means that even if you can establish genetic and linguistic grouping, you may not have caught the grouping that was seen as most important by the people themselves.

Take, for instance, today’s Croatians and Serbs. They are, in Razib’s terminology, all Slavs. But they sure wouldn’t be happy if you told them they’re basically the same guys. Take, on the other hand, today’s speakers of Mandarin and Cantonese in China. They’re entirely distinct, yet cultivate the millennia-old Imperial fiction that they are the same guys.

Evidence was recently published (and discussed on Gene Expression) that suggests the ancient Etruscans may have had genetic origins in Asia Minor. Yet the Etruscans’ ideas about where they came from and who they were related to may not have been very similar to the actual origins documented in that study. Only Herodotus says so, and his writings on foreign people are not a good historical source in the technical sense. I’m fine with the Etruscans having a significant Lydian element in their ancestry. I just don’t find it very interesting that this confirms statements in a poor historical source. My job isn’t to evaluate proto-historic written sources.

But Razib, in my opinion, takes his reasoning one further step in the wrong direction: he discusses his Slavs in evolutionary terms.

“… assume that they had a better cultural toolkit for the far north. people can often be quite conservative so i would imagine that gave the slavic cultures a leg enough so that they could absorb a bunch of finns before the finns changed their practices enough so that they were at competitive parity in terms of exploitation of resources” [link]

Razib apparently believes not only that a Slav is a Slav is a Slav, but that the expansions and regressions of Slavic territory across the map have been directed by the adaptive fitness of “Slavic culture”. This model was abandoned by archaeologists and ethnographers in the 1940s.

When Razib looks at a distribution map of “Slavic culture” in, say, AD 1000, I imagine that he interprets the blob on the map as if it represented a biological species. “This is the distribution of the lynx / Slav. There is some variation in this population, but for most purposes all lynxes / Slavs are alike. One end of the blob represents the same thing as the other end. The shared characteristics of the blob’s members determine the blob’s evolutionary fate.” (Those are all my words put into Razib’s mouth.)

Archaeological cultures and linguistic areas are not like biological species. One end of a culture blob often hates the guts of the other end, insisting that although the two have similar languages and pottery styles, they are in fact not related at all. One end will happily join forces with part of an adjoining blob to annihilate the other end of the home blob. As a result, a third blob may be born, consisting of ten sub-blobs that fight constantly among themselves while exchanging wives and porphyry axe-preforms with the two parent blobs.

Most anthropologists these days reckon that there are several parameters in a person’s identity that can and often do vary independently of each other, and which can vary over the course of that person’s life, even situationally on a scale of days. Some of the most important ones are:

  • Ethnic self-identification: “I am a Swede”
  • Linguistic group: “I speak Swedish”
  • Genetic/phenetic type, i.e. “race”: “I am blue-eyed and pale-skinned”
  • Religion: “I was brought up a Protestant”
  • Material culture group: “I wear denim jeans and an Elvis T-shirt”
  • Political allegiance: “I am a citizen of the Kingdom of Sweden”

Razib and I both agree that genetic studies of modern and archaeological human populations can tell us a lot of interesting things. It seems to me, however, that they are not able to tell us quite what Razib thinks they can. Because a person’s self-reported identity cannot be read off anything material or genetic. And any group that appears tightly knit in material, linguistic and genetic terms may in fact consist of several groups that don’t want anything to do with each other.

But discussion may be futile. Says Razib, “i don’t really care what archeologists think about things non-artifactual”.

[More blog entries about , , ; , , .]


84 thoughts on “Genes and Peoples

  1. May I suggest definitions for “race” and “ethnicity” that I’ve found useful:

    A racial group is a partly inbred extended biological family.

    An ethnic group is a group of people who share traits that are frequently passed down within biological families, but that don’t have to be — such as language, religion, cuisine, surnames, mythical heroes, customs, and so forth.

    Not surprisingly, therefore, race and ethnicity often overlap, but by no means always.

    These definitions provide formal versions of the distinctions between race and ethnicity used in the U.S. Census, where whites, blacks, and even Guamanian/Chamorros are races, but Hispanic is an ethnicity whose members can be of any race.


  2. Lassi: the Battle Axe Culture is entirely prehistoric and nothing can ever be known about its language affinities.

    Never say never. The hypothesis suggested by archeologists is that the Battle Axe appeared in Finland at the same time as agriculture and the Baltic substratum of agricultural words. That would be the smoking gun: the Battle Axe spoke Baltian. Not even the linguists deny that. So you can know things about language affinities without having samples of the language.

    But the linguists (at least the one windy linked to) don’t agree with the timing. They claim that the Baltic substratum cannot be that early. That doesn’t mean that the Battle Axe weren’t Baltian, only that it cannot be proved by their influence in Finnish.

    If the timings don’t match, it would be interesting to know what substratum they left. They were dominant for almost a millennium before being absorbed, so they must have left a trace into the language. And then we could again conclude something about their affiliations.


  3. Matti, you Hallandic noaidie: I’m sure Herodotus is full of useful historical information about such things that he knew well, and that his writings are also a really good read. However, what’s interesting with the Lydian genes in Tuscany thing is not that it supports something Herodotus said. That’s just comparable to digging a barrow about which 19th century said “there’s a gold wagon inside it”, and then finding an undisturbed wagon burial. A source-critically poor historical text does not become source-critically strong if a few details in it are confirmed by archaeology. Cf. the Bible.

    As for the “enigma of the Etruscans”, that’s no longer an issue. The thing that has had scholars scratching their heads is the Etruscan language, which appears as isolated as Basque and Sumerian (though there is very little text to go on). Consensus says that it’s probably a remnant of a varied pre-IE substrate (cf. the linguistic bedquilt of tribal New Guinea). And this consensus still stands, even if the new genetic results can be taken to mean that Etruscan was originally spoken somewhere in Lydia (which is debatable).

    Windy: Yes, we’re lucky to have more than one 16th century sword, not to mention the many 16th century images of swords. And one day the ancient DNA field will hopefully reach comparable or better coverage.


  4. Very interesting debate.
    I’d like to turn the question around a little regarding DNA analysis. In the US there is currently a Presidential election campaign in which one of the candidates believes that a tribe of Israelites traveled by sea a few thousand years ago and were the ancestors of the Native American population. I would suggest that DNA analysis on both the current Native Americans (and current middle east population) and ancient skeletal remains might have made a useful contribution towards the determination of the truth of this story. I think that the Mormons have used traditional archaeological expeditions that try to find remains that confirm their story but perhaps the DNA evidence, at least in this instance, may be the decider. There is also the results of the Icelandic genomic profiles – it looks like the population shows evidence of a founder effect – a bottleneck made up, primarily, of Scandinavian males and Irish females – despite the fact that there has been little contact between the populations for the past thousand years.
    OK, most of that is looking at modern DNA but I would echo what Razib has said about loci such as the Lactose intolerance polymporphism. Recent techniques have brought autosomal loci into the range of analysis, so that we are not restricted to mitochondrial sequences as in the past, and do allow us to look at sequences such as this which is closely linked to cultural (or agricultural) practices or disease susceptibilities. Essentialism is very much a historical notion that has nothing in common with current theories of population genetics but it may be a mistake to dismiss out of hand the potential contribution that genetic analysis of historical remains may make in future. At the very least it might be useful to consider ways of preserving samples such that they can be analyzed by future researchers.


  5. Yes, we’re lucky to have more than one 16th century sword, not to mention the many 16th century images of swords. And one day the ancient DNA field will hopefully reach comparable or better coverage.

    Move goalposts much? What happened to ‘representativity’ for each ‘location’?

    But this joking is beside the point, since it’s not even necessary to have ancient DNA to date many types of genetic change.


  6. We do have many swords for each region, thank you, and also rich contextual information.

    The dating of genetic events (scale of millennia) is still too inexact to make it commensurable with archaeology (scale of half centuries).


  7. The dating of genetic events (scale of millennia) is still too inexact to make it commensurable with archaeology (scale of half centuries).

    if you increase the sample size of ancient DNA remains then the scale of genetic events is exactly the same as the scale of archaeology events because the former are dated through the latter. we already knew that lactase persistence was a feature of the last 10,000 years, but the extracted samples refined the window and put a lower upper bound on the selection event.


  8. btw, i really do get the sense that we’re engaging in a “my method is better than your method!” argument. that’s dumb. the point of genetic data is not to supersede or replace current methods, it is to supplement them. that being said, as i suggested via the quote from the etruscan story some archaeologists feel confident rejecting very strong inferences from this data without closer examination from what i can tell. that’s pretty disappointing.


  9. Yes, we’ll be happy very to provide dates for this discussion as long as it is informed by currently accepted archaeological theory. But Windy mentioned independent molecular dating of DNA.


  10. I personally don’t think our methods are better, or even ours exclusively if you’re speaking of radiocarbon. As for Etruscan matters, you’ll have to ask someone who works in that area. It’s just barely linked to mine through a few rare types of imported goods, so we don’t really talk to each other.


  11. Yes, I understand. It is very interesting on a global scale. It is however very hard to use on the scale level where most archaeologists work. They are likely to ask, “OK, what does this mean for late-3rd century BC Yorkshire?”


  12. They are likely to ask, “OK, what does this mean for late-3rd century BC Yorkshire?”

    a question which is coming to be answered through genetics is this: were the people of 10th century AD yorkshire the same people as 4th century AD? that is, were the latter the descendants of the former?


  13. Yes, that would be interesting to learn from independent sources. Nobody believes that the population was replaced entirely between those dates. I would personally be interested to learn the difference between male- and female-line heredity in Yorkshire over that time span.


  14. From Martin: �My work in southern Sweden is largely irrelevant to colleagues in northern Sweden, and entirely irrelevant to colleagues in Japan.�

    �My job is neither to draw the big picture of world prehistory nor to collect data for those who try to do so. My job is to find out what life was like for real people in certain regions during certain eras of the past. Archaeology doesn’t look for general global patterns, it doesn’t try to find the “laws of culture”.�

    That is too bad opinion in a time when we become more and more international. And more related to each other, also thanks to genetic studies. And northern Fennoskandia and southern do have many things in common archaeologically.

    Martin wrote:�Archaeology went through a brief period in the 60s and 70s when some people did look for general laws. They failed.�

    And this is what I wrote earlier about using the term �post-processuell� archaeology .
    Martin wrote:�Because the generalities of human existence are banal.�

    No, the humans are interesting, that is why we study anthropology, history, archaeology, religion�.
    From Martin C: �There is also the results of the Icelandic genomic profiles – it looks like the population shows evidence of a founder effect – a bottleneck made up, primarily, of Scandinavian males and Irish females – despite the fact that there has been little contact between the populations for the past thousand years�
    This can be rather amusing readings.

    From Mattias Niord: �But Savon, Martin is not a saamihater or a male chauvinist.�

    From Martin: �Savon, if it can make you any happier, let me state that I do not believe that Saami ethnicity is any more fictitious than anybody elses’, and that I picked up much of my feministic opinions from my first wife who had been a red-stocking radical in the 1970s.�

    It is this I see as �patting on my head�. I am more worth than this.

    I�ve also read Anders G�therstr�m, Helena Malmstr�m and some others doctorial thesis, so I know that they have found in a grave in Uppsala area, a man with saami genetic markers among the other buried persons. I�ve read Torbj�rn Ahlstr�m, when he writes about bones found on Gotland that in comparison with modern saami showed same traits. And as I have studied mathematic I have nothing to disagree with Ahlstr�ms statistical methods.
    And it is this question that made me and some other saami to write comments on a few bloggs and fora. The Swedish deny us saami to even exist. Or IF we exist we came very lately to Sweden and Europe ( the GERMANS came before us!!). I saw that Martin wrote once that we are partly white, or something like that�The genetic studies, and there are many, show us saami to be of the oldest European mtDNAs. We have U5 and V mostly and some other smaller as K (also very old European), H1�

    This litteraturelist you will find here:
    1) �A Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes� by John F. Hoffecker; Rutgers University Press, 2005.

    2) Don’s Maps: Resources for the study of Archaeology

    3) The Jesse Earl Hyde Collection, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Department of Geological Sciences

    4) CalPhotos University of California, Berkeley

    5) “The Magdalenian Colonization of Southern Germany” by Michael Jochim et al., American Anthropologist, Vol 101, No. 1, March 1999.

    6) �Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup I Reveals Distinct Domains of Prehistoric Gene Flow in Europe� by Siiri Rootsi et al. (2004)

    7) �A Signal, from Human mtDNA, of Postglacial Recolonization in Europe� by Antonio Torroni et al. (2001). Am. J. Hum. Genet. 69:844�852, 2001

    8) �Saami and Berbers�An Unexpected Mitochondrial DNA Link� by Alessandro Achilli et al. (2005). Am J Hum Genet. 2005 May; 76(5): 883�886.
    9) Major genomic mitochondrial lineages delineate early human expansions by Nicole Maca-Meyer et al. (2001), BMC Genetics 2001, 2:13.

    10) The Western and Eastern Roots of the Saami�the Story of Genetic �Outliers� Told by Mitochondrial DNA and Y Chromosomes by Kristiina Tambets et al. (2004). Am. J. Hum. Genet. 74:661�682, 2004.

    11) Tracing European Founder Lineages in the Near Eastern mtDNA Pool by Martin Richards et al. (2000). Am. J. Hum. Genet. 67:1251�1276, 2000.

    12) mtDNA and the Islands of the North Atlantic: Estimating the Proportions of Norse and Gaelic Ancestry by Agnar Helgason et al. (2001), Am J Hum Genet. 2001 March; 68(3): 723�737.
    13) The mitochondrial lineage U8a reveals a Paleolithic settlement in the Basque country by Ana M Gonz�lez, Oscar Garc�a, Jos� M Larruga and Vicente M Cabrera. BMC Genomics 2006, 7:124.
    14) Denmark before the Vikings by Dr. Glyn Daniel and Ole Klindt-Jensen (1957).

    15) � High Resolution Analysis and Phylogenetic Network Construction Using Complete mtDNA Sequences in Sardinian Genetic Isolates� by Cristina Fraumene et al. (2006).
    16) �Most of the extant mtDNA boundaries in South and Southwest Asia were likely shaped during the initial settlement of Eurasia by anatomically modern humans� by Mait Metspalu et al. 2004
    17) �Where West Meets East: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the
    Southwest and Central Asian Corridor� by Lluı�s Quintana-Murci et al. 2004
    18)�Kvinnerollene i Oseberghaugen� av Cecilie Hongslo Vala, 2007
    19) �Ancient DNA as a Means to
    Investigate the European Neolithic� by Helena Malmstr�m (2007)
    20) �The Role of Selection in the Evolution of Human Mitochondrial Genomes� by Toomas Kivisild et al. 2006
    21) �Diversity of Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups in Ethnic Populations of the Volga�Ural Region� by M. A. Bermisheva et al. 2002


  15. Let me clarify two issues that Savon has raised.

    1. The modernist, pro-science, technocratic, law-seeking movement in 60s and 70s archaeology was known as the “processual” school or the “New Archaeology”. One of the items on its agenda was to model past societies in flowcharts, much like the ones used to graph industrial processes. Its chief ideologues were Binford and Clarke.

    The reaction to this movement, a post-modernist, lit-crit-inspired anti-science variant, is known as the “post-processual” or “contextual” school, and was established in the 80s. Main names are Hodder, Shanks and Tilley.

    Since the 80s, nobody in archaeology has managed to establish any recognisable school.

    Like almost all of my colleagues, I subscribe to neither of these schools in any orthodox way. I am unusually hostile to theory for theory’s sake, and advocate clear common-sense argument couched in plain language.

    2. Regarding Saami skin colour, I once had a commenter on my blog who believed that Saami were “coloured”. I corrected this misapprehension, explaining that most Saami do not have darker skin than the typical Swede.


  16. Martin: The first point I agree with. I have not studied them, so I was mistaken what they were called.
    But as I understand that what you call “processual archaeology” also is called “Scientific archaeology”, and was built on positivism and functionalism. Then in the end of 70 came the “post-processualism” with feminism, structural marxism and post-strucuralism lumped together (afterwards).
    And now the “Scientific archaeology” again has taken over?

    But as I see it another trend is also coming up, and I think that it will renew archaeology. And make archaeology and history more compatible, hopefully. But will hurt nationalistic feelings.


  17. I’ve never heard the term “scientific archaeology” before. Current academic archaeology is very varied, and most scholars’ outlook consists of ideas from the entire history of archaeological debate.


  18. Far far above Razib engaged with a part of my comment:

    the associations are based on tiny margins of significance in correlations–not clear links but likelihoods, and those often so small that any physicist or chemist would dismiss the data as unusable.
    what does ‘tiny margins of significance’ mean? this is science, most people have to submit within p-values of 0.05. the prose there doesn’t suggest you even understand what sort of research people are doing, though perhaps it is a language barrier.

    I know enough to be aware that mathematicians and experimental scientists have very different ideas over what can be considered a ‘significant’ result. Indeed, I was recently being told (but can’t now find a source–I will try and come back with one) how a recent paper had suggested that an awful lot of the reason so many clinical trials conflict with each other is that the margins of significance of their results are so tiny. That is, they may successfully and legitimately record a tenfold increase in correlation; but when the initial correlation was one in a million, one in ten thousand still isn’t usefully ‘significant’, and another trial can easily obtain results that contradict this because they weren’t, in fact, significant. Does a submission correlation of p=0.05 seem to you to be proof against such difficulties?

    Unquestionably I don’t understand the depths of most scientific research, though if someone takes the time to explain it to me I usually get the drift. I think I follow the maths though.

    If you want to check my perception of the figures, though, my introduction to the DNA stuff was hearing and reading about the Wirral Viking DNA Project, which is described here. That page has some of the actual figures used in the results, and N. B. that they used profiling to boost their sample significance–the Blood of the Vikings project whose methodology they were using was working with far smaller correlations. It may be that I misunderstand the genuine value of these figures, but as someone with more maths training than experimental training, and a natural scepticism that helps make me a historian, it seems that these are only suggestions and not proof.


  19. I’ve never heard the term scientific archaeology before either, at least not as a theoretical school equivalent to processualism or post-processualism. If someone said scientific archaeology to me, I would probably assume they meant someone who dealt with one of the sub-disciplines of archaeology that overlap with something like biology, chemistry, geophysics etc.

    Yes, I would agree that scientific techniques are being employed more often in archaeology. The name of the game these days is inter-disciplinary studies, you wouldn’t believe the number of times you hear that phrase when drawing up research proposals, and that will often employ a lot of different techniques from a lot of different places. I would not however claim that that was a theoretical school because, as Martin said, there hasn’t really been one since post-processualism.


  20. Maybe Savon was referring to lab-based studies of archaeological materials, “archaeometry”, or as it is known in Swedish, laborativ arkeologi. The archaeological lab at the University of Stockholm was founded by Birgit Arrhenius in the early 80s unless I’m mistaken. It’s currently headed by Kerstin Liden.


  21. Savon, if you took my comment as “patting you on the head” I am very sorry and must have worded myself poorly. It was not my intention.
    The thing is that I know Martin since before and felt obliged to defend him from those accusations that ain´t true.
    But Martin is a scientific positivist with a liberal view on the world, and that view do clash with yours. It also clashes with mine on many occasions, since I am a christian and have a stronger belief in the rights of indigenous peoples. And I never said you where worth less than me or him!
    And I can fully understand your view and may share more of it than you may belive. I was schooled in Umeå at the archaeological institution, bur also studied at the Institution of Saami history and culture, plus hailing from North Tornedalen. Personally, I have found it very interesting that these saami markers have appeared as far south as they have, but I admit that many colleges of mine, both researchers and educators, do not make much of it.
    It is not because they want to say saami ain´t an ethnical group, but because they are scared. The archaeological world in Sweden became very restrictive about touching the saami issue, save for a few scholars that are part saami themselves. Genes and relations between people are very sensitive, because imidiately the warning sign blink “nazi” and “nationalism” and people avoid that like the plague.
    Anyway, the lawsuit in Härjedalen, where the saami finally lost, sadly, and where Evert Baudou and Inger Zachrisson clashed, is one important reason. Zachrisson is not that well seen, because some feel she is a “traitor”. Not really because she has very strong theories about saami prehistory, but because she gave herself up for “political aims”. That is something extremely ugly in the eyes of most archaeologist, as this also sends alarmbells about “nationalism”.
    You probably know all this, but others may not be that well informed.

    But the saami history is sensitive stuff. In Tornedalen, saamis are under attack from people styling themselves as “kvaens” and they have the stomach to say “their” ancestors came first. Personally, I belive that is a piece of junk. Wallerström and others have quite well showed that the culture attributed to the elusive finnishspeaking kvaens came about 800-1000AD to the lower Torne valley from the coastal regions, and that finnish placenames overlay and older layer of saami names.

    Now, this ethnical distinctions are also pretty messed up because finnish speaking tornedalings and saami families married between each other. In my grandfathers line, there are several intermarriages between his line that the saami families Kitti and Suikki (pardon for eventual misspellings, it was some years since I studied those papers. So many so-called kvaens may indeed have personal ties to the first settlers, but not the finnish speakers as a group.
    The sadest part in this sad story is that while for about a 100 years ago, saamis and finnish usually had friendly relations and the big “foe” was the swedes. Today, instead of trying to support each other, they are attacking each other instead of standing up for their own culture against the main finnish and swedish ones. But this is the usual patterns in a place where one culture group dominates several smaller. Divide and conquer.

    For you others, I think I should write something about the hidden history of north Sweden:
    North Sweden was colonies with the start in the 14th century by initiative of the swedish King Magnus Eriksson. The area was already settled. The coast was settled by sedentary or semi-sedentary groups of mostly finnish speakers, but saamis where moving in and out and it would suprise me a lot of there was not also saami speakers that where sedentary there aswell. There was also a strata of “swedish” speakers, probably people from Hälsingland, who had feld the increased reach of the royal power of South Sweden.
    But in 1335 (correct me if I am wrong, Savon, it was some years since I read about this) The swedes moved in and established control of the coastal regions and the lower river valleys, where the “kvaens” where residing. The “kvaens” became the means by which the swedish king could reach the saami, via a traditional connection carried out by “birkarlar”, who seems to have been both traders but sometimes also tax collectors. And they where not always nice toward the saami. But mostly, this seems to have been more beneficial than the Royal tax collectors that replaced them in the 16th century.
    But the pattern is there. The swedish power used the local groups and played them out against each other.
    To quote Star Trek:”Resistance is futile!”
    Had the kvaens and the saami tried to fight back in some co-ordinated fashion, their voices might have been more listened too. But both groups neither had the organisation, nor really the culture to act out with all out war. Small raids and self defence, yes. But resisting an armed colonisation, no.

    Sweden have indeed always done its best to swoop this old colonisation under the carpet, but my grandfather where beaten in school for speaking finnish, and saami children where for a long time denied the same level of eduction as other children in Sweden, because it would “soften” them. They where allowed to die in phenumonia in drafty “kåtas” rather than becoming too soft to live in the mountains and the forests.

    Anyway, let me tell you about a very personal expirience about what you are allowed to say about saamis and North Swedish prehistory.
    North swedish prehistory was barely studied until the 70:es, for the only ones living there had been “saamis” and who cared? Well, a few did but it was not until the late 70:es and the early 80:es that targeted research was made.
    The finds in Vuollerim changed that, with a very well preserved house, about 6000 years old. I worked there for a summer as guide, just after finishing my MA essay in archaeology.
    Anyway, the issue was infected. Local swedish people did their best to deny that this people living there 6000 years ago could be saamis. And we as guides where instructed not to say anything about any eventual connections with the saami. To me that felt absurd.
    Even if there had been a later cultural change, I find it hard to belive that hunter-gatherer people would have aggressively eradicated other tribes to take over their lands, not to such an extent that one could deny that not blood ties to earlier people would not exist.

    I am sure that many people came to Northern Fennoscandia during many thousands of years, but they did not dissplace each other but merged and the results where the different saami groups and partially the more southern finnish speaking groups. But we where latecomers, relatively.
    So when asked the question by a journalist, I could not lie but felt I must say what I belived was true and answered that my personal theory was that the modern saami must have relations back to the stone age peoples that settled North Fennoscandia. And it would suprise me alot if they never managed to leave any trace in the south as well.
    If we can call the people during the stone age saami or proto-saami, I say no in the cultural sense. But they must according to any sound reasoning still have their genes represented among the saami. There are other stuff, connected with saami shamanism, the wider circumpolar cultural complex it connects with and for me the link to the veneration of the bear, something we see strong traces of in paleolithic Europe.

    Now, I will try and check those links you posted Savon, for my appetite for these issues have just been ignited again.
    Personally, I do belive genetics will become an important part of the understanding of the past, but it is a young science, and there is always a period of clashes before an eventual cross-scientific relation is established firmly. Both lines of researchers have big difficulties understanding each other and misinterpretate each others results. It is a long process, but I am sure it will work out in the end.

    But many archaeologist see the issue of blood ties and relations as unimportant. Why? Because they many times are uninterested about it. They have been raised in the school of western philosophy that teaches that heritage is unimportant and only a hindrance for the development of a good modern society. They are individuals and do not want to be seen as part of a “collective” other than as tied via relations they themselves choose.
    Therefore, they have little understanding for people who belive that who they are related to and where they once lived is considered of vital importance. To them, it is scientifically interesting, but not important in the modern world, where the person and not the collective should be in the centre and collectives only hampers to full flower of the individual.

    This types of clashes rages all over the world, where the scientist many times view the people arguing about inheritance as “quasi-nazis” because they talk about connections with people of the past etc. That is not so strange, since an archaeologist learns that in the end, everyone is related to some very ancient group that lived in Africa

    Due to the rising issues and hot debattes between ethnic groups, and not a small bit because of the bloody balkan wars, many archaeologist simply do not want to dicuss these issues other than on a very academical level.

    I must confess I do not fit in with this professional type of archaeologists. I am thrilled by knowing the earliest known settlement of my grandfathers line was excavated and that some graves dating back to the first millenium may contain person directly related to me via my mother. Sadly, there is no possibility to take any DNA, because the bones where almost totally decayed, but I would have volunteered at once had I been asked.
    The fact that I have some saami blood too really make me feel a bit proud, but I would never style myself as saami, because I was not raised in that culture. But related to the saami people, yes, and therefore knowing about their past is important to me.

    Another rant and hi-jacking of this tread. Sorry. Not much DNA.

    But I am really sorry if I offended you, Savon. I really am. I hope you can forgive me.


  22. Thanks Mattias, I have nothing to forgive you, your nice words…
    Have you heard the enormously romantic music of Burials?
    “Untrue”. 6th track “Etched Headplate”. My favorite so far…


  23. I will only say this and never anything more here, because I started to defend us from this. Mattias wrote: “Anyway, the lawsuit in Härjedalen, where the saami finally lost, sadly, and where Evert Baudou and Inger Zachrisson clashed, is one important reason. Zachrisson is not that well seen, because some feel she is a “traitor”. Not really because she has very strong theories about saami prehistory, but because she gave herself up for “political aims”.

    We see the contrary to this. Baudou had studied the saami for so long time, and still he could stand up for the people with “paper”, the landowners. We have of course no papers on the land we have lived on for so long, usually had/have not indigenous people who couldn´t write or read, the papers the colonialpowers brought with them.

    Zachrisson did not fall in any political trap, it is only what the landowners and their follower have said. Zachrisson has also been a scientist, a scholar, for long time, and she has made a lot of work about us and the contacts we had with “the others” let´s call them the swedes here. We got our defense from her work, that she had done long before this trial, and nobody could foreseen during that time, what was coming.
    Now I think that this issue has not yet been finished.


  24. Sounds like excessively narrowly-defined archaeology. I don’t keep up on the field, but I’m aware that many departments enforce cripplingly narrow definitions of how the work is to be done.

    Believe me, John: the basic methods of excavation and analysis are the same, but there really is no link between the actual content of Japanese and Swedish archaeology, simply because the the two areas were never in contact with each other during prehistory.


  25. Excuse me, have you heared about the Ainupeople in Japan?
    They was seen as a maybe “indoeuropean” speaking people, or they might have had(?) a language that belongs to some old “substrate”, old hunters. They have a BEAR festival similar to the saamis earlier bearhunt rituals. Reminds also of the “bearaltar”, found in the grottoes in the Franco-cantabrian mountains.
    Their huts, houses are called “kottes”, very similar to saami “goatte”, which not seem to be a finno-ugric word, (the hungarian word “hás” sounds more like swedish “hus”, or had, sw. hydda…)


  26. Yes I do, but not directly. I´ve looked at the debate about Ainus mtDNA is interesting, some of them seem to have D(?) and in northern Finland there are some with D5. Can be a link, but what is more interesting is that the culture is very old, and that people brought it with them wherever they went. And cultural elements can survive, and people don´t know really why.
    I saw that somebody on a forum for debate, made a comparison between Ainu and people from the Alps, there seem to be some genetic similarities, but not mtDNa or Y-haplogroups, it was some other markers.
    I also read in DN (Dagens Nyheter 2008-01-20)sunday about Ötzi, the iceman, and I have seen his cap of bearskin on other places. Then it was the cap of the shamans, and also looks little like the “heads” of different “Venuses” from early stoneage.. He had a copperaxe. Now axes was used in many “rituals” of old age, to kill the sacrificed animal(?). Or was just a sign.
    There is much more to write about this matter but it can be to later…My point is that the bearrituals are very old.


  27. Sorry for some treadomancy, but I just have to write on this my old subject of the bear cults and bear mythology. Indeed, the similarities of the bear rituals, and what is most interesting, the stories that are so similar all over the northern hemisphere.
    I dwelled into the bear rituals and mythology as part of my Master of arts in Archaeology and it was partially because of that Martin asked me to take a closer look on the bear claws found in his Gotlandic graves and see if I could get some more info out of them via Osteology. It was probably the first time someone had really tried to do something saying “well, those are bearclaws”.
    Well, anyway, I suspect the same thing as you Savon, that the bear rituals are VERY old, much thanks to those similarities in rituals, but even more in living mythical stories about the relationship between man and bear.

    If I had ever kept on with the academical career, I would have liked to go deper and broader into this subject. I suspect that we are seeing and hearing relics form the ice age, before the wast northern regions where freed from the Ice cap and people could move north and spread over the land. This very old common base is the reason I think for the Circumpolar cultures having so much cultural ideas in common.


  28. “Lassi: the Battle Axe Culture is entirely prehistoric and nothing can ever be known about its language affinities. You are not alone among Finns in having antiquated beliefs in this area, though. I’ve come across highly remarkable statements on the subject from senior Finnish archaeologists in recent years.”

    För att vara någon som ofta uttalar sig vad som är konsensus bland arkeologer så verkar du döma bort rätt många av de samtida.


  29. Well, consensus is a question of strong majority opinion. There are always a few dissidents. Finland has very few archaeologists at all. But I’m sure most of them have a more updated opinion on ethnic matters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s