Unheard of Ancient Nomads Vanished from Europe a Millennium Ago – DNA Analysis Unveils their Way of Life

Unheard of Ancient Nomads Vanished from Europe a Millennium Ago - DNA Analysis Unveils their Way of Life

The study of ancient DNA is revolutionizing our understanding of past societies. In a recent study, researchers analyzed the genetics of individuals who lived in the Carpathian Basin in southeastern central Europe over 1,000 years ago. This analysis provided insights into family trees, societal structures, and changes that occurred over centuries.

The focus of the study was on the Avars, a nomadic people from eastern central Asia who held power in eastern central Europe from the 6th to the 9th century CE. While the Avars are known for their distinctive belt garnitures, their overall legacy has been overshadowed by predecessors like the Huns. However, Avar burial sites have provided valuable information about their customs and way of life.

By combining ancient DNA data with archaeological, anthropological, and historical context, the researchers were able to reconstruct extensive pedigrees and gain a deeper understanding of kinship patterns, social practices, and population dynamics during this enigmatic period. The study involved analyzing human remains from four fully excavated Avar-era cemeteries, resulting in a meticulous analysis of 424 individuals. Through this analysis, the researchers reconstructed multiple extensive pedigrees spanning up to nine generations and 250 years.

The research revealed a sophisticated social framework within Avar society. The results suggest that Avar society operated on a system of patrilineal descent, where communities were organized around main fathers’ lines. Men typically stayed within their paternal community after marriage, while women played a crucial role in maintaining social ties by marrying outside their family’s community. The study also identified instances of “levirate unions,” where closely related males had offspring with the same female partner.

Interestingly, despite these practices, there was no evidence of pairings between genetically related individuals, indicating that Avar societies carefully preserved ancestral memory. The study also uncovered a transition in the main line of descent within one specific community, coinciding with archaeological and dietary shifts likely linked to political changes in the region. This finding highlights the importance of considering genetic continuity and community replacement in future archaeological and genetic research.

The study is part of a larger project called HistoGenes, funded by the European Research Council. The researchers aim to expand their research to a wider geographical area within the Avar realm to deepen their understanding of ancestral Avar society. They also plan to investigate the origins of women who married into the communities studied and explore evidence of pathogens and disease among the individuals. Additionally, improving the dating of Avar sites through radiocarbon analysis will provide a more precise timeline of Avar society and shed light on cultural changes and interactions with neighboring societies.