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Thread: A thread about the Xiongnu empire and its various peoples

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    Cool A thread about the Xiongnu empire and its various peoples

    A while back I made a thread about the Deer Stone Khirigsuur people and I learned a lot from it, so I would like to know what everyone thinks about theformation of the Xiongnu empire, and what their interpretations are of the genetic data we have from the Xiongnu period. Hopefully, this will be a thread that will spawn lengthy discussions

    My own two cents:

    There are many theories for the origins of the Xiongnu, but I think the likeliest is that it started out as a confederacy between Yeniseian, Turkic and Iranic speaking tribes, as well as many other unidentified various people, which then over time gew in numbers due to the many regions they conquered, as well as vassal states and allies who joined them.

    I speculated in that previous thread that I think the Deer Stone Khirigsuur Complex were Yeniseian speaking peoples, based on their autosomal ancestry and parental markers. Note, this is just speculation, I'm not stating this with any strong confidence. To the west of the DSKC you had the formation of the earliest Scytho-Siberian cultures, and in the east you had the Slab grave culture.

    One popular theory that has gotten a lot more traction since Pulleyblank's works is that the core Xiongnu group or the elite were Yeniseian speakers, based on the various terms traced back to the Xiongnu period that are of Yeniseian origin, as well as the single attested phrase of the Jié, rulers of the Later Zhao dynasty. This seems to match up with Yeniseian hydronyms that are found in the Altai, Mongolia and southern Siberia.

    It seems easy to match an autosomally east/west eurasian Q1a2 carrying pastoral culture with Scytho-Siberian affiliations of western Mongolia to said core group of the Xiongnu, but only if it was that easy

    My knowledge of Chinese history is somewhat limited, but from what I know the Chinese sources suggest a more southern origin, in the Ordos region naar Shanxi. Emperor Qin is said to have campaigned against the Xiongnu in 215 B.C andd drove them out of the Ordos region and into the Mongolian plateau. Pulleyblank even identified these early Xiongnu as being part of the Yiqu state, which is in modern day eastern Gansu and Shaanxi If I recall correctly.

    Now it certainly is interesting that the linguistic data of Yeniseian speakers in Mongolia seems to suggest a northwestern presence, but the first historical mentions of the Xiongnu seems to suggest that they migrated into this region. I haven't really found any evidence for a Yeniseian presence in the southeast of Inner Mongolia for instance.

    That being said, people can migrate quite rapidly, particularly if they were steppe nomads. Perhaps Yeniseian tribes migrated to the southeast along the Gobi Altai mountains, and later migrated backwards to the Mongolian plateau? This would faill in line with the idea that the Inner Asian Mountain corridor was instrumental to the migration of various semi-nomadic and nomadic peoples. Other options are that the early Xiongnu attested south were not Yeniseian speakers, or perhaps the Chinese historical records weren't the most consistent on this matter?

    What I also found interesting, is that it is becoming ever clearer and clearer that the Xiongnu Empire was incredibly diverse. Now this is something that the best books on the Huns always stress, but till too often these entities are denoted to a singular entitity (e.g they were Turkic, Iranic, Mongolic!). Or even when aknowledging the multi-ethnic aspects, it is still done with a singular ethnicity as the ruling class. I'm not sure if I buy that to be honest, I think it's likelier the ruling class was a diverse one, just like the general population.

    I'm reminded of a Wusun prince who got adopted by the Xiongnu after the Yuezhi attacked his tribe and he was sucked by a she-wolf in the forest, which was totally a 100% legit historical event. He grew up to be a general under the Xiongnu empire while also being the ruler of his people. He also got revenge on the Yuezhi and drove them from the Ili valley.

    On that note, Damgaard's paper included a few Xiongnu royal burials, 2 of which had Y-dna O2. They were also mostly East Eurasian derived. But when looking at the Xiongnu era sampleset in Jeong's more recent paper, which featured over 60 Xiongnu samples, O2 is rather scarce in their Xiongnu sampleset, only appearing in a few samples. The vast majority of the Xiongnu samples had significantly more West Eurasian derived ancestry too and there was a significant presence of a paternal West Eurasian lineages as well. So I wonder how representative these samples would be of the Xiongnu genetic composition, or even the core Xiongnu elite.

    In general, the high amount of individuals that were mostly West Eurasian derived is something I found quite interesting as well. The presence of such peoples within the Xiongnu was expected of course, given their interactions with the Yuezhi, Wusun and their allies such as the Kangju and some of the Tocharian kingdoms, but it was definitely more than I expected. Particularly that a lot of the west-east mixed individuals had western paternal lineages. Maybe our mental image needs to shift from this towards something more like this.

    Another point I'd like to make, which is nothing but pure speculation, is that I think most groups that were part of the Xiongnu would've kept their original languages. Now I'm not saying there wasn't any ethnolinguistic assimilation, but I do find it telling that few post-Xiongnu groups attested all spoke different languages, although most groups described as such were Turkic if I remember well. The Jié were probably Yeniseian speaking, as their single attested phrase suggests. The Tiele were Turkic speakers, and the Chinese recods said that they spoke the language of the Xiongnu (which given the diversity within the empire/confederacy doesn't mean much in my opinion). Then you have the various groups named Huns, such as European Huns, or the Iranian Huns we see in Central and South Asia. Now who these people were, what their relation was to each other and the Xiongnu, or their ethnolinguistic affiliations is something that is heavily debated of course, but I don't think anyone suggests that they all spoke the same language.

    I think this is very different from what we see with the rise of the Turkic khanates, where in my opinion a lot more ethnolinguistic affiliation took place. I think the Post-Xiongnu era is where most of the Iranic and Yeniseian speaking tribes on the eastern steppes and south Siberia were assimilated into the Turkic speaking populations. Interestingly a recent paper which looked at skeletal data from the Hunno-Sarmatian Kokel culture of Tuva showed that this period was quite violent. I would love to see some aDNA from that excavation! What I think is likely is that during this period due to the turmoil you had many eastern groups moving westwards, and given the rise of Turkic political dominance and their significant presence in the Xiongnu period, many of these groups were Turkic and each consecutive generation you would've had less Iranic and Yeniseian speakers, and more Turkic speakers. This turmoil is then also what lead to various "Huns" to move towards Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Southern Asia.

    I guess the Karasuk > Tagar > Tashtyk > Yenisei Kyrgyz line would be a decent example of Siberian Iranics being assimilated into the Turkic populations. The Tang era descriptions of the Yenisei Kyrgyz describe them as mostly being red-haired light people, who thought of black hair as a sign of bad luck (and descent from a Chinese general who defected to the Xiongnu).

    But given the significant presence of Turkic in this era, it could also be possible that one or various Turkic languages served as the lingua franca of sorts, like how Gothic was the lingua franca of the Huns. Perhaps thre already was some strong assimilation going on during the Xiongnu period, with Turkic languages becoming more prevalent over time across various groups.

    Some questions I'd like your opinion on:

    • What is your take on the ethnolinguistic affiliation of the various groups of the Xiongnu empire? What does the current genetic data we have tell you?
    • Where do you think the Yeniseian speakers came from, what was their exact role in the Xiongnu, and what was their fate?
    • Where do you think the Proto-Turkic and Proto-Mongolic peoples lived? Around which time, and which material culture? Why?
    • What is your take on the relation between the Xiongnu, the European Huns and the Iranian Huns?
    • What was the relation between the Scythian cultures and the Xiongnu? What did you make of the West Eurasian ancestry in Jeong's samples?
    • Why is this era of history so damn cool?


    Here are some relevant articles:

    Last edited by CopperAxe; 09-29-2020 at 04:44 PM.

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    Regarding relation between between the Xiongnu, the European Huns and the Iranian Huns: I like Etienne de la Vaissière's arguments that there is a connection:

    https://www.academia.edu/12128881/_T...2014_p_175_192

    On the other hand, relation between Xiongnu of Modu Chanyu and Huns of Attila could be like between Mongols of Chinggis Khaan and Mughals of Akbar: While Mughal empire has clear roots going back to Mongol empire, everything about Mughals changed: language, religion, genetics, culture.

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    Aren't they the people who built that big wall to keep the Chinese out?

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    To put it simply, I see it with Xiongnu like this:
    „The Xiongnu emerged from a merger of different Altai and Sajan peoples. Over several centuries, several Indo-European groups (Saks, Sarmatians) mixed on the one hand and Mongolian people from the taiga and cattle breeders expelled from the Chinese fringes on the other. The Jie, one of the 19 tribes of the Xiongnu Confederation, for example, were recognized by their long noses and full beards"


    From a linguistic point of view, I could imagine that the Yenisei language had served as the general lingua franca for general communication with Xiongnu, but with different tribes other languages ​​such as Eastern Iranian languages ​​depending on dominance and leadership. And from the 100th century AD onwards, civil wars broke out in the Xiongnu state, which ultimately led to the migration of the Huns to Europe Xiongnu rather than the Iranian Huns, who had a slightly different history and way of life!
    Alain Dad
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    Quote Originally Posted by rozenfeld View Post
    Regarding relation between between the Xiongnu, the European Huns and the Iranian Huns: I like Etienne de la Vaissière's arguments that there is a connection:

    https://www.academia.edu/12128881/_T...2014_p_175_192

    On the other hand, relation between Xiongnu of Modu Chanyu and Huns of Attila could be like between Mongols of Chinggis Khaan and Mughals of Akbar: While Mughal empire has clear roots going back to Mongol empire, everything about Mughals changed: language, religion, genetics, culture.
    Thanks for sharing this! I have one remark to make in regards to this article, formatting is a bit weird when pasting so I'm referring to the last paragraph of Huns and Xiongnu: Some attempted Counterarguments.

    Aside from the fact that I think this is a little dismissive of the efforts by Maenchen-Helfen, I think the comparison of Huns and Roman is quite apt. So when he says that Byzantines calling themselves Roman could be akin to the European Huns referring to themselves as Xiongnu, I kind of agree, but I also think this applies to the Franks, or the Ottomans, or the Russian Empire. Just like how the term Roman was used by medieval European states to link themselves to the Roman legacy, I think a similar case could've occured with the Xiongnu empire and it's legacy. But like Voltaire said, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

    What I'm suggesting is the possibility it became the claim to fame to proclaim yourself as being a descendant of the Xiongnu, like we see with one of the kings of the Silla kingdom in Korea, regardless if your people were actually related to the core Xiongnu group or were part of the confederacy. Although it is possible that all the Hun groups actually do have a link to the Xiongnu empire (certainly possible given their maximum extent), I also think it i possible some of those Huns just co-opted the term.

    So who knows if the Huns of Europe are actually related to the people the Chinese first designated as Xiongnu (who then went on to found a massive confderacy made up of numerous ethnicities, which to the Chinese were all of the same dirty barbarian stock anyways), or if the Huns were just one of the many tribes part of the Xiongnu, or if the Huns only arose during the post-Xiongnu period, and like Medieval Germans were tying themselves to a glamorized past.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alain View Post
    To put it simply, I see it with Xiongnu like this:
    „The Xiongnu emerged from a merger of different Altai and Sajan peoples. Over several centuries, several Indo-European groups (Saks, Sarmatians) mixed on the one hand and Mongolian people from the taiga and cattle breeders expelled from the Chinese fringes on the other. The Jie, one of the 19 tribes of the Xiongnu Confederation, for example, were recognized by their long noses and full beards"


    From a linguistic point of view, I could imagine that the Yenisei language had served as the general lingua franca for general communication with Xiongnu, but with different tribes other languages ​​such as Eastern Iranian languages ​​depending on dominance and leadership. And from the 100th century AD onwards, civil wars broke out in the Xiongnu state, which ultimately led to the migration of the Huns to Europe Xiongnu rather than the Iranian Huns, who had a slightly different history and way of life!
    The samples from Jeong et al show that this mixing occured well before the Xiongnu period (just look at the DSKC samples), and that even with the early Xiongnu samples (during the formation period), peoples who probably spoke Iranic languages already had a somewhat significant presence. Late Xiongnu samples show an even higher diversity, with individuals from further to the west and further to the east. i think the presence and role of Indo-Iranian peoples in the Xiongnu empire is somethat that isn't focused on enough in academic circles, it always is related to a minority component, underclass or "potential influences" but the sheer amount of western individuals we've uncovered shows that the presence and roles had to be rather significant.

    What is your take on the origin of the Iranian Huns such as the Xionites and Hephthalites?

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    This can be solved with archaeogenetic data, if there is in fact a core ethnic group that is genetically homogeneous represented by say ~80-95% of the samples from a much wider sampling of "Xiongnu" graves, the picture we get will be much different from the extreme diversity scenario. The sampling of Xiongnu graves we have right now comes from only a few sites.

    There is a poster from Alexander Kim pointing out that a historical Arin genome from >16th century Russia clustered not with present-day Kets, but with other Altaics whose East Asian ancestry comes from further south (it wasn't published though, I think the poster was from ASHG 2018? Quite a number of years ago). That considerably complicates things.

    I've been working on splitting Boisman_MN, Mongolia_N, Agriculturalist, other East Asian ancestries for a bit, this can also help to tease out the transformations on the steppe once we have the right genomes.
    Last edited by Ryukendo; 09-29-2020 at 02:38 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryukendo View Post
    This can be solved with archaeogenetic data, if there is in fact a core ethnic group that is genetically homogeneous represented by say ~80-95% of the samples from a much wider sampling of "Xiongnu" graves, the picture we get will be much different from the extreme diversity scenario. The sampling of Xiongnu graves we have right now comes from only a few sites.
    Do you expect to find a population that is largely homogeneous if we widen our scope in regards to the Xiongnu samples? The Xiongnu samples in Jeong's study actually seem to be from a pretty wide selection of sites, I'm counting 29 ones including the ones that also have burials from other periods, 19 of them are just Xiongnu burials so I'm not sure if I'd agree with that. The vast majority are late Xiongnu sites however. if only we could have some early samples from around the Ordos culture, that would be dope.

    There is a poster from Alexander Kim pointing out that a historical Arin genome from >16th century Russia clustered not with present-day Kets, but with other Altaics whose East Asian ancestry comes from further south (it wasn't published though, I think the poster was from ASHG 2018? Quite a number of years ago). That considerably complicates things.

    I've been working on splitting Boisman_MN, Mongolia_N, Agriculturalist, other East Asian ancestries for a bit, this can also help to tease out the transformations on the steppe once we have the right genomes.
    The Arin genome sounds really interesting, but it seems quite probable. I've seen you mention before that the Eurasian steppes experienced a southern shift in regads to Asiatic ancestry if we compare the Scythian periods to that of the Turkic periods for example. Kets are Northern Yeniseians while Arins like Pumpokols were southern Yeniseians who lived in the Altai region. I don't think it be weird for a medieval southern Yeniseian to have that southern shift reflected in his ancestry, given the many centuries they would've lived in close proximity to the Altaians, while also accounting for earlier genetic flows from the Xiongnu period, such as Han-related ancestry getting into the genepool.
    Last edited by CopperAxe; 09-29-2020 at 03:49 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CopperAxe View Post
    The samples from Jeong et al show that this mixing occured well before the Xiongnu period (just look at the DSKC samples), and that even with the early Xiongnu samples (during the formation period), peoples who probably spoke Iranic languages already had a somewhat significant presence. Late Xiongnu samples show an even higher diversity, with individuals from further to the west and further to the east. i think the presence and role of Indo-Iranian peoples in the Xiongnu empire is somethat that isn't focused on enough in academic circles, it always is related to a minority component, underclass or "potential influences" but the sheer amount of western individuals we've uncovered shows that the presence and roles had to be rather significant.

    What is your take on the origin of the Iranian Huns such as the Xionites and Hephthalites?
    The Iranian Huns, with whom I roughly associate the Kidarites, Nezak and Alchon, were not "newcomers" in Central Asia and the northern subcontinent but, in my opinion, rather long-established Iranian peoples such as Sogdians, Bactrians. of the nomads (Xiongnu) because the Iranian Huns were not completely unknown to the cultures of the Central Asian region, but when the population grew, for example in today's Afghanistan and the settled Iranian population cultivated less fertile arable land and the settlement became denser, they took one semi-nomadic way of life, as in the example of the Kushan in India, who also adopted many local traditions, the terrain was not entirely unknown to them, some of the Altai-Sajan nomadic peoples such as the Xiongnu also joined, but most of the Iranian Huns had a "Caucasian appearance" better said Iranian-Central Asian as opposed to the European n Huns, which represented a new appearance for the European population, a stronger East Asian appearance than the Iranian Hun groups. This means that the sedentary population of Central Asia was inspired by the northern nomads and due to lack of space and a poorer climate to migrate south, the Xiongnu also came under pressure due to internal unrest and military activities in China, the Heqin policy also came to an end and was thus dissolved A chain reaction gradually started in this region even as far as Europe with the invasion of the Huns later in Europe. The Heqin politics made the Xiongnu partly dependent on China, although for the Han dynasty the Xiongnu were also an important point to keep other nomad tribes away, they certainly knew each other's cultural events, although the Heqin politics was carried out until the Tang dynasty but with some lengthy intermittent breaks. The southern Xiongnu group persisted in northern China until the 400th century. So my conclusion is that the Iranian Huns consisted more of local Iranian populations like Sogdians who assimilated quickly and the Xiongnu more of a fusion of Altai Sajan peoples (Proto-Turkic, Siberian ..) and Indo-European (Scythian Saka and perhaps also carriers of the Afanisevo culture) and, of course, cultures influence each other despite sometimes warlike conflicts, such as the example of the grave of the famous emperor Qin Shihuangdi.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alain View Post
    The Iranian Huns, with whom I roughly associate the Kidarites, Nezak and Alchon, were not "newcomers" in Central Asia and the northern subcontinent but, in my opinion, rather long-established Iranian peoples such as Sogdians, Bactrians. of the nomads (Xiongnu) because the Iranian Huns were not completely unknown to the cultures of the Central Asian region, but when the population grew, for example in today's Afghanistan and the settled Iranian population cultivated less fertile arable land and the settlement became denser, they took one semi-nomadic way of life, as in the example of the Kushan in India, who also adopted many local traditions, the terrain was not entirely unknown to them, some of the Altai-Sajan nomadic peoples such as the Xiongnu also joined, but most of the Iranian Huns had a "Caucasian appearance" better said Iranian-Central Asian as opposed to the European n Huns, which represented a new appearance for the European population, a stronger East Asian appearance than the Iranian Hun groups. This means that the sedentary population of Central Asia was inspired by the northern nomads and due to lack of space and a poorer climate to migrate south, the Xiongnu also came under pressure due to internal unrest and military activities in China, the Heqin policy also came to an end and was thus dissolved A chain reaction gradually started in this region even as far as Europe with the invasion of the Huns later in Europe. The Heqin politics made the Xiongnu partly dependent on China, although for the Han dynasty the Xiongnu were also an important point to keep other nomad tribes away, they certainly knew each other's cultural events, although the Heqin politics was carried out until the Tang dynasty but with some lengthy intermittent breaks. The southern Xiongnu group persisted in northern China until the 400th century. So my conclusion is that the Iranian Huns consisted more of local Iranian populations like Sogdians who assimilated quickly and the Xiongnu more of a fusion of Altai Sajan peoples (Proto-Turkic, Siberian ..) and Indo-European (Scythian Saka and perhaps also carriers of the Afanisevo culture) and, of course, cultures influence each other despite sometimes warlike conflicts, such as the example of the grave of the famous emperor Qin Shihuangdi.

    Where can I read about these "Iranian Huns", because this is the first time I have encountered such a phrase?

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