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Thread: The Xiongnu origins in the Ordos region? (History, Archaeology, Genetics)

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    The Xiongnu origins in the Ordos region? (History, Archaeology, Genetics)

    I'm currently on a bit of a Xiongnu binge both historically and genetically. I'm looking at all the published samples, although I am taking it slow. In the meantime this is something that I've been thinking about today and I kind of want to put my thoughts to paper, and I figure some of you would like to join in on the speculation!

    So for the folks who don't know what I'm talking about, in 215 BC General Meng Tian of the Qin dynasty campaigned against the Xiongnu confederacy, which lived on the borders of the Ordos region. General Meng defeated them, causing the Xiongnu to go further up north where they unite all the tribes and they become the one of the largest nomadic forces of the day, changing the world forever. Following this victory, Meng Tian oversaw the construction of what would later become the Great Wall of China.

    But the question is then, who were these people? What was their archaeological imprint in the region, for how long did they live in this region? And from where did they come from?

    Looking for archaeological clues in this region can be very tricky. There is no archaeological trace of the Yuezhi for example, and they were described as one of the more powerful nomadic states until the Xiongnu rose up.

    Perhaps the Shirenzigou site in Eastern Xinjiang is an archaeological representation of Yuezhi related peoples around 300-200 bc, as it is in the eastern end of the Dzunghar basin and not too far from Gansu. Too far east (and too young)to be the early Tocharians Ning et al envisioned they were, and too far west to be Xiongnu. This would fall in line with a pet theory of mine that the Ph155 lineages we see with the Xiongnu and various Hun-related samples have a Yuezhi origin, considering that the Central Asian Xiongnu sample with R1b-ph155 from Damgaard's article seems to be quite closely related to these Shirenzigou samples. But these people were quite heterogenously mixed between various peoples, both from the west and east and they don't strike me as a proper genetic representative of who lived here.

    Interestingly Aighyrzal_BA from Kyrgyzstan works as a great proxy for the Central Asian admixture they have, probably due to the high amount of WSHG type ancestry there. Seems like a mix between what you'd see in the Altai (Pazyryk, Chandman, Saagly), southern Central Asia, and admixtures from Ulaanzuukh and perhaps Qiang related peoples. The Chemurchek samples also had quite a bunch of ancestry related to the pastoralists along the IAMC. It would not surprise me if it turns out that WSHG-rich IAMC ancestry was present amongst Tocharian speakers for example (and not just them but any Indo-European peoples in the Tarim Basin).

    To get back to the Xiongnu and the ordos region, an archaeological consideration could be that of the Ordos culture from around 600-200 bc. This is clearly a nomadic material culture and it is in the right place to be the archaeological representation of the Xiongnu. Yuezhi to their west, Donghu to their east, and China to their south. one big issue though is that the artefacts of the Ordos culture have a striking similarity to those we see in sites from the Scytho-Siberian horizon, in particular the ones at Pazyryk.

    In fact, Russian Archaeologist Sergei Kovalev thinks the similarities are so striking, that according to him the Ordos culture was formed by migrants coming out of that horizon. he also links them to the Loufan, a tribe described by Chinese as having lived in this region and refutes the connection to the core Xiongnu tribes, despite the Loufan being described as Xiongnu.

    If you're into similar topics as I am (looking at you DMXX, Ryukendo and Alain), you should read this article:
    The Location of Loufan Tribe in 4-2 Century B.C. and Influence of Its Culture to Central Plain and the South
    (mods if that cant be posted here just let me know)

    You might ask yourself how the hell those people got from the Altai to the Ordos region, without leaving an archaeological trail or significant cultural imprint in Mongolia? The answer is in the mountains, or rather where the mountains end.

    If you look at the topography of Mongolia you will notice that if you follow the route east of the Altai mountains, especially the Gobi-Altai, you directly reach the Ordos loop. From our modern perspective this looks like a somewhat odd place to end up, but for iron age nomads it's a quite logical end of a journey which would only take a few weeks at most. it's not surpising then that a material culture with strong links to the complete other side of the Altai mountains "pops up" here.

    You might take the approach however that the Ordos goods are materially representative of the early Xiongnu tribes, and what we are seeing is cultural influence due to contacts and mixing. That is certainly possible but then it begs the question why we don't see these goods and traditions adopted all over the eastern steppes. Because we definitely see a widescale adoption of horse riding and northern frontier style weaponry during the iron age, but we don't see Pazyryk clones popping up all over the place, like we see at Ordos.

    I'm going to side with Kovalev here, and agree that the Ordos culture has affinities to Pazyryk. In all likelihood they were Iranic speaking peoples, and I like the idea that they are the Loufan, recorded in Chinese history.

    So if these guys aren't the Xiongnu nomads we are looking for, then who are they, and where can I find them?

    Seriously if anyone has a idea, help me out here. I cannot really figure out what the archaeological situation was in the Ordos region right after the end of the Ordos culture. This would be the period in which the Xiongnu are recorded to live around the Ordos loop.

    Then we also have a question where they came from. A popular theory is that the core groups, founders or elites of the Xiongnu were of Yeniseian origin. This is based on various terms we know from the Xiongnu (also other peoples such as the Xianbei and Rouran) are best constructed to have a southern Yeniseian origin. Then we also have a war cry of the Jiť tribe, which again works best when it's constructed as a southern Yeniseian language. The Ket, the last remaining speakers of the Yeniseian language family speak a Northern Yeniseian language by the way. This second piece of information is extremely relevant because it indicates you still had actively speaking Yeniseian tribes involved in the steppe nomad world in the fourth century AD. Making it hard to explain any possible Yeniseian influence in the Xiongnu by people long-assimilated into other ethnicitites, such as Turkic and Mongolic peoples.

    Chinese:
    秀支*替戾剛*僕谷*劬禿當
    si̯u-ci̯e – tʰei-let/lei-kɑŋ – bok/buk-kuk/yo – ɡi̯u̯o-tʰuk-tɑŋ
    army – go out – Liu Yao's barbarian title – capture

    Yeniseian interpretation:
    suke t-i-r-ek-ang bok-kok k-o-t-o-kt-ang
    Armies have gone out. [They] will catch Bokkok.
    The region argued to have been the Yeniseian homeland is the upper Yenisei region or more broadly the northern altai region, possibly going as far east as the western shores of Lake Baikal and also a bit westwards of the Altai region. Fom a genetic perspective this makes a lot of sense because this region in the bronze age was inhabited by people who definitely fit the profile as ancestors of the Yeniseians.

    During the bronze age in Mongolia you had a genetic influx from this region, highlighted by the various deer stones scattered in the Mongolian landscape. However this tradition more or less ends in 700 bc, except for some areas in Northwestern Mongolia where there is a continuation of deer stones, but I think these were linked to peoples such as the Pazyryk. A lot of those deer stones ended up becoming part of the slab grave burials we see acros Mongolia.

    From first glance it seems somewhat of a replacement, considering most of the Slab grave samples were quite homogenous. There was one with significant Altai admixture, and Y-dna Q1a2 instead of the Q1a1a which every other male slab grave individual had. So that's atleast evidence of some partial assimilation into the Slab Grave society. I wonder if this is a sign that Q1a1a was extremely prevalent during this era due to founder effects, or perhaps the people buried in these graves are all related, similar to the dynastic-style megalith burials we see in Europe and that's why they all had Q1a1a. Because none of the Neolithic Mongolian haplogroups show up, yet they do during the Xiongnu period, and these are clearly two closely related populations.

    Shifting back to the Xiongnu, if the prevailing narrative of a Yeniseian core group/identity/elite is correct (I have my doubts especially on the 3rd) then I think the best option to explain that is by looking at the same routes that lead to Pazyryk related peoples to the Ordos loop. The location in which Kovalev puts the early Xiongnu is a little bit at odds with that though. I mean it's certainly not impossible, quite possible in fact, but a confederation of Yeniseian speaking nomads living north of the Yinshan mountains, the Yanshan mountaings as well as the steppes west of the Ordos sounds a bit peculiar. I'd imagine the majority of the nomads in this region to have a more proximate origin, from southeastern Mongolia perhaps.

    What do you guys think?
    Last edited by CopperAxe; 02-10-2021 at 07:56 PM.

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    No idea but its an intresting topic.

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    Here again a nice map during the Qin Dynasty 210 BCE and the different nomad groups / tribes

    Screenshot_20210210_204744.jpg
    Alain Dad
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    I think the Ordos people (Scytho-Saka origin) were assimilated by the Xiongnu in the course of time, or rather after their cultural demise in this region. The Ordos people already had pressure from the northeast (Donghu people) and of course the new one expanding China, which awoke to a new strength after the warring states and of course also took over technology from the steppe (certain weapons, horses, chariots ..) and also got to know the behavior of the individual nomad groups who The Chinese knew how to simply take things over and later produce them in their own further development with good productivity. But the Chinese had an ambivalent relationship and dependency with Xiongnu for much longer. As already mentioned, I see the Xiongnu from an amalgamation of the Altai-Sajan peoples (Scythian/Saka, Siberian and Turk-Mongolian population ) and local populations of Northern China.


    Anthropological results:


    Analysis of skeletal remains from some sites ascribed to the Xiongnu provides an identification of dolichocephalic Mongoloid, which is ethnically different from neighboring populations in present-day Mongolia.Russian and Chinese anthropological and craniofacial studies show that the Xiongnu were physically very heterogeneous, with six different population groups exhibiting varying degrees of Mongoloid and Caucasian physical characteristics, which of course also supports the DNA results. So I think the home of the Xiongnu is in Transbaikalia
    is and can be associated with Slab Grave culture and has already mixed with the newcomers from the west of the Tuva region. In the finds of the Xiongnu one recognizes the relations to China as well as to the upper reaches of the Yenisei, to the Tes level in the Minussinsk Basin and thus the progressive armament of the Xiongnu confederation can be explained, whereby composite bows and iron scale armor are to be mentioned in particular

    Genetic results


    Interesting and recommendable A genetic study published in Human Genetics in July 2020!


    https://link.springer.com/article/10...39-020-02209-4
    Last edited by Alain; 02-11-2021 at 04:30 AM.
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    Moldovan: 0.2%
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    Model.png
    Comparison.png

    By the way, here is a G25 model of the Xiongnu_Han samples.

    Xiongnu_Han? More like Xiongnu-Donghu!

    The western liao region was very close by or part of Donghu territory for centuries.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CopperAxe View Post
    Model.png
    Comparison.png

    By the way, here is a G25 model of the Xiongnu_Han samples.

    Xiongnu_Han? More like Xiongnu-Donghu!

    The western liao region was very close by or part of Donghu territory for centuries.
    I think so, but I would ask again an expert on genetics who also constructed this great calculator, Generalissimo, in any case the Xiongnu have a great genetic diversity and remember nomads have always got fresh blood, which has an advantage from a biological point of view and of course with them in alliances of different tribes to secure the future
    Alain Dad
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    The cultural origins of the Xiongnu are definitely to be found on the steppes.

    I'm going to accept the ancient sources about the Jie people's membership in the Xiongnu and modern scholarship identifying them as speakers of a Yeniseian language.
    More specifically that they spoke a language ancestral to or related to the Pumpokol language which is the same language that Vajda identified as the source of hydronyms in Northern Mongolia.

    With that in mind I think it was the process of Scythians-like(Andronovo) people from the West who spread their culture and genes into neighboring Yeniseian peoples and then mixing with Turkic people.

    The recent paper in Cell really did well to address the genetics side of the question, at least in the broad strokes. I'd like to know if there are any good scholarly reviews of the archaeological, cultural, and linguistic sides to the issue if anyone has suggestions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xenus View Post
    The cultural origins of the Xiongnu are definitely to be found on the steppes.

    I'm going to accept the ancient sources about the Jie people's membership in the Xiongnu and modern scholarship identifying them as speakers of a Yeniseian language.
    More specifically that they spoke a language ancestral to or related to the Pumpokol language which is the same language that Vajda identified as the source of hydronyms in Northern Mongolia.

    With that in mind I think it was the process of Scythians-like(Andronovo) people from the West who spread their culture and genes into neighboring Yeniseian peoples and then mixing with Turkic people.

    The recent paper in Cell really did well to address the genetics side of the question, at least in the broad strokes. I'd like to know if there are any good scholarly reviews of the archaeological, cultural, and linguistic sides to the issue if anyone has suggestions.
    There is a lot of sloppy work in that article though. I think one of the authorrs of that article even refuted the Yeniseian connection because the Ket don't have the "Iranian ancestry" (not steppe_mlba but Iran_N/Iran_Chl/BMAC related) that we see in the Xiongnu. That was a real headscratcher in my opinion.

    The "Sarmatian"cluster are predominantly people from Transoxiania going by their ancestry, and most of the "Han admixed" actually have Tungusic related ancestries. This in itself wouldn't bother me as much because geneticists are kind of known for making wild statements that do not correlate with the archaeological and historical narratives, but I saw an article where they interviewed an archaeologist and he was all ike "Wow from the historical records we never could've imagined that Sarmatians were part of the Xiongnu, this is revolutionary".

    Meanwhile we have a perfectly valid explanation for why people who suspiciously look a lot like Sogdians show up in Mongolia, and that is the relation between the Xiongnu and their ally the Kangju state.

    A terrific set of data though, I will never stop commending them for that. Easily the most interesting article coming out of 2020 in my opinion.

    You should read one of my first posts here on this forum, because I speculate on a possibility of how Yeniseian languages got into (beyond then northern fringes) Mongolia:

    The curious case of the Deer Stone Khirigsuur Complex of Mongolia


    Basically, patrilocal contact between Indo-Iranians and the Altaian locals going as far back as 2000 bc lead to a pastoralist population with significant steppe_mlba ancestry but dominated by Q1a2 (making it likely they spoke their Q1a2 language rather than the Z93 language) venture into Mongolia by traveling east of the Altai, practising the same deer art forms as Scytho-Siberians did. The same type of deer art is found in Xiongnu traditions, but not really in material traditions connected to neolithic and LBA/IA Mongolians (Slab Grave, Ulaanzuukh etc).

    But I have my doubts on how prevalent 'native' Yeniseian speakers were in the Xiongnu confederation, and what role they played in the confederacy of nomads first referred to as the Xiongnu north of the Yinshan mountains and in the Gobi desert. If there was a significant Yeniseian presence or a Yeniseian elite ruling over other populations here, they were definitely intrusive to this area and this needs to be explained by way of archaeology and/or ancient genetic data. Unfortunately we don't have adequate information about either.
    Last edited by CopperAxe; 03-01-2021 at 08:58 AM.

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    Isn't Xiongnu people were predominantly Caucasoid population, at least at elite level?



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