Frontier Finns: cabins, rakes & Indians

A history of Finnish genes and culture: part 5 of 6

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In our past couple of Finnish pieces, we established that a perhaps seemingly less “civilized” male ancestry component from Siberia arrived in Finland about 3,500 years ago. Those outsiders overwhelmed the previously dominant male lineage and today are responsible for 70% of Finnish Y-chromosomal lineages, roughly 10% of total genetic ancestry and an untold component of the cultural weirdness to which Finns are heir. But of course people still ask how the Siberian Finnic groups managed to assimilate the agro-pastoralists who came before them.

Our conventional view of prehistory tends to default assume that agricultural civilizations are more advanced, and never cede ground to hunter-gatherers with their more primitive cultural tool kit. And yet the Nenets continued to live like their Siberian ancestors into the 20th century, deep into the modern era. Agricultural civilization had geographical limits in the modern era, just as it did in the past. Another episode in recent history might offer a useful example to test our model on. Far to the west, along the same circumpolar lines where the Finns eked out a marginal existence, the Norse arrived and settled an empty Greenland in the 10th century. But within 500 years, they had completely disappeared. The Finns are still with us, but the restrictive bottlenecks that impacted their pool of genetic diversity clearly attest to their own brushes with extinction, before their unimpeded modern demographic expansion.

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