Genetic History of the Finno-Ugrics

Click for full size
From Haak et al.

I often run across people asserting that the Finno-Ugrics are “Mongols” or “Asian” or Chinese,”so today’s post is dedicated to the genetic history of the Finno-Urgrics.

The Finno-Ugrics (which includes the Udmurts but not the Uyghurs,) are people who speak Finno-Ugric languages such as the Khanty, Mansi, Hungarians, Maris, Mordvins, Sámi, Estonians, Karelians, Finns, Udmurts and Komis.[1]

Here’s a map:

Distribution of the Finno-Ugric languages
Distribution of the Finno-Ugric languages

Here are some pictures:

Charles Simonyi, Hungarian
Charles Simonyi, Hungarian
Presidents of the Norwegian Sami Parliament
3 Presidents of the Norwegian Sami Parliament
Erzaya women
Erzaya (Mordvin) women

Edit: I formerly had here pictures of Lennart Meri, President of Estonia, and Linus Torvalds, of Finland, but it turns out they’re actually ethnically Swedish. So I am substituting instead Finish figure skater Kiira Korpi and Estonian soldier Andres Nuiamae (killed in Iraq.) Hopefully they aren’t secretly Swedish.

Kiira Korpi, Finnish
Kiira Korpi, Finnish
Andres Nuiamae, Estonian
Andres Nuiamae, Estonian
Karelian women
Karelian women (Karelia is next door to Finland)
Janne Seurujärvi, Finnish Sami
Janne Seurujärvi, Finnish Sami
Udmurt people
Udmurt people
Khanty family
Khanty family
Mari man
Mari man
Komi People
Komi People
The two men on the right are from the Mansi.
The two men on the right are from the Mansi.


The Finno-Ugric languages are a subset of the Uralic Language family that excludes the Samoyedic languages.

Language is always a problematic base for claiming ethnic identity, because conquered people can easily learn a new language. African Americans today speak English, even though their ancestors weren’t Anglo-Saxons. Even the English aren’t majority Anglo-Saxon.

However, combining language, genetics, archaeology, and whatever historical records we have may result in a pretty trustworthy picture.

In this case, all of the Finno-Ugric people from within “Europe”–Finns, Estonians, Sami, Hungarians, etc.–all look very much like their neighbors. If you just randomly asked me to guess Torvalds or Meri’s ethnicity, the one thing I would not say is “Mongol.”

The groups that hail from Russia’s Siberia look more like other folks from Siberia.

Here are some genetic profiles (these are closeups of the graph at the top of the page):

DNA from various European peoples
DNA from various European peoples

With a few isolated exceptions (eg, the Basque,) almost all Europeans have a fairly similar genetic profile reflecting three main ancestral groups. The original “orange” and “blue” tribes have been identified via DNA sequencing of ancient European skeletons; at some point they seem to have merged. The “teal” component looks like it came in when a “blue” tribe migrated east and merged with a “teal” tribe, then came back and conquered the “orange-blue” tribes, resulting in blue-orange-teal tribes. (You can see the ancient skeleton sequences at the far left on the graph at the top of the page.)

A few groups don’t show this pattern–the Basques, for example, who don’t speak an Indo-European language, have very little teal. Based on this and other evidence, “Blue-Teal” tribe is therefore believed to be the original Indo-Europeans.

The Finns, Estonians, Mordovans, and Sami all have the blue, teal, and orange of other European groups and they also share a bit of red that is also found in the Russians. This group (including Russians) also seems to have a bit more blue than the other Europeans. The Sami in particular seem to have a fair amount of this red; they look rather similar to the Chuvash, a Russian ethnic group:

World's most famous Chumash
World’s most famous Chuvash

The Hungarians have a tiny bit of red if you look very closely, but this is not much at all; several other groups have similarly tiny smidgeons of red and no claims of Finno-Ugric ancestry. The Wikipedia page on Hungarians also states that, despite the well-documented Magyar invasion around 1100, modern Hungarians appear to be genetically continuous with pre-Magyar Hungarians. Perhaps there were never enough Magyars to have much of an impact besides imparting their language; or they just failed to reproduce and so gradually died out in their new land, leaving their language behind; or the red-DNA contained specific adaptations that help people survive in the arctic, and so have been selected against in warmer Hungary; or perhaps the Magyars themselves never had much of the red-DNA for whatever reasons.

By contrast, various tribes from central Eurasia (the Chuvash may perhaps be included) show quite mixed ancestries:

DNA from various steppe peoples
DNA from various Eurasian peoples

The Hazara are from Pakistan/Afghanistan; the Uygurs are primarily from the far western end of China; Turkmen and Uzbeks you’re probably familiar with; and the Evens are a Siberian people who live in far eastern Russia.

The Mansi are one of our Finno-Ugric people, with large sections of blue, red, and even a little teal. Based on the photos, I’m not surprised to see essentially a mix of Siberian and typically European DNA. The Wikipedia has this to say about their origins:

“The ancestors of Mansi people populated the areas west of the Urals.[3] Mansi findings have been unearthed in the vicinity of Perm.[3]

In the first millennium BC, they migrated to Western Siberia where they assimilated with the native inhabitants.[3] According to others they are originated from the south Ural steppe and moved into their current location about 500 AD.” (wikiepdia)

The Selkups are a Samoyed people–the Samoyed languages are cousins to the Finno-Ugric languages under the larger family of Uralic Languages.

It looks like the original Finno-Ugric speakers who settled in Finland, Lapland, Estonia, etc., looked like the Mansi or Selkups, this might explain the slightly higher quantities of blue in these groups.

The red DNA reaches its greatest dominance in the Nganasan, a Samoyedic people living in north central Siberia:

DNA from various Siberian Peoples.
DNA from various Siberian Peoples.

An old picture of the Nganasan:

Ngasani People
It’s cold there.

(The Yukagir are from further east in Siberia than the Nganasan (the olive-brown shade is shared with the Eskimo;) the Daur and Oroqen live in inner Mongolia, China; the Henzhen live in northern Manchuria/the region north of there along the Sea of Okhotsk; the Ulchis live just north of them. The Tubalar and Altaian people hail from the meeting point of Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan; the Dolgans from north central Siberia; the Yakuts live to their east.)

The red/yellow combination is found throughout most of the “Asian” countries–Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, etc., but not in Cambodia or Thailand. You can see them on the big chart at the top. The two pure yellow groups, the Ami and Atayal, are indigenous people of Taiwan.

The Red, therefore, is found in large quantities in Siberia/polar peoples. In Asia it mixes with the yellow, with the ration of yellow/red increasing as you go south. Red finds its maximum in far northern Siberia, and yellow in Taiwan. I therefore speculate that the red started in Siberia and worked its way south, while the yellow started somewhere around southern China and moved outwards from there.

The Blue is found in all Europeans but is rare in the Middle East; it appears in small quantities in Central Asia, India, and Siberia. Small quantities could just be the result of thousands of years of people moving around ancient trade routes, but the relatively larger quantities in Siberia seem less likely to be the result of trade.

Teal appears to be found in all Indo-European and Middle Eastern regions; it is even more wide-spread than orange, which never made it to India.

Therefore I suspect that a band of blue and a band of red people merged to form the original Uralic people from which the Finno-Ugrics later split off. (The lack of red in Hungary could be due to the branch which eventually became the Magyars having split off before the red-blue merger, but they lack the extra blue found in Finns, so this seems unlikely. Plus, their language would be quite different from the other Finno-Ugric languages if they had, perhaps similar to the relationship between Anatolian and the other Indo European languages.) More likely, as the original Red/Blue people spread out across Siberia, mostly toward Europe, they were spread thinner and thinner, or mixed with and taught their languages to more and more new until they were only a small percent of the total population, leaving behind only a smidgen of their DNA in Finnland, Estonia, and Hungary.

Here is a map of the distribution of Haplogroup N, which appears to have emerged about 20,000 years ago:

Distribution haplogroup N
Distribution Haplogroup N

According to Wikipedia, Subtype N-P43 is estimated at 4,000 to 6,000 years old, frequently among the Samoyedic peoples, with a sub-clade common in Finno-Ugric and other Uralic speakers in Europe. Additionally,

“The subclade N-M178 … has higher average frequency in Northern Europe than in Siberia, reaching frequencies of approximately 60% among Finns and approximately 40% among Latvians, Lithuanians & 35% among Estonians (Derenko 2007 and Lappalainen 2008).

“Miroslava Derenko and her colleagues noted that there are two subclusters within this haplogroup, both present in Siberia and Northern Europe, with different histories. The one that they labelled N3a1 first expanded in south Siberia (approximately 10,000 years ago on their calculated by the Zhivotovsky method) and spread into Northern Europe where its age they calculated as around 8,000 years ago.”

Here’s a beautiful map showing the spread of Y Chromosome Haplogroups all over the world:

World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes
Isn’t it beautiful?

Since Haplogroup N is found on the Y chromosome, this probably implies armed invasion that resulted in many of the local men dying and the invaders marrying (or raping) the remaining women.

Note that this scenario does not depend on whether the Indo-Europeans or Finno-Ugrics arrived first; it merely describes their relative ratios in the population. We know they arrived after the Indo Europeans in Hungary, for example, but the Sami are considered the indigenous people of Finno-Scandia. Genetically, the Sami have some teal and orange, which the Red-Blue people basically lacked, so they have at least some Indo-European; just eyeballing the graph, it looks like the Sami are a little more than half Indo-European and a little less than half Red-Blue people.

Overall: the Finno-Ugrics living in Europe proper are genetically closest to other Europeans; their Siberian component is quite small. The Sami are the one exception, with a larger chunk of Siberian DNA, but they are still mostly European.

The Finno-Ugrics who live within the heart of Russian Siberia, however, appear to have quite a bit more Siberian DNA, some European, but not Indo-European DNA.



27 thoughts on “Genetic History of the Finno-Ugrics

  1. “The Red, therefore, is found in large quantities in Siberia/polar peoples. In Asia it mixes with the yellow, with the ration of yellow/red increasing as you go south. Red finds its maximum in far northern Siberia, and yellow in Taiwan. I therefore speculate that the red started in Siberia and worked its way south, while the yellow started somewhere around southern China and moved outwards from there.”

    I think this works for southern China, since it’s a nice area that people want to live in. Siberia, however, isn’t; so there’s another plausible explanation in my mind: the Reds got pushed there by some other people, with some interbreeding along the way, as we would expect.


  2. […] Of course two groups (say, African Americans and Maori of New Zealand,) may speak the same language with out being closely related at all, but the linguistic evidence here is not entirely without weight, whereas there’s no particular reason to seek Hungarian origins in Tibet besides the nation having been faddishly popular. But see this post if you want a more complete run-down of the Finno-Ugric language group. […]


  3. Hi! Hungarians settled in the Carpathian basin in 896 and not as you say in “despite the well-documented Magyar invasion around 1100”.

    “Perhaps there were never enough Magyars to have much of an impact besides imparting their language;”
    There must have been enough Magyars as we speak Hungarian and not a Germanic or Slavic language. I can give you the example of the Bulgarians who were a turkic tribe but now Bulgarian is a slavic language so the original Bulgarian turkic language was not imposed as in the Hungarian case.


    • Thanks for the correction.
      Of course, it does not take that many people to impose a language. Just look at how many people speak English but are not ethnically English. Even the English are not very Anglo-Saxon by blood–people pick up languages when they are useful.


      • It doesn’t take many people to impose a language, but it take industry, imperial expansions, printed books and an intention to spread the language. The propagation of the English language in the British Empire was a political act. Meanwhile in the Hungarian Kingdom the Hungarian language wasn’t even the official language until 1844. The official language was the Latin. That’s why small minorities like Cumans and Jassics could have retain their language until the 16-17th century when Ottomans conquered the Hungarian plain.


    • Yes, basically.
      DNA-wise, the Finns have a touch of Siberian (so do the Russians) and less Indo-European than other nearby groups (but they do have some Indo-European.) The Basques are similarly low on Indo-European, but have more of the Farmer DNA, because their area is much more hospitable to farming than Finland.

      Even today, the Finno-Ugric groups in Siberia have a large chunk of this “dark blue” DNA that they share with Europeans; this comes from an ancient European hunter-gatherer group that predates the farmers (orange) or the Indo-Europeans, but the Indo-Europeans themselves have a good chunk of that same DNA because it’s all over the place.

      So yes, Finns definitely have intermarried with the Indo-Europeans (and the farmers,) but they also might have looked pretty European even before this.

      The Hungarians have even less Siberian than the Finns; at least at this resolution, they look genetically almost identical to the French and the Croats. So the Magyar invasion seems not to have contributed that much genetically (though it did contribute some.)

      (On the other hand, I know a couple of Hungarians personally and they look quite distinct to me, but then, so does Catherine Zeta Jones, and she’s Welsh.)


      • “DNA-wise, the Finns have a touch of Siberian (so do the Russians) and less Indo-European than other nearby groups (but they do have some Indo-European.)”

        Are you sure about this? Finns have most Indo-European (Yamna) ancestry in Europe together with Balts and Scandinavians, from what I’ve seen (unfortunately no data at the moment).


  4. I appreciate the fascinating article but there are some studies that make your contentions somewhat murkier, though genetics of course always is. Recent results have shown the Finns to be quite distinct from other Europeans, and keep in mind that the western part was heavily settled by Swedes or possibly other Nordic peoples. So if the studies suggest that Finns as a whole are a distinct group, that would be accentuated further in the eastern part. Appearance is just one of the many indicators of genes, but it has some importance. One would expect the appearance of Finns to be somewhat “different” from their neighbors if they had any significant ancestry from the East. As it turns out, this appears to be the case, at least in the eastern part. Several prominent hockey players come to mind with a notable Eastern appearance, including Teemu Selanne and Esa Tikkanen. The Nordic looking ones likely are from the western part of the country where Swedish and other Teutonic settlement was much more prevalent. Studies confirm this. Since the Sami are known for having at least some Siberian genes, it would be likely their linguistic counterparts, the Finns had a significant (relative to their Nordic neighbors) too. That part of the world was more accessible to Siberian peoples than Hungary would be, so I would expect Finns to be more Siberian than Hungarians, as studies do show. So as for your statements on Hungary, they seem to be spot on. I’m just throwing that out. Great article


  5. Today white people are seen as a geographically European, mostly Western European group and thus it is assumed that everybody the east of Kiev must be Asiatic. But the prehistory was not actually so, according to the Kurgan hypothesis, they came from somewhere around Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). They spread not only west and south (to India) but also east, the Cumans, a blonde, blue-eyed group used to live somewhere around Northern China, then Mongols pushed them westwards.

    For this reason it is entirely imaginable that conquering Magyars were mostly white.

    However. There is one problem, and that with kumis. Kumis is made by fermenting the lactose in milk, typically horse milk, for the consumption of the lactose-intolerant. Conquering Magyars were big kumis-drinkers, just like Mongols, Kazakhs etc. which obviously suggests lactose intolerance. And lactose tolerance tends to correlate with whiteness. It is possible that it was in fact the key to white expansion and success, because a dairy economy can generate 4x as much calories on a given piece of land than grain farming, more protein making strong warriors, and horses and castle are far more easier to steal than grain so it tends to create highly martial, cattle-rustling populations. So anyone drinking kumis is less likely to be genetically white a white European.

    There are also some very old common strains in Indo-European and Finno-Ugric languages, it is debated if the two had a common ancestor or FU borrowed from IE. But if the later happen, it had to happen very long time ago.

    My hypothesis is that the Finno-Ugrics were close neighbors to the white Indo-Europeans when the IE evolved, and took on much of their genetics and some elements of their language.


    • You make a great point about the Magyars possibly being quite pale of skin to start with. I don’t consider kumis to be too important, as modern, lactose-tolerant whites eat a lot of fermented yogurt. If you have raw milk around and it’s not refrigerated for more than a couple of days, it’s going to start fermenting. Making cheese with your excess milk seems like something stationary people would be better at, especially aged cheeses.

      (It then occurred to me to just look at a map of lactose tolerance, and Hungary at least does’t stand out from its neighbors in this regard: . Looks like Romania has less lactose tolerance, though.)


  6. Very nice presentation. For Hungarians and their language there is an interesting guess. I quote an excerpt from

    “Gyula Lászlo’s Avar-Hungarian continuity theory

    Gyula László, a Hungarian archaeologist, suggests that late Avars, arriving to the qaganate in A.D 670 in great numbers, lived through the time between the destruction and plunder of the Avar state by the Franks during 791–795 and the arrival of the Magyars in 895. László points out that the settlements of the Hungarians (Magyars) did not replace but complement those of the Avars. Avars remained on the plough fields, good for agriculture, while Hungarians took the river banks and river flats, suitable for pastoring. He also notes that while the Hungarian graveyards consist of 40–50 graves on average, the Avars contain 600–1000. According to these findings the Avars not just survived the end of the Avar polity but lived in great masses and far outnumbered the Hungarian conquerors of Árpád. He also shows that Hungarians occupied only the centre of the Carpathian-basin, but Avars lived in a larger territory. Looking at those territories where only the Avars lived, one only finds Hungarian geographical names, not Slavic or Turkic as would be expected interspersed among them. This is further evidence for the Avar-Hungarian continuity. Names of the Hungarian tribes, chieftains and the words used for the leaders, etc., suggest that at least the leaders of the Hungarian conquerors were Turkic speaking. However, Hungarian is not a Turkic language, rather Finno-Ugric, and so they must have been assimilated by the Avars that outnumbered them and the genetics of today’s modern Hungarians is no different than that of neighboring West Slavs as well as western Ukrainians. László’s Avar-Hungarian continuity theory also states that Hungarians speak Avar, though this has been disproved as Hungarian belongs to the Finnic-Ugric branch of languages. László’s research does suggest, at the very least, that it is likely that any remaining Avars in the Carpathian Basin who resisted Slavic assimilation were absorbed by the invading Magyars and lost their identity.”


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