Symposium E2: The interdisciplinary past of the Uralic linguistic area

Symposium E2: The interdisciplinary past of the Uralic linguistic area

Organiser: Outi Vesakoski 

Wednesday, August 24, Dept. of Slavic Studies (Slawistik), room 7

(Original symposium call. The first round of this symposium was organized at the digital pre-congress in 2020.)


Outi Vesakoski & Michael Dunn:

Curating historical linguistics data towards the needs of interdisciplinary study of human past

Recent decades have seen a revolution in what can be inferred about the prehistoric human past. The most obvious advances are of course in methods to detect and analyze ancient DNA — something which has only recently become possible — but there is a broader revolution too in interdisciplinary synthesis. Ancient DNA history is only interesting and relevant when linked to identifiable human populations, and ancient human populations are identified primarily by their material (archaeological) and immaterial cultural (especially linguistic) heritage. However, the communication between the disciplines is still suboptimal. This paper discusses how historical linguistics and its insights into the evolution of language families can be better embedded into interdisciplinary studies of the human past. 

The integration with other disciplines can take qualitative or quantitative perspectives: 

A qualitative approach could mean that general knowledge of language history is used in formulation of research questions and interpreting results. So far, this has mostly meant that the results of a genetic or archaeological study are discussed in the light of linguistic prior understanding. We could be more. We could contribute more on initial phases of the study e.g. by deriving untested hypothesis from linguistics that could be tested with genetic data (e.g. if a given language shift or contact also included population admixture). Further, even though pots speak in a very low voice, linguistics could sometimes offer linguistic context to archaeological sites. For example Rahkonen (2017) is an excellent study which tries to identify the language spoken by the individuals of Levänluhta lake burial in western Finland. Based on place names and land uplift model, he suggests that at the very time of the burials, people in that area hardly spoke Scandinavian or Finnic languages, and thus must have spoken Saami languages or some now extinct languages. 

The qualitative linguistic researcher can contribute to interdisciplinary studies for example by formulating testable alternative hypotheses of events in the human past and providing “big picture talks” in non-linguistic meetings to deepen the understanding of linguistic settings of the past. Also methodological talks are needed — but keeping in mind that a peer and non-peer audience necessitate different talks. The wider audience may still be unaware how substrate studies are used for tracing earlier languages of the area and how we can reliably identify regular sound changes. There is always room for critical talks about Wörter-und-Sachen and linguistic paleontology. 

A quantitative approach could mean that linguistic history contributes to studies of the human past by providing data and analyzing methods to locate general trends in human linguistic evolution. The need for reliable and accessible data is only growing. The types of linguistic data needed in interdisciplinary studies of the human past include information about language relationships and language speaker areas, evidence for movements of language or language speakers in space and for contacts between languages or speaker populations. The timing of these linguistic events is always of interest too.

There are data sets available now that combine large arrays of linguistic data to make comparative and global analyses of linguistic evolution possible. Examples of data that answer to these needs include for example lexical cognates, structural data, sound changes, calibration points, as well geocoded language speaker areas. Collecting extensive comparative data is expensive and time consuming, and this kind of integration enriches what we can understand from smaller amounts of linguistic information. With large, open access datasets not all comparative researchers have to spend resources for such data collection, but the incentives for collecting and sharing more data becomes stronger. 

Large global databases aim to pool together language-specific studies, which creates a requirement of establishing standards.  Considerable efforts have been made to these ends, e.g. the Cross-linguistic Data Format (cldf) for lexical and typological databases (Forkel et al. 2018) and the language and geography standards for publishing language speaker areas by Rantanen et al. (2022). It is important to be conscious of the differing requirements of ingroup and outgroup scientists. The ingroup will compile and/or critique the database, the outgroup wants to be able to use it in confidence that the compilation was done well.

In summary, a qualitative approach is needed to contextualize studies of the human past linguistically, and a quantitative approach is necessary for testing hypotheses and pooling data from different disciplines. Historical linguistics can indeed contribute to — and lead — the study of the human past from multiple angles. 


Forkel, R., List, JM., Greenhill, S. et al. 2018 Cross-Linguistic Data Formats, advancing data sharing and re-use in comparative linguistics. Sci Data 5, 180205.

Rahkonen, P. 2017. Onomasticon of Levänluhta and Käldamäki region. Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Aikakauskirja, 2017(96), 287–316.

Rantanen, T., Tolvanen, H., Roose, M., Ylikoski, J. & Vesakoski, O. 2022 Best practices for spatial language data harmonization, sharing and map creation – A case study of Uralic. PLoS ONE 17(6): e0269648.


Elina Salmela:

Genetic studies of the Uralic-speaking populations: an overview of tools, results, and interpretations

Genetics provides a rich source of information on population history, revealing for example movement of populations and contacts between them. Due to the fundamentally different inheritance patterns of genes and languages, the two do not always travel hand in hand. Nevertheless, when properly integrated, information from genetics and historical linguistics can complement each other, not least in the cases where their results may first seem discrepant.

Many Uralic-speaking populations have been relatively well characterized genetically. These insights from the extant populations have lately been complemented by studies of ancient DNA (aDNA), extracted from archaeological bones and teeth and other organic materials. Ancient DNA provides a direct view into the past, enabling the genetic study of individuals from a known location, time, and cultural context, and thus anchoring genetic population inference into the same spatiotemporal framework with archaeology. This has led to the emergence of the new research field of archaeogenetics.

However, integrating the information from genetic or archaeogenetic studies with that from other disciplines is often limited by lack of knowledge of the specialized statistical analysis methods of genetics, which makes the results inaccessible to nonexperts and subject to misinterpretation. In this presentation, my aim is twofold: (1) to introduce and explain some of the most common analysis methods of population genetics, especially from the practical viewpoint of how their results can and cannot be interpreted in a multidisciplinary context, and (2) to provide an overview of the main population history insights gained from genetic studies of the Uralic-speaking area so far.

The latter include the notion that contemporary Uralic-speaking populations tend to have genetically more in common with their geographical neighbours than with each other - which underlines the importance of local contacts - but that they do share a small genetic component among them that most of their non-Uralic-speaking neighbours do not have. Furthermore, in Western Siberia the genetic population history seems clearly distinct from that further east, and is characterized by genetic affinities that follow neither geographic nor linguistic affinities, indicating a complex interplay of contacts and language replacements. In the Eastern Baltic region, where they are most abundant, aDNA data have highlighted the role of multiple migrations in forming the local gene pool; some of these migrations temporally fit the current theories of the arrival of Uralic languages into the area.


Natalia Kuznetsova, Oleg Balanovsky, Vyacheslav Kuleshov, Mehmed Muslimov:

Contacts of Ingrians and Votes in the light of linguistic, archaeological, anthropological, and genetic data

The history of the contact between Ingrians and Votes and their respective languages contains a number of still unresolved issues. The Ingrian language was long considered as a group of Finnish dialects. Only after an intensive research by Estonian linguists had started in 1950-1960s, Ingrian was recognised as an independent language (Ariste 1956). By that time, however, only a part of the previous Ingrian language area survived. One of the most enigmatic issues in the history of Ingrian varieties is the origins of its westmost Lower Luga dialect which is very different from the three other known dialects, Soikkola, Hevaha and Oredež (Laanest 1966).

Lower Luga river basin is an area of an intensive contact between several closely related languages: Votic, Ingrian, Ingrian Finnish and Estonian (Muslimov 2005). Votes are the oldest autochtonous population of this area and of Ingria in general, and our research has revealed a strong Votic lexical substratum in the Ingrian and Ingrian Finnish varieties of the most part of Western Ingria. At the same time, it is known from various written and oral sources that at least since the beginning of the XXth century Votes have been changing their language and ethnic identity into that of the neighboring ethnic groups: Ingrians or Ingrian Finns (Kuznetsova et al. 2015). It is not known exactly when this process started. Archaeologists reported a Korela/Ingrian cultural impulse in the Votic culture already from the XIII-XIV c. It can be seen, for example, in the adoption and creative transformation of ornamental knife sheaths (Ryabinin 1997: 79-81). A higher prestige of the cognate cultures for Votes might have developed due to the fact that their own culture had already started its decline, being older and more assimilated by Russians at the moment when it met younger and more vital Ingrian or Ingrian Finnish culture.

Two main hypotheses could be, therefore, proposed for the origins of the Lower Luga Ingrian dialect: (1) either its speakers are pure ethnic Votes which have adopted the language of the newcoming Ingrians, (2) or they have a mixed Ingrian/Votic origin. In order to decide which hypothesis is more plausible, we attracted various data on linguistics, archaeology, and genetics of this ethnic group. Apart for published works, we used our own field data on: (1) Ingrian, Votic, Ingrian Finnish and Estonian that we have been collecting for several decades, (2) the archaeology of this area, obtained in the last years, (3) the genetics of Soikkola and Lower Luga Ingrians and Western Votes collected by the authors in summer 2018. The talk will present the results of this combined multidiscipline analysis which indicate that preference should be given to the second hypothesis.

Ariste, P. (1956) Isuri keelest. Emakeele Seltsi Aastaraamat, 2, 32–52.

Kuznetsova, N., Markus, E., Muslimov, M. (2015) Finnic minorities of Ingria: The current sociolinguistic situation and its background. H. Marten, M. Riessler, J. Saarikivi, R. Toivanen (eds.). Cultural and linguistic minorities in the Russian Federation and the European Union. Berlin: Springer, 127–167.

Laanest, A. (1966) Ižorskije dialekty. Lingvogeografičeskoje issledovanije. Tallinn: Akademija nauk Estonskoj SSR.

Muslimov, M. (2005): Jazykovyje kontakty v Zapadnoj Ingermanlandii (nižnee tečenije reki Lugi). Diss. kand. filol. nauk. Sankt-Peterburg: Institut lingvističeskih issledovanij RAN.

Ryabinin, E. A. (1997) Finno-ugorskie plemena v sostave Drevnej Rusi. K istorii slavyano-finskih kul’turnyh svyazej. Istoriko-arheologičeskie očerki. St. Peterburg: Izdatel’stvo SPbGu.


Jenni Santaharju, Timo Rantanen, Michael Dunn, Harri Tolvanen, Elina Salmela, Kaj Syrjänen, Unni Leino, Päivi Onkamo & Outi Vesakoski:

Genetic and linguistic east-west division of Finland 

Finland is both genetically and linguistically divided into eastern and western clusters. We formulated a series of hypotheses to explain if the east-west division is a result of initial spread of different populations or if a homogenous population was later on separated into two. Isolation between the two populations may have been caused for example by their cultural or administrative history or it may also result from the landscape affordances hindering or increasing human movements between the two areas. An anecdotal hypothesis suggests that the border of Nöteborg Treaty (Pähkinäsaaren rauha) from year 1323 restricted the population contacts between the east and west and thus divided Finnish people into two populations. However, systematic studies on the fit of gene-language division and drivers behind it are lacking.

We first studied if the two-way divisions of both genes and dialects actually overlap. For this we used high quality municipality wise dialectal and genetic data with mutual inference analysis (MI). Then we tested different hypotheses on how and why current genetic and linguistic landscapes have developed and maintained.  With a comprehensive travel environment model and a customized human movement simulation model we tested a hypothesis that 1) landscape affordances and hindrances legitimated the spread of Finnish speaking populations into eastern and western side of the area and/or if 2) the landscape factors isolated the east from the west. We further tested the hypothesis that 3) cultural or environmental factors would maintain the east-west division. This was done with municipality wise data and MI analyses for cultural and environmental variables. Finally, we tested if 4) the cultural, genetic, and linguistic areas in different sides of Nöteborg peace treaty would correlate. This would be an indirect suggestion of the importance of the administrative borders on genetic and linguistic landscapes of Finland. Finally, we discuss the results in the light of fifth, non-tested hypothesis that the east-west division is a result of eastern and western Finns having different kind of contacts—with Saami linguistic and genetic contacts in the east and Germanic/Scandiavian contacts in the west—that have caused the differences between them.




Anne-Mai Ilumäe1, Jussi Moisio2, Päivi Onkamo1, Outi Vesakoski1, 3, Markku Oinonen4, 5

Human and language migration to the shores of the Gulf of Finland during the Iron Age - Finnic languages, tarand burial culture and climate anomalies.

1Department of Biology, University of Turku, Finland

2Department of Archaeology, University of Turku, Finland

3Department of Finnish and Finno-Ugric Languages, University of Turku, Finland

4Finnish Museum of Natural History - LUOMUS, University of Helsinki, Finland

5Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland


The pre-Roman Iron Age brought a change in burial practises to the southern shores of the Gulf of Finland – the appearance of tarand (low fence) graves: burial sites surrounded by roughly rectangular stone fences built of boulders of varying sizes and re-deposited piles of bones suggesting some sort of ritual activities performed on site. Earliest tarand-graves belong to the coastal zones of northern and western Estonia, with later findings unearthed in central Estonia, northern Latvia, southwestern Finland, Ingria and the eastern part of Sweden. In Estonia and northern Latvia, tarand-type graves remained in use throughout the Roman Iron Age until ca 500 AD (Lang 2007). Archaeologist V. Lang has proposed a cultural border emerging across the Väina (Daugava) River during the Roman Iron Age. Tarand-graves and specific types of archaeological items set apart territories north of Väina River from the southern areas, the latter being characterised by sandy burial mounds and distinct sets of archaeological artefacts (Lang 2007). The sharp cultural boundary can potentially manifest a linguistic and ethnic border that emerged during the Roman Iron Age between speakers of Finnic and Baltic languages. Additionally, ancient DNA studies on skeletal remains from a tarand-grave in Kunda, Estonia have demonstrated the first recorded appearance of Siberian (eastern) autosomal ancestry as well as the paternal haplogroup N (Saag et al. 2019) – nowadays, one of the most common male haplogroups in the entire north of Eurasia, sometimes speculated to be connected with the expansions of Uralic languages (Zerjal et al. 1997).

In holistic and interdisciplinary study of human history, time is the invisible thread binding different scientific fields. Our research aims to examine the potential connection between tarand-graves and the arrival of Proto-Finnic to the northwestern Eurasia through a unified chronological enquiry. We produced a total of 9 new radiocarbon dates of bone collagen from Finnish and Ingrian tarand-graves and analysed them in conjunction with published radiocarbon dates from Estonian tarand-sites, time estimates of linguistic disintegration, genetics and climatic events. We formally test the chronological succession of events to explore the question whether the temporal period of early tarand-graves matches with the proposed diversification timeframe for western Uralic languages and with timeline of climate anomalies of the late Holocene. 



Lang, V. (2007). Baltimaade pronksi- ja rauaaeg. Tartu: Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus.

Saag L, Laneman M, Varul L, et al. The Arrival of Siberian Ancestry Connecting the Eastern Baltic to Uralic Speakers further East. Curr Biol. 2019;29(10):1701-1711.e16.

Zerjal T, Dashnyam B, Pandya A, et al. Genetic relationships of Asians and Northern Europeans, revealed by Y-chromosomal DNA analysis. Am J Hum Genet. 1997;60(5):1174-1183.


Ainash Childebayeva, Fabian Fricke, Sergej Kuzminykh, Wolfgang Haak:

The Genetic Perspective on the Sejma-Turbino Transcultural Phenomenon and the Spread of the Uralic Languages

The Sejma-Turbino (ST) “transcultural” phenomenon is associated with Bronze Age sites throughout Eurasia dating to the time period between the 22nd to 17th centuries BCE. ST objects are found across the Eurasian continent, spreading from Finland to Mongolia, and the cultural complex is characterized by metal objects that have a unique petal shaped side piece. The origin of the ST phenomenon has not been determined. However, based on the presence of metals, such as tin and copper in ST objects, Altay and Sayan mountains have been hypothesized. No ST associated settlements are known, and the only distinguishing characteristic of the culture is the presence of high-quality metal objects. The spread of Uralic protolanguage is hypothesized to have occurred through the ST network, which is suggested by the time of disintegration of Proto-Uralic.

Here, we are presenting genomic data from nine individuals, eight males and one female, from the ST associated site Rostovka located on the river Om, 15km away from Omsk, Russia, and excavated in 1966-1969. Elaborate artifacts found at the site made it famous among the archaeologists and the scientific community in general. The majority of the graves found at the Rostovka burial site contain bronze ST objects, as well as stone molds for casting bronze objects, stone spearheads and armory. Based on the genome-wide SNP data, we found that the Rostovka individuals vary widely with regards to their genetic profile, ranging between the ancestry maximized in North Siberians and the local Sintashta-associated individuals, mirroring the geographic spread of the ST phenomenon. The presence of the N-L392 Y-haplogroup in the sample further supports the link between ST and the spread of the Uralic languages. This is the first study to report genetic data for individuals associated with the ST trans-cultural phenomenon and its potential link to the spread of Uralic languages across the Eurasian forest steppe. 




Kendra Willson:

Language contact reflected in runic inscriptions

The runic alphabet is strongly associated with Germanic languages, but was used in situations of language contact. It was probably developed by Germanic speakers in the Roman Empire around the start of the Common Era. Braunmüller (2004, 2005; Beuerle and Braunmüller 2004) suggests that the syntax of the earliest runic inscriptions reflects Latin influence. Much later, during the Middle Ages, the Latin and runic writing traditions influenced each other on both linguistic and epigraphic levels (Palumbo 2000). There are also numerous runic inscriptions in Latin  (Gustavson 1994, Knirk 1999).

Alphabets can of course be adapted to many languages – consider the range of languages written e.g. with the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Speakers of Finnic and Saami languages were in close contact with speakers of Germanic languages during the main periods of runic production, as seen inter alia from loanwords and archaeological finds. Interpretations of runic inscriptions as involving Finnic or Saami elements appear from time to time in the runological literature (e.g. Olsen & Bergsland 1943, Antonsen 2002: 114, Källström 2014: 117, Latzenhofer 2016), but most have not received systematic investigation. The main reason for this is probably a dearth of scholars who control both runology and the history of these Uralic languages. While it seems possible that there were experiments in writing Finnic or Saami languages with runes, the specific proposals are at best uncertain in the absence of established parallels (see Willson 2012, 2019). There are also less scholarly hypotheses that runes were used to write Finnic languages early on (Berg 2003, Naddeo 2008, Nieminen 2015).

In order better to understand how language contact with Finnic and Saami languages might be reflected in runic inscriptions, it is useful to compare the contact situation in Fennoscandia with other regions. Personal names from other languages are attested in a few runic inscriptions, e.g. mistiuis on the Sønder-Vissing runestone, representing a Norse genitive form of the Slavic name Mьstivoj, the Abotrite father of King Harald Bluetooth’s wife known by the Norse name Tófa (Lerche Nielsen 2014: 156). In the British Isles, runic writing was in contact with Anglo-Saxon and Celtic epigraphic traditions. Several inscriptions from the Irish Sea area, especially the Isle of Man, contain Gaelic names (Jesch 2015: 113), and a few have been argued to show linguistic features reflecting language contact, perhaps language forms associated with the Gall goídil. The runic inscription on the stone cross Kirk Michael III, which also contains inscriptions in Ogham, contains two Gaelic names. The Norse inscription also shows some unusual gender and case marking (Jesch 2015: 114). Whether these grammatical oddities reflect language contact, internal developments, or miscarvings has been debated for over a century (Olsen 1909, Seip 1930: 401-404, Marstrander 1930: 385-387, Page 1983: 142-144, Jesch 2015: 115).

 The theory that runes were used to write Slavic languages before the introduction of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabet was mainstream in Polish scholarship until the First World War, but then abruptly disappeared from the scholarly discourse following independence and a changed relationship with Germanic neighbors (Kowalski 2001), although it persists in alternative discourses (e.g. Kossakowski 2008). A recent runic find from Lány, Czechia (Macháček et al. 2021) has reintroduced to scholarly discourse the notion that Slavic speakers may have been exposed to runes.

Parallels have been noted between runic writing culture and that associated with birchbark writing (Zilmer & Jesch 2012). The Novgorod birchbark letters include, as is well known, the earliest examples of writing in Finnic languages (Haavio 1964, Laakso 1999). Experiments in writing Finnic or Saami languages are not implausible, even if certain examples have yet to be found.


Antonsen, Elmer. 2002. Runes and Germanic linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Berg, Ove 2003. Runsvenska, svenska, finska. Gällivarre: Skrivkammaren i Gällivarre.

Beuerle, Angela & Kurt Braunmüller. 2004. Frühe germanische Zweisprachigkeit? Zu den frühesten Runeninschriften und den defixiones in der lateinischen Gebrauchsepigraphik. Arbeiten zur Mehrsprachigkeit Folge B 54: 1–37.

Braunmüller, Kurt. 2004. Zum Einfluss des Lateinischen auf die ältesten Runeninschriften. In: Oskar Bandle et al., eds. Verschränkung der Kulturen. Zum 65. Geburtstag von Hans-Peter Naumann. Tübingen, Basel: Francke. 23–50.

Braunmüller, Kurt. 2005. Variation in word order in the oldest Germanic runic inscriptions: a case for bilingualism? NOWELE 46/47: 15-30.

Gustavson, Helmer. 1994. Runsk latinitet. In: Inger Lindell, ed. Medeltida skrift- och språkkultur. Nordisk medeltidsliteracy i ett diglossiskt och digrafiskt perspektiv II: nio föreläsningar från ett symposium i Stockhom våren 1992. Runica et mediaevalia Opuscula 2. Stockholm: Sällskapet runica et mediævalia, Medeltidsseminariet och institutionen för nordiska språk vid Stockholms universitet. 61-77.

Haavio, Martti. 1964. The letter on birch-nark No. 292. Journal of the Folklore Institute 1(1): 45–66.

Jesch, Judith. 2015. The Viking diaspora. London: Routledge.

Knirk, James. 1999. Runic inscriptions containing Latin in Norway. In: Klaus Düwel, ed. Runeninscrhiften als Quellen für interdiziplinärer Forschung. Abhandlungen des Vierten Internationalen Symposiums über Runen und Runeninschriften in Gottingen vom 4.-9. August 1995. Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 15. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter. 476-507.

Kossakowski, Winicjusz. 2008. Polskie runy przemówiły. Białystok: Wydano nakł. autora.

Kowalski, K.M. 2001. The fascination with Runes in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Poland. In: John Higgit, Kathryn Forsyth & D.N. Parsons, eds. Roman, Runes and Ogham. Medieval Inscriptions in the Insular World and on the Continent. Donington: Paul Watkins. 134-147.

Källström, Magnus. 2014. Birka, Sigtuna och Medelpad - glimtar från tre vikingatida skriftmiljöer. In: Ann-Catrine Edlund, Lars-Erik Edlund and Susanne Haugen, eds. Vernacular literacies - past, present and future. Northern studies monographs 3. Vardagligt skriftbruk 3. Umeå: Umeå University and Royal Skyttean Society. 107-124.

Laakso, Johanna. 1999. Vielä kerran itämerensuomen vanhimmista muistomerkeistä. Virittäjä 103(4): 531–555.

Latzenhofer, Ulrich. 2016. Die Speerspitze von Älgsjö - ein frühes saamisches Sprachdenkmal? Miscellanea septentrionalia (MS) 7. Manuscript, University of Vienna.

Lerche Nielsen, Michael. 2014. Runic inscriptions reflecting linguistic contacts between West Slav lands and southern Scandinavia. Scripta Islandica 65: 153-172.

Macháček, Jiři et al. 2021. Runes from Lány (Czech Republic). The oldest inscription among Slavs. A new standard for multidisciplinary analysis of runic bones. Journal of archaeological science 127 (March 2021). 105333

Marstrander, Carl. 1930. Killaloekorset og de norske kolonier i Irland. Norsk tidsskrift for sprogvidenskap 4: 378-400.

Naddeo, Michelangelo. 2006. Germanico runes: a Finnish alphabet? s.l.: s.n.

Nieminen, Jukka. 2015. Vaiettu muinaisuus. S.l.: Salakirjat.

Olsen, Magnus. 1909. Om sproget i de manske runeindskrifter. Forhandlinger i Videnskabsselskabet i Christiania I.Christiania: Videnskabsselskabs forhandlinger.

Olsen, Magnus, and Knut Bergsland. 1943. Lappisk i en islandsk runeinnskrift. Oslo: Jacob Dybwad.

Page, R.I. 1983. The Manx rune-stones. In: Christine Fell, Peter Foote, James Graham-Campbell and Robert Thomson, eds. The Viking Age in the Isle of Man. London: Viking Society for Northern Research. 133-136. Reprinted in Page 1995, Runes and runic inscriptions. Collected essays on Anglo-Saxon and Viking runes. Woodbridge: Boydell. 225-244.

Palumbo, Alessandro. 2020. Skriftsystem i förändring? En grafematisk studie av de svenska medeltida runinskrifterna. Runrön 23. Uppsala: Institutionen för nordiska språk, Uppsala universitet.

Seip. D.A. 1930. Norske paralleller til de uregelmessige fleksjonsformer i manske og irske runeinnskrifter. Norsk tidsskrift for sprogvidenskap 4: 401-404.

Willson, Kendra. 2012. A putative Sámi charm on a 12th c. Icelandic spade: runic Reception, Magic and Contacts. In: Cornelius Hasselblatt and Adriaan van der Hoeven, eds. Finno-Ugric folklore, myth and cultural identity: proceedings of the fifth international symposium on Finno-Ugric languages, University of Groningen, June 7 9, 2011. Studia Fenno-Ugrica Groningana 7. Maastricht: Shaker. 267–281.

Willson, Kendra. 2019. Ahti on the Nydam strapring? On the possibility of Finnic elements in runic inscriptions. In: Maths Bertell, Frog & Kendra Willson (eds.), Contacts and networks in the Baltic Sea region: Austmarr as a northern Mare nostrum, ca. AD 500-1500. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. 147-171.

Zilmer, Kristel & Judith Jesch, eds. 2012. Epigraphic literacy and Christian identity: modes of written discourse in the newly Christian European North. Turnhout: Brepols.




Sanni Peltola, Maria Dobrovolskaya, Johannes Krause, Kerttu Majander, Nikolaj Makarov, Kerkko Nordqvist, Päivi Onkamo, Elina Salmela:

An ancient DNA perspective to the medieval language replacement in the upper Volga region

In the past, Uralic languages were spoken in a much wider area than today. In the area northeast of Moscow, at least three now extinct Uralic languages, Merya, Murom, and Meschera (MMM) were spoken until the beginning of the Middle Ages. By the 15th century, these languages were replaced by Slavic, and are known only based on historic literature sources and place name studies. Thus, relatively little is known of these extinct languages and the nature of the language replacement in the area. Meanwhile, it is known that language shifts can happen through several processes, ranging from complete population replacements to purely cultural language shifts, where a population adopts a new language without significant gene flow.

To shed light on to which degree the Slavicization of the Uralic-speaking areas in the upper Volga region involved gene flow, we analyse ancient genomic data from the Central Russian Suzdal region together with radiocarbon dating and dietary modelling of the individuals. Our time transect covers the time of the putative language replacement, focusing on the timespan from the Iron Age to Late Middle Ages. The hypothesized distribution of the extinct Merya, Murom, and Meschera overlaps the Suzdal area, which was the core of one of the Central Russian principalities in the Middle Ages. These principalities actively attempted to rule and tax nearby Uralic-speaking groups, which likely facilitated the extinction of the Uralic languages in the surrounding areas.

We detect a genetic shift towards modern Slavic-speaking populations after the Iron Age, corresponding to the assumed time of the introduction of Slavic languages. Interestingly, we identify two medieval individuals who are genetically distinct from the other medieval individuals, suggesting that the medieval Suzdal region was connected over long distances. Additionally, we identify a pair of first-degree relatives among the Iron Age individuals.

Overall, our results demonstrate the benefits and potential of interdisciplinary studies, especially in the case of extinct languages, where the sparsity of data can severely limit the insights derived from historical linguistics.


Lehti Saag1, 2, Toomas Kivisild1, 3, 4, Ruoyun Hui4, 5, Mari Tõrv1, Liivi Varul6, Martin Malve1, Maris Övel1, Anu Lillak1, Maere Reidla1, Ene Metspalu1, Siiri Rootsi1, Simone Andrea Biagini3, Heiki Valk1, Marika Mägi6, Valter Lang1, Aivar Kriiska1, Kristiina Tambets1, Mait Metspalu1

A genetic bridge over the Gulf of Finland: tracing the origin of genetic connectedness between Finns and Estonians

1University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia; 2UCL, London, UK; 3KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium; 4University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; 5British Library, London, UK; 6Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia

The Finnish population is a unique example of a genetic isolate affected by a recent founder event. Previous studies have suggested that the ancestors of Finnic-speaking Finns and Estonians reached the circum-Baltic region by the 1st millennium BC. However, high linguistic similarity points to a more recent split of their languages. We set out to study genetic connectedness between Finns and Estonians directly.

We first assessed the efficacy of imputation of low-coverage ancient genomes by sequencing a medieval Estonian genome to high depth (23x) and evaluated the performance of its down-sampled replicas. We find that ancient genomes imputed from >0.13 coverage can be reliably used in principal-component analyses without projection. By searching for long shared allele intervals (LSAIs; similar to identity-by-descent segments) in unphased data for >143,000 present-day Estonians, 99 Finns, and 14 imputed ancient genomes from Estonia, we find unexpectedly high levels of individual connectedness between Estonians and Finns for the last eight centuries in contrast to their clear differentiation by allele frequencies. High levels of sharing of these segments between Estonians and Finns predate the demographic expansion and late settlement process of Finland.

Next, to shed more light on the connectedness between Estonians and Finns, we extracted and sequenced ancient DNA from 16 additional individuals from the Iron Age, including the first genomes from Roman and Middle Iron Age periods in Estonia. Using imputed genotypes of these individuals we show that already the Roman/Middle Iron Age individuals had higher levels of individual connectedness with modern Estonians and Finns than individuals from earlier time periods, including the Pre-Roman Iron Age. However, unlike medieval genomes, the Roman/Middle Iron Age individuals do not show region-specific connectedness within Estonia, suggesting that the local regional genetic structure in Estonia had not formed by the Middle Iron Age.




Olesya Khanina & Valentin Gusev:

Interdisciplinary evidence for Samoyedic waves of northbound migrations

There were at least two waves of sudden northward movement of speakers of Samoyedic languages, presumably accompanied by more gradual movement in the same direction beyond these waves. The first resulted in splitting Northern Samoyedic from the rest of Samoyedic, and the second was the final break of the Northern Samoyedic dialect chain into separate languages. We study linguistic and archeological evidence for the two and conclude that both were caused by reindeer herding breakthroughs.

(1) Ca. 2000 years ago Proto-Northern-Samoyedic split off the Samoyedic unity (Hajdu 1975; Korhonen & Kulonen 1991; Janhunen 1998), and this corresponds to the date of emergence of transport reindeer herding in the north of western/central Siberia (Fedorova 1998, 2002, 2019, Fedorova & Gusev 2019). Being able to overcome large distances with reindeer sledges, the hunters that soon would be known as Northern Samoyeds diverged from their Samoyedic mates and headed north. After this initial spread, speakers of Proto Northern Samoyedic remained in close contact with each other at least for another millennium (Helimski 2000, 1982), with slow separation of the dialect continuum into distinct languages.

(2) While the first northward migration is well known in Uralic studies, the second is not. We have accumulated enough linguistic evidence to comment now on its details. First, we studied distribution of isoglosses in Northern Samoyedic languages and ended up with a conclusion that the geographic distribution of these languages had been different when several phonetic and morphological innovations were spreading. E.g. the location of Yenisei Tundra Nenets was different from today, based on the isoglosses. Second, for Forest Enets and Tundra Enets, historical records documented changes in their location (Khanina et al. 2018). Finally, for some groups of Nganasans, ethymological analysis of onomastic data suggest their Enets, and earlier Nenets origin (Gusev 2020).

Thus, we can claim that in the end of the 17th cent. - beginning of the 18th cent. speakers of most Northern Samoyeds lects headed to the north from the Mangazeya area, the homeland of Proto-Northern-Samoyedic. This migration resulted in messing up the dialect chain and a subsequent series of linguistic assimilations to languages of more successful reindeer herders. This time, the migration to the north coincided in time with the emergence of large-scale reindeer herding (Stépanoff 2017). The size of herds changed from several dozens to several hundreds of reindeer per family, and bigger herds required more open space, in particular, in summer, which was available only further to the north.

Both reindeer herding breakthroughs can be hypothesized to be conditioned by corresponding climate changes: lower temperatures could have boosted reindeer fertility and could have led to deforestation in the northern forests, so that reindeer could cross the same distances faster. Another causal factor for the emergence of large-scale reindeer herding in the 17-18th cent. could be man-made fires, also leading to deforestation.