Scythians Had East Asian Ancestry

March 24, 2017

Nordicists have often claimed that Iron Age Scythians were blonde, blue-eyed "Aryans" most similar to modern Northern Europeans, but ancient DNA analysis shows they were a mix of Yamnaya people from the Russian Steppe (who were mostly brunet) and East Asian Mongoloids.

During the 1st millennium before the Common Era (BCE), nomadic tribes associated with the Iron Age Scythian culture spread over the Eurasian Steppe, covering a territory of more than 3,500 km in breadth. To understand the demographic processes behind the spread of the Scythian culture, we analysed genomic data from eight individuals and a mitochondrial dataset of 96 individuals originating in eastern and western parts of the Eurasian Steppe. Genomic inference reveals that Scythians in the east and the west of the steppe zone can best be described as a mixture of Yamnaya-related ancestry and an East Asian component. Demographic modelling suggests independent origins for eastern and western groups with ongoing gene-flow between them, plausibly explaining the striking uniformity of their material culture. We also find evidence that significant gene-flow from east to west Eurasia must have occurred early during the Iron Age.


Since the PCA of west Eurasia in Fig. 4 does not allow one to examine the ancient samples in relation to contemporary East Asian populations, we also carried out PCA of all 2,345 modern individuals in the Human Origins dataset, onto which we also projected the ancient individuals (Fig. 5). It is evident from this PCA that ancestry of the Iron Age samples falls on a continuum between present-day west Eurasians and eastern non-Africans, which is in concordance with the mitochondrial haplogroup analyses. The eastern Scythians display nearly equal proportions of mtDNA lineages common in east and west Eurasia, whereas in the western Scythian groups, the frequency of lineages now common in east Eurasia is generally lower, even reaching zero in four samples of the initial Scythian phase of the eight to sixth century BCE (group #1 in Fig. 2), and reaches 18–26% during later periods (sixth to second century BCE; #2 and #3) (Supplementary Table 7).

The Scythian samples are in black:

Figure 5 | Principal component analysis. PCA of ancient individuals (according colours see legend) projected on modern individuals of the Human Origins dataset (grey). Iron Age Scythians are shown in black; CHG, Caucasus hunter-gatherer; LNBA, late Neolithic/Bronze Age; MN, middle Neolithic; EHG, eastern European hunter-gatherer; LBK_EN, early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik; HG, hunter-gatherer; EBA, early Bronze Age; IA, Iron Age; LBA, late Bronze Age; WHG, western hunter-gatherer.

Unterlander et al. "Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe". Nature Communications, 2017.