The mtDNA profiles of ancient Scytho-Siberians are known and available for comparison to individuals who are curious whether they may have descended from the same lineage. The story below outlines how the mtDNA profiles of ancient Scytho-Siberians were discovered.

Scytho-Siberian Kurgan DNA

The Scythians were a branch of ancient Iranian peoples who prospered in the Eurasian steppes in the Kosh Agash region, Altai Republic, for most of the last seven centuries BC. The burial sites of this culture are known as Scytho-Siberian kurgans.

Based on craniofacial data, the Scythians were believed to be of mixed Euro-Mongoloid origin. Today, identification of living descendants of the Scytho-Siberian population is complicated by the absence of general biological pattern characterizing the Scytho-Siberian population. The identification of descendants is also complicated by mass population movements in southern Siberia and Central Asia during the last 2,500 years, including the movement of the Huns, the formation of the Turkic kaganate, and the influences of Genghis Khan. However, some Scytho-Siberian cultural traits are still present in several modern populations.

What are the origins of the Scythians?

Despite its rich history, the origin of the Scythians is currently unknown and the cause of their disappearance is unclear. However, it is widely believed that the Scythian civilization first developed in the second millennium BC, corresponding to the time that pastoral nomadism and the production of bronze and iron appeared. To determine the ethnic origins of the Scythians and their genetic relationships to other European and Asian populations, scientists have been analyzing the DNA of Scytho-Siberian human remains found in kurgans or the tombs of the Scytho-Siberian culture.

Discovery of the kurgans

In 1996 and 1997, an international expedition discovered 300 archeological monuments in the valley of the Sebystei River. Amongst other discoveries were a number of Scytho-Siberian kurgans dating back 2,500 years. Two kurgans out of a group of eight kurgans were selected for further analysis. Bone arrowheads and ceramic vases typical of the Pazyruk culture were found in the kurgans together with sacrificial gifts that were typical of the Scytho-Siberian culture. The human remains (SEB 96 K1) from the first kurgan belonged to a male 24 to 30 years old. The second kurgan belonged to a male (SEB 96 K2) who was 2 to 3 years old at the time of death.

Genetic analysis of the remains

Relationship testing and maternal ancestry testing were conducted on both remains discovered in the kurgans. Relationship testing involves the analysis of autosomal variation and these analyses showed that the two individuals were not closely related. Maternal ancestry testing relies on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – a DNA type that is very useful for the analysis of ancient samples due to its high copy number, rapid evolution rate and strict maternal (mother to child) inheritance. The analysis of the mtDNA allowed researchers to determine where these two individuals fitted in the mitochondrial phylogenetic tree and how they are related to other populations. Based on sequencing of the HVR1 region of the mtDNA, the adult male (SEB 96 K1) is most likely to belong to haplogroup F2a, while the young male (SEB 96 K2) is a member of haplogroup D.

Conclusions

The mitochondrial analysis of two Scythian skeletons from 2,500 years before present identified two different mtDNA profiles that are characteristic of Asian populations. One haplogroup (F2a) is common in east and central Asian populations but does not appear in Siberian or North American populations. The other haplotype (SIB40, haplogroup D) is found mainly in Chukotkan (Eskimo Siberian, and Chukchi) and Kamtchatkan populations.

The DNA findings from this study suggest a link between Scythians and populations living in China. This data also suggests that there are genetic ties between the Altaic Scytho-Siberian populations and populations from Chinese kingdoms at the time. It is also likely that the Scytho-Siberian populations contained some Mongoloid genetic variation.

DNA Database Comparisons

The DNA tests conducted in this study have defined the mtDNA HVR1 maternal lineage profile of two members from an ancient Scytho-Siberian population. If you have taken the mtDNA HVR1 (Standard Maternal Ancestry) test, you can compare your DNA and find out whether your mtDNA matches the maternal lineage of either of these two ancient Scytho-Siberian individuals.