First Ancient DNA From Finland Reveals Early Ancestors' Migration From Siberia

Artist's impression of a fisherman from Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov, northwest Russia. Kerttu Majander

Researchers have found evidence for how humans first spread from Siberia to Finland and Northwest Russia thousands of years ago.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Helsinki studied DNA from 3,500-year-old bones and teeth on the Kola Peninsula in Russia, and a 1,500-year-old water burial in Finland, the first ancient DNA evidence analyzed in Finland.

They found that Siberian ancestry from the Kola Peninsula in Northwest Russia spread to populations living in Finland. They also found that the modern-day Saami people, who are indigenous to the northern part of Scandinavia today, once lived further south in Finland.

"Our results show that there was a strong genetic connection between ancient Finnish and ancient Siberian populations," Thiseas Lamnidis from the Max Planck Institute, co-first author of the study said in a statement.

Lamnidis suggested that “ancient populations from Siberia may have also shared a subsistence strategy, languages and/or cultural behaviors with Bronze Age and Iron Age Finns, despite the large geographical distance."

In the study, the team examined 11 individuals in total, eight of which came from the Kola Peninsula. The other three came from a water burial site in Levänluhta, Finland, which is one of the oldest burials in Finland where human bones have been preserved, thanks to being buried in an ancient lake or pond.

The archaeological sites from this study. Michelle O'Reilly; Lamnidis, Majander et al

Comparing these to modern-day Saami, Finnish, and other Uralic language speakers, they found that the oldest samples were the ones with the highest proportion of Siberian ancestry. Among modern European humans, the Saami have the highest proportion, while the Nganasan people from northern Siberia have the largest in the world.

The findings show that ancient Finnish people likely lived a mobile and nomadic life, trading and moving over a large range. And the population in Levänluhta was found to be more closely related to modern-day Saami people than to the non-Saami Finnish population.

"This is the first exploration of ancient DNA from Finland and the results are very interesting," Stephan Schiffels from the Max Planck Institute, co-senior author on the study, said in the statement.

"However more ancient DNA studies from the area will be necessary to better understand whether the patterns we've seen are representative of Finland as a whole."

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