Recently there’s been some talk about how the Mercator projection distorts our perceptions of the world, in particular how it makes Africa seem very small in relation to North America, and about the same size as Greenland. But there’s another artifact of the Mercator projection as well: it misleads us in terms of our perception of how expansive and dispersed the Circumpolar region is. And it also allows for more surprise than should be the case in terms of the demographic and cultural exchanges which have occurred between the western and eastern antipodes of Eurasia.
Earlier this week I posited that there were broad similarities of culture and populations along the northern fringe of Eurasia which arose in the retreat of the ice sheets after the Ice Age. Those similarities were subsumed in some regions by the expansion of peoples practicing agriculture who pushed from the south. In the case of Russia the expansion of ethnic Russians east was a historically attested case of this. With modern transportation and comparative advantage coming to the fore Siberian Russians were less dependent on primary production in the local hinterlands around their settlements, so the ecological constraints which had preserved the northern peoples Siberia were to some extent removed.
Dienekes Pontikos has been doing some great work on collecting and analyzing genetic data from groups which academia has generally not focused on too much. Today he has posted an analysis of various Siberian groups, along with some Northern Europeans and East Asians. Below are the two primary visualizations, and MDS which illustrates genetic variance on a two-dimensional plot, and an ADMIXTURE derived bar plot which has ancestral quota for the total population sets.
The correspondence with geography and language is striking. Siberian isolates from the extreme north and east, Koryak and Chuckhi are on top; HapMap Chinese at the bottom. Between them are Uralians (Selkup, Yukagir, Nganassan) and Altaics (Mongol-Tungus-Turkic people).
As this is a Siberian-centric analysis for the European groups there’s only a north-south distinction in ancestral contribution. In most analyses of European genetic variation the biggest difference does tend to be north-south, so this is logical. Of particular interest for me is the comparison between Finns and Lithuanians. In terms of West Eurasian ancestry almost the totality is of the northern element in this analysis for both groups. But look at the residual East Eurasian ancestry found among Finns. I observed before that the Finns in the 23andMe sample often have a small trace element of “Asian” ancestry. From what I know the reference population for this is the Chinese-Japanese HapMap sample. But the reality is that Finns aren’t ~1% Chinese or Japanese (despite some linguistic similarities and cultural affinities between the Finns and Japanese). The Finnish non-European element exhibits similarities to two groups in this sample: the Nganasan, who reside on the Taymyr peninsula on the central Siberian Arctic coast, and the Chukchi, who reside on the Russian territory directly across from Alaska. Notably these are the northernmost of Siberian populations, so perhaps the most likely to contain remnants of the most ancient elements which followed in the wake of the retreating glaciers.
Again, we shouldn’t oversimplify here. Past evidence tends to suggest to us that hunter-gatherers generally are genetically and culturally absorbed by those with a more efficient mode of production on a per unit of land basis. Therefore, in the case of the common element spanning Finland and the Chukchi peninsula this may be a “population X” which had first mover advantage after the Ice Age, and quickly populated the virgin territory from west to east, but later was overlain by other groups from the south. Imagine for example if the absorption of the indigenous peoples of the New World was more thorough into the African and European derived groups which came to be demographically dominant. Then modern geneticists would immediately discern that the “population X” which spanned all the various groups was due to the indigenous groups which were resident before the arrival of newcomers.
Note: I assume most of the European admixture in the Siberian groups is due to European colonialism. The same pattern is evident in Greenland, where Danish admixture is rather substantial, though because it was gradual the native cultural pattern is dominant.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons