Ossetians: Turks or Iranians?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In Russian
Genetics: Blood Types
Genetics: Lingo-Ethnical Tree
Scytho-Siberian Genetics
Etruscan Genetics
Eastern Hun Genetics
Ethnic Affiliation Scythians
Scythians 7 c. BC
Pazyryk 4-2 c. BC
Burial place of a Massagetan warrior 8-7 c. BC
Scythians and their descendents
Alan Dateline
Avar Dateline
Besenyo Dateline
Bulgar Dateline
Huns Dateline
Kipchak Dateline
Sabir Dateline

Ossetian genetics
A partial peek into its nuts and bolts

Original Article is here


The following partial study for some must be apolitical and not spoken reasons is excluding a major group neighboring the Ossets, while aiming to find genetical proofs that the Ossets are Indo-Persians. While utterly failing to reach its unstated objective, this partial study provides sufficient data to show the opposite. On the linguistic map below, to show the extent of the censure, the excluded Türkic areas are colored, and the Ossetian areas are marked with circles.

Why Ossetics??

Because the Scythian-Iranian theory follows the logic: Ossetians speak the Northern branch of the Iranian language, Ossetians are Alans, Alans are Sarmatian tribe, Sarmatians are akin to Scythians, hence Scythians were Ossetian speaking, hence linguistically the Scythians belonged to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. A brilliant logic that, in the not less brilliant words of V.I. Abaev, "ends the light-weighted and irresponsible speculations on Scythian material which do not have anything common with a science" ( V.I. Abaev, Ossetian language and folklore, 1949, page 148). The theory, created and fanned by a coincidence of German racism and Russian national-imperialism, took hold and hardened in the Indo-European science to a status of axiom, any facts notwithstanding. The paucity of the factual material and overtrusting a handful of founding experts severely obscured the value of the fundamental facts, allowing the most improbable conclusions. The cited article, while still not devoid of misconceptions, allows a peek into the ethnic composition of the provisional descendents of the conquerors of Persia, of the glorious Macedonian opponents from Thrace to Central Asia, of the magnificent Pazyryk kurgan burials in the Altai Mountains, of the warriors that served in every army of every important empire during a span of a millennia, of the creators of the Animal Art style dispersed from Enisei to Danube, and of the creators of many kingdoms and confederations. Not a bad record for a miniscule principality that remained utterly obscure canyon populace till the Russian colonization of the Caucasus and the rise of the German racial expertise brought it forward as a banner of the Indo-European greatness in the Euro-Asian steppes.

It is outstanding that every link in the Iranian-Scythian theory is either a fraud or a blunder. The Ossetians are not Alans, and it is not Ossetians who could have spread blood group type B to the border between Scotland and England, or to the Northern Africa, or to Normandy. If you do not have it in your veins, you can't bring it over, too bad. The Ossetians are not Persian, or any other Indo-European language speakers, with their typical Caucasian glottal non-flexitive agglutinative language with a smattering of 20% of potentially Persian-derived lexicon, at least not until the Indo-European language group would convert from flexitivity to agglutination. And neither Ironians nor Digorians are Ases or ever had the endoethnonym Ases, unlike their Balkarian neighbors. The Ossetians never drunk kumis or sudja, buried their horses and their coaches and themselves in kurgans, or installed babas over them, mastered the "Parthian shot" or used a 100,000 army to encircle an area in the steppe for a hunt, or used the hunting techniques to eradicate an enemy's army, or were known in China as Yancai, "Vast Steppe", one of four Hunnish tribes. And never were taken from the Ossets the fabled treasuries that even remotely resembled the treasuries of Roman, Byzantian and Persian goods like those documented as taken from the Avars, Bulgars, Kushans, Huns and Scythians when their capitals were overrun. The genetical assessment of the Ossetians in the work is not a last nail in the coffin of the ill theory, for in an unbiased science that nail would have been driven still in the 19th century. This genetical study merely joins all other converging facts that demonstrate the absurdity of the Scythian-Iranian postulation.

The chance association of (1) "Ases - Osses", where "Ases" is one of the documented appellations of the Alans, and the "Ossets" is a wartime code in the Russian army assaulting the autonomous mountain enclaves, a code possibly distorted from the Georgian appellation "Ovseti", i.e. Ovs-land, i.e. Alan/As-land that does not carry a specific Digorian/Ironian ethnonymical bearing or historical connotations, and (2) the presence of a number of words with potential Persian etymology in the lexicon of the Ironians had inflamed the mind of an Imperial scientist, who first suggested a hypothesis. The later studies did not address the composition of the constituent languages, blending the Ironian and Digorian languages together in one quasi-common language, and expeditiously pulling out any potential Persian cognates from either language to ascribe them to that quasi-common language. V.I Abaev remains a sole underpinning of that theory, pull that pin, and the whole structure crumbles on itself. A lack of scientific probity of the Indo-European hypothesis still remains unabated.

The genetics study gives a good lead that the Ironian language has a Kartvelian substrate retaining about 40% of the lexicon with Adygian and Persian layers constituting another 20% each, and the balance 20% absorbed from the Arabic, Türkic, and languages of the nearest historical neighbors. For the Digorian language, the genetics study gives a good lead consistent with the historical record, that it evolved from the Adygian substrate, transitioned through a period of bi-linguality, and settled into the Kartvelian Ironian language, while retaining some pronounced dialectal phonetical and grammatical specifics and a differing lexicon of its Adygian substrate, the Adygian lexical layer constituting probably 20%, and the balance 20% absorbed from the Arabic, Türkic, Persian, and again the languages of a somewhat different set of the nearest historical neighbors. Both languages preserved the substratum grammatical type, absorbing all the new loanwords in the initial agglutinating language. In the absence of the detailed objective studies, these numbers present only an order of expected magnitude deduced from the genetical picture.

There is good historical information about the Persian rulers dispatching and relocating groups of guards to their northern borders, but predominantly, these settlers belonged to non-Persian speaking peoples, and with their numbers too small and their concentrations only around strategic passes like a Daryal Pass, their assimilation into the surrounding populace would be way below the resolution of the linguistical or genetic studies. Another two factors may have had a more pronounced impact on the indigenous Caucasian population. One is a widespread tradition of stealing and purchasing the brides, when the brides can be bought, captured in the raids, or imported from the Persian-speaking communities (naturally, from the non-Persian-speaking communities as well) inside Persia. The effect of the "keep up with the Joneses" syndrome over the centuries can be profound, trickling in as a small, but continuous stream into every household of the ethnically isolated communities.

The other factor are the Farsi-speaking Mountain or Highland Jews, who in the milieu of the 1940es German attack were hurriedly renamed into Tats to save them from the German extermination. These Mountain Jews lived for 15 hundred years dispersed between numerous tribes of the Caucasus, isolated in their enclaves, but integrated into the cultural and productive life of the host population. Traditionally multilingual, they mastered Adygian dialects, Türkic dialects, Kartvelian dialects, Lezginian dialects etc., in addition to Hebrew as a religious language and their own ancient (ca. 6th c. AD) Farsi vernacular, which still remains a lingua Franco between their scattered communities. Nowadays there are 100,000 Jewish Tats, plus Christian and Moslem Tats who all originated from the same Caucasus population; 525,000 Ossetians; 300,000 Adygians, etc. Numerically-wise, their numbers were quite compatible with the surrounding population, and thus they were in a position to contribute their Semitic genes and their Indo-Persian language to many of their neighbors. Traditionally, the Mountain Jews were engaged in the service occupations of leather-traders, merchants, tanners, teachers, doctors etc., widely circulating and intermingling with all of their neighbors. The contribution of the Mountain Jews was thoroughly ignored by the investigators of the Indo-Persian strata in the Ossetian languages.

Surely there were other factors, not a minor of which was a traditional rape of all women after a successful raid or conquest, much like those conducted recently by Serbians in Bosnia and Russians in Chechnya (i.e. Ichkeria). But the bell shape of the distribution shows that intermittent factors dissipate with time, leaving a prehistoric population expansion as a dominating component.

Note: In the citation below I have added in parenthesis the ethnonyms behind the political euphemisms for the North Ossetian and South Ossetian designations. I also returned to the historical term of Persian for the state language of the Persia, which was renamed to "Iran" in 1934 during the heat of the Nazi wave in the 20th century. Since Iran is a multi-ethnic political entity, the Iranian language is a gross misnomer, as it may refer to Arabic, Azeri, Armenian, Kurdish etc languages, while the Persian has a 2 millennia pedigree and can't be confused. Non-authors' clarifications and comments are in shaded boxes.


To cite this article
Nasidze, Ivan, Quinque, Dominique, Dupanloup, Isabelle, Rychkov, Sergey, Naumova, Oksana, Zhukova, Olga & Stoneking, Mark (2004)
Genetic Evidence Concerning the Origins of South and North Ossetians.
Annals of Human Genetics 68 (6), 588-599.
doi: 10.1046/

Citations and comments

Ossetians are a unique group in the Caucasus, in that they are the only ethnic group found on both the north and south slopes of the Caucasus, and moreover they speak a patently non-Indo European agglutinative language laced, in contrast to their Caucasian-speaking neighbors, with reportedly 20% Persian lexical admixture. The analysis for mtDNA HV1 sequences, Y chromosome binary genetic markers, and Y chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) variability in three North Ossetian groups, compared these data to published data for two additional North Ossetian groups and for South Ossetians.


1 Are North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) genetically more closely related to South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) or to other North Caucasus groups;

2 Are South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) genetically more closely related to North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) or to other South Caucasus groups;

3 Which of the two prevailing theories concerning Ossetian origins (an Iranian origin, or a Caucasian origin followed by language replacement) receives support from the genetic data.

Digorian and Ironian

North Ossetian is Digorian, a people distinguished from South Ossetian which is Ironian. These two endoethnonyms reflect the composite structure of the Ossetians, whose ethnonym "Ossetian" is a Russian-made exoethnonym composed during Russian expansion into the Caucasus in the 18th-19th centuries, when some other Caucasian peoples also received various Russian monikers, like Vainakhs became "Chechens". Within the last 250-300 years, Digorians switched to the local dominant Ironian language.


A fertilized egg contains an exact copy of the mother's mtDNA and a mixture of the father and mother's nuclear DNA, but none of the father's mtDNA. The result is that mtDNA is passed on only along the maternal line. This means that all of the mtDNA in the cells of a person's body are copies of their mother's mtDNA, and all of the mother's mtDNA is a copy of her mother's, and so on. No matter how far back you go, mtDNA is always inherited only from the mother.

Table 2 (Excerpts) MtDNA HV1 sequence variability among the Caucasus and West Asian populations

Population Affiliation No. of Haplotypes Nucleotide Diversity Haplotype Diversity MPD Tajima’s D
S. Ossetians, Ironians Study 65 0.018 0.969 6.44 −1.40
N. Ossetians, Digora Study 21 0.016 0.977 5.46 −1.26
N. Ossetians, Ardon Study 19 0.013 0.948 4.65 −1.66
Georgians Kartvel 40 0.014 0.971 5.16 −1.99
Lezginians Kartvel 34 0.016 0.985 5.67 −1.52
Balkarians Türkic 13 0.018 0.975 5.87 −1.15
Karachaians Türkic 10 0.015 0.949 5.31 −1.23
Iranians, Isfahan Persian mix 42 0.017 0.996 6.17 −2.13
Iranians, Tehran Persian mix 63 0.015 0.984 5.53 −2.05
Turks, Ankara Türkic mix 38 0.015 0.999 5.51 −1.91
Abkhazians Adyg 19 0.016 0.969 5.86 −1.25
Adyghe Adyg 32 0.014 0.954 4.98 −1.55
Ingushians Adyg 26 0.013 0.970 4.75 −1.57
Chechenians Adyg 18 0.012 0.972 4.40 −1.67
Cherkessians Adyg 37 0.015 0.986 5.35 −1.98

Figure 2 MDS plots based on pairwise Fst values, showing relationships among the North and South Ossetians, Caucasian, European, Central and West Asian populations.
Ossetians are represented by stars; other Caucasus groups are represented by circles; squares correspond to populations from Europe; Central Asian groups are represented by diamonds; and West Asian populations by triangles.
(Red - Ossetian, Orange - Kartvel, Green - Adyg, Dark Green - Semitic, Blue -Türkic,
Yellow - Persian, Kurd, IE's, Magenta - UgroFinn, Black - unassigned



For both the mtDNA and the Y-SNP data, the geographic classification of populations gave a slightly better fit to the genetic data (in terms of higher among-group variance and lower among-populations-within-groups variance) than did linguistic classifications (Table 4, not cited here).

The mismatch distributions for the Caucasus groups are all roughly bell-shaped, suggesting prehistoric population expansions. This demographic scenario is reinforced by Tajima’s D statistic (Tajima, 1989), which is negative in all of the Caucasus groups, and significantly so in all but the Abkhazians, Balkarians, Karachaians, and Ossetians from Digora (Table 2); negative values of D, together with bell-shaped mismatch distributions, are signatures of population expansions.

The correlation between the geographic and genetic (pairwise Fst) distances separating pairs of Caucasus populations is statistically insignificant. Removing the Karachaians and other possible outliers (Ingushians, Lezginians, Abkhasians, Balkarians, North Ossetians (Digora) and South Ossetians) resulted in a correlation that was slightly higher but still non-significant.

Ossetians from Digora

The table 2, as well as comments of the results, emphasize the genetic distinction of the Digorians from the Ironians, and their similarity with the Adyg group. It is further accentuated by the necessity to exclude the Digorians, and Karachaians and Balkarians, as well as other pairwise Fst outliers including Ironians, as geographic/genetic recusants.

The mtDNA data suggest a common female origin for North and South Ossetians. With respect to mtDNA, Ossetians are significantly more similar to Persian groups than to Caucasian groups. A common origin of Ossetian women from Persia, followed by subsequent male-mediated imprint of their Caucasian neighbors, is the most likely explanation for these results.

Ossetians are more distant female origin from Armenians, the other Indo-European-speaking population of the Caucasus with average Fst= 0.030, than from Caucasian-speaking populations (average Fst= 0.026). However, Ossetians are significantly closer to Iranian-speaking populations from Isfahan and Tehran (average Fst= 0.019) than to Caucasian-speaking populations (average Fst= 0.027). The same trend holds when we compare haplotype sharing between Ossetian and Iranian populations versus Ossetians and their closest geographic neighbors from the Caucasus. South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) share just 4% of their mtDNA sequences with Georgians, whereas they share 12% and 19% of their mtDNA sequences with Iranian-speaking groups from Isfahan and Tehran respectively. The haplotype sharing between North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) and Iranian groups varies from 13% to 31%. With Ingushians, their closest eastern geographic neighbors, North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) share from 22% to 33% of their mtDNA sequences. With Kabardinians, their closest western geographic neighbors, North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) share 26% to 54% of their mtDNA sequences.

So, Digorians share with Ingushians 22% to 33% of their mtDNA, with Kabardinians 26% to 54% of their mtDNA, for a total of 48% to 87%, but still they are closer to the multi-ethnic Iranian samples with whom they share a whopping 13% to 31%. Really, seek, and you will attain.

Ironians have non-Iranian mtDNA 81% to 88%, but still they are found to be closer to the multi-ethnic Iranian samples with whom they share a whopping 12% to 19%. Just keep seeking.

So far so good with maternal mtDNA. Now let's turn to paternal Y chromosome
Y chromosome

Y chromosome is known as one of two the sex chromosomes, called X and Y. Of our 46, 44 are shared between the sexes; the remaining two are X and Y chromosomes. Females have two X chromosomes and men have one X and one Y chromosome. The Y chromosome contains information that determines the male sex and is inherited from father to son. The Y chromosome is passed down from generation to generation with relatively few changes in its DNA, because it escapes the recombination process that reshuffles information in the other 44 chromosomes. This means that the record of the past written in Y-chromosome DNA is relatively simple to interpret, it is a history of male lineages. In the DNA of the Y chromosome are found very rare binary markers Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, two men sharing a particular SNP state in their DNA almost definitely inherited this from a shared ancestor, who may have lived many thousands of years ago. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or haplogroups can be arranged into a 'family tree', or phylogeny. Two men with different haplogroups do not share a recent common ancestor.

Figure 1 (Excerpts) Y-SNP haplogroup frequencies.


S. Ossetia Ironians N. Ossetia Digorians N. Ossetia Ardonians

It is clearly visible how grossly dissimilar are the Ossetian Ironians and Digorians. For comparison, here are the Persian graphs, with somewhat relative similarity between Isfahan and Ironians :

Persians Tehran Persians Isfahan
Unfortunately, the study by Nasidze et al. for some reasons did not include the Türkic Balkars and Karachays, making this Ossetian study deficient and indicating a biased research, whatever the rationalization of the exclusions may be. The Turkey Türks, taken for comparison in the study, are clearly not the nearest neighbors of the Ossetians, making the Türkic comparison lacking. These comparisons would be especially productive in light of the information that the Digorians were Türkic-speaking before their conversion to the Ironian language. The ethnolinguistic map below helps to illustrate better the significance of this "omission":

Digorian neighbors, clockwise - Georgians (Kartvelian), Balkars (Türkic), Kabardinians (Adygs), Chechen-Ingush (Vainakh), Georgians (Kartvelian), Ironians (study)

Ironian neighbors, clockwise - Georgians (Kartvelian), Digorian (study), Georgians (Kartvelian), Armenians (Armenian)


Balkar Türks Karachay Türks
Missing,Oh,Boy Missing,Oh,Boy

The Y-haplogroup data indicate that North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) are more similar to Adygs, a major constituent of the North Caucasian groups, and South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) are more similar to Georgians, the leading member of the Kartvelian group and a major constituent of the South Caucasian groups, than to each other.

Pairwise Fst values indicate substantial differences between South (i.e. Ironians) and North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) (Table 2). The average Fst value between these groups was 0.330, significantly higher than between the other North and South Caucasus groups (average Fst = 0.190); by contrast, the average Fst value between South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) and other North Caucasian populations (i.e. Adygs) (excluding North Ossetians) was only 0.101, and the average Fst between South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) and the other South Caucasus groups (i.e. Kartvelian) was 0.126. North Ossetian (i.e. Digorians) populations were almost as distant from South Caucasian (i.e. Kartvelian) groups as from South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) (average Fst value, excluding South Ossetians, was equal to 0.298), while the average Fst value between North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) and other North Caucasian populations (i.e. Adygs) was significantly lower (average Fst= 0.231). Despite the fact that North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) showed greater similarity with other North Caucasus (i.e. Adygs) populations compared with South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians), the difference in Fst values is not significant.

Pairwise Fst comparisons between Ossetians and Armenians (the Indo-European speaking group from the Caucasus) showed that Ossetians are closer to this group (average Fst= 0.144) than to the Caucasian-speaking groups (average Fst= 0.213). However, the difference in average Fst values is not statistically-significant. Also, Ossetians are about as distant from Iranian-speaking groups from Isfahan and Tehran (average Fst= 0.204), as from non-Indo-European speaking West Asian groups (average Fst= 0.215; t = 0.103, p = 0.920).

The MDS analysis (Figure 2B) further illustrates the patterns observed in the pairwise Fst comparisons. South Ossetians are distinct from a loose cluster of the North Ossetian groups. The South Ossetians cluster with South and North Caucasian groups and with West Asian groups. Ossetians from Ardon are somewhat separated from the other North Ossetian groups, being closer to the cluster of Caucasian and West Asian groups. The overall high level of Y-chromosome diversity exhibited by Ossetian populations is reflected in the large area they occupy on the MDS plot. We also repeated the MDS analysis without South Ossetians, in order to use information for the haplogroup G*(M201). The result of this analysis (not shown) did not reveal any differences from the analysis without haplogroup G*(M201).

Figure 3 Median network constructed based on Y chromosome STRs on the background of Y-SNP haplogroup G (M201).
Cluster A corresponds to Y-STR haplotypes found in the Digora population,
while cluster B corresponds to the Y-STR haplotypes found in the rest of Ossetian groups.
( http://www.eva.mpg.de/genetics/pdf/Nasidze.AnHG.2004.pdf)

ADD test: Do the balls touch each other?

Hint: For a complete answer click on the link above.

The Ossetians speak a language with reportedly 20% Persian admixture, where the "Persian" is a documented mixture of Hindi, W. Semitic, Türkic and Dravidian languages of the period from the 6th c BC to pre-Pahlavi 3rd c AD. Does the Persian admixture exists because they are directly descended from a Persian-speaking group, or is it because Ossetians, who are genetically resembling their geographic neighbors in the Caucasus, mixed their ancestral Caucasian language with a Persian language, after contact with a Persian-speaking group?

V.I. Abaev's lexical stratification of the indiscriminate Ironian + Digorian Ossetian language conglomerate.

Akin to stratification of a fish soup/beef stew combination, or English/Aztecan combination.
I bet you that Aztec would turn out to be as Indo-European as Ossetian, with few later debasements of Am-Indian lexicon.
Not too scientific linguistically, the analysis served the V.I. Abaev's goals,
and it provides us with rudimentary factual data irrespective of the nature of his goals. But what a mastery of phrasing! The late V.I. Abaev missed a great carrier in Brooklyn selling bridges.


Take a peek at what "North-Eastern Iranian" Ossetian language is all about
(V.I.Abaev, OLAF, p 103)

V.I.Abaev: The Ossetian language phonetically comes most of all close to the Georgian and Armenian languages (i.e. phonetically both non Indo-European). For the Indo-European languages these phonemes are alien.
Morphology V.I.Abaev: Ossetian language has ...alien to the all Iranian world fully developed agglutinating declination. Instead of the flective Ancient Iranian (and respectively Indo-European) system of declination we find in the Ossetian the agglutinating declination, similar to the neighboring Caucasian languages of the Kartvelian and Eastern Mountaineer groups. The Ossetian has ... a system of case endings and declination of the declination type in the agglutinating languages: Turkic, Finno-Ugrian, some Caucasian. ... (what a nifty way to say that i.e. morphology is simply non Indo-European)
Syntax V.I.Abaev: Each Ossetian case finds more or less exact typological equivalent in the declination of some of the Caucasian languages with the same semantical meaning and the same syntax function. (what a circuitous Byzantian way to say that i.e. syntax is just non Indo-European)
Click here for details


Q1 Are North (i.e. Digorians) and South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) more genetically similar to each other, or to their geographic neighbours (i.e., Caucasian-speaking populations in the North and South Caucasus, respectively)?

A1 The results are somewhat different for mtDNA vs. the Y-chromosome. North (i.e. Digorians) and South (i.e. Ironians) Ossetians do cluster somewhat in the MDS plot based on mtDNA (Fig. 2A), which may indicate a common origin. However, for the Y-chromosome, North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) are more similar to other North Caucasian populations, and South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) to other South Caucasian populations, than to each other.

There is no indication in the Y-chromosome of a particularly close genetic relationship between N. Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) and S. Ossetians (i.e. Ironians). If they did have a common origin in the past, it has apparently become obscured by subsequent gene flow with their geographic neighbors on the same sides of the Caucasus Mountains.

Q2 Are North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) genetically more closely related to South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) or to other South Caucasus groups?

A2 Genetic distances between North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) and South Ossetians (i.e. Ironians) are similar to those between North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) and South Caucasus (i.e Kartvels) groups, but the genetic distances between North Ossetians (i.e. Digorians) and other North Caucasus (I.e Adygs) groups are much smaller.

Q3 Which of the two prevailing theories concerning Ossetian origins (an Iranian origin, or a Caucasian origin followed by language augmentation) receives support from the genetic data.

Average pairwise Fst values are smaller between Ossetians and Persians than between Ossetians and Caucasians for both mtDNA and the Y chromosome, significantly so for mtDNA, which should have substantiated a Persian origin of Ossetians. Subsequent and largely male-mediated breeding between female Ossetians and neighboring groups in the North and South Caucasus, respectively, would explain the greater similarity between Ossetians and Caucasians for the Y-chromosome.

In conclusion, the genetic results are supported by the archaeological record, in that they reflect a presence of a common Persian origin of South (i.e. Ironians) and North (i.e. Digorians) Ossetians along the female line, as well as a genetic footprint of ancient reproduction in the North Caucasus that mostly involved male individuals. Thus, genetic studies of such complex and multiple reproduction as the Ossetians can provide additional insights into the circumstances surrounding such crossbreeding.

Looking at the facts presented by the authors, the conclusion number 3 seems to be not only unsubstantiated, but in a direct opposition of the facts and analysis given in the body of the work. The conclusion number 3 is clearly a direct objective rather than sought, and it does not allow any facts to get in its way.


In Russian
Genetics: Blood Types
Genetics: Lingo-Ethnical Tree

Scytho-Siberian Genetics
Etruscan Genetics
Eastern Hun Genetics
Ethnic Affiliation Scythians
Scythians 7 c. BC
Pazyryk 4-2 c. BC
Burial place of a Massagetan warrior 8-7 c. BC
Scythians and their descendents
Alan Dateline
Avar Dateline
Besenyo Dateline
Bulgar Dateline
Huns Dateline
Kipchak Dateline
Sabir Dateline



Saturday, November 05, 2005

Scythians Ethnic History


Scythians Ethnic Affiliation

The following discourse addresses the reasons for the current universal acceptance by the scientific community of the preposition that the Scythians were unambiguously Indo-European, and specifically Iranian speaking, and the methods to reach this conclusion. It does not address the attribution of the Scythians to a particular ethnic community. The acceptance of the Indo-European theory has a long history, and its history in itself is an interesting subject of study. The scholars of a number of nations were involved in the Scythian studies, because geographically, the Scythian area covers an enormous territory. The Russian politicians and scientists, who had a special interest in these studies, and the German scholars, who made decisive contributions to the subject, led the way in establishing the criteria, methods, and conclusions currently shared by the scientific community at large. Since I am more familiar with the history and attitudes in the Russian studies, I will mostly stay within the limits of the Russian science.

In pre-1700’s, the Scythians were known in the Western Europe, and from there in Russia, from the works of the ancient writers, principally Herodotus. At that time, the accepted wisdom was that the Herodotus’ Scythians were the precursors of Türks, with the Türks branching into Slavic, Mongol, Finnish, Baltic, Ugrian, and unspecified other variations. There was a millennia-long string of historical references linking Herodotus’ Scythians with the Türks, so there was no need to question this postulate. That is, until the Northern Pontic area fell into the lap of the Russian Empire, there was no archeology to contend with. And only when the kurgans and their contents became known in the West, the question of their attribution came to the attention of the Western scientists. The archeological excavations in the 19th c. showed that Herodotus and other historians faithfully recorded the specks of the history of the Eurasian peoples. The archeological excavations created a tremendous opportunity to analyze and absorb the newly found predecessors into the “We-world” of the Western Europe.

A Polish aristocrat in the service of Russia, Jan Potocki at about 1805 gave instruction to Heinrich Julius von Klaproth (1783-1835) for ethnographic journey to the recently seized N. Caucasus, who published the work "Reise in den Kaukasus und nach Georgien unternommen in den Jahren 1807 und 1808" (I-II, Halle and Berlin 1812-14); in an appendix, entitled "Kaukasische Sprachen", for the first time von Klaproth formulated a hypothesis of Scytho-Sarmatian origin of Ossetic. In his later work, "Memoire dans lequel on prouve 1'identite des Ossetes, peuplade du Caucase, avec les Alains du moyen-age" (Nouvelles annales des voyages 16, 1822, p. 243-56), von Klaproth completed the sequence Scytho-Sarmatians > Alans > Ossetes. (9)

That hypothesis was furthered by K. Zeiss with a work published in the 1837 in Munich, that suggested to identify Scythians with the Iranian-lingual tribes based on the religion, territory of Iranians and the common Scythian and Persian words (1). At that time, in the Western culture the contemporary concept of racism did not exist, it was perfectly clear that the humans are divided into superiors and inferiors, and that anything worth of attention was produced by the superior races. The inferiors could at best only approach the superiors, and in the worst case were savages. The superior art and skills of the kurgan burials, brought to the attention of the Western European scientists, were undoubtedly civilized, i.e. European. The extent of the classification was matching the erudition and mindset of the classifier (2). This trend endured in the consecutive European research. The 2000 monograph that compiles sources on the Alans, is outstanding in bringing into the scientific fold a listing of 200 sources, but in a peculiar tunnel vision it ignores obvious non-IE etymologies, while repeating the improbable dainties of count Vs. Miller in service of Russia, and V.I.Abaev in service of Russia (9, a shy tiny footnote on page 2 is all it takes to base a scientific analysis of a major work).

In the era when a peer review was not yet canonized, the flattering deductions of the urban dwelling sedentary Indo-European cabinet scientists were received with enthusiasm accorded to the reputation of the experts. There were alternate opinions, like those of K. Neumann, 1855 (3), who came to differing conclusions. The alternate opinions managed to introduce a factor of inconclusiveness in the concept, but failed to impress the scientific community into revising the upsurging concept. Some scholars hedged their opinions by qualifiers. The others dropped the shades and selected sides, joining the universal acceptance by the scientific community of the Indo-European concept.

One of the reasons that unbalanced the scales was the geographical extent of the archeological artifacts. In the 19-20 centuries, though the most prominent kurgans were concentrated in the vicinity of the Northern Pontic, the European kurgan burials were found in the area that extended from the southern desert to the forest zone in the north, and from the German lands to Volga. The organized and civilized societies they represented were not savages, i.e. could not be Mongolian, Finnish, Ugrian, Türkic, Bask, Albanian etc., but definitely the civilized Indo-European. Europe could not be inhabited by the non- Indo-Europeans, not to that extent.

The “discovery” of kurgans coincided with the discoveries in the Russian historical studies of the times. Early in the 18th century, ruler of the emerging Russian Empire, Peter I, undertook to hire the best European historians to write a Russian history. At the time, the budding Empire was a quilt of recently subjugated nations, including Slavic and foreign. The need for a unifying ideology was urgent, and so was the need for the ideological justifications of the future acquisitions. The superiority of the Slavs was an axiom, but it needed a historical validation. After a much reading into the Russian Primary Chronicles, it was re-established that the Russian ruling class descended from the Scandinavians, and the Slavic folks came from the Carpathians. V.Tatischev, M.Lomonosov, and N.Karamzin suggested that the Slavs traced back to Scythians or Sarmatians. The Scythians at that time were regarded as Turkic, and the Sarmatians as multi-ethnic Indo-Europeans. Both classifications were mostly of a speculative nature.

Today, the search for the Slavic roots has a 300 years history. Among the main autochthonous theories is the Vistula basin, Dniepr, and Carpathians. The supposed historical predecessors are Veneds and Balto-Slavs for the folks, and Scandinavians and Balto-Slavs for the ruling class. Thousands of history books and encyclopedias were published in the past 3 centuries. The fabled Solovyev history is contained in 50-some volumes. To whatever detail went the search, it stopped down at the 9th century, taking a super vague view to the time before that. Up until now, the recorded facts related to the pre-9th century Slavic history do not exist as far as the Russian historiography is concerned.

The Russian historiography cannot reconcile the record about Slavs, serving in the Atilla’s army together with his German subjects, with the coming of Ruriks to govern the Slavs. The Hunnish period lasted for 130 years, from c. 420 to c. 558, impacting the Slavic tribes. The following 250-year period of life in the Avar Kaganate from 558 to 805 also must have shaped and impacted the Slavic tribes. In the Indo-European scheme of the Russian historiography this period does not exist. Did Slavs come out more indigenous after 250 years of Avaric rule than, say, Volga Bolgars after 250 years of the Slavic rule? There is no research on the Avar period, moreover, neither the Avar nor Hunnish periods ever existed in the Slavic history, as far as the Russian historiography is concerned. The following period of the Khazarian rule, when the Eastern Slavs were members of the Khazarian Kaganate, and their Scandinavian mercenary rulers were in the service of the Khazarian state, also conveniently does not exist. Also does not exist the Bolgar period, when the Eastern Slavs were members of the Bolgarian Kaganate and its remnant Beilyks. In the Imperial period, that ended in 1917, the history of the peoples did not exist, and the history of the territories started from the time of their conquest. In the Soviet period, the contents of the official Russian history remained about the same, with added spice of civilization benefits, generosity, and friendship that the Russian conquerors showered on the subjected peoples.

In the Soviet Russia the handling of the history on a number of occasions led to a country-wide crises, when the old books had to be expediently destroyed in all libraries, homes and schools in the country, while the new versions were hurriedly written or approved or published. By the time Orwell published his “1984”, it has already happened, and many times after that. The earliest records of the historical manipulations trace back to the 1500, when the emerging Moscow kingdom clamed the Lithuanian lands. In the Imperial period, the re-creation of the history became a full-blown trade. In the Soviet period, it reached a state of an art carried by industrial methods. The re-invention of the history was always inspired by the ruling officialdom, soon permeating the whole society, when the population was shaped mostly in the primary and secondary school systems. In the later Imperial period, the local historical and archeological societies had a chance to document facts inconsistent with the official historiography. In the Soviet period, any remnants of the independent thought were eradicated, usually together with their carriers. In these conditions, a concept of a peer review was distorted to a caricature. The heavy jelly of the official historiography gripped both the reviewed and the reviewer. In most cases, the rules of behavior were not stated, they had to be understood with the guts.

In the upper echelons of the scientific establishment, a heavy handed system of pre-qualifications, tests in the politically correct subjects, and august referrals remains to ensure that only conformist scholars had the opportunity for the scientific research. The ability to research and publish is rigidly linked to the ability to conform to the correct line. This is a backbone of the Russian historical science, and it encompasses the contributory sciences of archeology, linguistics, numismatics, anthropology, culture, literature etc. In the absence of a free research, the science industry was flooded by quasi-scientific research, which became an accepted norm for a scientific carrier. In the Scythian studies, the politically correct line is the Indo-European attribution, and any personal development is possible only toiling the correct path, facts or no facts notwithstanding.

Generations of scientists of all disciplines participated in the Russian Scythian studies. Initially, the Indo-European classification of the Scythians had a weak justification, and it had to develop against the accepted beliefs based on the evidence of the contemporaries. At the same time, it was fitting well into the German and Russian nationalist agenda, providing a pedigree of traceability extending beyond the Bronze Age. In the last 160 years, which passed since 1837, was developed the linguistical and anthropological evidence necessary to convert a maverick idea into a postulate widely accepted by the scientific community.

The 1949 work of V. Abaev was a cardinal contribution to the factual material(4). The scientific value of the work is well defined by the words of the author himself, that in Scythian language "all we cannot explain with the help of Iranian, actually cannot be explained at all". Disavowing that work would send much of the Indo-European theory crushing. On the other hand, linking the glorious past of the ancient Great Power with a contemporary obscure ethnical group within the Russian multiethnic powder keg was a significant achievement by the ruling plutocracy. It was well timed with the politically correct task of the day, that is to substantiate scientifically the deportation of the number of ethnic, mostly Türkic, people from the territories conquered by the Russian Empire in the previous century. V. Abaev’s work was a living proof that from the ancient historical times the Indo-European population inhabited the Northern Pontic and Caspian territories, and the deported nations were late migrants who took possession of the territory belonging to the autochthonous population. It was published 6 years after the Russian rulers assigned to all Russian historians a task of re-writing the history, de-linking the population of the Northern Caucasus, Kama and Volga region from the ancient inhabitants, and re-associating with to the popularly hated Tatar-Mongol invaders.

About the scientific validity of the work not much can be said. Any notion of a peer review in Russia cannot be taken seriously. The obscurity of the Ossetian language, and a vacuum in the studies of its linguistic history, make it unlikely that peers will ever review the Ossetian theory. The Iranians, found to be speaking the Scythian language, are completely mum on the subject. The other significant Iranian speaking groups, like Pashtuns, are also silent. So, it is left to those Indo-European scholars of the Iranian languages to explain the etymology of the Ossetian/Iranian Scythian vocabulary, and provide the incontestable proof to the scientific community at large. And the mightily supported Indo-European theory, untested, unchallenged and un-peer reviewed, for now stands. The verdict reads "North-East Middle Iranian language". For a side observer, that should mean that a random contemporary speaker of the "North-East Middle Iranian language" should at least get a clue hearing another "North-East Middle Iranian language" speaker. Ossetians would not manage to squeeze in this category, with their 80% lexically non-IE language, and 100% phonetically, morphologically, and sintaxically non-IE language. Finns have better chances understanding Greeks.

The flow of quasi-scientific research papers linking the known Scythian vocabulary to this or that obscure language, found in some mountain valley with few speakers, still proliferates, without a chance for a second opinion due to the absence of experts in that language, or the studies of the underlying language itself. Frequently, these works tell more about the writer than about the subject of the work. I. Pyankov, for example, attributes to the Irano-Scythians the plural suffix ty/ta, evidently without having even a rudimentary acquaintance with the fact that this suffix, for example, is also a Türkic suffix. Specifically, in modern Turkish it is a place case suffix, denoting the case "where something is/has been/will be' or 'where something occurs/has occurred/will occur", and used after ch, f, h, k, p, s, sh, or t, as in 'kitapta' - in the book or 'jipte' - in the jip. So, even without the well-known uncertainty caused by the fluidity of the vowels, the linguistic argumentation is presumptuous. But I. Pyankov proceeds to classify the Scythian language as the Iranian type based on a presence in the contemporary group vocabulary of a single letter t (5). This quasi-scientific process is mirrored in the science of physical anthropology, in Russian called simply the anthropology

Scythian images are known from the earliest historical times well into the first millennia A.D. Scythians looked European. They looked enough European to qualify for the Indo-European pedigree. And from here flows their ancestry. By a reverse projection, the Afanasevo, 2500-1700 BC, and Andronovo, 1700-1200 BC, populations are swept into the Indo-European fold, creating a cradle for all Indo-Europeans and filling in the blanks for the Indo-European dissemination. True, the Scythians did not look any more Indo-European than the European Finns, Basks, Albanians, Etruscans and other patently non Indo-European inhabitants of Europe. Here the historical linguistics comes to aid. The physical anthropology shows Scythians as Caucasians, and the linguistics shows them as Indo-European Caucasians. In other words, they are Iranian Ossetians. Iranian Ossetians from Sea to shining Sea.

The archeological expeditions uncovered sufficient remains to produce detailed anthropological studies. Some remains were found frozen and in perfect condition for the scientific studies. The Russian anthropology is built on the concepts of J. Blumenbach, 1752 - 1840, who proposed a system for classifying humans into five different races based on the anatomy, and E. Hooton, 1887 – 1954, who framed it in a very descriptive format with careful measurements and anatomical details. And the super task of the Russian anthropological and archeological studies is to show the autochthony of the Indo-European and, if a slightest hint can be found, of the Slavic population in the region of the study. In the Scythian region, the silent craniums are either Mongoloids and therefore Ural-Altaics, or Caucasoids and therefore Indo-Europeans. They cannot be non-Indo-European Caucasoids. The archeological dating and cultural classification make the Caucasoid finds to speak Iranian or Slavic. Thus the anthropology supports the Indo-European theory. Even in the cases when no faithfully described artifacts indicate an Indo-Iranism, the title and preamble of the publication invariably attribute the artifacts to the Indo-Iranism.

A crucial role in the Indo-Iranian attribution is given to Veda. Everywhere, where the Caucasian remains are found, works the irrefutable logical chain of the site-artifact-Veda-Iranian language. The Caucasians are determined by their noses. A flat face produces a Mongoloid, and a flaring nose produces a Caucasian, invariably an Iranian/Ossetian speaking. An Iranian Caucasian, taking a Mongoloid wife, produces a Caucasian Iranian/Ossetian speaking male offspring, and a Mongoloid daughter of unattributable descent. The expeditions, investigating the Scythian territories, like a lasting Khoresmian Expedition, invariably discover a layer of the Caucasian Iranian speaking stock, proving over again the Ossetian nature of the Scythians. Never mind that Ammianus called the Persians subnigri. Never mind that the definitely Europoid Scythians were often depicted with thin beards (H. Schoppa 1933, 21-22). In 443 AD the Alans of Sapaudia (Lyon) showed a Mongoloid strain. Never mind individuals of the South Siberian type were among the Sarmatians at Kalinovka in the Volga region. There must be Iranian black subnigri and white subnigri, Iranian Mongoloids and Iranian South Siberians. They've got to fit the Iranian doctrine. And like in the other instances, most of the Slavic ends were frequently produced using non-Slavic people in the service of the Slavic-dominated state.

The review of the politically correct scientific half-truths and outright falsifications would not be complete without addressing the treatment of the unsuitable facts.

Time to time the life brings to light a fact that contradicts the official theory. In Russia, the facts can be disposed of by explaining them away, silencing them, ignoring them, or destroying them. One example of explaining away is the attribution of a fact to an import, like the nomadic animal art copied from the advanced Iranian/Greek/Mediterranean settled population. The silencing is best done by hiding it, like the Scythian artifacts hidden in the storage of Hermitage, to hide the splendor and skill of the population preceding the Slavic migrants. The inscriptions can be ignored, to retain the concept of the illiteracy of the nomadic population, invariably repeated in every publication. And the destruction continues on an industrial scale, some by design, some by shear negligence. Cities and kurgans are being ploughed over, records and bones destroyed, samples not analyzed, results not published, the hand written records and collections of the pre-Soviet time archeological societies lost and destroyed. Whatever are the means, the official theory remains unscathed. The former USSR and now the Russian Academy of Sciences has a long history of never acknowledging the evidence that contradicts the official stance. Historically, it was not an enviable preposition for a Russian scientist: either silence, or else.

The dissenters, who exist in all societies and in all times, had to either remain silent, or pay a heavy toll. Here again existed a circus air, when even the loyal followers could be labeled dissenters upon a turn in the official position. Like in the Imperial times, in the Soviet time some dissent always survived in a camouflaged form, masked as poetry, novels, anti anti-official assertions, and other innocently looking works. Usually the camouflage was supported by a loyal lip service in the beginning paragraphs. Not infrequently, both the august referent and the author worked in tandem disguising the true substance of the work.

The Iranian/Ossetian Scythian theory has all the traits of a politically correct theory. It is built on a thinnest foundation of an obscure language, and is not supported by the evidence and foresight connected with what is usually called a scientific theory. The cultural heritage, traceable for millennia among other peoples of the world, has not been shown to display links between the Ossetian, Pashtu, or other Iranian speaking peoples, and the details of the Scythian life described by the ancient writers. No traces, specific to the Scythian nomadism of the historical period, found their parallels in the historically documented Indo-European societies. It is well shown in the work of a prominent export on nomadism A. Khazanov(6).

The extensive Indo-European ethnology documents such cultural attributes as dress, food, drinks, conservation of produce, family relationships, housing, sanitary traditions, military traditions, societal organization, cosmological concepts, literary traditions, mythological and folk tale traditions, art, and a myriad of other traits. In many cases, the prominence of these traits far exceeds the significance of the other characteristics. For example, the Scythian mercenaries were a major, if not the only, force in the armies of a number of the states, during almost a millennia period. The Scythian warriors in the Scythian conical hats, Scythian boots, Scythian pants, on the Scythian horses and with Scythian composite bows are shown innumerable times in the historical records and became a staple image of the generic Scythian. The Ossetian ethnography of the historical period would have to come up with at least a remote echo of these mercenary military traditions wearing Ossetian conical hats, Ossetian boots, Ossetian pants, riding the Ossetian horses and with Ossetian composite bows. In the absence of such ethnological links, the Indo-European theory would remain a murky propaganda myth. The so-called universal acceptance can become a scientific concept only when the multidisciplinary evidence converges to the same conclusion.

The anthropological studies of the ethnography should have traceable, statistically significant, links between the Scythian and Indo-European populations. The genetic make-up of the populations is a powerful tool that will be used for the studies that are practically non-existent now.(7). The blood type, predominating in the Indo-European people, should be visibly present in the Scythian population(8). The absence of such studies in Russia is explained by the insufficient funds and a shortage of specialists, to the convenience of the supporters of the status quo. The anthropological aspect of the archeological research should extend beyond the fossilized nose angle criteria anthropology, to be complemented by the dental, skeletal, foramental and other telltale traits of the physical anthropology. The absence of the multidisciplinary studies, which, in the vision of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza would include the “paleoanthropology, archeology, ecology, history, demography, sociology, cultural and physical anthropology, linguistics, toponomastics and anthroponymy”, does not give much credence to the “universal acceptance” by the scientific community of the preposition that the Scythians were unambiguously Indo-European.

The search for Indo-European roots, whether explicit or implicit, is a substantial driving force subsidizing the expensive archeological research. Without a doubt, the Sakian and Scythian studies would have been on a much smaller scale if they did not have the Indo-European connotations. The financial participation of the Western scientific organizations in many cases was the major incentive in the planning of the direction for the archeological research. It is possible that the acceptance of the alternate concept would substantially dry up the research funds available with the Indo-European preposition, depleting the field from the specialists and damaging the progress in the field. In this regard, the half-truths, misinformation, and twisted facts are a good tactic to maintain the interest in the Scythian field. So far, not a single sentence had been translated, etymologically meaningfully, using any reincarnation of the Indo-European languages. If the search for the Indo-European roots results in a conclusion truthfully proving the Indo-European theory, both the partisans of the Indo-European theory, and its opponents will benefit. And if it results in a conclusion inconsistent with the Indo-European theory, once again both the partisans of the Indo-European theory, and its opponents will benefit.


(1) A. Dovatur, Narody nashei strany v “Istorii” Gerodota (People of our state in the History by Herodotus), 1982

(2) re K.Mullenchoff, see M. Zakiev, Problems Of The History And Language, 1995

(3) K.Neumann, Die Hellene im Skythenlande (Berlin, 1855), Mongolian hypothesis

(4) V.I.Abaev Ossetian language and folklore. M. L. 1949

(5)I. Pyiankov, The Ethnicity Of The Sakas (Scythians), http://home.btconnect.com/CAIS/History/prehistory/saka.htm

(6) A.Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World, Cambridge University Press, 1984

(7) http://www.balzan.it/english/pb1999/cavalli/paper.htm (Sforza)

(8) http://anthro.palomar.edu/vary/vary_3.htm

(9) Agusti Alemany, Sources On The Alans. Critical Compilation, 2000


Additional Literature

Kuklina I.V., 1985. Scythian ethnography in the antique sources. L.
Lyzlov А., 1787. Scythian history, composed and written in the year 1692. M.
Semenov-Zuser S.A., 1947. Scythian problematics in the Russian science // Attempt in the historiography of the Scythians. Ch. 1. Kharkov.

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I live in Los Angeles and I work with computer related jobs. I speak 4 languages. I am married to a Persian girl who is from a region where the Persian Empire was based.