DNA reveals secrets of ancient nomadic empires –

Excavation Site of Huns Tomb in Western Mongolia / J. Bayarsaikhan

Published Wednesday 2023.04.19 18:07 JST

(CNN) From 200 BC to the 3rd century AD, nomadic empires ruled the Asian plains. They traded along the Silk Roads, built elaborate cemeteries for the dead, and conquered faraway lands on horseback.

The ancient Chinese dynasty known as the Xiongnu, a powerful opponent of the empire, built the Great Wall for defense. Some of them still exist.

However, the written sources that tell the history of that era are only the descriptions of Chinese chroniclers. Among them, the Huns are regarded as barbaric tribes, but the true image of the empire and the nation has long been sealed in the shadow of history.

But now, a combination of ancient DNA evidence and recent archaeological digs is on the verge of unraveling the secrets of one of the most powerful political forces of its time.

An international team of scientists has just completed a genetic study of two cemeteries in the western part of the Hun-controlled area. Located in what is now Mongolia, these cemeteries were built for elite bureaucrats and local dignitaries respectively.

Scientists analyzed the genetic information of 17 people buried in the two cemeteries. They found “extremely high levels” of genetic diversity. This makes it more likely that the Hunnic Empire was multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual. A paper on the new research was published today in the journal Science Advances.

This genetic diversity in individual communities suggests that the Hunnic Empire was more than a homogenous group bound together by common interests.

Gold sun and moon representation used as the symbol of the Huns

“It gives us a deeper understanding of how the Huns expanded their power. They united different groups and used marriage and kinship to build an empire.” Senior author of the paper Chun Jung- won explained in a press release.

Among the private graves studied, the highest category was female graves. This suggests that women played a particularly strong role in Hunnic society. The golden sun and moon pattern on the exquisite coffin is a symbol of the power of the Huns. One grave contained the remains of six horses and an ancient chariot believed to have been drawn by them.

Brian Miller, an assistant professor of Central Asian art and archaeology at the University of Michigan who also worked on the study, said these elite women were held in high esteem and were mentioned by everyone who attended the funeral. He pointed out that many offerings were made. Throughout his life, he continued to play an important role in the community’s society, he said.

In addition, juvenile Huns were also found buried with bows and arrows like adult males. No such grave goods were found on boys under the age of 11.

Ursula Broseder, a prehistoric archaeologist at the University of Bonn in Germany, said genetic studies have given us a better understanding of the social structure of the Huns. He expressed the hope that this kind of research can make further progress in the future.

He said the Huns were often misunderstood. Most of the information about political regimes that appeared on the Eurasian Plain, including the Xiongnu, comes from Chinese and ancient Greek documents, most of which regard nomads as inferior.

In fact, the Huns’ legacy was so strong that later nomadic kingdoms that arose on the Eurasian plain were influenced by them, Miller said. It is said that the Mongol Empire with Genghis Khan as its founding emperor is one of them.

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