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DNA analysis suggests people migrated from Siberia to Finland 3,500 years ago

The new research offers a glimpse of human movement across Fennoscandia between 3,500 and 1,500 years ago.

By
Brooks Hays
An artistic rendering pictures an ancient fisherman from Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov, an island along modern day Russia's Kola Peninsula. Photo by Kerttu Majander
An artistic rendering pictures an ancient fisherman from Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov, an island along modern day Russia's Kola Peninsula. Photo by Kerttu Majander

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- For the first time, scientists have used genetic analysis to confirm the link between Finland and Siberia.

The research showed Siberian ancestry migrated from Russia's Kola Peninsula to Finland several thousand years ago.

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Scientists confirmed the link by comparing DNA from 3,500-year-old bones and teeth recovered from Bolshoy Oleny Island, located along the Kola Peninsula, to DNA from remains excavated from a 1,500-year-old water burial in Finland.

The findings -- published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications -- offered new insights into the genetic origins of early Finnish settlers.

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"Our analyses show that Siberian ancestry entered the Bolshoy population around 4,000 years ago," Thiseas Christos Lamnidis, researcher at the Max-Planck-Institute for the Science of Human History, told UPI. "The first solid evidence of Siberian ancestry is observed 500 years later in the Kola Peninsula, but it is possible that Siberian ancestry was present in Fennoscandia before that time. It is also likely that Siberian ancestry arrived in many waves."

The new research also showed the Saami people, an indigenous people now living in the northern part of Scandinavia, once lived in the southern half of mainland Finland.

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When scientists compared the DNA collected from the ancient water burial -- remains belonging to an Iron Age people living in the Levänluhta region of Western Finland -- to the DNA of Saami people, they found a similar genetic profile.

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"We tested if each sampled individual from Levänluhta shared more genetic information with a set of worldwide populations than present-day Finns or Saami do," Lamnidis said. "A lack of significant differences in such a comparison indicate that the Levänluhta population is genetically more closely related to the present-day Saami, and less closely related to modern Finns."

The genetic similarity explains the significant concentration of Siberian gene signatures still present in the genome of present day Saami people.

"It is suggested both historically and linguistically that the earlier inhabitants of Finland were Saami groups, while Finnish-speaking groups are said to have arrived in Finland circa 1,000 years ago," Lamnidis said. "This study offers the first genetic evidence of this hypothesis, based on ancient DNA."

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But while the new research offers a glimpse of human movement across the region between 3,500 and 1,500 years ago, the peopling of Fennoscandia -- the region encompassing Finland, Norway, Sweden and parts of Russia -- is still poorly understood.

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The authors of the new study acknowledge that more genetic analysis is needed to broaden the story of ancient human migration in the region.

"In our study we show this ancestry to be absent from the Baltics in the Bronze Age, but present in the present-day Estonians, which raises the question of when did the ancestry spread to the Baltics," Lamnidis said. "More ancient DNA studies from Fennoscandia could also help pinpoint when this ancestry first arrived."

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