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Genetic evidence suggests a sense of family, parity and conquest in the Xiongnu Iron Age nomads of Mongolia

Abstract

In an effort to characterize the people who composed the groups known as the Xiongnu, nuclear and whole mitochondrial DNA data were generated from the skeletal remains of 52 individuals excavated from the Tamir Ulaan Khoshuu (TUK) cemetery in Central Mongolia. This burial site, attributed to the Xiongnu period, was used from the first century BC to the first century AD. Kinship analyses were conducted using autosomal and Y-chromosomal DNA markers along with complete sequences of the mitochondrial genome. These analyses suggested close kin relationships between many individuals. Nineteen such individuals composed a large family spanning five generations. Within this family, we determined that a woman was of especially high status; this is a novel insight into the structure and hierarchy of societies from the Xiongnu period. Moreover, our findings confirmed that the Xiongnu had a strongly admixed mitochondrial and Y-chromosome gene pools and revealed a significant western component in the Xiongnu group studied. Using a fine-scale approach (haplotype instead of haplogroup-level information), we propose Scytho-Siberians as ancestors of the Xiongnu and Huns as their descendants.

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This research was supported by the CNRS and the INTS.

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CK: writing, analysis of genetic data, and project supervision; VZ: supervision of the statistical analyses; AG: laboratory work, analysis of genetic data; JLF: production of figures, statistical analysis; TT: supervision of archeological operations (Mongolian side); FJ: laboratory work, analysis of whole mitochondrial DNA; PG: production of figures, collection of ancient samples, analysis of archeological material; SD: collection of ancient samples, analysis of archeological material; EC: supervision of archeological operations (French side), collection of ancient samples, analysis of archeological material; BL: project supervisor.

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Correspondence to Christine Keyser.

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Supplementary file1 Figure S1: Description of the five parent/offspring pairs identified outside the multi-generational family. Arrows indicate the impossibility to determine which individual was the parent or the child. (PDF 26 kb)

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Keyser, C., Zvénigorosky, V., Gonzalez, A. et al. Genetic evidence suggests a sense of family, parity and conquest in the Xiongnu Iron Age nomads of Mongolia. Hum Genet 140, 349–359 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00439-020-02209-4

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