(Chapter VII, section 2)

The Finno-Ugrians

In the preceding chapter it has been shown that the Indo-European languages were probably formed somewhere on the plain of southern Russia or western Turkestan, by a blending of languages spoken by peoples in a Neolithic or early Copper Age stage of culture. One of the two linguistic elements in this blend has been positively identified with Finno-Ugrian, which at the same time forms one of the two lateral divisions of the Ural Altaic stock, the fundamental unity of which is under question.1 The blending of Finno-Ugrian with the B element which produced Indo-European languages took place at some time n o earlier than the last few centuries of the fourth millennium B.C., well after the acquisition of agriculture and animal husbandry by western Asiatic peoples, and before the adoption of a complete Bronze Age technology by the inhabitants of the plains north of the Caucasus and the Iranian plateau. The Finnish speakers, who contributed so largely to Indo-European speech at that time, must have been residents of the plains at the time of their meeting with the bringers of Caucasic speech with which their own language was united. At the same time, they must inevitably have contributed to the formation of the racial blend with which the resulting Indo-European language, were early identified.

The historic Finno-Ugrians, of whom frequent mention has been made in the past, with little elucidation, include in the first branch all of the Finnish-speaking tribes of central and northern Russia, the Esthonians, and the Baltic Finns, as well as the Lapps, who speak an archaic Finnish dialect; in the second, the ancestors of the Magyars, the Bolgars, and the Siberian Ostiaks and Voguls.2 At the time of their first historical mention, in the classical period, they seem to have been united in central and northern Russia. The Finns were centered about the middle course of the Volga, and west to the country occupied by the Baits and the Slavs; the Ugri between the Volga and the Urals. In the sense that they occupied one unified territory from which they later spread, they emulated the behavior of their Indo-European-speaking neighbors. Movement to the south was inhibited, in historic times, by the presence of the Scythians and Sarmatians; before the rise of these horse-nomads, however, they must at some time have been in contact with Caucasic-speaking peoples, who may have included the mysterious pre-Scyths, the Cimmerians, the remnants of whose speech have been likened to modern Cherkess.3

A Finnish expansion took place in historic time, and during the Christian era. It consisted of the following movements: the migration of the ancestors of the Baltic Finns to the northwest, largely as a result of Slavic and Letto-Lithuanian pressure - this took place at the same time as the Slavic penetration of Russia; the movement of the Bolgars to Bulgaria, during the seventh century, and of the Magyars to Hungary, under Turkish leadership, during the ninth; the migration of the Ostiaks and Voguls across the Urals to the Obi drainage, during the thirteenth.

Before the time of known Finnish expansion, the Scythian barrier inhibited the use of agriculture as a primary means of subsistence among the Finnish tribes located to the north of the nomads. Many of the Finns, in fact, lived principally by hunting and fishing along the forested streams which formed the headwaters of the Volga, Don, and Dniester. But it is unlikely that the Finns in pre-Scythian times had been ignorant of agriculture; those who lived in arable country farmed at least by the time of Herodotus.

The evidence for the racial composition of the early Finns is scanty, but incapable of misinterpretation. One small series of ten skulls dating from about the sixth century B.C., contemporaneous with the Early Scythian period, has been identified with the ancestors of the Volga Finns at the time of their unity.4 (See Appendix 1, cot. 49.) These come from the cemeteries of Polianki and Maklacheievka, from the former Viatka government in Permian Finn country just south of the present Komi or Zyryenian Republic. The graves belonged to the so-called Anan'ino cultural horizon. This Anan'ino culture5 was formed from a combination of influences from Siberia, the Caucasus, Scythia, and Scandinavia. It did not end suddenly, but passed by a gradual process of evolution into the civilization of the historic Volga Finns. Therefore, we may consider these skulls, few as they are, to represent the ancestors of the Finns before the beginning of their historic expansion.

This small group of seven male and three female crania is not completely homogeneous, but it is nearly so. All of the skulls are European in racial type. The faces are a little broader than in most Mediterranean groups, but not to an exceptional degree. The noses, with the exception of one extremely leptorrhine male, are mesorrhine or chamaerrhine; but so are those of many early Danubians. The cranial form is mesocephalic or dolichocephalic, with one male reaching the figure of 83; the vault is moderately high; the forehead usually straight, the browridges moderate.

There is nothing new about these crania, and nothing specifically mongoloid. They closely resemble another small series of eight male skulls from the cemetery of Polom in the same district as the Anan'ino cemeteries6 (see Appendix I, cot. 50), dating from the ninth century A.D., and known to have been those of Finns of the Permian sub-family. In view of the small numbers, no difference can be found which would be statistically valid. A third group from the Lower Volga, representing the Mordvins of the fourteenth century, is similar to the Anan'ino and Permian crania, except that it is extremely long headed, with low indices, centered about the range from 71 to 73.

When we make a metrical comparison between the first two groups of Finnish skulls and all European series previously studied, the find that they fit into the ranks of Iron Age Indo-European speakers without difficulty. On the whole, they resemble most nearly the larger-sized members of the intermediate group; they also resemble the Scythian crania to a considerable extent, and even more the Minussinsk skulls. They arc slightly smaller than the Germanic type, but equal to it in vault height and face breadth. In nose form and cranial height, they resemble the Neolithic Danubians.

News of the racial position of these early Finnish skulls will come as a surprise to scholars who see in the Finns a group of mongoloid immigrants from Asia. But that they were essentially if not wholly European is, despite the paucity of Debetz's material, incontestable. Nor can one derive these Finns from forest-dwellers of Mesolithic tradition, except perhaps as a minor influence. Furthermore, in the early Anan'ino series, recognizable Corded peculiarities are to he found in but one male skull out of seven. The Finno-Ugrians, therefore, may be tentatively considered to have been, in the period before they expanded into their historic scats, Europeans of mixed origin, basically Danubian in type, with some brachycephalic ele ment and an extremely long-headed variation as well; the latter is already familiar to us in the form of the Corded type; the former is not clearly definable, but is European. Its only discernible difference from the others in the same series is in a greater breadth of the skull. This broad-headed element is completely lacking in the late lower Volga group, of which we have only the cranial indices.

Debetz's discovery that the Finno-Ugrian speakers were originally purely European in race, and furthermore, not local Palaeolithic or Mesolithic survivors, is in perfect accord with the present state of linguistic knowledge, which makes their form of speech one of two equally weighted elements in the basic Indo-European. They not only were, but on logical grounds must have been, in the larger sense, Mediterraneans.

On equally logical grounds, this discovery does not invalidate the hypothesis that the descendants of Mesolithic hunters and fishers persisted until modern times in the forests of the far north, nor that some such survivors may not have been absorbed by those tribes of Finns which migrated even beyond the Permian country to the chilly drainage of the Arctic Ocean. This theory is very hard to test, however, for if we review the early racial history of the northern forest belt,' we find very little skeletal data with which to work. What material there is comes almost entirely from Latvia, Esthonia, and the Ladoga Lake country, all north and west of the historic Finnic center. It includes skulls of Corded type, both with and without mixture, and a number of ill-defined crania which do not fit into the usual European picture. Many of these latter are brachycephalic, some are perhaps, but not certainly, incipiently or partially mongoloid.

Unfortunately, the manner in which these skulls have been published does not permit a lucid review of their racial position. Similar ones appeared sporadically in Late Neolithic and Bronze Age series in Poland and on the plains of southern Russia, apparently as intrusions from the north, but not in sufficient numbers to alter the prevailing character of the population south of the forest from which they, as the osseous headpieces of stray woodsmen, had wandered.

Until almost three centuries after the birth of Christ, therefore, Europe, except possibly along the very Arctic rim, had not witnessed the invasion of any mongoloid people. Western Asia, from the Bosporus to the Indus, and the plains immediately east of the Caspian as well, were equally ignorant of them. But with the arrival of the Huns this gap was soon filled.


1 Professor G. J. Ramstedt of Helsingfors University, an eminent student of Altaic languages, has come to the conclusion that the Uralic and Altaic groups of languages are not, as was previously thought, demonstrably related but form two entirely separate linguistic stocks. He is supported in this view by Professor Szinnyei of Budapest.--- Private Communication.

2 See Chapter IX, section 8, for a detailed listing of the living and extinct peoples known to have spoken Finno-Ugrian languages.

3 Baschmakoff, A. ZFRK, vol. 4, 1936, pp. 194-199.

4 Debetz, G., ESA, vol. 6, 1931, pp. 96-99.

5 Tallgren, A. M., Real, vol. 1, pp. 164-165.

6 Debetz, loc. cit.

7 See pages 125-126.