A “Finno-Scythian”

Sustained, intimate contact between groups draws them into braids. Under the right conditions, it can thoroughly mat them together.

Some caveats: In strongly stratified societies, outside relations can radically differ by social tier. If we want to approach things archaeologically, “hybridity” of material culture, especially prestige gear, may not be commensurate with genetic admixture — artistic idealizations obviously even less so.1 In historical periods, some of this blurring is just artefactual: it’s often daunting to keep barbarians straight, and scribes can be overeager to synonymize — see those Byzantines who kept on resuscitating “Scythian” for Cumans and Mongols.

However it happens, some compounds grow so familiar they’re almost reflexive: “Turko-Mongol”. “Hunno-Sarmatian”.

On the occasion of Unterländer et al., I give you a rarer one, from the Iron Age Volga region: “Finno-Scythian”2.

Littleton and Mair (1998:749) draw our attention to the large torque about his neck, his “body-hugging tunic (or armor), … conical hat, trousers3, and … dagger (Phillips 1965:50; Jetmar 1964:52…)”. Paired swords of unequal length are claimed here to be an “Iranian” steppe warrior signature (Sarmatian and Scythian–Saka) with reflexes not just amongst the Huns but as far afield as Japan.

Jettmar, K. (1964). Art of the Steppes. New York: Crown Publishers.

Littleton, C.S. (1998). Were Some of the Xinjiang Mummies ‘Epi-Scythians’? An Excursus in Trans-Eurasian Folklore and Mythology. In Mair, V.H. (ed.), The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia, Vol. 2: 746–766. Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man.

Phillips, E.D. (1965). The Royal Hordes: Nomads of the Steppes. London: Thames and Hudson.

Unterländer, M., Palstra, F., Lazaridis, I., Pilipenko, A., Hofmanová, Z., Groß, M., Sell, C., Blöcher, J., Kirsanow, K., Rohland, N., Rieger, B., Kaiser, E., Schier, W., Pozdniakov, D., Khokhlov, A., Georges, M., Wilde, S., Powell, A., Heyer, E., Currat, M., Reich, D., Samashev, Z., Parzinger, H., Molodin, V.I., & Burger, J. (2017). Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe. Nature Communications, 8, 14615 EP. http://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms14615

  1. For instance: No one fully knows what was going on there genetically, but I doubt that the presumed Tocharians doing their best impressions of Indian monks and Sassanian knights in the Tarim murals were all that Indian or Persian by descent. See this earlier post for a memorable analogy by Mallory: Prospecting for archaeological Tocharians.
  2. For further reading: Ананьинская культура or Anan’ino Culture. There is an extensive historical-linguistic literature on Uralic–Indo-Iranian contacts, which has multiple phases — the first much older than any of the Iron Age interactions touched on here, at the level of Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Uralic: see for instance Häkkinen 2012. (A more unconventional scheme by Eugen Helimski is sketched here: Indo-Andronovo-Iranian?) Note by the way that Littleton main text contradicts figure caption: “500 BCE”.
  3. A likely horse-rider invention: Beck et al. (2014), doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2014.04.056 — though from the image I personally can’t rule out two unjoined leggings.