Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Attila, Native Americans and DNA: A Hunny Story

   Recently at a conference, I was talking to some folks about DNA and the migration of tribes based on haplotypes.   A question came up, "What about the Huns?"  I had to answer that I had never looked into the Huns. That night I started looking for evidence that the Huns left a genetic footprint.

   I usually take the DNA of an individual and work backwards to find their origins.  In this case, I started with the origins and tracked forward in time.  The Huns were a nomadic tribe of people that arrived from eastern Asia around 150 AD.  They built a European empire that lasted until 469 AD.  The height of the empire was under the reign of Attila.

   The Huns were not a homogeneous group.  They integrated those that they conquered.  The Alani and the Ostrogoths were a few of the assimilated groups.  Their DNA would have been eastern European, perhaps R1a, G2a, I1 or I2 and a minority proportion, but the core and the majority of the Huns, based on historical reference, would have been East Asian.

   By the end of the Hunnic Empire, the Huns had spent over 300 years, 12 generations, in Europe.  Unlike the later Mongol invaders, the Huns had no Asian home to return to.  They, in turn, were assimilated into the cultures they once ruled and left descendants across Europe.

   Most likely the Huns were from eastern Asian origins.  That limited them to haplogroups C – ‘Mongol’, D – ‘Tibetan’, N – ‘Han/Finn’, O – ‘Manchurian’ and Q – ‘Altaic’.  The ethnic descriptions that I’m using are overly simplistic, just enough to give you a feel for the possible cultures present.   I surveyed DNA record sources for Russia and Europe, looking specifically for these haplogroups.  Groups D and O were isolated individuals, easily attributed to Silk Road travelers who settled in Europe.  Group C was predominantly C3 and related to the later Mongol invasion.  N was either heavily Finnic or a few isolated Siberian individuals.  Q was a different story completely.

   Haplogroup Q has origins in Siberia, most likely north of the Altai Mountains.  Q is also the origin of the Native Americans.  The majority of the Native America haplogroup is Q1a3a.  What I found was a significant Q1b and Q1a2 population in Eastern Europe.  When I map the Q1b genetic footprint using TribeMapper they fall exactly north of the Danube River and east of the Rhine.  This corresponds to the territory of the Hunnic Empire.  The Q1a2 group maps to Hungary, the royal seat of the empire.

   These Q1b and Q1a2 are close-knit tribes each with common ancestry within the last 2100 years.  The timing of their common ancestry and their geographic footprint make a strong argument that these two Q groups were the genetic core of the Hun invaders.

   A few caveats.  Not every European in haplogroup Q is a Hun.  There is a population of Q1a3a, a closer relation to Native Americans, living in Sweden that doesn't correlate.  Not every Hun is a Q, there are bound to be some other groups mixed in like the isolated N individuals as well as the folks the Huns picked up along the way.

   When we think of the Huns, probably the first person who comes to mind is Attila.  Attila was the second to last ruler of the Huns at the height of the empire.  He died in 453 and the empire crumbled in 469 AD.  There is no evidence to say that Attila fits into either the Q1b or Q1a2 group.  If I had to pose a theory, I would say that Attila is Q1a2, part of the royal class of Huns living in Hungary.

    The Huns (Q1a2 & Q1b) and the Native Americans (Q1a3a) share a common Asian ancestor around 18,000 years ago, most likely from the Altai Mountain region.  Not all of the ancestral Q1a3a traveled to the new world.  Some remained in the old world and are found across Siberia and into Scandinavia.  If you live in the Americas and you have been tested as a Q, don’t automatically assume that you are Native American.  Get a deep clade SNP test for confirmation.

   The combined evidence of DNA, geography and history leads to the conclusion that at the end of the Hunnic Empire, the core East Asian Huns assimilated into the eastern European cultures.  They left behind a strong genetic footprint in the same territory that they historically inhabited.  The next time I’m asked, “What about the Huns?”  I can point to Europe and say, “They’re still there.”


  1. Very interesting! My husband is Q1a3a and I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how his English ancestors had that DNA...Thank you for your insight. It makes sense!
    "Some remained in the old world and are found across Siberia and into Scandinavia." And, were Vikings, as were my male ancestors.

  2. I would place the common ancestor of Huns and Native Americans in the Dyuktai culture, along the Aldan river, Eastern Siberia.
    The ancestors of the Huns were the Xiongnu, who raided the Chinese empire.
    The Chinese built the Great Wall and eventually defeated the Xiongnu, who fled west towards the Aral Sea area, where they became known as Huns.

  3. I think we can say Haplogroup Q1b is DEFINITELY Hun, but that the Huns also included other Q as well as N, O, and especially Q's closest relatives P and R as this whole cluster seems to travel together in a group around the Q royalty perhaps.
    Nice study :)

  4. European Huns are Indo-Europeans, not Xiongnu.

  5. their descendants are now in Bulgaria, check

    Dulo clan

    and also

    the other ruling dynasty of Bulgaria is Uokil and can be traced to Yuezhi - indo-european nomads defeated by Xiongnu during 2-1 century BC and pushed to west. Yuezhi were practicing artificial cranial deformation, as European Huns and many graves found in Northern Bulgaria. Hungarians have nothing to do with Huns - they arrive at these lands 500 years later -- this is as stupid as if people from Syria to say that they have sth to do with macedonians because Alexander the Great has his capital in Syria for a couple of years. Genetic test are of little help here - I have been through this.


  7. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  8. European Huns were not Xiongnu

  9. " Groups D and O were isolated individuals, easily attributed to Silk Road travelers who settled in Europe". This statement is blatantly wrong, especially with respect to D. They were among the earliest arrivals to Asia from Africa, along with YAP+ and were certainly hunter-gatherers/nomads settled in situ thousands of years before the Silk Road was formed.

  10. According to some website I just came across, the Huns know exactly who they are even today. They apparently still hold a yearly tribal meeting where they show off their horses and trick riding. The men also look like the ancient physical description of Huns. I believe the festival is called the Kurultaj and takes place in Hungary The website mentions their DNA as being Madjar/Magyar related.

  11. Could atilla the hun actually have been in north america the horses were already here the Spanish did not bring them and other explorers said they ran into men of great stature that were excellent archers far superior to anyone seen before. That and the fact that the Canadian people that are native appear also mongal

  12. There is a mention of a population of Q1a3a individuals living in Sweden. I have tried to find confirmation of this statement on the internet and have not found it. Does anyone know where I might find information about this group of people. From all sources I have found individuals with the Y haplotype Q1a3a are only found in the Americas. Thanks.