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Researchers into the history of ancient Slavs are addressing a range of problems, above all the anthropological makeup of those tribes. Were they akin in their physical features or far apart to exclude the very possibility of anthropological whole? The physical look of present-day Slavs has been taking body and form over many centuries. What is their headsource, their roots? And where did they hail from? Their contacts with other tribes? We shall try to answer these and other questions proceeding from earlier and fresh evidence.

Putative homeland of origin of Eastern Slavs by a) anthropological, and b) archeological data.

Pages. 62


By Academician Tatyana ALEXEYEVA, Archeology Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences

Now what concerns the ethnogenesis, the origin of Eastern Slavs: it is part and parcel of the Slav ethnogenesis. That is to say, they have certain things in common. Even though a good many hypotheses have been propounded on the Slavic roots, they fall into two groups by and large: generic hypotheses on the anthropological unity of Slavs; and what we might call differentiating hypotheses denying such kind of unity. Advocates of the first, Pan-Slavic approach view the history of Slavs as a community of kindred peoples inhabiting a definite territory and having the same ancestors, with the exception of outlying areas populated by foreign, ethnically heterogeneous tribes. Advocates of the opposite approach say the Slavs originated from motley racial components not related by bonds of kinship.

Adherents of these two approaches differ on matters of the culture and glottogenesis (linguistic origin) of the Slavic peoples: the views of those advocating Pan-Slavic unity correspond to the basic genetic principles of Indo-European linguistics in a broad sense; their opponents lean toward the linguistic theory of Academician Nikolai Marr (1864 - 1934).

Now what are the Slavs anthropologically? Their population area lies within a large zone between northern and southern Europeoids remarkable for the light or dark color of skin, hair and eyes, respectively. The populations of the intermediate zone (which is of interest to us) show a good deal of anthropological diversity. Even though there is no definitive classification of these ethnic groups, they are traditionally divided into West Europeans and East Europeans. The yardstick for such discrimination is the presence or absence of Mongoloid features.

On the whole all the Slavic peoples are related to the Europeoid race according to the diagnostic characters: the thick hair on the face and other body parts, the sharp horizontal profile, the prominent nose and bridge, the low cheek-bones; the Slavs show no upper eyelid swelling typical of the Mongoloids. But this is not to mean racial purity if we proceed from humankind's basic anthropological divisions. In fact, the intermixing of different tribes has always been playing an immense role in the processes of race genesis. As demonstrated by Nikolai Chebok-sarov in the 1950s, the infiltration of Mongoloid elements westward occurred in two stages chronologically related to sluggish migrations at the Neolithic stage (ca. 8 to 3 millennia B.C.) and to the Mongol-Tartar invasion (13th-14th centuries A.D.).

Collating the actual evidence on the physical features of Slavic peoples, we may speak of five anthropological types: the White Sea-and-Baltic (the name suggested by Nikolai Cheboksarov); the East European (Ivan Deniker); the Dnieper-Carpathian and the Pontic (Victor Bunak); and the Dinaric (Ivan Deniker).

The first, White Sea-and-Baltic, type is represented by the Belorussians, and in part by the Poles and northern Russians. These are individuals with fair skin and blond hair, and medium facial features; they are predominantly meso* and brachycephals**. These populations are within the northern or Baltic branch of Europeoids and differ from West Baltic (or Atlantic-Baltic) tribes-to which most of the Scandinavians


* Mesocephals - individuals of medium-sized head.- Ed.

** Brachycephals - short-headed individuals as distinct from long-headed ones (dolichocephals) and the width of whose head relates to its length, percentagewise, above 80.- Ed.

Pages. 63


Polyane. Reconstruction by T. Baluyeva.

Pages. 64


Severyane. Reconstructed by T. Baluyeva (a) and O. Grigoryeva (b, c).

Pages. 65


Rodimichi. Reconstructed by T. Baluyeva.

Dregovichi. Reconstructed by T. Baluyeva.

belong-in less prominent noses, sparser beards and a slight swelling of the upper eyelid. All these tokens betray a very small and ancient racial admixture dating to the Neolithic time in consequence of the Mongoloid drive west across the forest belt of Western Siberia and Eastern Europe.

The second, East European, type comprises nearly all territorial groups of the Russian people (except northern Russians) and part of the Belorussians populating predominantly Russia's east and south. This type is distinguished for darker hair and eyes. The anthropological characteristics of the Russians and Belorussians-largely, their cranial and facial features-are indicative of several local sets of characters. Victor Bunak dates this group's formative period to the Neolithic stage. Indeed, the then anthropological composition of East European populations emerged through intermixing among the indigenous northern, southern and Ural tribes. Those folks had long or medium heads, large facial features, sharp horizontal profiles and prominent noses. Such features are proper to representatives of the Narva and Volosovo cultures. Crossing the Urals from the east was a tribe with somewhat flattened faces and less prominent noses. Both groups must have created an anthropological groundwork for the formation of a significant part of the population inhabiting the East European Plain (apparently, of the Finno-Ugric type) that mixed with the Eastern Slavs.

The third, Dnieper-Carpathian, type includes Ukrainians, ethnic groups populating the Carpathian area, Slovaks and some of the Czechs. These are rather dark bra- chycephals ("short heads") with relatively broad faces. We find cranio-logical analogies in Slavic burial grounds of Slovakia and Moldavia. Morphologically, those people were akin to the Alpine ethnic type (according to William Ripley, an American economist and anthropologist of the late 19th-early 20th centuries) that settled what is now Austria, Switzerland and part of northern Italy. It might be that the Dnieper- Carpathian populations are a northeastern variant of this local race.

Now to the fourth, Pontic type. It is represented mostly by Bulgarians: dark-haired, of medium height, with longish or medium heads. Their facial features are moderately broad or else narrow. Judging by paleoanthropo-logical data, this combination type, a variant of the southern branch of Europeoids, must have originated in the Eastern Europe of the Neolithic time, though its origins might be traced earlier than that, when its tribes settled in these parts. The propagation of the Pontic type from the Mediterranean and Caucasia to southern Russian steppes continued down to the Late Bronze Age (1st millennium B.C.). Its traces are present in Eastern Slavs, the plainsmen of the Middle Age, in the contemporary Ukrainian population related to the Pruth anthropological type, and among the Russians of the Don-Sura Region.

And the fifth, Dinaric, ethnic group takes in Yugoslavia's high-landers. Tall and short- headed, they have very broad faces, protruding

Pages. 66


Krivichi. Reconstructed by T. Baluyeva.

Pages. 67


Vyatichi. Reconstructed by G. Lebedinskaya.

Pages. 68


Novgorodian Slovenes. Reconstructed by T. Baluyeva.

noses and profuse hair growth. They differ from the other southern Europeoids in the lighter color of eyes. These summary features resemble the morphological complex of the peoples of Central Caucasia. That is why some ethnologists suggest certain genetic affinity among these tribes.

The origins of the Dinaric group are still an open question. On one hand, many of its distinctive characteristics appear to be of ancient origin; but there are hardly any analogies found in the evidentiary materials. Similar distinctions are detected in the Kura-Araxes culture (Armenia, Berkaber burial ground). Now what concerns Slavs with Dinaric racial features-the result of their contacts with local non-Slavic tribes. This is shown by my data on the Walachians of the mid 15th-century in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thus, the present-day Slavs are not a united lot. In fact, they belong to different branches of the Europeoid race. For example, their neighbors share some of the peculiar characteristics. The White Sea-and-Baltic, and the East-European types occur among the Baltic, Finnish and Turkic tribes of the Volga area; the Dnieper-and- Carpathian-among Hungarians and Austrians; the Pontic and Dinaric types are found among the peoples of the North and Central Caucasus, and among Albanians.

How should we interpret such anthropological variety? Perhaps these tribes shared no common physical features and, consequently, had no common homeland of origin? To answer these questions let us turn to what we know about the population of the Middle Ages from the many burial grounds of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe.

Most of the craniological series* date from the 10th-12th centuries, when the old custom of cremation was discontinued. The larger part of the skulls is long or of medium size; the living individuals had sharply profiled facial features and more or less prominent noses. Besides, the proportions of the facial skeleton and brain case as well as their correlation indicate some degree of unity among the medieval Slavic population. We see certain similarity in the medieval Baits and obvious differences in the Germanic tribes. Craniological evidence allows to trace the origins of morphological identity peculiar to the Slavic peoples. An analogous anthropological complex dates to earlier times (burial grounds of the "string ceramics"** culture common in Central Europe and in the Baltic area during the Bronze Age). This means that the coming-to-be of Slavs occurred next to the Baltic tribes along similar anthropological lines, as shown by the fact of their erstwhile unity.

The present-day Belorussians and the medieval tribes of the Krivichi, Radimichi and Dergovichi (who populated the upper reaches of the Dnieper and who gave rise to the Belorussian people) exhibit features similar to the Baits who in the Iron Age (early 1st millennium B.C.) were territorially connected with the district around the upper reaches of the Dnieper (habitat of the Jatwinger tribe) and practiced the art of "string


* Each series comprises finds in one and the same cemetery. -Ed.

** "String ceramics", also known as the ceramics of "battle axes", is the culture of cattle-breeding tribes of the Bronze Age.-Ed.

Pages. 69


ceramics". These people had massive elongated heads, low faces of medium width, and smallish eye sockets- the features hailing from hoary antiquity. The anthropological affinity between the Belorussians and Baits is confirmed by somatology, dermatoglyphics and odontology studies.*.

By archeological, linguistic as well as annalistic data, prior to the appearance of Slavs the Baltic tribes had populated a vast territory along the Neman, Dvina, and the upper reaches of the Dnieper and the Oka-large expanses between the Baltic Sea in the west and the middle reaches of the Volga in the east. This was the living space of numerous Finnish-Ugric tribes whose implication in the ethnogenesis of Eastern Slavs has been demonstrated time and again. Longish skulls, narrow facial features, not so prominent noses-this complex, proper to the tribes Vyatichi and Eastern Krivichi, and to some of the Finnish-Ugric groups of the Volga Region, is akin to the population of the Pyany Bor culture of the first millennium A.D., as shown by contemporary studies carried out by Svetlana Yefimova. The Pyany Bor folks must have had their origins in the Ananyno culture (8th-3rd centuries B.C., in the middle reaches of the Volga and along the Kama), despite the pronounced Europeoid features.

Contacts of Eastern Slavs with descendants of Scythians and Sarma-tians along the middle and lower reaches of the Dnieper and its tributaries, and with numerous nomadic tribes in steppes north of the Black Sea have left a trace in their anthropological genesis.

Although the involvement of the southern Europeoid component in the formation of Eastern Slavs' physical look has been noted on many occasions, the sources of this component are not clear enough. In this connection one should turn to tribes of Chernyakhovskaya culture in steppes and forest-steppes between the lower reaches of the Danube and the Dnieper (3rd-4th centuries A.D.) to show the ethnic heterogeneity of the aboriginals.

The Chernyakhov folks that inhabited the northwestern part of this area are remarkable for long or medium heads, sharp profiles, low and narrow faces, wide and low eye sockets. Such facial aspects are typical of Lithuania's population at the time of the late Roman Empire. Medium skulls occur in the Crimea and in the North Caucasus. The same type is also predominant in the south and southwest, though with broader faces, higher eye sockets and moderately profiled facial features; all this reveals some likeness to Sarmatians.

In Svetlana Yefimova's opinion, a significant part of the Chernyakhov craniological series (mesomorphic in structure) bears resemblance to the Visigoths, who seized Castile in the 5th century A.D., to the population of Gotland**, and to some series of the Welbar culture which archeologists relate to Gothic. Another craniological type, less massive in size, is akin to Visigoths who settled in Portugal, to some Scandinavians of the Hollstadt time, the Welbar culture in the Vistula's valley and later-day craniological materials from Mecklenburg, Germany. Thus, the Goths had a role to play in the ethnogenesis of the Chernyakhov folk. But the impact of European Scythians was insignificant. According to Dr. Yefimova, only the series from Koblev and Maslovo*** come closer to the Scythians; the rest had narrow and low faces, and rather gracile skulls. Yet we cannot overlook the connection: the Scythians -> the Chernyakhov tribe -> Polyane (plainsmen). As Valentin Sedov, RAS Corresponding Member, sees it, the Chernyakhov ethnocultural community gave rise to one of the Slavic groups, the Anti. However, more research will be needed to prove the Chernyakhov-Slavic link.

The southern Europeoid features among Eastern Slavs must have also come from other ethnic groups of earlier times, namely the Alanian population**** of the Upper Don (8th-9th centuries B.C.) whose ancestors were of Caucasian descent.

The drive of tribes with a southern Europeoid look into Eastern Europe was extensive in time and scope. Their features show up in many of the contemporary Europeans. As to the Eastern Slavs, they might have inherited that from Alanians and some of the Chernyakhov folks genetically related to the ancient plainsmen of the southern Russian steppes.

The Eastern Slavs also felt the impact of nomads of the southern Russian plains whose look was obviously Mongoloid. True, anthropologists know less of such contacts than with other ethnic groups of Eastern Europe. Found in the medieval cemeteries of Kiev and Chernigov were graves of plainsmen-warriors with Mongoloid features-they had been enlisted in the host of Russian princes. But those men did not leave any noticeable trace in the visage of the local population (nor did the Tartar- Mongolians for that matter). The rather weak impact of nomads can be traced only in the vicinity of their strongholds and along the southeastern borders of Old Rus. In this particular case it might also be the heritage of Sauromatian and Sarmatian tribes***** who, trekking through the steppes of Russia's south at the end of the Iron Age, imported their facial features on medium-sized skulls: broad faces, high nose bridges and protruding noses-the Europeoid complex (with a less pronounced face profile horizontally). From that time on up


* With reference to body parts, skin of hand palms and feet, and teeth.- Ed.

** An island in the Baltic Sea, the largest in Sweden.- Ed.

*** Towns north of the Black Sea, in the Dniester-Danube region.- Ed.

**** Alanians (Alans) - Iranian-speaking tribes of Sarmatian origin inhabiting districts north of the Sea of Azov and Caucasia since the 1st century A.D.- Ed.

***** Sauromatians - nomadic tribes akin to the Scythians who roamed the steppes of the Volga area and west of the Urals in the 7th-1st centuries B.C. The Sarmatians, who occupied eastern lands between the rivers Tobol and Volga in the 6th-4th centuries B.C., ousted the Scythians from the territory north of the Black Sea.- Ed.

Pages. 70


until the late Middle Ages, an anthropological stratum was taking shape, one that determined in many ways the physical peculiarities of the population of East European steppes.

Judging by the nature of articles found in Slavic burial grounds, and artifacts of material culture in townships and encampments, they were brought by peaceful land- tillers into a foreign medium. Therefore mongrelization (half-bred progeny) evolved as the chief anthropological factor in the shaping of the Slavic appearance. A comparative study of the demographic structure of the aliens and the local folks shows mongrelization to be a survival strategy of Slavs on new lands.

The Eastern Slavs' visage was taking shape under the effect of two morphological complexes-the western and the eastern. The former is characterized by longish skulls, the large dimensions of the brain box and of the facial part of the cranium, by the sharp profile of the face, and by the prominent nose. The other complex is expressed in the weak Mongoloid features (smaller face and brain box, skull of medium size, less prominent nose and insignificant flatness of the skull's frontal part). The correlation of these two complexes, percentagewise, varies depending on the geographical localization of the tribes. The eastern complex gains in scope as we move east.

Europeoid features are less pronounced among the Finnish-Ugric groups-the Men of the chronicles, Muroms, Meshcheri, Chuds, and Vesi; their relics have been found in burial grounds of Eastern Europe's northwest and in the Volga-Oka interfluve. Colonized by the Slavs, this population passed its physical characters to the Novgorodian Slovenes, Vyatichi and to the eastern groups of the Krivichi; all these ethnic groups constituted the basis of the Russian nation.

Europeoid features are much pronounced among the medieval Letts and Lithuanians, especially in the

Great Russians. Generalized regional portraits.

a) Sokol, Soligalich and Vetluga regions. Volga-Vyatka zone.

b) Valdai, Staraya Russa and Pskov regions. Ilmen - Beloye Ozero zone.

c) Opochka, Velikiye Luki and Ostrov regions. Valdai zone.

Pages. 71


Latgaliesi, Aukstaits and Jatwinger*. Among Eastern Slavs, this type shows up in the Volynyane, the Krivichi of Polotsk and Drevlyane, who produced the Belorussian and, in part, the Ukrainian people. Yet the Polyane, who later became the anthropological basis of the Ukrainian people, revealed the characteristics of Iranian- speaking tribes in the Middle Ages, as we learn it from the burial grounds of the Alanians and partly of the Chernyakhov folk. At the same time, studies carried out among the medieval and contemporary populations in the southern part of this area (Russians), and in the southeast (Ukrainians) identified anthropological features dating back to the Sauromatian-Sarmatian ethnocultural community. Consequently, the anthropological diversity of the Eastern Slavs of the Middle Ages is largely indicative of Eastern Europe's ethnic picture.

Of particular interest in this respect are the data of a cartographic study of the materials obtained by the Russian anthropological expedition (this study was conducted by Yuri Rychkov and Yelena Balanovskaya in 1988). They propounded a concept of "nuclear structures" of genetic information within various peoples. The method of continuous mapping has made it possible to locate three such structures among the Russians: the eastern, central and western. The eastern structure relates to the pre-Slavic substrate of the Russian people's anthropological makeup. The central one is the follow-up to protracted and intensive mongrelization close to panmixia (free interbreeding of individuals within a population). And the western structure is connected with the Slavs of the chronicles. The central "nuclear structure" appears to be most characteristic and well agrees with the East-European type identified by Victor Bunak.

The late Middle Ages saw a considerable decline in anthropological dispersivity. The Slavs of Eastern Europe's central regions were becoming clearly Europeanized because of the influx of tribes from western border regions.

In the late 1960s Academician Valery Alexeyev demonstrated great morphological affinity among the craniological series of contemporary Russians. Local variants within a single homogenic type are found mainly in frontier regions.

Historical evidence likewise sheds light on the gene pool of the people and migration pathways of aliens. Synthetic maps** show two chief components in the historical- geographical structure, and these are the Russian Plain between the forested North and the steppeland South; and an area between the Carpathians and the middle reaches of the Dnieper where the population inherited the gene pool of southern paleo-populations whose impact spread much farther to the north and east, as far as the Volga.

Thus, the Eastern Slavs clearly reveal the physical features proper to the Baltic, Finnish-Ugric and Iranian groups that had been populating Eastern Europe before the coming of Slavs-Eastern Slavs, too. Southern Slavs had anthropological characteristics inherent in Thracians, Hellenes and the offspring of Illyrians.*** Some Slavic groups display Germanic traits. Now, what are the Slavs' proper physical characteristics, irrespective of geography? Their homeland of origin, if any?

Skulls are much alike in various Slavic groups but differ from Germanic ones (face and brain box). Yet Slavs reveal certain similarity to Baltic and Finnish tribes that might have been inhabiting the European expanses before the Slavs.

Numerous contacts with foreigners, mutual assimilation as well as geographical and social isolation-all that destroyed the former anthropological unity and begot anthropologically different types during the formative period of Slavic nationalities. This is particularly evident in the dimensions of skulls and cheekbones. "Broad faces" are the commonest in the Oder and Dnieper interfluve, but are less common farther west, south and east since local Slavs mixed with Germans (west), Finnish-Ugric tribes (east) and with the motley population of the Balkan Peninsula (south). The area of broad-faced people is located in lands between the Dvina and Vistula in the west and the Danube and Dnieper in the south and east. The Czech scholar Ljubor Niderle (1956) said that from this territory of "Slavic antiquities" Slavs moved to the forest- steppes of Eastern Europe and across the Danube, and this is confirmed by archeological evidence.

Thus, anthropological evidence argues in favor of the Slav generic hypothesis. Originally united in a single ethnic entity, the Slavs had a homeland of origin within definite bounds.


* Latgaliesi are an ancient people who once settled the eastern part of present-day Latvia; Aukstaits - a group of Baltic tribes identified back in the 1st century A.D. in what is now Lithuania; Jatwinger - an ancient Lithuanian tribe between the rivers Neman and Narev.- Ed.

** Generalizing data according to several characters.- Ed.

*** Illyrians, natives of Illyria, an ancient country on the east coast of the Adriatic .-Ed.

Illustrations supplied by the author.


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T. Alexeyeva, Search and Development. EASTERN SLAVS: THEIR ROOTS, THEIR COMING-TO BE // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 07.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/Search-and-Development-EASTERN-SLAVS-THEIR-ROOTS-THEIR-COMING-TO-BE (date of access: 03.12.2021).

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