Family Tree DNA has recently identified R-CTS12023/R-DF95 among the 6th and 7th century Avars in Hungary. Tiszapüspöki I18184 lived between 565 CE and 635 CE and was buried in Tiszapüspöki, Hungary. This study, “Ancient genomes reveal origin and rapid trans-Eurasian migration of 7th century Avar elites,” lists him as an early Avar.
This is the description of the burial: “I18184 – Feature 247/Str. 257 (Site 17/A)
Rectangular grave of an adult male (230cm x 95cm x 56cm). Orientation: NE–SW. The upper
body of the skeleton lies to the right, its arms bent under the skull. Legs straight from waist
down. Grave good: 1. D-shaped silver buckle.
This individual belonging to the Transtisza group shows a genomic profile that best matches a
preceding local Carpathian Basin group, Szolad_others_6c.”
Based on the supplementary data it looks like Szolad_others_6c was based on two admixed “Northern” and “Southern” Langobard samples from Szolad. These two individuals are SZ18, whose half-brother was on the Danish/Dutch branch in the study, and SZ27, who was a relative of the most northern-inclined people.
In this study, though, that means I18184 is local as compared to the Avars who have recently invaded. This study was meant to assess the genetic and geographic origins of the Avar elites and compare it to others in the Carpathian basin. Our R-CTS12023 man was average, according to the study notes, not an elite.
The map above shows the distance between Szolad and Tiszapuspoki. Our R-Z18 cousin in Szolad, SZ4, was an immigrant who lived between 412 and 604 CE, but there were admixed people (both Northern and Southern inclined DNA and people with fully Southern genetic heritage buried in the same area.
Here is what the Ancient Genomes study has on pre-Avar history in the Carpathian basin and the study goals:
“Before the Avars arrived, the Romans had occupied the western part of the Carpathian Basin and the Sarmatians the eastern part (c. 1–400 CE). The Romans were replaced by the short-lived empire of the Huns (400–455 CE), and by diverse Germanic-speaking groups: Goths and Longobards in Pannonia, Gepids along the Tisza (400 to c. 568). In 567/68, the Longobards destroyed the Gepid kingdom and moved to Italy, while the Avars conquered the Carpathian Basin and its local population (Pohl, 2018). This study focuses on this momentous change and its genetic impact.”
My rough readers’ digest version of this exciting history is that the Avars believe they are related to the Rouran from the Mongolian Steppe, and I think the study comes to a similar conclusion. There is a strong Northeast Asian genetic component in the Avar Elites that separates them from the locals. The Langobards/Longobards/Lombards sort of have some understanding with the Avars, like a coalition, and take out the Gepid Kingdom surrounding the Tisza that borders the Longobard Kingdom to the west. The Lombards and the Gepids have not been getting along for some time. They’ve had several wars and no love lost.
With the Gepids out of the way, the Avars move in, and some Gepids join their Longobard cousin/enemies in moving on to Italy while some move into Roman territories and others hang out under Avar rule. The Gepids don’t seem too cohesive.
The reason this is important is our guy Tiszapüspöki I18184 lived between 565 CE and 635 CE. He’s an early Avar grave, but given his status as a local in this study and genetic affinity for admixed Longobards in Szolad and average grave goods, I don’t think he’s an Avar. The Longobards and Avars conquered the area he is buried in, formerly under the rule of the Gepids, in 567. I speculate that he’s a citizen of the Avars but a product of either the Longobards or the Gepids.
The Gepids were part of the Hun Empire but helped to destroy the Huns from within to take over their spot in the Carpathian basin. This former affiliation with the Huns is interesting because another study of Y DNA in the same area hypothesized that the R-U106 samples from both Hun and post Avar, Magyar Conquerors came to the area with the Goths, Gepids, or other Germanic allies of the Huns (Y-chromosome haplogroups from Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian period nomadic people of the Carpathian Basin).
R-U106 was found in a 435CE to 465CE Hun grave in Kecskemét, Hungary between Tiszapüspöki and Szolad. At this point in time, the result for our R-U106 Hun cousin Kecskemét-Mindszentidűlő/2785 is placed at R-Z326 by FTDNA. That is under R-L48 and would be very distantly related to Tiszapüspöki I18184 (like you have to go back to 2900 BCE for that common male line ancestor). It does show that by hook or by crook, our U106 cousins are in the area before the Hungarians conquer it around 900 CE (There are at least three Hungarian/Magyar U106 samples in the study). The Y chromosome haplogroups study proposes that the R-U106 Y DNA in the basin during the migration period is a leftover from the Goths, Gepids, and other Germanic tribes who lived in the region in the 3rd century.
So what is a Gepid?
A Gepid is a type of Goth; they’re related to the Goths but travel separately. They’re mentioned in Beowulf (along with the Danes and Swedes) as mercenaries that Hygelac was fortunate not to have to hire. The story is they come from Scandinavia, probably Sweden. In the first century, they leave “Scandza” and settle in modern Poland at the mouth of the Vistula. On the Beowulf map above, they’re to the north and east of the Wendle. They’re the Gifths. Gepidae apparently. The Gepids are also listed with the Wends in the Widsith (an old English poem). They became part of the Wielbark culture, which had some influence from Scandinavia. There is a theory that there wasn’t a single massive migration but a slow migration from “Gotland” maybe, over a couple of centuries, spanning the BCE/CE line.
The Gepids move south after the Goths, they get into wars with the Burgundians on the way down through Poland, they join the Suavians, they fight with the Goths and Visigoths, they settle in the Carpathian basin (Pannonian Basin) or Roman Dacia, they join the Huns to fight their own Goth cousins (again apparently), they turn on the Huns and destroy them in Transylvania after the death of Atilla, They make alliances with Justinian and war with the Lombards but thwart Justinian at the same time. Somewhere in there, they piss off the Ostrogoths. There’s a laundry list of conflicts.
What I gather from this paper on the Gepids in Beowulf is that they’re not well-loved and seem to fight on all sides under the banners of other groups. According to one historian quoted in the Wikipedia article on Gepids, they’re the most “shadowy” of all the major Germanic peoples in the migration period.
If you’re starting to get some vibes from the shadowy Jutes and the Jutes on all sides theory in the battle of Finnsburg…so am I.
The Gepids were already in Pannonia before the Anglos Saxons made their big push into Britain and were already established before the Langobards/Lombards made their way down. However, they were still a migration period people.
On the map to the west of the Gepids and the Tisza River (where Tiszapüspöki I18184 was buried) is the territory of the Lombards. We absolutely know there was an R-Z18 man among the Lombards in Szolad, and we know that our guy I18184 is autosomally most closely related to admixed Lombards. Maybe he is a Lombard or associated Saxon of some sort whose family decided not to go to Italy?
The Lombards are not all Lombards; they also pick up tribes and gather people to their cause along the way south. Their move to Italy seems more final and all-encompassing because, unlike the Gepids, I haven’t read anything that said they continued to hang out in Pannonia and to be absorbed by the Avars. This person we’re considering is an individual, though, and the way I read it, people had choices about who they wanted to follow or fight. We could be looking at a remnant of the more recent Lombard migration rather than a longer-term Goth or Gepid. The origin for the Lombards is similar, Sweden to Saxony, and eventually points farther south. Would a Gepid with a few hundred years in the area appear more admixed than a Langobard? I don’t know. A Langobard seems like a viable alternative to a Gepid that would fit the autosomal data.
Conclusions and Questions
Goths, Gepids and Lombards
I borrowed a map from the Anglo-Saxon study and modified it a bit, adding my own new arrows for possible routes to Tiszapüspöki I18184 and his final resting place. This image from an article about the study showed the genetic affinity of the Anglo-Saxons who were designated as CNE (continental northern Europeans). Of note, it contains southern Sweden and Denmark but not Norway, where we have several CTS12023 modern testers. The red arrows for the Lombards to the west and the Goths/Gepids to the east represent earlier or contemporary migrations from the same gene pool. The origins are considered semi-mythological but seem genetically possible.
How far can we push ancient DNA?
Family Tree DNA has CTS12023 originating around 650 BCE. There are currently 152 of us at FTDNA that have tested for it, along with several more who haven’t tested for it…maybe the grand total is something like 200. Even though we come from about 15 different countries, our Y STRs are all very similar (if oddly different from other R1b, R-Z18, and R-U106 groups) because we’re all reasonably closely related.
CTS12023 is one of 26 SNPs shared by all the men who have tested positive for CTS12023 or R-DF95. There is a long straight line of generations and then a bunch of branches under that. CTS12023 is shown as the first in the list, but the truth is, currently, we don’t know where it falls. It may as well be R-DF95 or ZP84 at the top, every man who has tested today shares all of them. We’re all descended from the last man in that long line, but we have no idea which SNP represents that man.
All the migrating to different regions for modern testers has happened since he was alive. So if you look at my group, ZP85, the largest group. It has the same effective date as CTS12023 650 BCE. The date for CTS12023 is probably tied closely to the age estimate of my group because it’s the largest and has many branches and testers, but you can’t tell much about CTS12023 without us for comparison. It has to be at least as old as ZP85, but not much older since it’s the last man standing for a minimum of 26 generations. Mr. ZP85’s grandfather may represent those 1550 years of men in a straight line back to R-Z18.
Everyone else in there died out. Until we find someone who forms a branch, we’re kind of stuck.
Since I wrote about this long block nearly three years ago in 2020 further testing of descendants has added branches below it and at least two new SNPs to the long string.
That near extinction in the data brings me to a question. These ancient results are positive for CTS12023, but with the poor coverage in ancient DNA, even if FTDNA were evaluating each of the 26, it seems like it would be hard to know which of these SNPs a sample might be missing because of poor coverage or which might be missing because it represents a branch in that long chain.
For example, If an ancient sample had every SNP except S8387 how would we know if it was because of gaps in the DNA as opposed to being a branch that has some other SNP than S8387? To put it another way, will there be a future where ancient DNA has good calls for a negative up in that chain and we living testers find ourselves with a new sibling branch and a new parent branch defined?
650 BCE is a long time ago
When Hatherdene 5 showed up for the R-ZP121 (a branch below R-ZP85 above) and Buckland 9 from the Anglo-Saxon study showed up for R-PH1163 (R-PH1163 is in the graphic above, close to the center), the ancient results were within a few hundred years of the age estimates or approximations for the SNP groups.
CTS12023 sitting at 650 BCE, is 700 years before the Gepids and Goths begin migrating from Scandinavia and almost 1000 years before the Lombards make it to Pannonia. There is a lot of time there, where almost any movement or migration seems possible. Why not the Ostrogoths? Maybe R-CTS12023 in the Carpathian basin is the descendant of another group that got scooped up on the way down.
With only 152 of us known today, it is crazy amazing to have us pop up in these ancient DNA samples. So amazing that I have a hard time believing what I’m seeing. Are we making a good show now because of that 1550-year stretch, and CTS12023 is on the radar for paleo-genetics or is it because these re-examined genetic samples are all from the migration period, which is when we seem to have blossomed and expanded along with a lot of other R-U106 and R-Z18 groups?
Getting these ancient results has been a dream come true. I have to pinch myself. I’m excited to find out where we turn up next.