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Population history of the novgorodian region in the middle ages: a craniometric study

Ethnic processes that occurred in northwestern Rus' in the late 1st and early 2nd millennia A.D., specifically Slavic colonization and the progressive absorption of elements of the Old Russian culture by the pre-Slavic aboriginal tribes, resulted in a marked biological heterogeneity of the region over which this culture was distributed.

A large skeletal material excavated from medieval Novgorodian cemeteries over the recent decades provides a possibility to rectify and supplement traditional views concerning the ethnic history of the region (Fig. l). While the heteregeneity of Novgorodian populations in 10001600 has been noted by all writers, new skeletal samples shed new light on the nature of this heterogeneity (Table 2).

Nearly all samples were excavated from Old Russian cemeteries and fall into two chronological groups: early (10th13th centuries) and late (13th16th centuries). Apart from these, there are broadly dated samples from cemeteries that had functioned from the 10th12th centuries to the 14th 16th centuries without interruption or any clear chronological boundary between the periods.

Early groups are homogeneous, and their within-group variation is close to normal in most traits. Late groups differ from the earlier ones by their characteristics. In most of them, within-group variation is increased, and morphologically independent traits tend to be correlated. The nature of variation and correlation corresponds to the diachronic tendencies. Certain chronological subgroups within the intermediate category display the same trends.

Early populations of Pskov, Udray in the Luga Basin, Ozertitsy in the Ingrian Plateau, and Zaborye (southeast of Lake Ladoga) are characterized by masive dolichocranic skulls, sharply protruding noses, and wide orbits. Early ones from Kotorsk in the Upper Plyussa and from southeastern Ladoga, while also being dolichocranic, had gracile and low braincases, and their nasal bones prominence was sharp to medium. People who, during the same period, lived in Retenskoye, the Luga area, tended to brachicrany and had low crania and medium nasal protrusion.

In late groups from Udray and Ozertitsy, the cranial index is higher, the braincase is lower, and the orbits narrower. Another distinctive feature of the late population from Udray as compared with the early one from the same place, is that the nasal prominence is lower as measured by both angle and convexity of the nasalia.

In 13th14th century series from Slavenka and Konezerye in the Luga Basin, and from Pskov (14th16th cent.), the within-group variation is elevated. The cranial index in these groups is rather high, the cranial vault low, the nasal prominence and the horizontal facial profile angles medium. Lower cranial index, higher braincase, and sloping forehead are correlated with larger facial dimensions, sharper horizontal facial profiles, higher, narrower, and more sharply protruding noses, and wider orbits. Accordingly, increased cranial index, lower braincases and lower faces go along with a tendency to facial flatness. Both admixture and diachronic trends could have contributed to the differences observed.

Orbital width is an especially sensitive trait. Wide orbits are correlated with longer and higher cranial vaults, high face and nose, and sharp horizontal facial profile. Orbital and nasal width are often negatively correlated. In early groups, orbital width is significantly higher than in late ones (42.8 mm versus 41.3 mm, p. only the present author's own measurements were used). Broadly dated samples from Slavenka, Konezerye. and Pskov are intermediate in this trait.

Late (14th16th century) populations from the Luga Basin are represented by two subgroups from Raglitsy differing in terms of burial rite. Group A. excavated from stone graves, is homogeneous and has massive, brachycranie and very high skulls, sharply protruding noses, flattened upper facial region, sharply profiled midfacial section, and small orbits. Group B, from the mounds of same cemetery, resembles the chronologically mixed samples from Slavenka. Konezerye, and Pskov.

The distinctive features of two 13th 15th century groups, which are tentatively regarded as Finnic by the archaeologists. Chud' from Repyi in the Luga area, and Vod' from Velikino in the Ingrian Plateau, have very low and flat faces, small orbits, and wide and flat noses. While the Chud' are brachycranie and have small and low braincases, the Vod are dolicho-mesocranic, with medium high vaults and relatively elevated nasal bones.

According to the results of the canonical variate (multiple discriminant) analysis, early and chronologically intermediate groups have the highest scores on the 1st canonical variate (CV I), due to the longest braincases, large nasal prominence angle contrasting with a relatively low simotic index, and rather high face. Late groups display an opposite trait combination and, accordingly, medium or low scores on this vector (Fig. 2). The difference between the former and the latter groups in CV I scores is significant at the 0.01 level. Two groups tentatively regarded as Finnic (see above) have minimal scores, implying that late Old Russian populations resembled the aboriginal Baltic Finns in features such as small nasal prominence angle combined with relatively high nasalia, low face, and short cranial vault.

Groups displaying two contrasting trait combinations, then, appear to have taken part in the formation of the 13th16th century Novgorodian population. One of these combinations was dolichocrany, high vault, wide orbits, large nasal prominence angle, and sharply profiled face. The opposite combination, gracility and flat face, characterized the later Finnic groups of the Luga Basin and Ingrian Plateau.

The comparison of the Novgorodian groups with 52 northeastern European series of the 2nd millennium A.D. resulted in the following conclusions. CV I (27% of the total variance) reflects diachronic changes: its mean score in 24 early groups (11th13th centuries) is negative (-0.960.19), and that in 34 late groups (late 1200s and later), positive (0.100.13), the difference being 5 times greater than its error and highly significant. The average CV I score in 7 broadly dated groups (-0.580.27) is closer to that in early groups and is significantly different from that in late groups (Fig. 3). Early and intermediate Novgorodian series show the maximal differences from late ones from the same territory as well as from the Finnic ones. Estonians being an exception (p, and p. respectively). Late Novgorodians are generally similar to Letts and Lithuanians on CV 1.

On CV 2, accounting for 18% of the variation, the difference between the early and late groups holds (-0.600.16 versus 0.080.12, p). Broadly dated series (-0.230.32) are intermediate.

CV 3 (16% of the variance) describes a combination in which nasal height and nasal prominence angle, orbital width and, to a lesser extent, cranial length, are the most important. This CV is more indicative of ethnic attribution than are the first two CVs (Fig. 8). Diachronic differences are evident only between early and late Novgorodian groups. The former 19, including broadly dated samples, have positive scores of CV 3 (due to large values of the above traits) and significantly differ both from 14 Finnic groups and from six Krivichi ones, being similar to 11 Baltic groups. The latter 16, displaying an opposite combination, resemble Finns and Krivichi but are very different from the Balts (Tab. 17).

The cross-ethnic variation revealed by CV 3 largely parallels within-ethnic tendencies described in 13th16th century Novgorodian series.

According to Mahalanobis' distances, the largest number of parallels to medieval Novgorodians is found among the populations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Both groups from Pskov, the early and the late one, are very similar to Estonian samples. People of Udray resemble the 1st and early 2nd millennium Baltic populations with their massive crania, specifically Latgalians and ancient Lithuanians, western Aukstaitians and Zhemaitians being the closest. The second Novgorodian group displaying such features is Ozertitsy. Certain early and late series from the Ingrian Plateau, including Ozertitsy, Pleshchevitsy, Kalitino, and Volgovo, are very close to representatives of the Baltic tribe of Yatviagi. Even closer to some Novgorodian groups is another Baltic tribe: Selonians.

A group from Kotorsk is the only Novgorodian sample that resembles Slavs of the Volga Oka interfluve (Krivichi) and those of the Oka Basin (Vyatichi). A pooled sample from the southeastern Ladoga area tends toward certain Baltic tribes (Livonians and Selonians). People from Konezerye, Slavenka, Raglitsy B, and late Pskov are mostly similar to Baltic Finns. The sample from Slavenka is closer to the Lapps than is any other Old Russian group studied so far. That from Raglitsy A has only one parallel: the Karelians.

All these findings suggest that people inhabiting the medieval northwestern Rus' were diverse by origin.

Traits revealed to be the most informative in the multivariate analysis are orbital width, nasal height and nasal prominence angle. While high values of these variables are typical of Baltic tribes of the 1st and early 2nd millennia (Letts, Lithuanians, and smaller old Baltic groups), low values characterize Finnic tribes of this region and Russian groups with a strong Finnic substratum (medieval population of Vologda, Krivichi of the eastern Volga Oka interfluve, etc.). While early Novgorodians and Balts occupy one extreme, late Novgorodians and Finns are on the opposite one. This tendency is all the more important because both early and late Novgorodians were rather heterogeneous.

Although, judging from the Mahalanobis' distances, ties between early and late series are generally not strong, a combination of traits found in late medieval groups from the Luga Basin, Pskov (see above), and the Ingrian Plateau [Sedov 1952] attests to a certain continuity. While the Finnic connections, as revealed by late Novgorodian groups, are beyond doubt and are documented not only biologically but historically as well, ties between early Novgorodians and Baltic tribes are more questionable. At that stage, it can only be suggested that their similarity is due to common Balto-Slavic origins.

The most oft-cited theory concerning the origins of the Old Russian populations of Novgorod is the Western Slavic one [Alexeyeva 1963, 1973, 1990; Sedov 1977, 1982]. It states that the direct ancestors of the Novgorodian Slavs were the Western Slavs who had migrated to the Novgorodian region from the southern Baltic coast, specifically Pomoryane and Obodrity. The claim was supported mostly by the fact that Western Slavs, like Novgorodians, but unlike most Eastern Slavs, were mesocranic [Alexeyeva 1973]. New materials, however, demonstrate that the early Novgorodians were mostly dolichocranic.

To test the Western Slavic hypothesis, 15 early (llth13th century) Novgorodian samples were compared with 24 Western Slavic groups, three of these representing populations of the southern Baltic coast. 11 Germanic, 9 Baltic. 4 Finnic, and 5 early Eastern Slavic groups (Krivichi) of the late 1st early 2nd millennium using the canonical variate analysis.

CV I (26% of the variance) opposes Western Slavs to the Novgorodians. The former, like the Germanic tribes, have narrower orbits and noses combined with broader frontal bones. Early Novgorodians and Balts are characterized by an opposite combination. The difference between Western Slavs and Novgorodians in mean CV I scores is 7 times greater than its error (p). Slavs of the southern Baltic region, especially the Obodrity, show an especially sharp contrast with the Novgorodians in CV 1 and, consequently, are even closer to the Germanic groups than are other Western Slavs.

CV 2, accounting for 19% of the variation, is mostly based on nasal and orbital height. While the Germanic groups, who have maximal scores of these variables, show positive scores on CV 2, the Novgorodians are on the negative extreme. Western Slavs, too, despite being intermediate, are significantly different from the Novgorodians (p). Here as well, the southern Baltic Slavs are the furthest from the Novgorodians and hence the closest to the Germanic tribes among the Western Slavs.

Overall, according to the first two CVs, which are independent, the Slavs of the southern Baltic coast are radically different from the Novgorodians (CV I: t = 5.03, p; CV 2: t = 3.77, P) and resemble the Germanic peoples. Contrary to the prediction made by the Western Slavic theory, populations of the southern Baltic coast are the least similar to the Novgorodian groups.

As the Mahalanobis' distances suggest, the southern Baltic Slavs, except those of the Lower Vistula area, are very close to certain Germanic groups. Most Novgorodian groups, on the other hand, are very close to each other as well as to various Baltic-speaking populations, specifically the more gracile ones, such as Yatviagi, Prussians, and Selonians. Our findings, then, disprove the idea that early Novgorodians had closely affinities with the Baltic Slavs. The latter were cranially much closer to Germanic tribes, which may be explained either by admixture or by common origin.

The most powerful discriminator between the Novgorodians and the Western Slavs is orbital breadth. Because the latter were studied by the Western specialists (hence the risk of an inter-observer error), this trait was omitted in order to better assess the discriminative power of the remaining traits. After the exclusion, facial, orbital, and nasal height turned out the best discriminators, the former one and the latter two having opposite signs. The mean CV I score in 24 Western Slavic groups is close to zero (-0.030.11), in 15 Novgorodian ones it is negative (-0.750.17). and the difference is 4 times larger than its error and highly significant.

The inclusion of late Novgorodian series has little effect on the results. Sedov separated the groups from the Ingrian Plateau into Slovenian (= pure Novgorodian Slavic, allegedly related to the populations of the Baltic coast of Poland), and Chudic (=aboriginal Finnic), which, as he believed, were virtually unaffected by Slavic admixture. The multivariate analysis does not support his conclusions. The mean Mahalanobis' distances separating the Slovenians from other groups are as follows: Chud. 0.900.15. Obodrites, 10.410.71. Pomoryane, 5.630.52, Western Slavs pooled, 6.50.59. If the orbital breadth is excluded, the respective distances are these: 0.850.11, 5.090.40, 1.730.19, and 3.090.34. In any event, then, Slovenians are much closer to Chud' than to the Western Slavs.

It must be concluded that craniometric analysis does not reveal any Western Slavic affinities in the populations of northwestern Rus'. The same analysis does point to the affinities between the early Novgorodians and the Baltic-speaking tribes.

If the 1st millennium Baltic samples are included, the most important traits in CV 1, now accounting for 31% of the total variation, are horizontal diameters and shape of the braincase. Minimal CV I scores are shown by early Baltic groups, characterized by massive skulls and dolichocrany.

Traits with highest loadings on CV 2. accounting for 19% of the entire variance, are nasal height and nasal prominence angle, orbital breadth, cranial breadth, and simotic index (as indicated by the signs of their loadings, the latter trait is opposed to the remaining ones). Positive scores of this CV have groups with sharply protruding noses (but relatively flat nasalia). and wide orbits: Balts of the 1st and 2nd millennia, some Eastern Slavs (Dregovichi, most early and some late Novgorodian groups. Krivichi of Polotsk, and Slavs of the Prut Dnestr interfluve. An opposite trait combination resulting in negative CV 2 scores is seen in medieval Finnic groups (except Estonians), recent Lapps, and Eastern Slavs including northeastern Krivichi, Vyatichi, Polyane. Severyane, Radimichi. most late Novgorodians and some early Novgorodians.

Both CV I and CV 2 reveal regular patterns. High scores of both CVs are observed in Balts and Slavs (see above), as well as in medieval Estonians. Polyane and Krivichi (except those from Polotsk). Vyatichi, Severyane, and Radimichi are characterized by positive CV I scores and negative CV 2 scores. Most late and two early Novgorodian samples, like the Lapps, have negative scores on both CVs (Fig. 12).

As the Mahalanobis' distances indicate, early and certain late Novgorodian groups have many parallels among early and late medieval Balts. Also, they resemble some Estonian populations as well as the Slavic ones including Polotsk Krivichi, Dregovichi, and Slavs of the Prut Dnestr interfluve.

It turns out, then, that in 9001300 A.D. the population of the entire western periphery of Rus' from the nortwest to the southeast was rather homogeneous and similar to the medieval Balts and Estonians. People inhabiting central and eastern regions of Rus' represented another trait combination, with less expressed Caucasoid features. It is believed that they had inherited this combination from their local predecessors [Alexeyeva 1973]. Eastern Slavic tribes such as Ulichi, Tivertsy, Drevlyane, and Volynyane, were thought to include a Central European substratum [Alexeyeva 1973]. Indeed, these groups are intermediate between the Balts and Novgorodians, on the one hand, and Western Slavs, on the other. Among their closest parallels are six Western Slavic groups with the longest and highest dolicho-mesocranic braincases. wider orbits, and higher faces and noses compared with other 19 groups (these features can be described as Baltic, see Tab. 23).

The biological similarity between linguistically diverse (both Slavic and non-Slavic) tribes of the western part of Eastern Europe may be due to the fact that Baltic, Slavic, and Estonian tribes have descended from a single population: Caucasoids who created the Battle Axes Culture. Later contacts could have increased the similarity between Slavs inhabiting the area from the Upper Pripyat' to the Prut Dnestr interfluve and the central Europeans with their massive crania. It is also possible that Eastern and Western Slavs have had a common biological origin. Because early Novgorodians have evidently had no contacts with the Western Slavs, they could have retained certain archaic biological features which they shared with early Balts and Estonians.

The key element in the origins of late medieval Novgorodian groups was evidently the assimilation of local Finnic tribes. Around 1300 A.D., a trait combination typical of Finnic tribes, such as Chud' and Ves', specifically brachycrany, low vault, flat face, and flat nose, becomes common in Novgorodian populations. Crania displaying these features are often found in burial constructions of a new type which had not previously existed on that territory.

The canonical variate analysis using cranial samples of Kola Lapps as well as Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age series from northwestern Russia has revealed that the ancient populations of this region were as heterogeneous as were their medieval successors. The fact was noted long ago [Zhirov 1940; Akimova 1953; Denisova 1975; Gokhman 1976; Sarap 1977; Benevolenskaya 1984]. Moreover, the observed tendencies are largely the same in various periods. According to Denisova, within the series from Zveinieki, Latvia, two trait combinations can be separated, one of them characterized by pronounced Caucasoid features (dolichocrany, sharply profiled face) another combining mesocrany with a lower face and flatter nose. Denisova believes that these combinations differ by origin. Mesolithic and Neolithic cranial series from the Eastern European forest belt (Southern Oleniy Ostrov, Ladoga Channel, Karavaikha. etc.) are heterogeneous as well. Over the entire time range from the Mesolithic to the Bronze and even Early Iron Age, the populations of northwestern Russia do not become more homogeneous either at the within-group or at the belween-group level. Late medieval Novgorodian groups display the same contrasting trait combinations as do the earlier groups of the same territory. Thus, an unusual negative correlation between the nasal prominence angle and the simotic index, which is an important feature in the differentiation between Balts and Finns, and between the early and late Novgorodians, is present in more ancient groups as well.

The cranial resemblance of Lapps, certain early populations of the forest zone, a number of late Novgorodian and one early Novgorodian series attests to the presence of the so-called Lapponoid trait combination in certain Novgorodian groups. Like the pronounced Caucasoid combination, it was apparently inherited from the more ancient populations of this territory.

Compared with the contemporaneous populations of Latvia and Lithuania, most Neolithic populations of the northern forest belt of Eastern Europe were characterized by a tendency to brachycrany, flatter faces and noses, and narrower orbits. However, Neolithic crania from the Ladoga Channel show marked resemblance to those from Latvia and Lithuania.

The strikingly similar nature of cranial contrasts observed in northwestern Russia throughout the Middle Ages and in the earlier periods may be indicative of a permanent influx of populations from various regions (specifically from the southwest and from the east). It is highly likely that by the moment of the Slavic immigration, the local, specifically Baltic Finnic, populations were already diverse in the proportion of Caucasoid and Lapponoid traits. The appearance of the Slavs evidently shifted the balance in favour of the Caucasoid features. Consolidation began in the 11th or 12th century when the Old Russian burial rite spread over the region, and Caucasoid groups became more numerous. Ca. 1300 A.D., the process reversed due to mass Christianization of the local tribes and the influx of immigrants (likely Lapponoid in appearance) from the Volga basin following the destruction of the neighbouring principality of Tver' by the Mongolo-Tatars.


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