Mysterious warrior clan’s marriage practices revealed

DNA analysis of more than 400 skeletons, covering 9 generations, has allowed researchers to map out the relationships within a mysterious warrior clan.

The Avars were a warrior culture which lived in the Carpathian Basin in modern-day Hungary about 1,500 years ago. The core of the Avar society was a khagan, a political leader surrounded by elite horse-mounted warriors and their families.

Originally nomadic, Avars started settling in the Great Hungarian Plain in the mid-6th century. Their cemeteries often contain weapons, jewellery and horses.

Their rule was ended about 800 CE when they were invaded by the army of Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

In a study published in Nature, scientists did DNA analysis on 424 bodies. They identified 298 people who were closely related and mapped out family trees across nearly 300 years.

Analysis showed that Avars buried in the same cemetery tended to be related.

Women were more diverse than men, suggesting the women were married into the communities while the men descended from the founding males stayed put.

The study also showed that it was common for both men and women to have children with multiple partners.

They also found evidence of levirate partnering. This is where closely related men have children with the same woman, often after the death of one of the men. For example, the team found 4 pairs of fathers and sons, 2 pairs of brothers, and an uncle and nephew who shared female partners.

It suggests that Avar society is similar in structure to Eurasian pastoralist steppe people who emerged several thousands of years ago. This further validates previous research which suggests that the Avars originated in the Eurasian steppes before making their way into the Carpathian Basin.

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