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Evan Schultheis @EvanSchultheis
, 18 tweets, 5 min read Read on Twitter
I keep seeing this come up so I'm going to address it:

#Huns #Xiongnu #Migration #JustinianicPlague…
First of all, here's the actual article from Nature:…
The study focused on genome sequencing of 137 individuals on the Eurasian steppes divided into five extremely broad, genetically defined phases: 3000-2100 BC, 2100-1200 BC, 1200-200 BC, 200BC-600 AD, and 600-1500 AD. The second to last of which is just broadly called "Hunnic."
First of all these defined phases ignore the complex reality of steppe movements entirely, but it's ultimately rather irrelevant to my point. What the BBC article is doing is taking the "Hun" phase and obviously assuming it to be one constant movement from Mongolia into Europe.
The genetic markers left behind from Yersinia Pestis infection were from two individuals: A 'Hun' from the Tian Shan mountain range north of the Tarim Basin dating to about 180 AD, the second an Alan from North Ossetia dating to the 6th-9th century AD.
Now, one thing the article does note correctly is the heterogeneous admixture of populations within the Xiongnu Empire. Those in the Tian Shan range primarily belonged to the Wusun, and the article notes the Indo-Iranian admixture of the individuals in that area.
So we can pretty effectively establish that this man was not a 'Hun' in the traditional sense: that being an East Asian marauding nomad with a flat nose, beady eyes, swarthy complexion and strange haircut as Cassiodorus/Jordanes and Procopius describe.
Now let's address the dates of the two finds. The Alan can obviously be ruled out to be irrelevant to the Hun migration, dating to the 6th-9th centuries and obviously a victim of the Justinianic Plague which first appeared in 541. That was Yersinia Pestis.…
So the debacle obviously revolves around the individual dating to about 180 AD from the Tian Shan mountains northwest of Xinjiang, broadly labelled a "Hun." About 180 AD was when the Antonine plague was tapering off, which had first appeared in China in the 140's and spread west.
The problem is that the Antonine plague, although I am unaware of any solid genetic studies identifying it definitively as such, was most likely smallpox. Art, textual descriptions from Galen, and other sources all point towards Smallpox being the epidemic of the time.
Hopefully we may learn more about the Antonine plague considering a copy of Galen was found on the pages of a middle Byzantine hymnal about three years ago.
But back to my point. It is fairly evident that Yersinia Pestis was not connected to the Antonine plague. So this brings up the question of how it was related to the Hun migrations? The Northern Xiongnu disappear from Chinese sources in about 150, but point towards migration.
The problem is that textual sources for the period after about 150 until about 300 for the northern Xiongnu disappear, until they start showing up in Sogdian and Indian and other sources in the early 300's.
However we do have sources on the Kushans, which point towards Xiongnu pressure first being exerted on them in the mid-200's, well after this individual with Yersinia Pestis perished around 180. So it's pretty clear he was more or less unrelated to large-scale steppe movements.
What this genomic study shows is simply a likely central or east Asian origin for the Yersinia Pestis bacterium, and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, evidence of the bacterium to have been found.
It is certainly unrelated to the actual "Hun migration" which occurred in the 360's in response to an extraordinary megadrought caused by the El Nino Southern Oscillation. However, it also can't be ruled out that the Justinianic Plague helped spur the Avar migration in the 550's.

Source on the ENSO cycle driving the migration of the 360's, 430's-460's, and 550's:…
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