Mobility and population transformation in the Carpathian Basin during the 5th to 7th centuries AD: changing societies and identities

The interdisciplinary OTKA project (NN 113157) involves the ancient DNA study of ca. 20 individuals, found in preciously furnished graves from the early Avar period. These people, buried with golden or silver embossing swords, could have been the leaders of the inner-Asian or Eastern-European nomad tribe. Based on ethnographic studies, this highest social class of the Avar society was organized by kinship relations. These affiliations are the focus of our genetic study, using well-established archaeogenetic methods, and forensic tools. Studying the early Avar period specimens has a population genetic aspect as well.

Comparing the enlarged Avar mitochondrial DNA dataset to other early medieval ancient DNA results and to the genetic diversity of modern-day Eurasian populations, we will be able to estimate the Inner Asian portion of the Avar (elite) population's genetic variability. We aim to sequence whole mitochondrial genomes with Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) techniques, and a large number of nuclear SNPs (1240k).

Participants: Dr Tivadar Vida (IA RCH HAS), Veronika Csáky (IAG RCH HAS), Dániel Gerber (IAG RCH HAS, FS ELTE), Anna Szécsényi-Nagy (IAG RCH HAS), Balázs G. Mende (IAG RCH HAS)

Partner institutes:

  • Institute of Archaeological Sciences, ELTE University, Budapest
  • Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Szeged
  • Department of Anthropology, Natural History Museum, Budapest

International partner institute in the project:

  • Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena (Prof. Dr. Johannes Krause)

First results about the Inner Asian genetic connections of the Avar period nomadic elite can be read on BioRxiv (2018).


Horse domestication in the Carpathian Basin

Przewalski's horseOur research is part of Dr. Erika Gál's OTKA project "From the environment to belief systems: changing lifeways and culture as reflected by animal remains between the Late Copper Age and the Late Bronze Age". We focus on 6-2th millennium BC horse remains from the Carpathian Basin, and investigate coat color markers and mitochondrial genomes of these specimens dated back to the Middle Bronze Age. The genetic results will be implemented to ERC #681605 project lead by Prof. Ludovic Orlando.



Genomic exploration of cultural transformations over 4,000 years of the Carpathian Basin's prehistory

Media image. Drawn by Zsolt Réti.The research project Genomic Carpathian Prehistory focuses on population transformations in the Carpathian Basin between 6000-2000 BC (from the Early Neolithic to the end of the Early Bronze Age), sampling individuals with cultural assignments from almost every archaeological cultures within the mentioned time interval. The project team intends to study population structure and mixture events, and reconstruct deep population history over 4,000 years of the Carpathian Basin's prehistory. For this purpose, we use next-generation DNA sequencing methods (NGS) on a human genome-scale, with target enrichment (capture) approaches, developed by the team of Prof. Dr. David Reich's laboratory (Harvard Medical School).

Hungarian colleagues involved in the project: Eszter Bánffy, János Jakucs, Kitti Köhler, Krisztián Oross, Tibor Marton, Anett Osztás, Gabriella Kulcsár, Viktória Kiss, Mária Bondár (IA RCH HAS), Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Balázs G. Mende (IAG RCH HAS).

International partner institutes in the project:

  • Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston (Prof. Dr. David Reich)
  • Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena (Dr. Wolfgang Haak)
  • Institute for Prehistory and Archaeological Science and Hightech Research Center, University of Basel, Basel
  • Center of Natural and Cultural History of Teeth, Danube Private University, Krems (Prof. Dr. Kurt W. Alt)
  • Roman-Germanic Commission, German Archaeological Institute, Frankfurt (Prof. Dr. Eszter Bánffy)


Historical genetics in the research of the Hungarian ethnogenesis

(in cooperation with the Institute of Genetics, Biological Research Centre HAS, Szeged)

Excavation of the grave 4 at HartaThe primary purpose of this project (in the framework of the 5th NKFP, 2001-2004) was to search for genetic evidence, which could answer archaeological and historical issues, and clarify certain aspects of Central and Eastern European populations' history. The applied molecular genetic analyses allow us to separate the autochthons (indigenous) people from the immigrants of a certain region. On the other hand, it can throw light on the genetic relationships of populations characterized by the archaeological point of view. During our scientific work, archaeologically and anthropologically well-characterized remains were examined for the mitochondrial DNA. Our aim was to study the maternal lineages of the samples and fit them into a historical and archaeological context. We developed a new sampling method, in order to gain not only a large amount of bone powder but also high-quality samples, which were free from modern DNA.


Historical genetics of the Carpathian Basin

Conquest period(NKFP 5/038/2004 project, in cooperation with the Institute of Genetics, Biological Research Center HAS, Szeged)

The former research project of the Hungarian ethnogenesis run parallel in Szeged and Budapest between 2004-2007. We aimed to involve such specimens in the project, which help to answer smaller and independent archaeological research questions (e.g. Harta-Freifelt cemetery). On the other hand, we also tried to collect samples from the whole Carpathian Basin, concentrating on the Hungarian Conquest and the early Arpad age (9-12th AD) periods.

Participants of the project: Prof. Dr István Raskó, Gyöngyvér Tömöry, Erika Bogácsi-Szabó, Bernadett Csányi (IG BRC HAS, Szeged), Aranka Csősz, Péter Langó (IA RCH HAS), Balázs G. Mende (IAG RCH HAS).

The results of the two NKFP projects were summarized in the issue of October 2008 of the 'Hungarian Science' journal (Magyar Tudomány). Webpage of the journal Hungarian Science. Further papers are found under 'Publications' on our webpage.

Archaeogenetic analysis of the Hungarian Conquest period cemetery Harta-Freifelt (10th century AD)

Grave reconstruction from burial 22. found at the site Harta -Freifelt. Drawn by Zoltán Boldog.The archaeogenetic analysis of the Harta cemetery was part of the former 'NKFP' projects, focusing on the 9-10th century period of the Carpathian Basin. Harta-Freifelt is a completely excavated and genetically investigated classic Hungarian Conquest period cemetery. The mitochondrial DNA analyses did not reveal any maternal kinship connection, which was a surprising result, regarding that more than 80% of the buried individuals were women. This study can imply a new social model for the small Conquest period graveyards, which have been interpreted yet as family burial sites.

Participants of the research: Prof. Dr István Raskó, (IG BRC HAS, Szeged), Aranka Csősz (IA RCH HAS), Balázs G. Mende (IAG RCH HAS), Péter Langó (IA RCH HAS).


Archaeogenetic analysis of Avar period (6-7th century AD) burials from the Carpathian Basin

The Szegvár-Oromdűlő early Avar period cemetery and the burial custom of catacomb graves east of the Tisza River in Hungary (OTKA- 91183 project)

Our archaeogenetic analyses were part of an interdisciplinary OTKA project, led by the Móra Ferenc Museum, Szeged (Lívia Bende, Gábor Lőrinczy) between 2009 and 2012. The aim of the project was to detect potential population history events behind the changes of burial customs of catacomb type graves in the former Avar territory east of river Tisza between rivers Körös and Maros. Three archaeological sites were partially sampled and analyzed: Szegvár-Oromdűlő, Székkutas-Kápolnadűlő, Pitvaros-Víztározó. The skeletal remains were in a very bad state of preservation for ancient DNA, therefore the repeated analyses only obtained sufficiently reproduced DNA sequences in the HVS-I region of the mitochondrial DNA in 34 cases. These results can be the basis of a future Avar period mtDNA dataset, but they are too scarce to evaluate independently.

The Avar mtDNA dataset was part of the Conquest-period study of our team: Csősz, A, Szécsényi-Nagy, A, Csákyova, V, Langó, P, Bódis, V, Tömöry, G, Nagy, M, Mende, BG. (2016) Maternal Genetic Ancestry and Legacy of 10th Century AD Hungarians. BioRxiv. 10.1101/056655


Eastern connections of the Hungarian Conquest period archaeological remains in the context of the Hungarian prehistory

Archaeological database and archaeometric researches (OTKA -106369 project)

Excavation of the Uelgi siteThe ancient Hungarians originated from the Ural region in today's central Russia and migrated across the Eastern European steppe, according to historical sources. The historically and linguistically assumed homeland of the ancient Hungarians was in the Central Ural region, which is an easily accessible part of the mountain range. The Finno-Ugric groups might have settled on both sides of the Urals during the early Medieval period. Archeological records, for example, from central-eastern Uralic site Uelgi, indicate an archaeological cultural mixture of northern Ugric and eastern steppic Turkic elements. These eastern components show cultural connections toward the region of the Emba River in today's western Kazakhstan and toward the Srostki culture, which indicates that the ancient Hungarian population could already have been reached in the Central Ural region by several cultural and genetic influences. Our laboratory studies the genetic composition of the people buried in 7-11th century cemeteries of the Ural region and compares the data with other 7-12th century DNA results from Eurasia.

The latest results of the project can be read in the conference book of the "IV. Early Hungarian History Conference"

Participants of the project: Dr Attila Türk (leader of the project, Péter Pázmány Catholic University), Balázs G. Mende (IAG RCH HAS), Bea Szeifert (IAG RCH HAS, FS ELTE), Veronika Csáky (IAG RCH HAS), Dániel Gerber (IAG RCH HAS, FS ELTE)

Partner institute: Archaeological Department of the Péter Pázmány Catholic University


Genetic analyses of the 13. grave group at Alsónyék 10b site

Alsónyék: from the beginnings of the food production until the end of the Late Neolithic (OTKA-81230 project, led by Prof. Dr. Eszter Bánffy)

The 13. grave group at Alsónyék 10b site within a large site complex is assigned to the Late Neolithic (5th millennium BC) Lengyel culture. We analyzed and typed the mtDNA of 36 individuals buried in this area. Besides the maternal lineages, we also searched for genetic traces of the pathogen Mycobacterium Tuberculosis in the skeletal remains of 38 Late Neolithic individuals. The results are reported in the June 2015 issue of the Tuberculosis journal.
Click here for redirecting to the webpage of Tuberculosis.

Participants of the project: Dr Eszter Bánffy, Anett Osztás, Aranka Csősz, Kitti Köhler, Balázs G. Mende, (IAG RCH HAS), Annamária Pósa, Dr György Pálfi (University of Szeged)

Partner institutes:

  • Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Szeged
  • Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, EURAC Research, Bolzano


The population history of the Carpathian Basin in the Neolithic period and its influence on the colonization of Central Europe

The mitochondrial 'Neolithic package' and the Continental Route of the Neolithic dispersal.This interdisciplinary project was funded by the German Research Foundation (project number: AI 287/10-1) between 2010 and 2014. The original project title was 'Bevölkerungsgeschichte des Karpatenbeckens in der Jungsteinzeit und ihr Einfluss auf die Besiedlung Mitteleuropas'. Prof. Dr. Kurt W. Alt (Johannes Gutenberg University) and Prof. Dr. Eszter Bánffy (IA RCH HAS) were the organizers and initiators of the project. 2000 years of population history in the Carpathian Basin was studied by bioarchaeological methods, and the results were compared with other European prehistoric data. We sampled human remains from ca. 600 Neolithic and Copper Age burials and analyzed them under the scientific aspects of archaeology, anthropology, molecular genetics, and stable isotope (geochemistry) studies. Our aims were to examine the Neolithic diet, lifestyle, mobility and genetic relationships of the people ordered into geographically and/or chronologically distinctive archaeological cultures. The results also helped us reconstructing the Neolithic people's dispersal, population dynamic, and connection systems.

Co-workers in the project: Prof. Dr Eszter Bánffy, János Jakucs , Kitti Köhler, Krisztián Oross, Tibor Marton, Anett Osztás (IA RCH HAS), Balázs G. Mende, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy (IAG RCH HAS) International co-workers: Prof. Dr Kurt W. Alt, Victoria Keerl, Marc Fecher (Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz)

Partner institutes in the project: Department of Biological Anthropology of the University of Szeged, Institute of Archaeological Sciences of the Eötvös Loránd University, Móra Ferenc Museum, National Heritage Protection Centre of the Hungarian National Museum, Balaton Museum, Biology Department, University of West Hungary, Laczkó Dezső Museum, Damjanich János Museum, Déri János Museum, Dobó István Museum, Herman Ottó Museum, Janus Pannonius Museum, Szent Istvám Király Museum, Wosinsky Mór Museum, Anthropological Center, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Curt-Engelhorn-Centre for Archaeometry, German Archaeological Institute, Roman-Germanic Commission, and many others.


Archaeogenetic analyses of Nitra-Sindolka cemetery (10-11th century) in Slovakia

The genetic analyses of the 10-11th century cemetery at Nitra-Sindolka were performed in the framework of a three-year scientific research project (VEGA-1/0897/12, Archeogenetický výskum kontaktnej zóny z 10. storočia na Slovensku/Archaeogenetic investigation of a population from the 10th century contact zone).

The research is based on the scientific agreement of four institutions:

  • Univerzita Konstantína Filozofa v Nitre (Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra)
  • Institute of Archaeology, RCH HAS, Budapest
  • Institute of Archaeology, Slovakian Academy of Science, Nitra
  • Janos Selye University, Komarno

The 300 graves of the cemetery were excavated by Dr. Gabriel Fusek in 1985-1986. The site encompasses two areas, which were the burial places of the Hungarian-Slavic mixed plebeian population of the region (so-called Bjelo Brdo culture). During our investigation, we managed to type the mtDNA HVS-I region and assign it to certain mtDNA haplogroups in 14 cases out of the sampled 20 individuals. We compared the results both with our Hungarian Conquest Period dataset and with the European medieval datasets, in order to learn and interpret the genetic composition of a mixed population in the 10-11th century Carpathian Basin.

Leaders of the project: Prof. Dr. Maria Bauerová (Constantine the Philosopher University), Dr. Melinda Nagy (Janos Selye University).
Co-workers in the project: Veronika Csáky (Constantine the Philosopher University) (IAG RCH HAS), Balázs G. Mende (IAG RCH HAS), Aranka Csősz (IA RCH HAS)

Publication of the research: Csákyova V, Szécsényi-Nagy A, Csősz A, Nagy M, Fusek, G, Langó P, Bauer, M, Mende BG, Makovický, P, Bauerová, M. (2016): Maternal Genetic Composition of a Medieval Population from a Hungarian-Slavic Contact Zone in Central Europe. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0151206. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151206.


Genetic analyses of the individuals, buried into the Rákóczi vault in Košice (Slovakia)


Francis I. Rákóczi was buried in a vault of the Premonstratensian, earlier Jesuit church in Košice. The vault was plundered and wasted repeatedly. The skeletal remains need to be identified and authenticated through the historically documented kinship connections.

Participants of the project: Dr Melinda Nagy (János Selye University), Balázs G. Mende, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy (IAG RCH HAS)