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Finnish Roots

The origins of Finnish languages¿and the people who speak them¿have puzzled scientists for a long time. Almost all other Europeans speak Indo-European languages: most northern Europeans speak Germanic languages; Eastern Europeans use Slavic tongues. But nestled between them sits Finland. For no apparent reason, the languages spoken there, categorized as Uralic, bear no resemblance to those of their neighbors. In search of where these peoples came from, a team of researchers from the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki has taken a new look at the genetic relationship between different Uralic-speaking peoples.

Under the direction of Ann-Christine Syv¿nen, the team looked at Y chromosomes from 25 men, all of them speakers of Uralic languages. The subjects came from Karelians, Ob-Ugrics, three groups of Saami and Finns from three different regions of Finland. In particular, the scientists looked at so-called SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) on the Y chromosome. SNPs are variations of a single "letter" in the genetic code. In most cases, these variations have no impact on an individual¿s traits, but they are very useful for researchers as markers¿like landmarks on a map. In this study, they helped the scientists trace the participants¿ paternal lineages.

In all, the researchers found six specific SNP combinations among the groups¿two of which prevail among both the Saami and the Finns. Thus, they concluded that Finns and Saami have at least two distinct, but shared founding Y-chromosomal lineages. These lineages were also more or less prevalent depending on which region of the country the Finns or Saami came from. Of interest, these findings correspond to archaeological data, which indicates that Finland was settled in two waves.

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