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At the end of the Ice Age, the world climate was warming very rapidly -becoming as warm or warmer than today by about 12,000 years ago, when the great glaciers were still very large.  This warming caused the northern lands to be flooded with water, and turn former reindeer tundra into marshlands, lakes, rivers and seas. Reindeer hunters had to give up their tradittional reindeer hunting and adapt to the watery environment, including boats just to get around. Although humans were smart enough to devise rafts to cross bodies of water we are not by nature water-creatures; thus the evolution of a part of humanity into a life using boats and getting around on water could not have occurred spontaneously just anywhere. It had to have occurred in a place where there was no other alternative; where survival depended on it, and the pressure to change from reindeer people on tundra to boat peoples in wetlands lasted many generations. Through natural selection those groups who devised the best ways of dealing with the watery environment were the ones who produced the largest populations and flourished. When the new way of life was  mature and successful,  it  expanded rapidly as  the population of boat peoples grew in the warming climate.

Boat People Emerge from European Reindeer People


    The story begins at the height of the Ice Age, when glaciers cover the entire north part of Europe. In southern Europe there were people who lived in caves and hunted bison, horses, reindeer and other large animals who lived in plentiful grasslands or steppes, or towards the north permanently solid tundra.

Map 1. The Ice Sheet over the north of Europe. 

Humans who followed Reindeer, Bison, Horses, Aurochs (wild cattle) and other migrating herds were distributed according to the migration patterns of these herds. Missing from the map is mammoths, but mammoths became extinct in the course of the Ice Age retreat . As the Ice Sheet withdrew and humans began expanding northward, the first split was between the reindeer hunters who occupied the tundra of the North European Plain, and the descendants of the horse and bison hunters who were forced to adjust to the disappearance of grassy plains and plains herds.

    But when the Ice Age came to an end, the climate warmed, and the southern parts of Europe became increasingly forested. Grasslands and steppes vanished, and brought an end to herds of many of the steppes animals. Bison and horse herds migrated into Eastern Europe where the climate remained dry and there were still open country with grassy steppes.. On the other hand reindeer were animals who lived on the tundra plain north of the tree line. Forests could not swallow up tundra in the same way they could swallow up steppe grassland, because trees could not grow in arctic conditions. Thus there was always a northern limit to trees, and beyond that a tundra plain which could be inhabited by reindeer. Those humans who sought to continue the way of life of the Ice Age, needed only to shift north with the reindeer as they kept north of the tree line.


    The story of the boat people begins with the reindeer hunters. Archeologists have called the reindeer peoples of the later Ice Age, just south of the glaciers, "Magdelenian Culture". By about 13,000 years ago, the broad region of northwest Europe contained the reindeer peoples archeologists call the "Ahrensburg Culture" (Archeological naming of cultures of prehistoric times does not mean there was much change in language, and soft culture, so you must not imagine much change in the reindeer peoples)
     Archeology has discovered that originally tundra hunters pursued many tundra animals  as well as reindeer, but by about 13,000 years ago, they were sometimes 90% dependent on reindeer. That means they became attached to and followed specific tundra herds, and migrated northward with them as the climate warmed and the tundra shifted north.
. The northward shift would have been so gradual the reindeer people would not have been aware of it;  (Perhaps if they had been aware the lands to the south were getting warmer, they would not have remained in the arctic conditions.)
    The northward shift of the tundra and reindeer peoples was occurring in Asia too. The "Magdelanian Culture" appears to have reached far east at least to the beginning of Asia - all tundra hunting peoples of the Ice Age were constantly roaming, following the wandering animals. Since some animals roamed without design,  humans following them would also be migrating without design, it is certainly possible that a tribe of mammoth hunters could migrate over the tundra and steppes across the middle part of Eurasia. Tundra reindeer too migrated long distances but they practiced annual migrations north in summer and back south in winter. Each herds, sometimes consisting of thousands of individuals developed their own summering and wintering locations and often travelled a couple thousand kilometers. It is thought reindeer survived whereas other wholly animals were in trouble because as the Ice Age ended there were dramatic fluctuations in temperature in which wholly animals could not deal with. Reindeer, however were able to adapt to the temperature with their north-south migrations. In any event, reindeer survived in the tundra, and it may be the reason humankind in the northern limits at the end of the Ice Age, were basically reindeer hunters, and following reindeer herds. (In fact, reindeer moved so fast that humans devised ways to hunt them by intercepting them coming or going or at their wintering locations - using the arctic cold to store large amounts of meat.
    In northern Europe, by around 13,000 years ago, to the east of the "Ahrensburg Culture" was what archeologists call the "Swiderian Culture". Suddenly the word temperature was warming to what it is today. In only about five centuries, scientists say, the reindeer tundra across northern Europe was suddenly turning into marshlands. In northern continental Europe, the tundras could not shift northward because glaciers still covered Scandinavia and further northward shifting of tundras was blocked by seas and the south edge of the glaciers.  The reindeer herds were doomed, and so were the reindeer-hunting way of life. Their last refuge was in northern Britain, and some mountains of southern Norway.  The following map, developed from a nice base map from source shown under the map, shows the situation about 13,000 years ago. Clearly if the tundra was found only in the pink regions, and in the next millenium, if there was a rapid warming to the termperature of today, the remaining reindeer tundra (where the climate was cold enought) would be found only north into Britain,  and in the northest direction to the east of the glacier. That obviously meant that the Ahrensburg Culture was doomed, while the Swiderian Culture could still find tundra and reindeer fleeing northeast. Except, in the northeast direction the tundra was eventually also terminated by all the glacial meltwater covering the regions that are tundra today. We have to bear in mind that most of the glacier is still there, even though the temperature is as warm as today -  as situation similar to Greenland today relative to climate change. Glaciers are melting and water is gushing out of them.


    The following map from an archeological article (from Kozlowski J, and Bandi H-G 1984) covers archeological sites dated to between 40,000 to around 12,000 years ago. The solid line on the left is the original edge of glacier ice, later becoming glacial lakes. This map basically shows how tundra hunters covered a vast area of tundra in their nomadic life. Presumably, as the climate warmed the reindeer culture (perhaps basically ancestral to the Swiderian Culture) took people further north. The other sites show migrations up the Ural Mountains from the Asian side.  Archeological digs show that the main large animals used were reindeer. While they hunted grouse and hairs, the bones of large animals was 90% reindeer.

    Common sense suggests that if the climate became as warm as today, and there was glacier and glacial seas north of the northern Urals location, then reindeer and reindeer peoples could only find refuge in the mountains of the northern Ural Mountains. While the map shows older sites towards the south, diggings at the site marked 6 on the map, at what is known as the Medveja Cave, reveal the cave was used over many millenia, and that the most recent level of remains was close to around 12,000-11,000 or so, which still showed large animal remains to be mostly reindeer,  and therefore there were reindeer people in the higher mountains of the northern Urals.
    We should not forget that reindeer-oriented peoples still inhabited the northern Urals, whereas back towards the west, the Ahrensburg and Swiderian cultures disappeared. These two reindeer cultures peoples developed a new way of life using boats, which we can refer to as 'boat people', and we can now anticipate that when the boat people spread eastward, they would encounter these Urals reindeer peoples and that it would leave an impact on language and genetics.


(the following is excerpted from two pages of the famous book by Grahame Clarke.

 ...reindeer hunters of western and northern Europe during the period between ten and fifteen thousand years ago provide a well-documented example [of narrowing down of animals pusued] Analysis of the larger game animals represented in the food-refuse of the Late-Magdalenians who sheltered in the south German cave of Petersfels for example, shows that they obtained four-fifth of their meat from reindeer. And even greater concentration can be seen on the summer hunting stations of the Hamburgian and Ahrensburgians sited on the margins of glacial tunnel-valleys in Schleswig-Holstein. In that case over 99 percent of the larger game animals were of a single species. The evidence suggests that other animals were the victims of chance encounters and that the only serious quarry was the reindeer...By attaching themselves to a herd of reindeer a group of hunters would not only possess themselves if a walking larder, comparable up to a point with a domesticated herd, but also a source of many of the most important raw materials they needed, skins for clothing and tents, antler and sinew for hunting gear........quite suddenly, in the course of a few generations the ecological setting changed: as Late-glacial gave  way to Post-glacial climate and glaciers entered on their final retreat, forests encroached rapidly on the open grazing grounds formerly occupied by reindeer.....the hunting people of the North European Plain reacted in part  by reverting to a mixed hunting economy... but in part by developing special skills in fishing and winning food from the seashore. [Clarke, World Prehistory, pp73-74]

  The science is clear that a  major change occurred in the North European plain over a rapid period, in effect changing the reindeer hunters of the northwestern Europe into mixed-hunting, seafood consumers, who moved about in boats. Archeology identified these peoples who expanded rapidly as far as the Urals as the “Maglemose” culture.

...The Neothermal inhabitants of this region [North European Plain most severely affected by environmental change at the close of the Pleistocene] had to adapt to a landscape transformed from park-like tundra into closed forest........People could no longer support themselves hunting a single species....Information is particularly rich in this respect of the Maglemosians who take their name from the big bog (magle mose) at Mullerup where their culture was first recognized. Their hunting grounds on the North European Plain extended in the west to eastern England and Flanders with outliers as far as Ulsterm and were centered on the marshy region now covered by the North Sea, and North German Plain, and the west Baltic area including Denmark and south Sweden; in the east they occupied parts of northern Russia as far as the Ural mountains. Over the whole of this territory they were fond of camping along river banks and lake shores on the margin of the encompassing forest, a favoured resort of certain game animals, including notably elk (=moose), as well as of wild-fowl, water-plants and fish. [G. Clarke, World Prehistory, p 79]

    The reindeer hunters further west were able to continue their reindeer hunting activity a little longer than the Maglemosians, because reindeer found tundra refuge in Britain, which was connected to the mainland, which was now becoming free of ice. Southern Norway was ice-free too, and science has discovered that some reindeer endured in the mountains of southern Norway. They could not have contnued further north, however. Reindeer need arctic tundra or alpine vegetation, notably lichens, especially reindeer moss. Reindeer  in what is now Poland, were not blocked by the glaciers, and my common sense alone, we can determine that some degrees of the original reindeer hunting life shifted northeast along the east edge of the glaciers.  Archeology has called this reindeer hunting culture in Poland, the Swiderian Culture, and also confirmed that the Swiderian Culture shifted north and because of it, converted to boat using culture more gradually - according to the slower rate of loss of reindeer habitat. Reindeer species  can live in open arctic conifer forests, so the tundra reindeer hunters, would have seen a breakup of the large tundra herds and small herds taking up residence in the emerging arctic forests. The animal known in North America as the moose and in Britain as 'elk', was found in a similar environment, but was also adapted to live in wetlands - being able to even submerge and feed on aquatic plants. Thus, the Swiderian Culture was able to slowly adapt to hunting moose in wetlands, as they also developed boat use. Because of this natural progression from reindeer hunting to moose hunting to hunting aquatic animals, archeologists have found a continuity in artifacts and have called these hybrids that developed as far north as Finland, as "Post-Swiderian" Culture. This continuity may also mean a continuity in language. This is supported by the fact that there were no other peoples in the area to influence linguistic change..  The accepted name for most of it is the "Kunda Culture" named after the site where it was first identified at Kunda, Estonia.  The Kunda Culture presented all the evidence of the use of dugouts - the making of it no doubt borrowed from the Maglemosians where the Maglemosians interfaced with the Swiderians at the southeast Baltic. (Evidence of dugouts includes the stone adze. According to the way the Hanti Ob-Ugrians made dugouts, fire was used to burn the wood away, and the adze was only used to chop away the coals in the direction one wanted the burning to continue, since leaving the coals cut off oxygen and created a barrier to further burning.)The figure below shows the adze,

FIG 4 
(right) Kunda Culture Harpoon and Adze

 In addition the artifacts included large harpoon heads that were no doubt used for hunting seals or small whales.  This means these people must have made large dugouts to handle the waves of the open Baltic.. It is interesting to note that the large seagoing dugout has been archeologically identified in the east Baltic indirectly from finds of remains in bogs.  It was generally large enought to seat two men side by side on three benches, each one with an oar, meaning six men and oars. There was always an additional oar, which was certainly used by the helmsman, to steer, since the rowers were not able to see where they were going.
    Thus, while we may owe the origins of the small dugouts of the marshlands of the marshes of southern Scandinavia and south Baltic to the Maglemose Culture, we owe the origins of seagoing vessels to the Kunda adaptation to hunting in the open sea.
    The following map shows the lands and glaciers as they would have been about 2-3 millenia later.  The blue shows the expansion of the boat people. The orange represents higher ground, but no longer tundra. The "R-H REMNANTS" in there higher ground locations would have adapted to hunting small herds of woodland reindeer or elk or moose (The animals called "moose" and "elk" in North America are called "elk" and "red deer" in British English). The red/pink areas in arctic Siberia, would be the only remaining locations of tundra. (The situation in Figure 5 is climatically same as today, but today all the glaciers in Fig 5 and the  glacial meltwater lakes/seas are gone.)


    The map also shows with arrows, the expansion of the :"Maglemose" and "Kunda" culture boat peoples, but we should not imagine they were very different in language and soft culture (religion, clothing, customs) because boat peoples covered large areas and did not have much opportunity to change soft culture more than what dialectic variations.


 Referring back to the archeological discoveries in the Urals, it is clear that humans visited the Urals as the climate warmed, and found reindeer taking refuge in the mountains. (Perhaps these people were deliberately assisting the reindeer by guiding them up mountains in summer).
    Regardless of who were in the Urals throughout the climate warming period, when the boat people reached the Urals they found hunters from Asian origins in the Ural Mountains.
    In recent decades population genetics has added more information we can use to reconstruct the past. Our understanding of reindeer people who migrated /shifted north on the Asian side of the Ural Mountains, has been amplified by population genetics documentation of the Y-DNA N-haplogroup in men.
    The general category of N-haplogroup, is considered to have originated in China in the Ice Age, around 20,000 years ago. Because to highest frequency today is found in arctic peoples with traditions of association with reindeer  - For example 98% of Samoyedic men in the Tamir Penisula have an N-haplogroup. This suggests - see Figure 5 - they are descended from reindeer peoples who followed reindeer shifting north through the Central European Plateau. 
    Another variant of the N-haplogroup, originally called N3, and today called N1c1, appears to also have migrated north with reindeer through the Central Siberian Plateau, and then - probably from being repelled by the reindeer peoples already in the Tamir Peninsula - turned east into the tundra there. This can be inferred from the fact that men of the Yakut peoples possess N1c1 in  high frequency.
    A second concentration of N1c1 is found in men in northeast Europe and in northern Finland where one finds the Saami reindeer culture. This concentration could not have come from the east, from the Yakuts, because a large glacial lake existed between the Ural Mountains and the Central Siberian Plateay, where reindeer cannot survive. (Reindeer are lichen eaters,  particularly "reindeer moss")
    That means the Asian reindeer peoples with the  N1c1 , divided in two in the region south of the Ob River water basin, perhaps in the Altai Mountains which crossed over into Mongolia. It is worth noting that reindeer peoples have endured in the mountains of northern Mongolia and southern Siberia, but the people have to live in the mountains and drive tame reindeer up and down the mountain. They also do not eat the reindeer for food, but use them for milk and transportation.
    In any event, poplation genetics concerning the N1c1 haplogroup have determined that it went north through the Urals, starting around 12,000 years ago. As reindeer peoples, there was no alternative, since the climate was as it is today, and reindeer could not survive in the lowlands in summer. Therefore the N1c1 haplogroup and its mutations, simply could not go anywhere else than north through the Urals to a refuge in the polar Urals until the glaciers and the meltwater had subsided. Which means, reindeer peoples could not begin a migration along the arctic tundra in the direction of northern Finland, until perhaps 8,000 years ago. This was followed by diffusion of the N1c1 haplogroup southward.  Once again, we bear in mind that the Asian reindeer people could not go where there were no reindeer, as long as they remained reindeer people. In order for diffusion of the N1c1 haplogroup to occur anywhere either away from the Urals, or from the arctic in the southerly direction, the N1c1 haplogroup men would have to abandon reindeer and adopt the way of life of the boat peoples, the descendants of the "Kunda" culture (Which means scholars should be careful not to arbitrarily link way of life, genetics, and language together.. Language and genetics can change independently and any arguments that uses one to explain another, need to provide thorough arguments and evidence, and not arbitrarily used to advance a theory.
    The following Figure 6 shows on a typical plotting of findings of percentages of N1c1 haplogroup onto a section of a map of northwestern Eurasia. If the N-halogroup originated with reindeer people, that means everywhere that the N1c1 haplogroup moved south outside reindeer tundra regions, the people change to the way of life to the boat peoples. Once in the boat peoples, N1c1 then spread by diffusion (the accumulated result of individual behaviour). (Those population geneticists who want to picture the movement of mutations as the result of migrations, are generally ignorant of how humans usually behave - migrations are rare, and usually the result of, refugee flights from war or sudden catastrophes.

N1c1 migrationFIG 6
This diagram of the path of the west branch of the migration of Y-DNA  N-haplogroup
known as N1c1 The_N1c1-haplogroup migration is shown on a section of a typical plotting of haplogroup frequency relative to geography. Th numbers represent percentage of men with the N1c1 haplogroup markers. Then lines are drawn around ranges of percentage, where higher percentage areas suggests movement into these areas and remaining there, in prehistory. Note a around 40-50 % approximately in the Pechora River basin. This suggests that many of the N1c1 reindeer people who migrated north through the Urals, abandoned their reindeer hunting way of life and moved into the river basin - meaning they became boat people. The gap between there and the Finland area means that the remaining reindeer people did not stop, but continued into northern Finland. Since Finns south of the Saami were not reindeer peoples, here too there was a conversion to a way of life away from reindeer, and a diffusion of the N1c1 haplogroup southward from their joining the boat peoples. Further southward diffusion would similarly have occurred by diffusion, from it having  entered the "Kunda" boat people populations. The jumble of numbers are indicative of the mobility of boat peoples especially as traders. Today geneticists have broken down N-haplogroups into more refined mutations, but those mutations simply show further diffusion  - men who have the haplogroup speading into less inhabited or more civilized areas.


    After the boat peoples of the "Maglemose" and "Kunda" material culture origins were formed, their population in general grew  because they discovered a new powerful way of life (for example they could accecss animals of marshlands, formerly inaccessible, and move through the environment five times faster than walking) Along with the general warming of the world climate, the boat peoples spread into all available waterways. As Figure 5 shows, the expansions in the watery environment in the easterly direction was easy. The northern glacial waters as well as the Volga and Kama would take them to the Ural Mountains. Proof that boat peoples were at the Urals is proven by the finding of the "Shigir" statue. Because it was found in the remains of a bog, and carved with a beaver tooth tool, the wooden statue could only have been made by boat peoples.  Scientists have now dated this find to 11,000 years ago, which is consistent with all information regarding timing of climate warming, and  the evidence of the Asian reindeer hunters in the Ural Mountains. The "Shigir"statue is very significant for the theory of boat peoples reaching the Urals by about 11,000 years ago, since archeologists are more likely to explore caves in mountains than to dig around in ancient bogs.

shigir statue
  Top part of a very long carved pole, found in the central Ural Mountain regions, and dated to 11,000 years ago. This  statue could only have been made by peoples who lived in marshlands and therefore used boats (as opposed to being pedestiran hunters in the mountains) According to experts, the 5.3 meter statue was carved from a larch tree using a tool made of beaver teeth. It was set into  a stone base and fell over into a peat bog, where the wood was preserved until found. The bog location and beaver teeth suggest it was created by boat peoples.

    The  Shigir statue was found towards the east side of the Urals at a location where mountains are low and crossing via rivers is not too difficult. This suggests that boat peoples were crossing the Urals, and entering the waters of the Ob River basin as well. Thus we would be correct to suggest that the expansion of the boat peoples continued into the Ob River basin, and that we can include the Ob River into the initial expansion story.
    The significance of the meeting between the boat peoples, and the Asian-origin reindeer peoples in the Urals, is that it explains the Finno-Ugric language speaking cultures today.  In terms of the genetics, the N1c1 frequencies tell the story of
    a) reindeer people moving north through the Urals,
    b) the climate warming causing many to abandon reindeer hunting and join the way of life of the boat-oriented hunter-gatherer and in effect bringing the N1c1 haplogroup into the realm of the boat people, and it diffuses from individual mating actions, like putting  drop of red dye in blue water causes a diffusion of the red outward into the blue (purple developing and spreading), Once the N1c1 is in the boat peoples realm, then it diffuses through the contacts between tribes within the boat peoples realm.
    c)contact and involvement between the boat peoples closest to the Asian reindeer people, begins the development of improved means of communication. Contact between two languages that are different tends to take the form of each side learning the most frequently used words and phrases of the other. This makes the languages also more similar to each other. This convergence would then make the languages with most contact most similar, and those with less contact less similar. Thus the language furthest away from the Urals, Finnic,  would be least changed by the contacts of boat peoples at the Urals, while the language closest to the Urals, today called Permic, would ne closest to the language of the Urals reindeer people. Once we cross into the Ob River, we have to deal with the contacts between Ob River boat peoples and the Samoyedic peoples  close to the mouth of the Ob or on the edges of the Ob River Basin too, which means influence from another dialect of Asian reindeer people than that which was in the Urals.
    The result is depicted on the map below.



    The diagram of Figure 6, shows  the N1c1 migrated west when the arctic tundra was again a direction for reindeer expansion, and the surviving reindeer hunters to follow from the Polar Urals refuge.
    Of course we can also propose that if the N1c1 reindeer people moved into the boat people realm that some of the N1c1 could have diffused west also through the northern rivers like the Dvina from the Pechora basin.
    By the time the N1c1 was in northern Finland,  and south to Lake Onega and Gulf of Finland,  one branch of the "Kunda" culture had already been expanding into the north, learned how to make skin boats, and creating rock carvings from Lake Onega to the White Sea to arctic Norway. that portray their way of life.
    This expansion into the arctic ocean inevitably would lead to contact with still other peoples, especially when they began to expand south by sea from arctic Norway. Since there were no peoples of a dramatically different origin, there was no dramatic effect from contacts, unless these boat peoples continued south and interracted with peoples of western Europe.
    The story of the expansion into the sea will be covered later in ----------,  and some discoveries of the expansion of the Finnic language of the Kunda origins with whale hunters, as far away as the north Pacific coast.


    This section has covered the rise of the north European boat peoples from European reindeer hunters, and briefly introduced their expansion east to the Urals and contact with Asian reindeer peoples in the Urals, and expansion into the arctic and the beginnings of a circumpolar expansion.  The next section will  deal in more detail with the expansion east to the Urals, and the interractions with the Urals reindeer peoples briefly introduced above.  After that we will deal with the expansion of the boat peoples into the arctic and further expansion from there.


Since this webpage has been constantly updated - edited and changed - sources and references are acknowledged where possible in the text or beside the picture. If a statement is made or picture shown, without a source, that means the image is either fully original by the author (A.Paabo)or significantly modified artistically. One book that has special  signifiance to this project is: Eesti Esiajalugu, Jaanits et al, 1982, Tallinn. 

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author: A.Paabo, Box 478, Apsley, Ont., Canada


2017 (c) A. Pääbo.