News | World News | Invading Huns sent women ahead to marry German locals

Invading Huns sent women ahead to marry German locals

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  • Research shows women travelled hundreds of miles across medieval Europe
  • DNA from nine skulls reveals they trekked to Germany from Greece and Romania
  • Previously scientists thought only men of the time trekked such distances
  • The discovery means that we may have to rethink how groups intermingled in medieval Europe

By Associated Press and Harry Pettit For Mailonline

Published: 17:45 EDT, 12 March 2018 | Updated: 06:19 EDT, 13 March 2018

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Huns invaders sent their 'exotic' women across Europe to marry local Bavarians in the hope of forming political alliances.

That's according to a new study of 1,600-year-old elongated skulls belonging to ancient Huns brides found in six Bavarian cemeteries.

Researchers believe Huns brides arrived in sleepy villages in Bavaria to entice local farmers and form strategic marriages in the fifth an sixth centuries. 

They would have looked strikingly different to locals with their brown eyes, dark hair and dramatically elongated skulls.

Their skulls had been squeezed with bandages or wooden blocks since childhood, according to Huns tradition to make them more beautiful.   

The discovery means that we may have to rethink how groups intermingled in medieval Europe, researchers said.

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A study of 1,600-year-old elongated skulls shows women travelled hundreds of miles across Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries to cement bonds between distant tribes. This image shows strong, intermediate and non-deformed skulls (left to right) from sites  in Bavaria, Germany
A study of 1,600-year-old elongated skulls shows women travelled hundreds of miles across Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries to cement bonds between distant tribes. This image shows strong, intermediate and non-deformed skulls (left to right) from sites  in Bavaria, Germany

A study of 1,600-year-old elongated skulls shows women travelled hundreds of miles across Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries to cement bonds between distant tribes. This image shows strong, intermediate and non-deformed skulls (left to right) from sites in Bavaria, Germany

The international team of researchers analysed the DNA of almost 40 human remains unearthed from medieval burial sites in the German state of Bavaria. 

As well as their remarkably tall heads, the women had dark features, which would have stood out among the Bavarian villages' male inhabitants, most of whom were blonde and fair-skinned, the DNA analysis showed.

It was previously thought lengthy treks in medieval Europe were reserved for men heading into battle or embarking on exploratory quests. 

Researchers believe Huns brides arrived in sleepy villages in Bavaria to entice local farmers and form strategic marriages in the fifth an sixth centuries
Researchers believe Huns brides arrived in sleepy villages in Bavaria to entice local farmers and form strategic marriages in the fifth an sixth centuries

Researchers believe Huns brides arrived in sleepy villages in Bavaria to entice local farmers and form strategic marriages in the fifth an sixth centuries

'Barbarian' tribes moved into the power vacuum in Europe created by the decline of the Roman Empire from the fourth century. Pictured is a 16th century engraving that depicts Attila, king of the Huns, meeting with Pope Leo 1 in 452 AD
'Barbarian' tribes moved into the power vacuum in Europe created by the decline of the Roman Empire from the fourth century. Pictured is a 16th century engraving that depicts Attila, king of the Huns, meeting with Pope Leo 1 in 452 AD

'Barbarian' tribes moved into the power vacuum in Europe created by the decline of the Roman Empire from the fourth century. Pictured is a 16th century engraving that depicts Attila, king of the Huns, meeting with Pope Leo 1 in 452 AD

WHO WERE THE HUNS AND HOW DID THEY DEFEAT THE ROMANS?

The Huns were a nomadic community originating in Central Asia.

They travelled to Europe and threatened what was left of the Roman Empire.

It is likely they fled from a dry period in Asia. Searching for food and water, they conquered as they went.

By 216 AD - when their territory was split into five successor states - the Huns had extended their area of control north to Siberia, south to Tibet, east to the Pacific Ocean and west to the Caspian Sea.

The herders' diet was high in meat and fish.

The Roman Empire collapsed because of terrifying Huns attacking its eastern frontier around the fourth century AD. Pictured is an artist's impression of a battle between Roman and Hun solider
The Roman Empire collapsed because of terrifying Huns attacking its eastern frontier around the fourth century AD. Pictured is an artist's impression of a battle between Roman and Hun solider

The Roman Empire collapsed because of terrifying Huns attacking its eastern frontier around the fourth century AD. Pictured is an artist's impression of a battle between Roman and Hun solider

 The Huns also ate lots of millet, which has a distinctive chemical signature that can be identified in human bones.

The wandering Huns grew millet as it it grows in a few short weeks. 

Agriculture was considered the foundation of Roman civilisation, and the Romans had a big problem with the Huns as they didn't engage in farming, choosing instead to live a nomadic lifestyle.

The Roman Empire collapsed because of terrifying Huns attacking its eastern frontier around the fourth century AD.

Roman accounts of the Huns tell largely of terror and destruction: The group fought on horseback using longbows to attack their enemy, and were renowned for their savagery and blood-curdling war cries. 

'Barbarian' tribes quickly moved into the power vacuum in Europe created by the decline of the Roman Empire.

These include the Huns, Franks, Vandals, Saxons and the Goths.

The women travelled from what is now Romania, Bulgaria and northern Greece at a time when the continent was being reshaped by the collapse of the Roman Empire.

'Barbarian' tribes, including the Huns, quickly moved into the power vacuum in Europe created by the decline of the Roman Empire during the fourth century.

The skulls of nine women had been squeezed from infancy using binding or wooden wooden blocks for aesthetic reasons 
The skulls of nine women had been squeezed from infancy using binding or wooden wooden blocks for aesthetic reasons 

The skulls of nine women had been squeezed from infancy using binding or wooden wooden blocks for aesthetic reasons 

Researchers say the women's elongated heads suggest they might have been high-class individuals.

'These women looked extremely different to the local women, very exotic if you will,' said study coauthor Professor Joachim Burger, a geneticist at the University of Mainz, Germany.

The findings are based on an analysis of 36 skeletons buried in six Bavarian cemeteries in the 5th and 6th centuries.

The team expected to find the telltale signs of centuries of Roman presence in the area - soldiers from the Mediterranean leaving their genetic mark on the local population.

Instead, it looked 'very central or northern European - blond and fair-skinned, like modern-day Scandinavians,' Professor Burger said.

The exception was a group with deformed skulls.

Known from various cultures across the world, artificially elongated skulls may have been considered a form of beauty or denoted high status because of the time and effort required to bandage a child's head, said Professor Burger.

While the practice is often associated with the Huns who swept into Europe from the East during the 5th century, the genetic makeup of the women found in Bavaria showed little Asian ancestry.

As well as their remarkably tall heads, the women had dark hair, brown eyes and tawny skin, DNA analyses showed. This suggests the women migrated from Romania, Bulgaria and northern Greece as Europe was being reshaped by the collapse of the Roman Empire
As well as their remarkably tall heads, the women had dark hair, brown eyes and tawny skin, DNA analyses showed. This suggests the women migrated from Romania, Bulgaria and northern Greece as Europe was being reshaped by the collapse of the Roman Empire

As well as their remarkably tall heads, the women had dark hair, brown eyes and tawny skin, DNA analyses showed. This suggests the women migrated from Romania, Bulgaria and northern Greece as Europe was being reshaped by the collapse of the Roman Empire

This suggests that either head binding had been adopted by people living in southeastern Europe or emerged there independently.

'This is a sound study with quite interesting results,' said Professor Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who had no role in the research.

'Usually large-distance movements involve more males - explorers, soldiers, political elite, etc. - and short range movements are more common for females (spouses moving to their husband's family),' Professor Hublin said.

While it's unclear why the women - apparently without men - travelled such a long distance, the study's authors speculate that they may have represented strategic alliances between distant populations across Europe.

'They must have come on purpose. It's not a single case, there are quite a few of them,' Professor Burger said.

Despite their foreign origins, the women integrated into Bavarian society, according to the researchers.

They wore the same clothes as the locals and were buried with the same artefacts. 

Professor Burger said further research is needed to see whether the women intermarried with the local population.

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