Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Noriko Seguchi

Commitee Members

Ashley McKeown, Randall Skelton, Anna Prentiss, Steven Sheriff


Craniofacial variation, Mongolia, Quantitative Genetics, Skeletal Biology, Xiongnu


University of Montana


This dissertation explores the prehistory of Mongolia during a time when nomadic tribes created the world's first steppe empire in Inner Asia. These aggregated tribes, known to Chinese historians as Xiongnu, ruled from the 3rd century BCE to the 2nd century CE. They came to define steppe polity construction later used by the Mongol Empire under the reign of Chinggis Khan. These nomads moved extensively over the eastern steppe and interacted, both in trade and intermarriage, with peoples from southern Siberia to Xinjiang. However, the Xiongnu as a people are relatively unknown to scholars since they did not possess a written language of their own.

Although analysis on ancient skeletal remains of the Xiongnu have opened new avenues of research into their origins, scholars still do not have a comprehensive understanding of these ancient nomads. This study makes an attempt to elucidate questions of the Xiongnu's history and biological structure by examining craniofacial diversity using a methodology known as geometric morphometrics. Using a suite of multivariate statistical analyses to explain group relationships within and among the Xiongnu to groups in the region, this study explains the origins of the Xiongnu in a biological context and makes inferences about genetic exchanges. A quantitative genetic model is used to test group relationships and infer levels of gene flow between groups.

Results indicate the Xiongnu were composed of at least two biologically distinct groups. One sample from an elite cemetery in northern Mongolia shares their ancestry with a Bronze Age population from Mongolia, and possibly, to a later migration of Turks, who came to dominate the eastern steppe between the 6th and 8th centuries CE. The Xiongnu also evidence biological similarity with nomads who composed the Mongol Empire, modern-day Mongolians, and some Siberian groups. These results are similar to genetic studies suggesting a mix of Eastern and Western Eurasian haplogroups while also achieving consensus with models of steppe polity formation proposed by archaeologists, who suggest local ties to extra-local groups through interactive exchange networks. Overall, the Xiongnu nomads are very much a part of Mongolia's past with links to its modern peoples.

Schmidt_3D_data_alllandmarks.xls (3730 kB)
3D Data All Landmarks



© Copyright 2012 Ryan Schmidt