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The Discovery of California:

Breaking the Silence of the Siberia to America Migrators


Introduction by László Botos (information from an article by Tibor Farkas)


            If we were to state that the ancient populace of California were Hungarian, this would cause immediate concern among those historians who, under the scientific aegis of the Hungarian Academy of Science, boldly state that they are the experts, and we would be declared to be chauvinistic Hungarians, chasing rainbows.  In this way, they would continue to denigrate the research of ancient Hungarian origins in order to preserve the superiority of the Finno-Ugric theory.  Historians from the Successor States follow this example so that they may continue to retain the territories which they received at the Treaty of Trianon and which, according to International Law, they occupy illegally, although this is not widely recognized.   Yet they should know that historical truth cannot be suppressed forever.  We have come to an era in which those secrets, which have been kept locked away, are finally coming to light. 

            After this short introduction, I turn to the almost unbelievable results of the research of Dr. Otto Sadovszky, a Californian professor of Hungarian descent, from the State University of Fullerton.  Dr. Sadovszky used Comparative Linguistics in his 25 years of research of the origins of the ancient Californian Indians.  This research took him to Italy and Canada and he used the linguistic material he collected to write his doctoral thesis in America.  His Hungarian background and awareness of the Finno-Ugric theory inspired him to continue this research.  He states that the research of the linguistic elements of the groups of migrating Asians provides many interesting data, which provide connections to the Hungarians. 

            The favorable climate of California, over many long millennia, was a huge influence on the migrants from Asia.  This is why the territory of California is one of the world’s most complicated areas from the linguistic point of view.  There were twenty linguistic groups in this territory.

            The route to California from North West Siberia, started in the territory between the Ob and Ural Mountains and followed the perimeter of the Arctic Circle and the Pacific Ocean shoreline of the North American Continent.  In Central California the language of the settlers is of the Penutian language family.  According to Sadovszky this language family shows such a close relationship to the Finno-Ugric language group that the Penutian Indians in the West could be called the Ugors of California. 

               The Finn people mentioned in the text are related to the Hungarians linguistically but have no blood relationship.

This study by Dr. Otto Sadovszky appeared in the Nov-Dec. 1984 issue of the American scientific review The Californian under the title: The Discovery of California: Breaking the Silence of the Siberia to America Migrators.  It was reprinted in Magyar Mult , No. 35-36, 1986. 





The Discovery of California:

Breaking the Silence of the Siberia to America Migrators



            This article is dedicated to the memory of the Californian women, men and children and their descendants, who demonstrated boundless courage and heroism during their journey from Eurasia to California.

            All long distance migration theories follow essentially the same line of reasoning and fall into four major categories:  The arguments of the physical anthropologists, the arguments derived from archeology, comparative ethnography and comparative linguistics.

            All physical anthropologists agree that the American Indians came from Asia.  The Indians of the Americas, more varied than the white men, exhibit marginal Mongoloid general features.  Lately, Turner’s outstanding studies on dentition establish that the first American Indians must have left their original homeland after the time, 40,000 years ago, that “shoveling of the upper incisors was already well developed in Asia.”  The archeological evidence maps out some of the routes taken by the ancestors of the present day Indians and Thomas Y. Canby summarizes the state of the art for the intelligent reader in his 1979 article.  Add to all this the sporadically presented ethnographic material concerning creation myths, religion and social structure, and we have a fairly good idea about the origin of the American Indians.

            One crucially important argument, however, was still lacking until recently: the argument derived from related languages.  Despite sporadic arguments and the great array of false claims, there was very little linguistics could offer that would shed light on the original homeland of the Indians in Eurasia.  This absence of linguistic argument was most regrettable because it is both the most reliable and the most comprehensive of all arguments – the most natural and simplest way to establish the original homeland of the people after they have left their homeland.  We know, for example, that the Italians in New York City are descendants of the Italians of Italy, because they speak Italian.  We can even pinpoint their original hometown, according to how they pronounce Italian.  Thus the dream of all comparative historical linguists, trying to determine the original homeland of the American Indian, has been to discover a similar argument, proving the linguistic link between America and Asia.

            The Asia – America linguistic link was not easy to discover.  It appeared as if the Arctic environment had blocked, or erased all the evidence.  The Arctic functions as a great germ filter, its Arctic cold climate blocking and killing dangerous viruses and harmful bacteria.  So the Indians crossing the Bering Strait entered the New World without many of these dreadful enemies of Man.  They were exposed to them again only after the White Man arrived among them.  But the Arctic also acted as a cultural filter, eliminating several superfluous features from the original cultures of the Arctic wanderers. 

            The biological Arctic filter operated independent of human control: - the cultural filter was associated with adoption.  Sometimes the Arctic – especially the Bering Strait – appears to the cultural historian as a linguistic filter.  Reading the literature dealing with cross-continental migration, one finds little or no reference to languages.  The Bering Strait seems to be regarded as a great muffler of speech, or a great silencer of languages.  We are often presented with the image of a silent and solitary male hunter tracking across the endless, bleak tundra, aimlessly wandering in search of food.  But, as we will see, new evidence presents an entirely different picture.

            Nearly one quarter of a century ago, I set out to remove this towering sound muffler, silencer and language mixer between America and Eurasia.  In those days, I thought that I discerned faint sounds from a distant land, indicating a remote linguistic relationship between two continents.  Today, beyond all my expectations, the vast amount of comparative linguistic evidence speaks loudly, illuminating all aspects of the culture of the Californian Indians.  What I discovered was a very similar language spoken by the Californian Indians while they were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia into America.  For the first time, the silent pre-historic migrators began to speak and, for the first time, we can understand what they are saying to us of their adventurous cross-continental journey to their new home in America.  We have only to listen.  For too long, false assumptions distracted linguists from the truth of the data all around – from the ahistoric nature of the California Indian, to the similarities between Siberia and California. 

            My discovery of this new linguistic relationship was long coming because, like my colleagues, I also subscribed to a common error.  In the long-range comparative field, we believed that, because we were dealing with long-distance comparisons in space (diatopic), we were also dealing with long-distance in time (diachronic).  Thus, if the Indians came from far away, they must also have come a long time ago.  No linguistic evidence indicated otherwise.  Unfortunately, this assumption came to mean that one could not prove the situation to be otherwise.  So all contrary data were neglected and dismissed as impossible. 

            Other oversights and errors also flowed logically from our basic wrong assumption.  There was, for example, the tacit belief in only one single migration of the Central Californian Penutians, after which came the slow division and branching out of the languages.  Were this true, then the historical linguist should have been able to reconstruct the original Penutian language spoken here in California.  But the great diversity in California indicates that there were several migrations into California. (Archeological data in Central California also clearly support the relatively recent arrival of the Californian Penutians.)  The features that do exist reflect various distinct dialects, alien influences acquired during their journey in Asia, and in California after their arrival.  Being Hungarian and also acquainted with the great pool of languages in Asia, many of the problems I encountered in Californian linguistics became easy to solve. 

            False preconceptions about Siberia and California – the tendency to think of the former as a frozen wasteland, and the latter as balmy and moderate – also erected psychological barriers in the path of a new theory.  In fact, Siberian forests were abundant with food, and with its northern tundra and its forested taiga, were very similar to Canada, which millions of Indians called their home.  Also the long summer days richly compensated for long winter nights. 

            The Central and Northern Californian fauna and flora and the wildlife of the Sierra Nevada can be similarly described.  California’s more balanced seasons provided even more food, including acorn, than the staple food of many Californian Indians.  Since prehistoric times, the Californian climate attracted many tribes, making it one of the most complex linguistic areas of the world.

            In Northwest Siberia, along the mighty Ob River and its tributaries, live the Voguls and the Ostyaks – collectively called Ob-Ugrians.  Together with the Hungarians, who separated from them more than 2,000 years ago, the Ob-Ugrians constitute the Ugrian branch of the Finno-Ugrian linguistic family.  The Yurak Samoyeds or Nenets, the Yenissey Samoyeds or Enets and the other Samoyed groups are also related to them.  They occupy the Arctic tundra, the taiga and the mountains of South Siberia.  The Finno-Ugrians and the Samoyeds together constitute the Uralic linguistic family.  This family together with Yukagir, presently occupy a vast area extending from Hungary and, in the north, from Finland across Eurasia to the Anadir River, south of the Bering Strait.  Consequently, it was not surprising to find their relatives on the American Continent – the closest relatives living in Central California.  This group, called Penutians, occupied the territory along the Sacramento and San Joaquin and their tributaries as well as the Pacific coast from Bodega Bay to Big Sur. 

            I discovered that this Central Californian group is closely related to the Ob-Ugrian branch of the large Uralic family, and also identified several features that could only be explained by a strong Samoyed (especially Yurak and some Yukagir) influence.  It was also evident that the various Californian groups left their Eurasiatic homeland after the beginning of the dialectical division of the Ugrian languages – an aid in dating the departure of the Californians from their original Asian homeland. 











Finnic (+)
























(+)  Finnic also includes:


                  Veps, Vote and Livonian











                 Bodega Miwok

                 Marin Miwok

                 Clear Lake Miwok

                 Plains Miwok

                 Northern Sierra Miwok

                 Central Sierra Miwok

                 Southern Sierra Miwok















Because the Californian languages are so close to the Ob-Ugrians, it is fitting to call them Cal-Ugrians.  This term also means that the Californian Penutian forms are derivable from the Proto Finno-Ugrian or Proto-Uralic reconstructed forms.  The same rules that govern the Ugrian and Ob-Ugrian languages govern also, to a great extent, the Californian Penutian (Cal-Ugrian) languages.  This accounts for the closeness of the linguistic forms seen in the examples that will follow.

After leaving their Siberian homeland, the Ob-Ugrians retained the memory of the cold in the old country.  Words and their cognates for (that is other words related to) cold, frost, snow and ice are still found in their vocabulary in California.  E.g., the Vogul asirma means “freezing cold”.  The close cognate of this word among the Mutsun was recorded in 1815 at the San Juan Batista mission.  The Indians called “freezing cold” asirim pire.  Pire = “time, weather, etc.”, noting also asir for “winter”.

They had been acquainted with earthquakes in Northern Eurasia, but once across the Bering Strait, they entered one of the most earthquake-prone territories on earth, and so their language contains several words for earthquake.  The Voguls still refer to the earthquake with the word nowiti, “to shake, to quake,”.  The Voguls in Western Siberia refer to the earthquake with the verb nowiti: in Marin county, the Miwok Indians also use the verb nowit.  They call the earthquake wea nowit (wea = earth).  In Maidu, nywyn means “to swing” and “to rock”, including also a child’s swing hung on a tree, whereas the Vogul nowiti refers also to the child’s swing hanging from a tree.  The root now for expressing the earthquake was also used by Popov when he translated portions of the Bible into Vogul.  He rendered Matthew 24:7,  “and there shall be . . . earthquakes . . .” with the words: ma nowne = “earthquakes”.  (The word ma means “earth”.) 

The Ob-Ugrians, specifically the Ostyaks, refer to the hills, steep river banks, peninsulas and islands in the middle of the swamps as: paj (pai).  Because their settlements were located mostly on these hills, or islands, the word paj often occurs in the place-names of their homeland.  We find along the Irtysh River such names as Tabason paj (Storage Hill) and Tunt-mox Xotan paj (Gosling Hut Hill);  even Wos paj (Town Hill) refers to the remnants of an old town in Asia.  In California, the Indians north of San Francisco used an identical word to designate hills, islands and mountains.  Early colonists wrote paj for mountains, later as pajis or pajih.  In Marin County Miwok, it is written as pajis.  The meanings are identical to the Ostyak meanings, namely: “hill, mountain, island”.

Linguistics reveal much of how the Ob-Ugrians lived and what they valued in this new land they discovered – this land, California, that satisfied all their desires.  Place-names and other evidence indicate that the main groups of the Central Californian Indians entered California from the ocean at Bodega, San Francisco and Monterey Bays.  The Ob-Ugrians were outstanding littoral navigators!  The vast inundation of the Ob and other Siberian rivers and the Bay of Ob were excellent schools for navigation.  On their fishing trips, which often lasted several months, they took along their family and all their belongings, including their dogs.  Chernetsov and others established a possible contact between the Ob River and the Bering Strait.  Any Arctic hunter and fisherman has to have an excellent sense of direction and there is evidence that the Ob-Ugrians moved to the south consciously.  In California, free from demographic pressures, they observed the migration of the birds and sea mammals and the salmon.  Because salmon ran as far only to the south as Big Sur, in California, this was the end of the journey for the Ob-Ugrians, mainly fishermen.  Here they found what they were looking for – a new homeland.  They must have had many stops of extended periods during their long journey.  The nomadic Arctic hunter and fisherman carried with him all material necessary to construct a tepee-like shelter when the need arose – poles and rolls of birch-bark or skins.  The Yurak Samoyeds (Nenets) called their temporary settlements, composed of these structures, n-issi. The word n-issi originally meant  “to stop during wandering, to rest, to erect a tent, to settle” – and, finally “settlement”.  It is related to the Vogul word isi  “to settle down, and to rest”.  In California, Mutsun reflects a similar concept – isi-we, “to rest” and in Maidu Nissenan, is ”to live and to stay somewhere”;   also is-kit, “to sit down”.  This word seems to express only temporary settlement; permanent housing and settlements require much more elaborate structures.  – Voguls called most of their permanent structures kwel  “house”; their permanent structures such as towns and villages, us or wos.   The corresponding Californian – Indian words are very similar – kewel, use and bos.   Although there are other names, these are very common and, as the historical comparison indicates, they are ancient.

The ceremonial house was the pride of the community.  The Indian place-names ending in kewel, around Paskenta (in California, about half-way between San Francisco and Redding) usually indicate the location of such a ceremonial house.  In general, however, kewel means “village”.  A similar meaning change occurred from the Vogul kwel = ”house”, to the Finnish kyla = ”village”.  This is the only known cognate of the Vogul kwel.  It occurs in many Finnish place-names.  Now the chain is crossing the continents:  Finnish kyla , Vogul kwel, Patwin kewel, Nomlaki kewel.  The Vogul form for “town” and “village” (us), we find in Santa Cruz, where use means ”village”.  The Vogul word is clearly related to the Ostyak word wos, which means the same thing.  Everywhere, in North Western Siberia, we can encounter villages that have wos at the end of their name – for example: Jem-wos (Holy Town), Lanki-wos (Squirrel Town), Lor-wos (Lake Town).  California and mostly the upper reaches of the Sacramento River are full of names of settlements ending in – wos.  The word is clearly related to the Ostyak, because the “b”  to ”w”  correspondence is regular.  Schlichter lists the meanings of bos as “home, house, residence, tribe, living, etc.”.  Several of the neighboring tribes are referred to as: Nor-bos = “Southern Tribe” or wai-bos = “Northern Tribe”.  Edward Curtis, in his monumental study of the American Indian, between 1907 and 1930, lists 22 settlements ending in bos or (bas). E.g.  Tanai-n-bas = “cedar home”,  Tubaste-n-bas = “stump home”, Teki-n-bas = “waterfall home”. 

The Californian hunter and his Siberian counterpart shared similar hunting tactics, weapons and prey – as well as the words describing their life in the forest.  The Asiatic hunter had to be well equipped to support his wife, his children and himself during his long journey – thus he arrived well equipped in his new home in California.  He retained his late Paleolithic hunting tools – sufficient to meet his daily needs – until the arrival of the White Man.  His Siberian relatives were still using the bow and arrow in the early 20th. Century.  The Californian hunter used the same composite re-curved bow as the Siberian Indian.  They were nearly identical.  The size and construction of the bow and arrow was similar in every respect.  Also comparative linguistic analysis supports the identity of both weapons in California and in Asia.

Linguistic material referring to weapons is so extensive that we have to be satisfied here with a very limited list.

The first word given is Ob-Ugrian – the second is Cal-Ugrian.



Jow-i  = “bow”  (Vogul)

Nol, not = “arrow” (Ostyak, south)

Kalig = “bowstring” (Vogul)

Tul = “quiver”  (Ostyak)

Kesi = “knife”  (Vogul)

Jali  = “flint”  (Yenissey)

Wel = “to catch, kill” (Ostyak)

Jawe = “bow” (Central Sierra Miwok)

Not = “arrow” (Wintu)

Kali = “bowstring”  (Wintu, Patwin)

Tulim = “quiver” (Clear Lake Miwok)

Kice = “knife” (Central Sierra Miwok)

Laiyi = “obsidian, flint”(Maidu, Nisenan)


Wel = “to catch, look for” (Southern      Sierra Miwok)

Some of the animals he hunted are listed here also, giving the Ob-Ugrian term first and the Cal-Ugrian second:




Nop = “young elk”  (Vogul)

Sos = “weasel” (Ostyak, north)

Xuntel-kontel = “beaver” (Vogul)

Uska-n = “rabbit” (Ostyak, south)

Nomu = “rabbit”  (Samoyed, Tavgi)

Nop = “deer” (Wi Wintu)


Sas-sasi = “weasel” (Maidu, Konkow)


Kotul = “beaver”  (Wintu)


Oske = “jack-rabbit” (Maidu, Konkow)


Nomeh = “cottontail rabbit” (Clear Lake Miwok)



The Californian hunter set up converging fences to catch deer or ran them with his dog.  Both are Siberian devices.  During the salmon runs, he set up weirs to catch hul hur (Wintu, Patwin), “trout”, huul  (Clear Lake Miwok) and every kind of “fish” (hol, in Maidu, Nisenan).  The Vogul word hul, (fish), also applied to the various kinds of  salmon and trout.  So he essentially retained the same word along his journey to California, when he was following the salmon from Asia North.  Beside salmon and trout, he also considered the following to be great delicacies (Ob-Ugrian term first – Cal-Ugrian second). 





Bakunu, = “sturgeon” (Samoyed, Tavgi)


Xat, = “eel” (Ostyak, south)


Pu=“fish eggs, caviar” (Samoyed, Yurak)

bokin, = “sturgeon” (Wintu)


hat, = “Lamprey eel” (Wintu)


puu = “fish eggs, caviar” (Clear Lake Miwok


            The Californian hunter retained an ingenious Siberian device, the bird-net, to catch almost as many birds as he wanted.  During the moulting season, when the geese and ducks lost and changed their feathers, the hunters drove them into these nets.  From both Siberia and California, catch reports are almost incredible.  Within a few days, only five men could catch several thousand birds.  The Samoyeds were the great masters of these nets. 




Pok =  “net”  (Selkup Samoyed)

Poga, foga =  “net” (Yenissey Samoyed)

Ponka  = “bird-net” (Yurak Samoyed)


Lak = “goose”  (Vogul)


Was = “duck” (Vogul)


Paj = “duck” (Ostyak, east)


Tora = “crane” (Ostyak, north)


Poke = “bird-net” (Bodega Miwok)



Lak  = “goose”  (Penutian)


Wat-wat = “duck” (Sierra Miwok south)


Poje = “duck” (Maidu, Nisenan)


Tore = “crane” (Wi  Wintu)


            Mothering, magic, religion and marriage in Californian Indian society all carry echos of life and belief among far-away Siberian relatives.  The female members of the household were busy collecting berries, mushrooms, bulbs and roots.  During the harvest, the women gathered acorns.  Some of the used words:











Sana =“pine-nuts”(Samoyed, Kamassian)


Amp = “elder”  (Vogul)


Pil = “berries”  (Vogul)


Mukol =  “wild plum” (Samoyed, Selkup)

Saanak=“pine-nuts” (Clear Lake Miwok)


Ap = “elder” (Wintu)


Piila = “berries” (Clear Lake Miwok)


Mokol = “wild plum” ( Maidu, Nisenan)


            Both Siberian and Californian women would braid their hair.  Braid in Ostyak is sew – and in Wintu cew “braid” is a perfect cognate.  In both cultures, women and men (but mostly women) would tattoo their faces, but among the Ob-Ugrians, the tattooing of the back of the hand was more common.  While women wore much neck-ornamentation, the men wore mostly magical objects.  The systematic maintenance of magic and religion within both societies was the function of the shaman.  There were benevolent and malevolent shamans.  He accompanied magical acts by songs and some kind of musical instruments in both societies and both places. 

            The song and singing of the shaman is called saw in Ob-Ugrian.  The Cal-Ugrian varieties occur in a regular form.  In Mutsun, it is sawe, “to sing” and suwe-ne, “song”; Central Sierra Miwok is saw, “to shout, to cry out”; in Southern Sierra Miwok, it is saw, “to say ‘hey’”.  The regular Wintu caw, “to sing” and cawi, “song” also refer to the song of the shaman.  The Vogul compound of kaj-saw, as “prayer, hymn” leads to an important aspect of the cultural history.  The word kaj-saw, kaj-sow, specifically refers to the shaman’s song, which he sang during his ecstasy.   The compound kaj-ne xum, means the “shaman” (xum = “man”), koj-p, (“shaman’s drum, magic drum”).  In Clear Lake Miwok, the word koja  means “to sing”; koj-ni, “to be happy” (also in a religious sense), and kojanni, means “any device which produces music”.  This is very similar to the Vogul word.

            The identification of these two words – koj kaj, and sow saw – cannot be over emphasized when dealing with the cultural and religious prehistory of the Central Californian Indians.  These two words clearly indicate – as do others connected with shamanism – that the Ob-Ugrians from Asia came to California in the company of their religious leader, the shaman.  In Asia, the shaman was a religious leader, healer, and guardian of the culture.  During the migration, he led them, healed them, encouraged them on their way and gave them solace.  He also made sure that the old ways were not forgotten.  In California, he also told stories describing how their tribe came to this land in pursuit of the salmon. 

            The discovery of this linguistic link removes the great silencer of the Bering Strait, lets the prehistoric migrators talk, and begins a new chapter in this historic link of Eurasia and America.  Archeological data still indicate that there were major upheavals in North-Western Siberia in the last millennium BC.  The arrival of the middle horizon people in the Bay area, generally associated with the Penutians, also occurred around this time.  Linguistic data urge for a relatively recent arrival.  Cal-Ugrian presents typically Ob-Ugrian features, which also evolved after 3,000 years ago.  Proto Finno-Ugrian “k” became “x” in several of the Ugrian dialects and also in the Yurak Samoyed.  Since Cal-Ugrian also participated in this change (about 500 BC), we should assume that they left after this change was already considerably developed. 

            However, although the linguistic and cultural relationship is unquestionable, we can only speculate on the time and the other details of this migration.  But these were only the secondary objectives of my research.  My primary objective was to establish a linguistic relationship with an Indian language outside the American Continent, to remove the great silencer at the Bering Strait and to make the prehistoric migrators talk.  Now, for the first time, we know and understand what they were saying.  During our research and endless trips in the last 25 years, I have learned to admire greatly the Paleolithic woman, man and child.  They were there when the foundations of our civilization were deposited. 





Hajdu, Peter: Finn-Ugrian Languages and Peoples, London, 1975

T. Vuorela: Finn-Ugric Peoples, Bloomington, 1964 

M. Levin and L. Potapov (editors): The Peoples of Siberia, Chicago and London, 1956

R. F. Heizer, editor: Handbook of the North American Indians, Vol. 8 “California”, Washington, 1978

  1. Kroeber: Handbook of the Indians of California, Berkley 1925, 1953

T. Y. Canby:  Search of the First Americans, National Geographic, Vol.156. No. 3, Sept. 1979. 

J. D. Jennings:  Ancient North Americans, San Francisco, 1983

Also the works in German by: Kannisto, Liimola, Munkácsi, Kálmán, Karjalainnen, Toivonen, Steinitz, Vértes, Lehtisalo, and A. Castren. 


[1]  The author was born in Hungary.  He studied at various universities in Western Europe and received his first degree in Philosophy in Italy.  He studied linguistics in Canada and the United States and received his Ph.D. from UCLA in Indo-European Comparative Linguistics.  Presently he is Professor of Anthropology at the California State University, Fullerton, USA.


Extract from the original article, as published in: The Californians, Nov-Dec. issue, 1984. USA


Note: In this article, for technical reasons, the linguistic items are written without diacritic marks – signs of palatalization, glottalization, etc.  Consequently, before quoting any of the technical linguistic representations, consult the original sources or the author for the diacritic marks.