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The Eastern Eurasian Steppe was home to historic empires of nomadic pastoralists, including the Xiongnu and the Mongols. However, little is known about the region's population history. Here we reveal its dynamic genetic history by analyzing new genome-wide data for 214 ancient individuals spanning 6,000 years. We identify a pastoralist expansion into Mongolia ca. 3000 BCE, and by the Late Bronze Age, Mongolian populations were biogeographically structured into three distinct groups, all practicing dairy pastoralism regardless of ancestry. The Xiongnu emerged from the mixing of these populations and those from surrounding regions. By comparison, the Mongols exhibit much higher Eastern Eurasian ancestry, resembling present-day Mongolic-speaking populations. Our results illuminate the complex interplay between genetic, sociopolitical, and cultural changes on the Eastern Steppe.

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