Long Live Herodotus

Origin of the Etruscans: novel clues from the Y chromosome lineages

A. Piazza et al.

Three hypotheses have been proposed on the origin of the distinctive Etruscan civilization and language that flourished ca. 3,000 years before present (BP) in Central Italy: 1) an external Anatolian source (Lydia and Lemnos) as claimed by Herodotus, 2) an autochthonous process of formation from the preceding Villanovan society as firstly proposed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus and 3) an influence from Northern Europe. A synthetic geographical map summarizing 34 classical genetic markers in Italy differentiates a genetically homogeneous Central Italian region between the Arno and Tiber rivers (ancient Etruria) from the rest of Italy. While this fact was tentatively interpreted as a genetic footprint of the Etruscans, its verification remained a challenge due to lack of data on differentiation of such markers and its calibration with time. Here we show the genetic relationships of modern Etrurians, who mostly settled in Tuscany, with other Italian, Near Eastern and Aegean peoples by comparing the Y-chromosome DNA variation in 1,264 unrelated healthy males from: Tuscany-Italy (n=263), North Italy (n=306), South Balkans (n=359), Lemnos island (n=60), Sicily and Sardinia (n=276). The Tuscany samples were collected in Volterra (n=116), Murlo (n=86) and Casentino Valley (n=61).
We found traces of recent Near Eastern gene flow still present in Tuscany, especially in the archaeologically important village of Murlo.

The samples from Tuscany show eastern haplogroups E3b1-M78, G2*-P15, J2a1b*-M67 and K2-M70 with frequencies very similar to those observed in Turkey and surrounding areas, but significantly different from those of neighbouring Italian regions. The microsatellite haplotypes associated to these haplogroups allow inference of ancestor lineages for Etruria and Near East whose time to the most recent common ancestors is relatively recent (about 3,500 years BP) and supports a possible non autochthonous post-Neolithic signal associated with the Etruscans.

 (“European Journal of Human Genetics”, abstracts from the Conference 2007, via Dienekes.)

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