Friday, 8 November 2019

Ancient Roman DNA

New Ancient Roman/Italy Paper Summary:

A new paper has been published which finally confirms what many have thought about the genetics of Ancient Rome (however it is behind a paywall so I am going only on the preview supplementary data and what geneticists have said publicly about it). The following summary is based not only on what the paper itself says, but rather what it SHOWS but not does not say.
  •  Neolithic Italy had no steppe DNA - people were genetically like Sardinians/Etruscans
  • 11 pre-Imperial Roman samples plot as more Northern than modern Italians or Neolithic ones - They resemble people from Southern France - which means a significantly more Northern shifted (than modern french people) population entered the Italian peninsula, mixed over the Iron Age with natives and redefined the ethnic character of the region throughout the Roman Republic.
  • The paper doesn't specify the most likely sources of this northerly population which is the Bell Beaker and/or Urnfield cultures. In the supplementary info they mention 99%  of Bell Beaker folk carried R1b M269 paternal haplogroup (present in Italy too). Instead of saying how Bell Beaker DNA entered Italy they just say "Steppe-related" people went to Italy in the Bronze age. This is misleading since they had left the steppe some 1000 years earlier and were now ethnically Central Europeans.
  • The chronology of genetic change indicates the Urnfield expansion into Italy may mark arrival of Italic languages rather than the earlier Bell Beakers - they are related anyway so its likely two waves into Italy.
  • Imperial Roman samples show a major shift toward MENA populations like Egyptians/ Carthaginians/ Syrians etc. The Roman Empire certainly made Italian people less European by attracting Middle Eastern migrants. People have said this for centuries.
  • Italy became more European again after the Roman Empire. The paper suggests that the resurgence of European ancestry and reduction of Near Eastern admixture starting in Late antiquity and ending in the Middle Ages is due to migration into Italy from Central Europe (Celtic and Germanic invasions for eg?)

The most interesting thing from my perspective is what the paper doesn't discuss, which is which population from North of the Alps brought Indo-European languages to Italy.

Somebody made this which is interesting - they map the genetic shifts in Italy to the religious shifts - showing that the rise of near eastern cults like that of Cybele corresponds with a rise in Near Eastern admixture. What is labelled here as "European" should properly be labelled "Indo-European"

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