Abstract In this study, we present the first extensive genetic data on a European population of the pre-classical period, the Etruscans.
The origins of the Etruscans, a non-Indo-European population of pre-classical (pre-Roman) Italy, are unclear. There is broad agreement that their culture developed locally, but the Etruscans’ evolutionary and emigrational relationships are largely unknown.
In this study, we determined mitochondrial DNA sequences in multiple clones derived from bone samples of 80 Etruscans who lived between the 7th and the 3rd centuries B.C. No significant heterogeneity emerged among archaeological sites or time periods, suggesting that different Etruscan communities shared not only a culture but also a mitochondrial gene pool. Genetic distances and sequence comparisons show closer evolutionary relationships with the eastern Mediterranean shores for the Etruscans than for modern Italian populations. Top left: Etruscan Man, 500 to 400 B.C.E. Top right: Etruscan Vase, 325 B.C.E. Bottom: Etruscan Terracotta Relief, 600 B.C.E.
(The ancient inhabitants of the eastern Mediterranean shores were Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Egyptians, all of whom were Black people). Admixture coefficients were inferred from differences in haplotype frequencies, considering the Etruscans and the modern Italian populations as hybrids among up to four potential parents.
The mitochondrial features of the parental populations were approximated assuming that the best available estimate of allele frequencies in past (and unknown) populations is found in their modern counterparts, as is customary in admixture studies.
We chose the Basques as representative of Western Europe, the Turks as representative of the eastern Mediterranean region, Karelians and Volga Finns as representative of north-eastern Europe, and Egyptians and Algerians as representative of North Africa.
Various tests show that the Tuscans (see next study below) are the Etruscans’ closest neighbours in terms of genetic distances. Despite that broad similarity, however, Etruscans and Tuscans share only two haplotypes.
This finding is difficult to interpret in the absence of data on any other European population of the pre-classical period. One possible interpretation is that all or most European populations of that time period were as different from their modern counterparts as the Etruscans appear to be. This would imply extensive gene flow or a high rate of extinction of mitochondrial haplotypes, both processes causing a drastic change of the mitochondrial pool in the last 2,500 years. More importantly, a result of that kind would force us to reconsider the universally held assumption that patterns in the DNA of modern individuals reflect the evolutionary processes affecting their prehistoric ancestors.
Alternatively, should other ancient populations prove similar to comparable modern ones; one should conclude that the Etruscans’ mitochondrial sequences underwent extinction at a particularly high rate and look for an explanation for that.
Until more ancient DNA data become available, both scenarios will remain possible, although we favour the latter.
Etruscans show closer relationships both to North Africans and to Turks than any contemporary population.
In particular, the Turkish component in their gene pool appears three times as large as in the other populations.
Copyright © 2004 by The American Society of Human Genetics. All rights reserved. Cristiano Vernesi,1 David Caramelli,2 Isabelle Dupanloup,1,* Giorgio Bertorelle,1 Martina Lari,2 Enrico Cappellini,2 Jacopo Moggi-Cecchi,2 Brunetto Chiarelli,2 Loredana Castrì,3 Antonella Casoli,4 Francesco Mallegni,5 Carles Lalueza-Fox,6 and Guido Barbujani1