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DNA analysis has revealed the mysterious origins of the ancient Etruscans

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The evidence gathered from DNA analysis finally puts an end to the debate over where the ancient Etruscans came from – an ancient civilization that developed in Italy.

Led by anthropologist Cosimo Posth of the University of Tübingen in Germany, a large international team of researchers is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery by studying ancient DNA. They collected genetic samples from 82 individuals, covering the period from 800 BC to 1000 AD from all of Etruria and southern Italy, and compared them with DNA from other ancient and modern populations.

According to nearly 2,000-year-old genomic data collected from 12 sites across Italy, these mysterious people did not emigrate from Asia Minor, but shared their genetic heritage with people living nearby in ancient Rome.

Researchers have found that the Etruscans share a genetic profile with neighboring populations, such as the Latins, who inhabited Rome at the same time, although the two groups have significant linguistic and cultural differences. And it is not clear how these significant differences between the Etruscans and their neighbors arose.

They all came from pastoralists who moved to the area from the steppes during the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages. It is believed that Indo-European languages ​​originated in the steppes, and this points to another Etruscan mystery – that of their (already extinct) non-Indo-European language, which has persisted for centuries.

“This linguistic resilience, combined with gene exchange, calls into question the simple assumption that genes determine language,” said anthropologist David Caramelli of the University of Florence in Italy, “and suggests a more complex scenario that may involve the assimilation of early Italian speakers by the Etruscan speech community, probably during a long period of mixing in the second millennium BC “.

There are many things we do not know about the Etruscans. Obviously, some evidence of their presence remains. We know that they were remarkable craftsmen, masters in metalworking and tempted by politics. But their missing language remains almost incomprehensible (although it is already clear how it sounded), which makes it difficult to reveal their origins, especially in the absence of solid genetic evidence.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Etruscans migrated to Italy from Asia Minor or the Aegean Sea and their culture is of Greek origin – according to legend, they are descendants of the Asians who fled after the Trojan War. This interpretation is not supported by modern scientists – there is no archaeological evidence to support migration.

The other option is that the Etruscan civilization came from the indigenous population that was already settled in the region – that is, it is an indigenous civilization.

Periods of change

Although several individuals from the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Central Europe have been found in the study, the Etruscan gene pool has remained stable for at least 800 years, covering the Iron Age and the Roman Republic. However, the study found that during the ensuing Roman imperial period, the Etruscan population in central Italy underwent a major genetic change as a result of mixing with the population of the Eastern Mediterranean, probably as a result of the importation of slaves and soldiers from the Roman Empire.

“This genetic change clearly depicts the role of the Roman Empire in the large-scale displacement of people in times of increased socio-economic and geographical mobility,” said Johannes Krause, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

In the Middle Ages, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, genetic profiles changed again, with ancestors from northern Europe spreading throughout the Italian peninsula. This is probably the result of the invasion of the Lombards from Germany and Sweden, who conquered and then ruled most of Italy from 568 to 774.

The genetic profile of people in Tuscany, Lazio and the Basilica remained more or less unchanged between the Early Middle Ages and today, suggesting that the main gene pool of today’s people in central and southern Italy was largely formed at least 1,000 years ago.

Future studies, including additional datasets from other regions of the Roman Empire, will help substantiate these findings.

Reference: The origin and legacy of the Etruscans through a 2000-year archeogenomic time transect

COSIMO POSTH et al. SCIENCE ADVANCES, 24 Sep 2021, Vol 7, Issue 39, DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abi7673


The Origin and Legacy of the Etruscans,

Max Planck Society

DNA Has Finally Revealed The Mysterious Origins of The Ancient Etruscans

MICHELLE STARR, sciencealert


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