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The Origins of the Etruscans

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Author Topic: The Origins of the Etruscans  (Read 931 times)
Victoria Liss
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« on: October 14, 2010, 01:21:58 pm »

Gene Study Shows Ties Long Veiled in Europe
Published: April 10, 2001


The richest archaeological site to be found in years is the human genome. Its deep strata reach back to almost any date of interest. And although the only data it records are who is related to whom, this information can be leveraged into a vivid and otherwise unattainable account of the movement of different groups as people spread out across the globe.

From studying the present day population of the Orkneys, a small archipelago off the northeast coast of Scotland, geneticists from University College, in London, have gained a deep insight into the earliest inhabitants of Europe.

Of the medley of peoples who populated Britain, neither the Anglo-Saxons nor the Romans ever settled the distant Orkneys. The Romans called the islands' inhabitants picti, or painted people. The Celtic-speaking Picts dominated the islands until the arrival of the Vikings about A.D. 800. The islanders then spoke Norn until the 18th century when this ancient form of Norse was replaced by English, brought in with Scottish settlers after the Orkneys were transferred to Scotland in 1468.

Are the present day Orcadians descended from Picts, Vikings or Celts? Dr. James F. Wilson, himself an Orcadian, and Dr. David Goldstein analyzed the Y chromosomes of Orkney men and found they could distinguish a genetic signature typical of present-day Norwegians. The finding, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the Vikings left a genetic mark on the islands, as well as their language and place names.

The geneticists could also distinguish a set of genetic markers associated with men who bore newer surnames, meaning ones associated with the Scottish settlers. This set of markers closely resembled one found in Welsh and Irish men, suggesting that all were descended from the same population. Where did that population come from?

Britain's first inhabitants are thought to have arrived in the Paleolithic era around 10,000 years ago. Later, whether by invasion or cultural diffusion, the Celtic language was established. Then, some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, farming technology appeared in Britain.

Lacking ancient DNA from a pre- farming British population, Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Wilson chose to compare the common genetic signature of the Welsh, Irish and Scots with the next best thing, the DNA of the Basques who live in northern Spain. The Basques, because they speak an unusual, non-European language and are genetically distinct from other Europeans, have long been assumed to be descended from the continent's first modern human inhabitants.

Dr. Goldstein said he and his colleagues found the same genetic signature in Basque men, suggesting that the Scots, Irish, Welsh and Basques all derive from the same, possibly very homogeneous, population that inhabited Europe in Paleolithic times. This finding implies that the Celtic language must have arrived in Britain largely by cultural diffusion, displacing the original, presumably Basque-type language spoken by the first settlers.

These arguments are based on the male, or Y, chromosome and apply only to men. The study of mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element bequeathed solely in the female line, tells a different story. Women from Scotland, Wales and Ireland show no sharp genetic difference from women in the rest of northern Europe. "The implication is that somewhere along the line," Dr. Goldstein said, "whether willingly or unwillingly, females from the continent joined the population in Britain and swamped out the earlier genetic complement from the maternal side."

The women could have been captured, bought or traded. Or the genetic analysis could be reflecting the ancient custom of women's moving from their own villages to join their husbands in theirs, a tradition that could have continued despite the watery barriers between Britain and the continent.
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