Genetic history of Italy
|This article or section may contain previously unpublished synthesis of published material that conveys ideas not attributable to the original sources. (October 2011)|
According to archaeological records and historical documentation, Italy has been a melting point for populations of different geographical and ethnic matrices. Although Italy has been a favorite subject for numerous population genetic studies, genetic patterns have never been analyzed comprehensively, including uniparental and autosomal markers throughout the country.
Not all of these various peoples were linguistically or ethnically closely related. Some of them spoke Italic languages, and others belonged to another Indo-European branch (Ligurian, Venetic, Lepontic) or were non-Indo-European (Etruscan, Raetic).
Historical population of Italy
- Modern man appeared during the Upper Paleolithic. Specimens of Aurignacian age were discovered in the cave of Fumane and dated back about 34,000 years ago. During the Magdalenian period the first men from the Pyrenees populated Sardinia.
- During the Neolithic farming is introduced by people from the east and the first villages are built, weapons become more sophisticated and the first objects in clay are produced.
- In the late Neolithic era the use of copper spreads and villages are built over piles near lakes. In Sardinia, Sicily and part of "Continental Italy" the Beaker culture spreads from Western Europe.
- During the Late Bronze Age the Urnfield or Villanovan culture appears in Italy, characterized by the typical rite of cremation of the bodies originating from Central Europe, the use of iron spreads. In Sardinia the Nuragic civilization flourishes.
- From the 8th century BC Greek colonists settle on the southern coast and in Sicily and found cities, initiating what was later called Magna Graecia. The Etruscan civilization developed on the coast of Tuscany and Latium. In the 5th century Celtic tribes from continental Europe settled in Northern Italy and parts of Central Italy.
- With the Fall of the Roman Empire different populations of German origin invaded Italy, the most significant was that of the Lombards, who will try to unify politically the "Boot of Italy".
Y-DNA genetic diversity
In most of the Po Valley and Emilia-Romagna, a majority of the population belongs to Haplogroup R1b. This percentage lowers at the extreme south of Italy in Sicily (30%).
A Universita' Cattolica del Sacro Cuore study found that while Greek colonization left little significant genetic contribution, data analysis sampling 12 sites in the Italian peninsula supported a male demic diffusion model and Neolithic admixture with Mesolithic inhabitants. The results supported a distribution of genetic variation alond a north South-Axis and supported demic diffusion. South Italian samples clustered with South east and south central European samples, and Northern groups with West Europe.
A 2004 study by Semino et al. contradicted this study, and showed that Italians in North-central regions (like Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna) had a higher concentration of J2 than their Southern counterparts. North-central had 26.9% J2, whereas Calabria (a far Southern region) had 20.0%, Sardinia had 9.7% and Sicily had 16.7%.
Migration High Medieval Y-DNA
Migrations that occurred on Italian soil from the fall of the Roman Empire until 1000 AD have probably not significantly altered the gene pool of the Italian people. Despite the lengthy Goth and Lombard presence in Italy, it is estimated that the I1 haplogroup associated with the Germanic peoples is only present among Italians in the north in the order of 2-3% and from 1 to 1.5% among Italians in the south.
Other haplotypes that could have been penetrated in Italy together with the German invaders are haplogroup R1a which belongs to 2.5% of Italians and some subclades of the R1b Haplogroup (in particular the subclade R1b1c9 that owns 3.5% of Italians  and is particularly widespread among the peoples of north-west Italy) but because these haplogroups are just mentioned fairly commonly in other European ethnic groups it is difficult to establish whether they have been really brought into Italy by Germanic peoples or by other peoples (e.g. Slavs). The Germanic or Nordic heritage among the Italians then wanders around 5-10%.
In Sicily further migrations from the Vandals, Normans and Saracens have only slightly affected the ethnic composition of the Sicilian people. The Arab civilization flourished undisturbed for nearly a century and the impact of Arab-Berber colonization occurred in a more intense way. Ultimately, the North African male contribution to Sicily was estimated between 6 and 7.5%.
Genetic composition of Italians mtDNA
African Haplogroup L lineages are relatively infrequent (1% or less) throughout Italy with the exception of Latium, Volterra, Basilicata and Sicily where frequencies between 2 and 3% have been found.
The contribution of Italians in rebuilding Europe's mtDNA
Recent studies have shown that Italy has played an important role in the recovery of 'Western Europe" at the end of the Last glacial period. The study focused mitochondrial U5b3 haplogroup discovered that this female lineage had in fact originated in Italy and that then expanded from the Peninsula around 10,000 years ago towards Provence and the Balkans. In Provence, probably between 9,000 and 7,000 years ago, it gave rise to the haplogroup subclade U5b3a1. This subclade U5b3a1 later came from Provence to Sardinia by obsidian merchants, as it is estimated that 80% of obsidian found in France comes from Monte Arci in Sardinia reflecting the close relations that were at the time of these two regions. Still about 4% of the female population in Sardinia belongs to this haplotype.
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