The mystery of Etruscan origins: novel clues from Bos taurus mitochondrial DNA

The mystery of Etruscan origins: novel clues from Bos taurus mitochondrial DNA

By Marco Pellecchia, Riccardo Negrini, Licia Colli, Massimiliano Patrini, Elisabetta Milanesi, Alessandro Achilli, Giorgio Bertorelle, Luigi L Cavalli-Sforza, Alberto Piazza, Antonio Torroni and Paolo Ajmone-Marsan

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol.274 (2007)

Abstract: The Etruscan culture developed in Central Italy (Etruria) in the first millennium BC and for centuries dominated part of the Italian Peninsula, including Rome. The history of the Etruscans is at the roots of Mediterranean culture and civilization, but their origin is still debated: local or Eastern provenance? To shed light on this mystery, bovine and human mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) have been investigated, based on the well-recognized strict legacy which links human and livestock populations.

In the region corresponding to ancient Etruria (Tuscany, Central Italy), several Bos taurus breeds have been reared since historical times. These breeds have a strikingly high level of mtDNA variation, which is found neither in the rest of Italy nor in Europe. The Tuscan bovines are genetically closer to Near Eastern than to European gene pools and this Eastern genetic signature is paralleled in modern human populations from Tuscany, which are genetically close to Anatolian and Middle Eastern ones.

The evidence collected corroborates the hypothesis of a common past migration: both humans and cattle reached Etruria from the Eastern Mediterranean area by sea. Hence, the Eastern origin of Etruscans, first claimed by the classic historians Herodotus and Thucydides, receives strong independent support. As the Latin philosopher Seneca wrote: Asia Etruscos sibi vindicat (Asia claims the Etruscans back).

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