February 14, 2007

Asian Origins of Etruscan cattle

From the New Scientist:
The team found that almost 60% of the mitochondrial DNA in cows in the central Tuscan region of the country - where the Etruscan civilisation is thought to have arisen - was the same as that in cows from Anatolia and the Middle East. There was little or no genetic convergence between cows from the north and south of Italy and those from Turkey and the Middle East, the researchers say.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (online early)

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

Marco Pellecchia et al.

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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