The country is transitional between the Iranic speaking world of Iran and the Indo-Aryan speaking world of South Asia, as well as between the Indo-Iranian world and the (mostly) Turkic-speaking world of Central Asia. Hence, the absence of data for that country has been acutely felt for all those who are trying to understand "what happened" in Eurasia.
The appearance of a new paper by the Genographic Project is a welcome sight, and a good example of what is best about this Project. I haven't been exactly a fan of the Genographic's interpretation of their own data, but kudos to them for getting them in the first place.
From the paper:
Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, accounting for about 42 percent of the population, with Tajiks (27%), Hazaras (9%), Uzbeks (9%), Aimaqs (4%), Turkmen people (3%), Baluch (2%), and other groups (4%) making up the remainder . In the present study, eight ethnic groups were examined, with a focus on the largest four groups: - The Pashtuns, traditionally lived a seminomadic lifestyle, they reside mainly in southern and eastern Afghanistan and in western Pakistan. They speak Pashto which is a member of the Eastern Iranian languages. - The Tajiks are a Persian-speaking ethnic group which are closely related to the Persians of Iran. In Afghanistan, they are the largest Tajik population outside their homeland to the north in Tajikistan. - The Hazara population speaks Persian with some Mongolian words. They believe they are descendants of Genghis Khan's army that invaded during the twelfth century. - The Uzbeks are a Turkic speaking group that have been living a sedentary farming lifestyle in Northern Afghanistan.The main features of the Y-chromosome gene pool:
Genotyping revealed 32 halpogroups present in Afghanistan's ethnic groups among our samples. Haplogroups R1a1a-M17, C3-M217, J2-M172, and L-M20 were the most frequent when Afghan ethnic groups were pooled, together comprising >66% of the chromosomes. Absolute and relative haplogroup frequencies are tabulated in Table S4.
It is a real shame that the newer markers available within the most prominent R-M17 haplogroup were not tested:
The prevailing Y-chromosome lineage in Pashtun and Tajik (R1a1a-M17), has the highest observed diversity among populations of the Indus Valley . R1a1a-M17 diversity declines toward the Pontic-Caspian steppe where the mid-Holocene R1a1a7-M458 sublineage is dominant . R1a1a7-M458 was absent in Afghanistan, suggesting that R1a1a-M17 does not support, as previously thought , expansions from the Pontic Steppe , bringing the Indo-European languages to Central Asia and India.Nonetheless, I can't really disagree with the dismissal of the R-M17/Indo-European theory. R-M17 is simply too populous in South Asia to be the genetic legacy of "Indo-Europeans": (i) under an elite-dominance model, its frequency is way too high (compared to well-attested examples of elite dominance, e.g., Hungary or Turkey where the genetic legacy of the elite element is in the minority), (ii) under a folk migration model, it is difficult to understand why a hypothetical migrating Indo-European people would have such an overwhelming influence in the region while at the same time hardly influencing at all other densely occupied agricultural landscapes of the Eurasian steppe periphery; moreover, no autosomal signal corresponding to a migration from eastern Europe to South Asia really exists -the main cline of variation links South with West Asia, not Europe- and the small signal that does exist does not really correspond to observed levels of R-M17.
From the paper:
The E1b1b1-M35 lineages in some Pakistani Pashtun were previously traced to a Greek origin brought by Alexander's invasions . However, RM network of E1b1b1-M35 found that Afghanistan's lineages are correlated with Middle Easterners and Iranians but not with populations from the Balkans.Greek populations are not homogeneous in their haplogroup E frequencies, so it would be useful to consider the possibility that the lack of this frequent Southeastern European haplogroup in South Asia may not reflect a complete lack of Greek influence in this region, but rather, an influence from a structured ancient Greek population.
Looking at the Y-haplogroup composition:
- The clear link between C/N/O with Central Asia
- A clear difference between Persian and Pashto speakers in terms of inverse J2a/R1a frequences
- The paucity of J1 chromosomes (only 1 Tajik) testifies to the absence of relatively recent Middle Eastern influences associated with the spread of Islam; consistent with the absence of the autosomal "Southwest Asian" component in South/Central Asia.
- Paucity of R1b, except in a couple Uzbeks and a Tajik; I have argued before that R1a had an early distribution in the arc of flatlands north and east of the Caspian, while R1b a complementary distribution in the smaller arc of the highlands west and south of it, out of which the Tocharians may have originated.
- The small Nurestani sample comprises of J2a, R1a, and R2; these are linguistic relatives of the Kalash of Pakistan who -unlike the latter- were converted to Islam in the 19th century.
Hopefully, the data can be re-used down the road once the phylogeny of different haplogroups (and R1a in particular) is better understood. As I've stated before on this blog, I take Y-STR based age estimates with a huge grain of salt, so I would not put much faith in any of the ones presented in this paper.
Related: Firasat et al. (2006), Y-chromosomes of Afghanistan, Lashgary et al. (2011), Regueiro et al. (2006).
PLoS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034288
Afghanistan's Ethnic Groups Share a Y-Chromosomal Heritage Structured by Historical Events
Marc Haber et al.
Afghanistan has held a strategic position throughout history. It has been inhabited since the Paleolithic and later became a crossroad for expanding civilizations and empires. Afghanistan's location, history, and diverse ethnic groups present a unique opportunity to explore how nations and ethnic groups emerged, and how major cultural evolutions and technological developments in human history have influenced modern population structures. In this study we have analyzed, for the first time, the four major ethnic groups in present-day Afghanistan: Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, and Uzbek, using 52 binary markers and 19 short tandem repeats on the non-recombinant segment of the Y-chromosome. A total of 204 Afghan samples were investigated along with more than 8,500 samples from surrounding populations important to Afghanistan's history through migrations and conquests, including Iranians, Greeks, Indians, Middle Easterners, East Europeans, and East Asians. Our results suggest that all current Afghans largely share a heritage derived from a common unstructured ancestral population that could have emerged during the Neolithic revolution and the formation of the first farming communities. Our results also indicate that inter-Afghan differentiation started during the Bronze Age, probably driven by the formation of the first civilizations in the region. Later migrations and invasions into the region have been assimilated differentially among the ethnic groups, increasing inter-population genetic differences, and giving the Afghans a unique genetic diversity in Central Asia.