July 26, 2012

A look at Y chromosomes of Romania via Count Dracula

In short: researchers tried to see whether they could identify a specific Y chromosome lineage associated with the House of Basarab in Romania, the most famous member of which is Vlad the Impaler, an inspiration for the mythical Count Dracula. To do this, they tested Basarab-surnamed individuals, as well as the general Romanian population.

The whole exercise was, in a sense, a failure, since it neither disclosed a Basarab-specific lineage, nor resolved the historical question about the origin of the House of Basarab (Vlach or Cuman). But, it gave us some wonderful new data on Romania that is, of course, quite welcome.

This seems like a good candidate for a future ancient DNA study, assuming of course, that Vlad and his family are still in their final resting place, and there are brave enough researchers to disturb them (j/k).

On a more serious note, the authors correctly state that even if the Basarab house was originally Turkic, they could still have carried West Eurasian chromosomes, since incoming Turkic groups in Europe were not purely Mongoloid like their more remote ancestors. On the other hand, I note that most of the Basarab-surnamed individuals belonged to E-V13, I-P37.2, J-M241 all of which are almost certainly native Romanian. If one of them carries the original chromosome, then the odds are in favor of a Romanian origin, although nothing short of ancient DNA work can resolve the issue, assuming that's possible.

Table S1 contains the new Romanian data, and Table S2 data from surrounding populations (Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine).

PLoS ONE 7(7): e41803. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041803

Y-Chromosome Analysis in Individuals Bearing the Basarab Name of the First Dynasty of Wallachian Kings

Begoña Martinez-Cruz et al.

Vlad III The Impaler, also known as Dracula, descended from the dynasty of Basarab, the first rulers of independent Wallachia, in present Romania. Whether this dynasty is of Cuman (an admixed Turkic people that reached Wallachia from the East in the 11th century) or of local Romanian (Vlach) origin is debated among historians. Earlier studies have demonstrated the value of investigating the Y chromosome of men bearing a historical name, in order to identify their genetic origin. We sampled 29 Romanian men carrying the surname Basarab, in addition to four Romanian populations (from counties Dolj, N = 38; Mehedinti, N = 11; Cluj, N = 50; and Brasov, N = 50), and compared the data with the surrounding populations. We typed 131 SNPs and 19 STRs in the non-recombinant part of the Y-chromosome in all the individuals. We computed a PCA to situate the Basarab individuals in the context of Romania and its neighboring populations. Different Y-chromosome haplogroups were found within the individuals bearing the Basarab name. All haplogroups are common in Romania and other Central and Eastern European populations. In a PCA, the Basarab group clusters within other Romanian populations. We found several clusters of Basarab individuals having a common ancestor within the period of the last 600 years. The diversity of haplogroups found shows that not all individuals carrying the surname Basarab can be direct biological descendants of the Basarab dynasty. The absence of Eastern Asian lineages in the Basarab men can be interpreted as a lack of evidence for a Cuman origin of the Basarab dynasty, although it cannot be positively ruled out. It can be therefore concluded that the Basarab dynasty was successful in spreading its name beyond the spread of its genes.


Rob said...

" incoming Turkic groups in Europe were not purely Mongoloid like their more remote ancestors."

I doubt even the "original" Turks (whomever they were) were purely "mongoloid". As D Sinor has argued, there is no real proof for a strictly localized Sayan-Altai origin for Turkic languages. It could have been spoken over a broader area of Eurasian, even in more western regions, for quite a long time, with more western versions, esp. Oghuric (Bulgar, Avar, Hun, etc), actually developing in the western steppes.

Hector said...

If Turks were "originally" West Eurasian one should expect the influence of their language more to the West than to the East.

Even if one does not subscribe to the Altaic language family theory it should be quite evident that the Turkic language has been in contact with the speakers of Mongolian and Tungusic, possibly even Korean and Japanese.

The similarity among these languages is beyond chance resemblance. The only question is on weather it arose due to contact or common descent.

Either way, Turkic seems to have an origin in the East and so do the people who speak the language.

Nirjhar007 said...

Dienekes,The actual Epithet is Dracul not Dracula! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlad_III,_Prince_of_Wallachia#Name

Rob said...

Areal contacts with Mongolic does not mean genetic relatedness, and even more does not mean a mongolian Turkkic "homeland' Recent reports have placed Turkish origin within a Iranian-Sogdian milleiu of what is now the "Turkestan" region, just east of the Aral Sea. So not as east as you think

Dienekes said...

There is Mongoloid admixture within all Altaic groups, and the origin of the Altaic language family is in Mongoloid territory.

This leaves little doubt that the Altaic ancestors of the Turkic peoples were originally Mongoloid.

Some West Eurasian admixture in them cannot be excluded, but the dominant component was clearly Mongoloid

Recent reports have placed Turkish origin within a Iranian-Sogdian milleiu of what is now the "Turkestan" region, just east of the Aral Sea.

"Turkish" origin is not the same as "Turkic" origin. It is clear that Turkic groups en route to the West were influenced by Iranic groups.

Hector said...

To Rob

As I said it does not matter whether the similarity is from an areal contact or genetic(liguistically). The Turkic language shows signs of ancient contacts to the peoples of the East almost exclusively while with West Eurasia all of them can be certifiably dated to events well into historic times.

Even physically Turks were considered indistinguishable from Mongols during the 10-13th century from Arabs' point of view.
When European explorers encountered Inuits they exclaimed that they looked like Tartars.

Chinese had noted some Caucasian features among SOME Turking speaking peoples. But they were exceptions since most Turks they knew like Uighurs(not related to present day Uighurs) were physically indistinguishable from Mongols.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

FWIW, I once had a Romanian man as a client who had adopted his wife's surname during the Communist regime in Romania because it made it harder for the Romanian secret police to connect him with his young adult anti-Communist activities prior to his marriage.

I have no idea if this was a common practice for men with similar backgrounds, but I'm certain that it was not a unique case, and if this was an even modestly common practice, it would distort the data in this kind of study.

Onur Dincer said...

It is clear that Turkic groups en route to the West were influenced by Iranic groups.

All of Central Asian Turkic groups have varying amounts of Indo-European origin (Iranic, Tocharian), the most important difference being not the variety of the Indo-European origin (e.g., northern vs. southern or western vs. eastern) but the amount of the Indo-European origin: some of them are very heavily mixed with Indo-Europeans (especially those living in areas only Turkicized during the last 1000 years, e.g., modern day Turkmens of Turkmenistan, who are more descended from Iranic natives of what is now Turkmenistan than they are descended from their original Turkmen ancestors from what is now Kazakhstan, who migrated to what is now Turkmenistan as late as the Seljuq times), and some not so heavily (Altaians, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Karakalpaks, Uyghurs and some Uzbeks).

Ron Pavellas said...

Perhaps there is value in this anecdote. My patrilineal subclade is J-241 (J2b1a). We are "Greek". Family history is that an ancestor from around Athens migrated to Romania during one of the 'dispersions' of Greeks by the Ottomans. When Greece gained independence in the early 1820s, descendants of the migrant family returned to Athens. The family name is 'Pavellas', a unique name as far as I know. My second cousin says that the migrant family adopted the name 'Pavel' in Romania and, upon returning to Greece, 'Greekified' it by adding 'las'.

Onur Dincer said...


When your ancestors migrated to Athens from what is now Romania, all Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire were still under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and considered as part of the same Rum millet according to the Ottoman millet system. Thus your ancestors from what is now Romania may very well have been ethnic Romanians and switched to Greek identity only after migrating to Athens.