Genetics of Peloponnesean Greeks

April 27, 2017

This new study refutes Nordicist and Afrocentrist claims of population replacement in Ancient Greece, showing that modern Peloponnesean Greeks are most closely related to other Southern Europeans, and far from both Slavic and non-European groups. They're also distinct from Greek-speaking populations in Asia Minor, only partly overlapping with those on the Aegean coast nearest to Greece.

Peloponnese has been one of the cradles of the Classical European civilization and an important contributor to the ancient European history. It has also been the subject of a controversy about the ancestry of its population. In a theory hotly debated by scholars for over 170 years, the German historian Jacob Philipp Fallmerayer proposed that the medieval Peloponneseans were totally extinguished by Slavic and Avar invaders and replaced by Slavic settlers during the 6th century CE. Here we use 2.5 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms to investigate the genetic structure of Peloponnesean populations in a sample of 241 individuals originating from all districts of the peninsula and to examine predictions of the theory of replacement of the medieval Peloponneseans by Slavs. We find considerable heterogeneity of Peloponnesean populations exemplified by genetically distinct subpopulations and by gene flow gradients within Peloponnese. By principal component analysis (PCA) and ADMIXTURE analysis the Peloponneseans are clearly distinguishable from the populations of the Slavic homeland and are very similar to Sicilians and Italians. Using a novel method of quantitative analysis of ADMIXTURE output we find that the Slavic ancestry of Peloponnesean subpopulations ranges from 0.2 to 14.4%. Subpopulations considered by Fallmerayer to be Slavic tribes or to have Near Eastern origin, have no significant ancestry of either. This study rejects the theory of extinction of medieval Peloponneseans and illustrates how genetics can clarify important aspects of the history of a human population.

Figure 2: Genetic similarity of Peloponneseans, Sicilians and Italians. PCA analysis of several European populations. (a) Notice the north to south distribution of the populations and that the Peloponneseans are placed to the far right of the graph and overlap with the Sicilians. (b) PCA analysis of Southern European populations illustrating the close relationship between Peloponneseans, Sicilians and Italians (TSI is an Italian population). (c) Network analysis illustrating the high connectivity between the Peloponnesean populations as well as between the Peloponneseans, the Sicilians and the Italians. Notice the distance between Peloponneseans and the Slavic, and Near Eastern populations. Peloponneseans are connected with the Near Eastern populations through Crete and Dodecanese.

Figure 3: Testing the theory of replacement of medieval Peloponneseans by Slavs and Asia Minor settlers. (a) PCA analysis shows the broad separation of Peloponneseans from four populations of the Slavic homeland (Ukrainians, Polish, Russians and Belarusians). (b) PCA comparisons of the Peloponneseans with three Greek-speaking Asia Minor populations shows only partial overlap with the population of the Asia Minor Aegean coast.

Supplementary Figure 2: Comparisons of Peloponneseans with non-European populations. PCA analysis of Peloponneseans and A. Near East. B. Caucasus. C. North Africa. D. East Africa. E. Arabia. F. West Siberia populations.

Stamatoyannopoulos et al. "Genetics of the peloponnesean populations and the theory of extinction of the medieval peloponnesean Greeks". Eur J Hum Genet, 2017.

Scythians Had East Asian Ancestry

March 24, 2017

Nordicists have often claimed that Iron Age Scythians were blonde, blue-eyed "Aryans" most similar to modern Northern Europeans, but ancient DNA analysis shows they were a mix of Yamnaya people from the Russian Steppe (who were mostly brunet) and East Asian Mongoloids.

During the 1st millennium before the Common Era (BCE), nomadic tribes associated with the Iron Age Scythian culture spread over the Eurasian Steppe, covering a territory of more than 3,500 km in breadth. To understand the demographic processes behind the spread of the Scythian culture, we analysed genomic data from eight individuals and a mitochondrial dataset of 96 individuals originating in eastern and western parts of the Eurasian Steppe. Genomic inference reveals that Scythians in the east and the west of the steppe zone can best be described as a mixture of Yamnaya-related ancestry and an East Asian component. Demographic modelling suggests independent origins for eastern and western groups with ongoing gene-flow between them, plausibly explaining the striking uniformity of their material culture. We also find evidence that significant gene-flow from east to west Eurasia must have occurred early during the Iron Age.


Since the PCA of west Eurasia in Fig. 4 does not allow one to examine the ancient samples in relation to contemporary East Asian populations, we also carried out PCA of all 2,345 modern individuals in the Human Origins dataset, onto which we also projected the ancient individuals (Fig. 5). It is evident from this PCA that ancestry of the Iron Age samples falls on a continuum between present-day west Eurasians and eastern non-Africans, which is in concordance with the mitochondrial haplogroup analyses. The eastern Scythians display nearly equal proportions of mtDNA lineages common in east and west Eurasia, whereas in the western Scythian groups, the frequency of lineages now common in east Eurasia is generally lower, even reaching zero in four samples of the initial Scythian phase of the eight to sixth century BCE (group #1 in Fig. 2), and reaches 18–26% during later periods (sixth to second century BCE; #2 and #3) (Supplementary Table 7).

The Scythian samples are in black:

Figure 5 | Principal component analysis. PCA of ancient individuals (according colours see legend) projected on modern individuals of the Human Origins dataset (grey). Iron Age Scythians are shown in black; CHG, Caucasus hunter-gatherer; LNBA, late Neolithic/Bronze Age; MN, middle Neolithic; EHG, eastern European hunter-gatherer; LBK_EN, early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik; HG, hunter-gatherer; EBA, early Bronze Age; IA, Iron Age; LBA, late Bronze Age; WHG, western hunter-gatherer.

Unterlander et al. "Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe". Nature Communications, 2017.

First Ancient Egyptian Genomes

March 14, 2017

This is a talk that will be given at the 82nd annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver, BC, Canada from March 29–April 2, 2017. New genome-wide data show that Ancient Egyptians had less Sub-Saharan African ancestry than Modern Egyptians and were closely related to Middle Easterners, which will surely upset Afrocentrists. More ancient genomes from earlier periods should follow soon.

[203] Ancient Egyptian Mummy Genomes Suggest an Increase of Sub-Saharan African Ancestry in Post-Roman Periods

Krause, Johannes (Max Planck Institute—SHH), Verena Schuenemann (Institute for Archaeological Sciences, University of T├╝bingen), Alexander Peltzer (Department for Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Inst), Wolfgang Haak (Department for Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Inst) and Stephan Schiffels (Department for Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Inst)

Egypt, located on the isthmus of Africa, is an ideal region to study historical population dynamics due to its geographic location and documented interactions with ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Particularly, in the first millennium BCE Egypt endured foreign domination leading to growing numbers of foreigners living within its borders possibly contributing genetically to the local population. Here we mtDNA and nuclear DNA from mummified humans recovered from Middle Egypt that span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the Third Intermediate to the Roman Period. Our analyses reveal that ancient Egyptians shared more Near Eastern ancestry than present-day Egyptians, who received additional Sub-Saharan admixture in more recent times. This analysis establishes ancient Egyptian mummies as a genetic source to study ancient human history and offers the perspective of deciphering Egypt’s past at a genome-wide level.

Hopefully a deeper transect, into the Old Kingdom, Early Dynastic, and Predynastic, is to follow. My prediction (I would be happy to be wrong) is that this DNA came from tooth or bone — I think mummified soft tissue has mostly been a source of disappointment. Differential relatedness of modern Copts and non-Copts to the ancient samples would be something to look out for.

If any of these talks is going to really upset some people, it’ll be this one.