Upcoming talk on Etruscan origins

Scheduled for 24th Sep 2010 at the Sanger Institute:

Origins and evolution of the Etruscans’ DNA
Speaker: Dr Guido Barbujani
Affiliation: University di Ferrara, Italy
Date: 24th Sep 2010 Time: 00:00:00
Venue: M2-03
Host: Chris Tyler-Smith
The Etruscan culture is documented in Etruria, Central Italy from the 7th to the 1st century BC. For more than 2,000 years there has been disagreement on the Etruscans’ biological origins, whether local or in Anatolia. Genetic affinities with modern Tuscan and Anatolian populations have been reported, but so far all attempts to fit the Etruscans’ and modern mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) in the same genealogy have failed. In this study we considered that most populations are internally structured, and we analysed both Tuscany and Anatolia in finer geographical detail, comparing ancient and modern mtDNA data with the results of millions of computer simulations under various genealogical and demographic models. Using methods of Approximate Bayesian Computation, we show that people of coastal Anatolia, the area where ancient historians placed the Etruscans’ putative roots, are descended from ancestors who were genetically very similar to the Etruscans. In turn, the Etruscans can be considered ancestral, with a high degree of confidence, to the inhabitants of one Tuscan valley, Casentino, but not to other communities dwelling in the former Etruscan homeland. Our results demonstrate that the Etruscans’ DNA sequences are still present, but only in very specific sections of the Tuscan territory. They also support the existence of genetic links between Etruria and the Eastern Mediterranean shores, but place the relevant contact >10,000 years ago, strongly suggesting that the Etruscan culture developed locally without significant recent contribution of immigrants from Anatolia.


Glossy said...

The idea that the Etruscans came from Anatolia comes from two sources:

1) Some ancient Greek and Roman authors, including Herodotus, said this.

2) A stele found in 1885 on the island of Lemnos, near the Anatolian coast, is inscribed with text in a language that is closely related to Etruscan. No other evidence for any languages related to Etruscan has been found anywhere outside of Tuscany's immediate neighborhood.

Some say that most of the invasions that occurred in Eurasia after the spread of agriculture and before the 20th century were simply elite replacement events. According to this theory peasant populations weren't much affected by them. Perhaps there WAS an invasion of northern Italy by Etruscan-speakers from Anatolia 3,000 or 3,500 years ago, but it only affected the elite, with the peasants remaining in place and gradually adopting the invaders' language.

The Anatolian contribution from more than 10,000 years ago, mentioned in the abstract, is about right for the spread of agriculture.

Silver said...


Have you read The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity by Benjamin Isaac?

n/a said...


I have not. Why do you ask?

patrick said...

It sounds like they are saying modern Tuscans, at least in areas unaffected by later migrations (e.g. Celts, Lombards, etc.) are descended from people who left the northern Fertile Crescent via Anatolia and settled in the Balkan and Italian peninsulas. Not exactly a surprise to anyone who knows historical genetics.

Silver said...


I asked because that sort of stuff seems right up your alley. Isaac's purpose is to counter race-is-a-19th-century-invention flapdoodle by documenting the existence of racial discrimination in ancient times but in doing so he has to reference some of his extensive sources and I was curious whether any of it conflicts with the views you have formulated.

n/a said...


I see newmaul reviewed it:


I've got to agree with newamul here: "My first response is that a book with the above title makes as much sense as writing a monograph entitled "The medieval poetic roots of college 'hook up' culture." In other words, broadly considered, racism is a human universal, if you take it be roughly cognate with xenophobia."

As you guessed, I would probably be interested in the book mostly for whatever primary sources are cited.

Matra said...

I see in an excerpt at Google books Benjamin Isaac mentions Swedish classicist Martin P Nilsson's once common view that race mixing caused the collapse of Rome.

The footnote referencing Nilsson's Imperial Rome at the bottom of page 110 is revelatory. The way I read it Isaac seems to be giving Nilsson a bit of a pass because his racial contamination theory was written in 1926 (ie before WW2) but disturbed that it was reprinted in 1962, when Nilsson was still alive, "without comments" (an apology or recant?) from the author. Needless to say Nilsson, once considered required reading, has since fallen out of favour.

The final chapter of Imperial Rome is about Rome's population problems, including race mixing, and would probably be of interest to the readers of this blog. Unfortunately for the researcher, the book (or at least the 1962 edition) contains no bibliography or footnotes whatsoever.