mtDNA research confirms the origins of the Ashkenazi Jews

Date:

Share post:

Many of the maternal ancestors of modern Ashkenazi Jews were European converts, according to a research project headed by a University of Huddersfield professor.

mtDNA research confirms the origins of the Ashkenazi Jews
Pictured left: Ashkenazi Jews are depicted in this painting by Maurycy Gottlieb from 1878 called ‘Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur’ [Credit: Tel Aviv Museum of Art]

The young science of archaeogenetics has been used to settle a long-standing controversy — the origin of Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews. Are they principally descended from forbears who migrated from Palestine in the first century AD? Or were their ancestors Europeans who converted to Judaism?

A new article published in the journal Nature Communications claims to have settled the question. Analysis of DNA samples has shown that on the female line, the Ashkenazim are descended not from the Near East but from southern and western Europe.

Professor Martin Richards heads the Archaeogenetics Research Group based at the University of Huddersfield and he is a co-author of the new article, entitled “A substantial prehistoric European ancestry amongst Ashkenazi maternal lineages.”

In Hebrew, the word “Ashkenazi” means “Germans” and the term is used for Jews of eastern European origin who historically spoke the Yiddish or Judeo-German language. Professor Richards says that the new explanation for their origins was one of the most significant findings from a wider project in which he and his colleagues — principally the Portuguese PhD students Marta Costa and Joana Pereira — were analysing mitochondrial DNA samples (i.e. DNA that traces the maternal line) in order to investigate the prehistoric settlement of Europe by migrants from the Near East.

Ashkenazi Jewish lineages were among the large quantity of publicly available mitochondrial genomes of people from Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East that entered the analysis. It was discovered that in the vast majority of cases, Ashkenazi lineages are most closely related to those of southern and western Europe and that they had been present in Europe for many thousands of years.

‌”This suggests that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they seem to have married European women,” states Professor Richards.

This seems to have happened first along the Mediterranean, especially in Italy, and later — but probably to a lesser extent — in western and central Europe. This suggests that, in the early years of the Diaspora, Judaism took in many converts from amongst the European population, but they were mainly recruited from amongst women. Thus, on the female line of descent, the Ashkenazim primarily trace their ancestry neither to Palestine nor to Khazaria in the North Caucasus — as has also been suggested — but to southern and western Europe.

“The origins of the Ashkenazim is one of the big questions that people have pursued again and again and never really come to a conclusive view,” said Prof Richards, who has described the new data as “compelling.”

Source: University of Huddersfield [October 08, 2013]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Sri Lankan skeleton is 37,000 years old

A skeleton found in an underground cave in western Sri Lanka is believed to be 37,000 years old,...

Spider version of Bigfoot emerges from caves in the Pacific Northwest

The forests of the coastal regions from California to British Columbia are renowned for their unique and ancient...

Monster gamma-ray burst in our cosmic neighborhood

Gamma-ray bursts are violent bursts of gamma radiation associated with exploding massive stars. For the first time ever,...

Early Cretaceous birds with crops found in China

The crop is characteristic of seed-eating birds today, yet little is known about its early history despite remarkable...

Ancient evolutionary innovation enabled cooperation between plants and nitrogen-fixing bacteria

Bees pollinate plants in return for nectar, ants protect trees in return for housing, even our own bodies...

Using technology to protect Iraq’s ancient treasures

Known to many as the "cradle of civilization," Iraq is a treasure trove of important archaeological sites including...

Amber trade in Europe at least 3,500 years old

In different places in Europe archaeologists find very similar amber beads from about 3,500 years ago. For a...

Conserving biodiversity could benefit the world’s poor

Land areas that are a priority for wildlife conservation provide relatively high levels of ecosystem services such as...