The genetic legacy of Magna Graecia

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Visiting the ancient theater of Syracuse, the temples of Agrigentum and Paestum, or any of the archaeological museums in Magna Graecia, it becomes obvious the substantial impact the Greek colonization of the archaic age has had on the artistic and cultural heritage of the Mediterranean. The cultural relevance of this process has never been questioned, but the same is not true for its genetic legacy.

The genetic legacy of Magna Graecia

“For centuries the origin and the demographic imapct of the first colonists have been hotly debated among archaologists and historians” – says Dr Sergio Tofanelli of the Biology Dept of the University of Pisa – “So far, however, population genetics has failed to provide a direct answer to these questions due to the lack of studies specifically focused on these aspects. Our research bypassed the limitations of previous investigations by selecting the samples and the genetic markers to be analysed and by performing extensive computer simulations in order to to rigourously test the various hypotheses”

“The information obtained by looking at the the genetic systems inherited along the male and female line (the Y chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA, respectively) has allowed us to capture and interpret the echo of these episodes” – continues Prof. Cristian Capelli, molecular anthropologist at the University of Oxford – “The changes accumulated through time by these systems make it possible to zoom in time periods and resolve the different demographic layers that have shaped the current genetic landscape”

Dr Antonino Facella, archaeologist for long time under contract at the University of Pisa, concludes: “Thanks to the fruitful collaboration between researchers with different expertise, in Life Sciences and Humanities, has been possible to identify, in the population from East Sicily, a clear genetic imprint compatible with an origin in the Euboea island in the archaic period. In addition, for the first time DNA allowed us to quantify this impact in few thousands males and few hundreds females, supporting the hypothesis that the formation of primary colonies was unbalanced by sex and it never assumed the characteristics of a true mass phenomenon.

The research has been published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

Source: Università di Pisa [October 23, 2015]

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