Sicilian Y chromsomes show a link to North Africa.

Y-chromosome 10 locus short tandem repeat haplotypes in a population sample from Sicily Italy

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Maria Elena Ghiania, Ignazio Stefano Pirasa, Robert John Mitchellb, Giuseppe Vonaa,*

This study reports the first data on Y-chromosome-specific short tandem repeat (STR) haplotype frequencies, in the population of the island of Sicily (Italy), based on the combination of alleles at the following 10 Y-chromosome loci DYS19, DYS389I, DYS389II, DYS390, DYS391, DYS392, DYS393, DYS437, DYS438, and DYS439. In a total of 117 males, 108 unique haplotypes were observed, with 99 of them being singletons. The 10 locus haplotypes generated a diversity value of 0.9987 and discriminatory power (DP) of 92.30%. The data on the seven of the 10 polymorphisms (DYS19; DYS389I; DYS389II; DYS390; DYS391; DYS392 and DYS393) that have been most studied in worldwide populations were compared with similar data from neighboring Mediterranean populations in order to address the question of shared ancestry, gene flow and population affinities. Overall, results indicate Sicily is closest genetically to the mainland Italian population but also with evidence of a significant African component in the male gene pool. These findings are consistent with those obtained from other genetic markers (autosomal and mitochondrial DNA as well as the classical blood groups) and also with the recorded settlement history (either peaceful or due to invasion) of the island.

What this abstract fails to mention is that the African Y chromsomes are North African, and attributable to the Moorish occupation, and are at a frequency of about 5%.

Furthermore, these five haplotypes are not present in any other Italian population [20–23]. The shared five haplotypes represent 5% of the total Sicilian haplotypes. These African haplotypes most probably were introduced into Sicily sometime between the 7th and 8th century, during the island’s domination by the Arab Empire. An African contribution to the Sicilian gene pool gains support from several lines of evidence.


The median joining network used to arrange the Sicilian haplotypes into a phylogeny shows that there are two main clusters. The sharing of haplotypes between North West African and Sicilian populations confirms the contribution from the former population to the island during the Islamic expansion into the Mediterranean basin.

Another Y chromsome study of Sicily found North African DNA at six percent, which is very close.


8 responses to “Sicilian Y chromsomes show a link to North Africa.

  1. What this abstract fails to mention is that the African Y chromsomes are North African, and attributable to the Moorish occupation

    Not just Moorish occupation probably, that lasted roughly a century, but more likely to other historical connections with Tunisia and nearby areas. East Sicily was a Carthaginian colony, plus neighbour relations in the Roman Empire (when Sicily was a major destination for slaves, btw) or maybe before, in late Prehistory.

    We tend too often to look only at “recent” historical events but these in many cases are not so influential, while older, less widely known circumstances may have been much more relevant.

  2. Luis, is one of the North African Y-chromosomes haplogroup E and, if so, which one?

  3. Well, I’m an American living in Morocco, and have some good Sicilian friends in America. I’ll have to share this article with them!

    Madame Monet

  4. Well due to the fact Sicily was conquered by almost everyone “in the book” and traded with civilizations in Europe, West Asia, North Africa and West Africa. With them that’s expected. My teacher told us that there was a Sicilian female with no known African ancestry was her friend in High School that was very pale with very “nappy” hair, which is unusual to say the least!!! Nappy “Negroids”.

  5. I meant “Nappy” hair is only found in “Negroids”, yet that Sicilian girl had it.

  6. North African genetic markers in Sicily are most likely due to the period in medieval times when Sicily was a possession of the Aghlabid and Fatimid emirs. The North African settlers were primarily men of Arab and Berber origin, thus it makes sense that we’d see most of the markers skewed toward the Y chromosome.

    Furthermore, North African ancestry by no means equals black African ancestry as some have tried to claim Sicilians as having (most infamously in the movie “True Romance”). Medieval North African Arabs and Berbers were rather light-skinned and Mediterranean, and many of today’s North Africans still are, however many others have visible sub-Saharan admixture due to northward migrations of such people (either voluntary or via the trans-Saharan slave trade that lasted right up until the 20th century). There were likely a few sub-Saharan Africans among the medieval Moors who invaded southern Europe, but their numbers must have been quite small considering that they were coming from the Mediterranean coast.

    5-6% is still rather low however, and if this is the study that I’ve come across before, Y chromosomal markers of Greek origin are at a much higher level of 37%. Clearly the ancient and Byzantine Greek colonizations contributed far more to the ethnogenesis of the Sicilian population than the North African one did.

    Modern Sicilians are best described as a European population with some minimal North African/Middle Eastern admixture. Plus keep in mind that after the Moorish period, the Normans conquered Sicily and in their wake came many Italian and French settlers who restored Sicily to Christendom (Catholicism rather than Greek Orthodoxy this time). It was also at this time that the Sicilian language began to develop, being composed primarily of the Romance speech of the Italian/French newcomers with elements of Greek and Arabic mixed in.

    Sicilians still of course do show considerable variety in terms of looks. Having been to Palermo (said by Gen. Patton to have been the most conquered city in history), I can say that I saw people who looked typically Greek, some who looked typically Italian, some who looked Northern European (i.e. blond/blue and likely Norman/French descendants), some who looked North African/Arab, and still others who looked Spanish as the Spaniards were in Sicily for centuries. Naturally, many others looked to be a mix of two or more of the above groups. For example, I noticed that many Sicilians had dark brown/black hair but with blue/green eyes, or even red hair and brown eyes. All sorts of combinations were visible and they are truly a mixed lot, perhaps the most mixed of all Europeans.

  7. Gosh, I went to school with few of Australians with nappy hair, we say woolly hair in Australia. They were all Caucasians of NW European origin. Most of the Southern Europeans here have wavy hair or straight hair, never seen a woolly haired Southern European. Mostly the Irish Australians have the woolly or frizzy hair especially the red haired ones.
    It would be unbelievable if Sicilians or Spaniards or Greeks or other Southern Europeans did not have African admixture, North or sub Saharan. The Mediterranean Sea has linked Europe to Africa and Asia since the beginnings of the human race. Similarly it would be unbelievable if British people, and those Europeans on the western seaboards from Portugal, Spain, France, Germany all the way to Scandinavia didn’t also have African and Near Eastern admixture. The Neolithic farming took hold in Central Europe from the beginning. That means Near Eastern admixture. In short, no part of Europe is isolated from Africa or Asia. Europe biologically is just an extension of the Near East. R1b has a Central Asian genesis. Haplogroup I common in Scandivanians is the fraternal twin brother of haplogroup J, common in Near Easterners. All Europeans whether blond, blue eyed, fair skinned or black haired, brown eyed and swart have all equally been touched by the tar’s brush and the occasional Mongol.

  8. Agreed Ponto. Purists and nationalists who try to maintain the fallacy of racial purity are kidding themselves. Gene flow has existed throughout human history. The only Europeans who might lack any trace of sub-Saharan or East Asian admixture would likely be the Brits or the Irish simply on account of their isolation from continental Europe. However, I have also seen some Irishmen with that very curly hair, though I don’t believe that it’s necessarily indicative of admixture. I’d be willing to bet that it’s likely due to natural selection or genetic drift in those cases, but I could be wrong.

    As for East Asian admixture in Europeans, I believe that the Finns and Hungarians have the highest levels, which makes perfect sense since their remote ancestors migrated from the Ural Mts. region and would have had contact with Central Asian and Siberian populations. In the case of the Hungarians, it is generally believed that their Magyar ancestors absorbed the larger surrounding Germanic and Slavic populations into their ranks, assimilating them into their identity. Hence, today’s Hungarians are mostly European in ancestry. Still, traits such as oblique eyes and high cheekbones occur fairly frequently among them.

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