Mitochondrial DNA diversity in an archaeological site in al-Andalus

Human mitochondrial DNA diversity in an archaeological site in al-Andalus: Genetic impact of migrations from North Africa in medieval Spain

Mitochondrial DNA sequences and restriction fragment polymorphisms were retrieved from three Islamic 12th-13th century samples of 71 bones and teeth (with >85% efficiency) from Madinat Baguh (today called Priego de Cordoba, Spain). Compared with 108 saliva samples from the present population of the same area, the medieval samples show a higher proportion of sub-Saharan African lineages that can only partially be attributed to the historic Muslim occupation. In fact, the unique sharing of transition 16175, in L1b lineages, with Europeans, instead of Africans, suggests a more ancient arrival to Europe from Africa. The present day Priego sample is more similar to the current south Iberian population than to the medieval sample from the same area. The increased gene flow in modern times could be the main cause of this difference.

Am J Phys Anthropol 2006.

This is an odd study. I’m familiar with some Iberian crania that suggest a few more African associated features in the Neolithic crania than there are in the present population. This is suggesting some movement from North Africa in ancient times (16k to 20k is the date given), possibly bringing microlithic technology from the Ibero-Maraussian (the date is compatible with this theory). This could possibly explain why the Celtic languages (who’s ancestors originated in Iberian refugia) have an Afro Asiatic grammar structure. This theory was dumped a while ago, but it may have some basis to it.

The medieval Priego sample showed greater affinities to North-Africa than other Iberian Peninsula samples including that of present day Priego. Haplotype analysis revealed that some African haplotypes detected in medieval Priego have matches with samples of precise north- African origin as Tunisia, west-Sahara or the Canary Islands pointing to well documented historic connections with this area. However, medieval Priego L1b lineages  carrying the 16175 transition have their most related counterparts in Europe instead of Africa. The coalescence age for these L1b lineages is compatible with a minor prehistoric African influence on Priego that also reached other European areas.

From studying the Y chromosomes of North Africa, the mate of this L1b was probably an R1b, so I’m going to have to have a look to see if any of the R1b’s in Iberia track back to North Africa (E3b1b is a neolithic addition to North Africa).

3 responses to “Mitochondrial DNA diversity in an archaeological site in al-Andalus

  1. Celtic languages have not their origin in Iberia, Mathilda: they formed with all likehood in West Germany and nearby areas of the Low Countries and Switzerland (Rhin basin). In Central Europe in any case. The arrival of Celts (and posibly other IEs, as argued sometimes for the Lusitani) is well traced through archaeology to the Urnfields culture and a second wave in Hallstatt culture: they originally settled the NE, moved to the interior and west of the peninsula in the Iron Age (Hallstatt, c. 700 BCE) and lost control of the NE to Iberians and Basques c. 650 BCE. That way Iberian Celts (not seafaring peoples at all) lost contact with heir continental cousins and never experienced La Tène culture nor Druidism (a British-originated phenomenon).

    I am also intrigued about a possible Afroasiatic connection of Celtic but all I read connects it very very tentatively with Semitic (and other AA languages are not mentioned). It is also based only on British Celtic (naturally), what may refer not to Celtic language family as a whole but to the British islands only. IF the putative “Semitic” connection could be extended with some solidity to Berber, then it could mean that Berber languages were once common in Atlantic Europe, maybe via Iberia, as you suggest. Alternatively it could mean that some AA language was the one used by Balcano-Danubian Neolithic Europeans, that would form the substrate of Celts upon Indo-Europeization. It may also mean only that the “Danubian” languages (subtrate of Celtic and other Central European IE languages) shared that grammatical peculiarity with Semitic while not necesarily being directly related. All too dark and speculative in any case.

    But, on the main topic, southern Iberia had a Neolithic that pre-dates Cardium Pottery by several centuries and that, for lack of any other known connection (and because cereals and legumes appear already developed) probably arrived from North Africa (though only further archaeological research in this region will tell for sure). This pretty much unknown South Iberian (Andalusian) Neolithic is defined by La Almagra style pottery (which is very variegated anyhow but very different from Cardial or Balcano-Danubian styles). It influenced specially southern Portugal and both regions (Andalusia and Portugal) were hence marginal in Cardium Pottery culural context when these arrived to Eastern Iberia. Southern Portugal is probably the original area of Dolmenic Megalithism (the most typical Megalithism, with collective burials in dolmens), that arose maybe c. 4800 BCE in that region (maybe even earlier with new C14 calibrations) and later (at least 1000 years later) expanded through all the Atlantic and West Mediterranean. We do not know which language these “Portuguese” spoke, unless it was Tartessian/Sudlusitanian (which is generally considered an isolate). It’s not impossible that it was a Berber language but it’s not impossible it was a “Basco-Iberian” one either (the human substrate in the area is post-Magdalenian Epipaleolithic, related most directly to SE Iberians).

    In any case, Andalusian (and to a lesser extent southern Portugal) genetics of North African origin may well date from that ill-known Andalusian Neolithic epysode first and foremost.

  2. The account Luis gives of the Celtic languages is pretty well accepted these days. However I was not aware of much of the information he’s given regarding the languages in Spain. Also his summary of the pre-Cardium Neolithic there. Thanks Luis.

    “This could possibly explain why the Celtic languages … have an Afro Asiatic grammar structure. This theory was dumped a while ago, but it may have some basis to it”.

    Well and truly dumped. The only reason it was ever put forward was to fit in with mythology, the old idea that Hebrew was the original language. Although as Luis says it’s possible there is some substrate of Afro-Asiatic in Europe.

  3. I didn’t make myself clear enough here.

    It’s the mesolithic language of the expansion from the refugia that preceded the Indo European Celtic languages that I suspect could have picked up the AA grammar structure; and that grammar was retained when the IE languages arrived from the South/East. This is all ‘pre-Neolithic’ by a long time.

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