Scientists solve mystery of the origins of the Etruscans

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A new genetic analysis may have finally revealed the origin of the Etruscans, a mysterious people whose civilization flourished in Italy centuries before the founding of Rome.

It turns out that the enigmatic Etruscans were local to the region, with almost identical genetics to their Latin neighbors.

This finding contradicts earlier theories that the Etruscans – who for centuries spoke a non-Indo-European language now extinct and remarkably different from others in the region – came from a different place than their Latin neighbors.

Related: 7 bizarre ancient cultures that history has forgotten

Instead, both groups appear to be migrants from the Pontic-Caspian steppe – a long, thin strip of land stretching from the northern Black Sea around Ukraine to the northern Caspian Sea in Russia. After arriving in Italy in the Bronze Age, the first speakers of Etruscan took root, assimilating speakers of other languages ​​into their own culture as they flourished into a great civilization.

The discovery “challenges simple assumptions that genes are equal to languages ​​and suggests a more complex scenario that may have involved the assimilation of early speakers of Italics by the Etruscan linguistic community”, David Caramelli, professor of anthropology at the University of Florence, said in a press release.

With cities as sophisticated as those of the ancient Greeks; commercial networks as lucrative as those of the Phoenicians; and vast wealth to compete with the old one egypt, the Etruscan civilization, the first known superpower of the western Mediterranean, was sparkling only in the mystery surrounding its language and its origins. Rising at the height of its power in central Italy in the 7th century BC. 90 BC

An Etruscan bronze figurine depicting sleep (Hypnos) and death (Thanatos) carrying Sarpedon after he was killed by Patroclus during the Trojan War. (Image credit: Sepia Times / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Archaeologists have long known that the Etruscans bequeathed to the last Roman Republic their religious rituals, metalworking, gladiatorial combat, and architectural and engineering innovations, which transformed Rome from a once colony. rude in a big city. However, little was known about the geographic origins of the Etruscans or their enigmatic and partially understood language, making it the subject of more than 2,400 years of intense debate.

The ancient Greek writer Herodotus (widely regarded as the first historian) believed that the Etruscans were descended from the Anatolian and Aegean peoples who fled westward following a famine in what is now western Turkey. Another Greek historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, countered that the pre-Roman civilization, despite their Greek customs and their non-Indo-European language, originated in the Italian peninsula.

While recent archaeological evidence, which shows little evidence of migration, supports Halicarnassus’ argument, “a lack of ancient DNA from the region has made genetic research inconsistent,” the researchers said. study in the press release. To solve this problem, scientists collected ancient genomic information on the remains of 82 individuals who lived between 2,800 and 1,000 years ago at 12 archaeological sites in central and southern Italy.

After comparing the DNA of these 82 individuals with that of other ancient and modern peoples, scientists found that despite the strong differences in customs and language, the Etruscans and their Latin neighbors shared a genetic profile. In fact, the ancestry of both groups indicates people who arrived in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe region during the Bronze Age. After these early Etruscans settled in northern and eastern Italy, their genetic makeup remained relatively stable – both during the Iron Age and with the absorption of Etruscan civilization into the Roman Republic. . Then, after the rise of the Roman Empire, there was a great influx of new genes, probably as a result of the massive migrations that the Empire brought about.

“This genetic change clearly describes the role of the Roman Empire in the large-scale displacement of people in an era of upward or downward socio-economic and geographic mobility,” said Johannes Krause, director of the Max Planck Institute of evolutionary anthropology in Germany, in a press release. the statement.

Now that the old debate could have finally been settled, scientists plan to conduct a larger genetic study using old DNA other regions of the Roman Empire. This will help them not only to pinpoint more details about the origins of the Etruscans and their strange, now extinct language, but to uncover the movements of peoples who transformed their descendants into genetically diverse citizens of a global superpower.

The researchers published their results on September 24 in the journal Scientists progress.

Originally posted on Live Science.

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