Genetic Chaos

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Y-Chromosome Lineages Trace Diffusion of People and Languages in Southwestern Asia

The origins and dispersal of farming and pastoral nomadism in southwestern Asia are complex, and there is controversy about whether they were associated with cultural transmission or demic diffusion. In addition, the spread of these technological innovations has been associated with the dispersal of Dravidian and Indo-Iranian languages in southwestern Asia. Here we present genetic evidence for the occurrence of two major population movements, supporting a model of demic diffusion of early farmers from southwestern Iran—and of pastoral nomads from western and central Asia—into India, associated with Dravidian and Indo-European–language dispersals, respectively.

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Genetic Evidence Concerning the Origins of South and North Ossetians

Ossetians are a unique group in the Caucasus, in that they are the only ethnic group found on both the north and south slopes of the Caucasus, and moreover they speak an Indo-European language in contrast to their Caucasian-speaking neighbours. We analyzed mtDNA HV1 sequences, Y chromosome binary genetic markers, and Y chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) variability in three North Ossetian groups and compared these data to published data for two additional North Ossetian groups and for South Ossetians. The mtDNA data suggest a common origin for North and South Ossetians, whereas the Y-haplogroup data indicate that North Ossetians are more similar to other North Caucasian groups, and South Ossetians are more similar to other South Caucasian groups, than to each other. Also, with respect to mtDNA, Ossetians are significantly more similar to Iranian groups than to Caucasian groups. We suggest that a common origin of Ossetians from Iran, followed by subsequent male-mediated migrations from their Caucasian neighbours, is the most likely explanation for these results. Thus, genetic studies of such complex and multiple migrations as the Ossetians can provide additional insights into the circumstances surrounding such migrations.

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