8,000 Years of Genetic Continuity of Armenians Revealed by a New Study

8,000 Years of Genetic Continuity of Armenians Revealed by a New StudyThe Armenians’ indigenousness to the Armenian Highlands has already been established by prominent genetic studies. For instance, Haber et. al. (2015) could not identify any traces of admixture among Armenians for over 4,000 years:

“Our tests suggest that Armenians had no significant mixture with other populations in their recent history and have thus been genetically isolated since the end of the Bronze Age.”

“The position of the Armenians within the global genetic diversity is unique and appears to mirror the geographical location of Anatolia. Armenians’ adoption of a distinctive culture early in their history resulted in their genetic isolation from their surroundings.”

Hellenthal et. al. (2014) came to the same conclusion in their Genetic Atlas of Human Admixture History, which was published in the “Science” magazine. Due to these discoveries, a number of scholars referred to modern Armenians as “Living Fossils”.

Burial in Karmir Blur, Armenia (9th–6th centuries BC.)

Several other studies examining ancient DNA obtained from burial grounds demonstrated genetic similarities between modern Armenians and ancient inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands. For example, Allentoft et al. (2015) noticed genetic likeness between Bronze Age individuals (ca. 3,500 years BP) and modern Armenians. Lazaridis et al. (2016) uncovered the similarities between Chalcolithic (ca. 6,000 years BP) and Bronze Age individuals unearthed in Armenia.

Given the fact of such discoveries. The Head of the Laboratory of the Institute of Molecular Biodiversity of the National Academy of Sciences Levon Yepiskoposyan stated the following in a press conference:

“The results of genetic studies have shown that the DNA samples of the Bronze Age individuals that hav\e been found on the territory of Armenia have a genetic portrait that is almost indistinguishable from the genetic portrait of people living today in Armenia”

“Modern Armenians are direct descendants of the people who lived in the territory of Armenia 5000 years ago.”

Famous genetics blogger Dienekes has made alike statements, confirming the Armenian genetic continuity. But he is not so sure whether or not that continuity is limited by the Bronze Age.

“Speaking of the Caucasus/Middle East, it seems clear as a first approximation that the Bronze Age Armenians are quite similar to modern Armenians. Whether the genetic continuity of Armenians extends beyond the Bronze Age, or Armenians were formed by mixture in the Bronze Age remains to be seen.”

Indeed, the latest evidence has demonstrated that the genetic continuity goes back beyond the Bronze Age, to be precise, to 7811 years ago (based on Mitochondrial DNA). Because mitochondria are passed from the mothers to their children, the examination of mitochondrial genomes allows scientists to track the history of females.

Maps of the Near East (insert) and Armenia with sampling and origin areas of ancient and modern individuals, respectively. EBA, early Bronze Age; MBA, middle Bronze Age; LBA, late Bronze Age; EIA, early Iron Age; LIA, late Iron Age.

The “Eight Millennia of Matrilineal Genetic Continuity in the South Caucasus” study published in the “Current Biology” journal has examined 52 ancient genomes from skeletal remains unearthed in Armenia as well as in Artsakh. The study found strong similarities between the DNA of the remains and modern Armenians. The calibrated radiocarbon estimations date the ancient samples between 300 and 7,811 years BP.

“We analyzed many ancient and modern mitochondrial genomes in parts of the South Caucasus and found genetic continuity for at least 8,000 years,”

announced Ashot Margaryan and Morten E. Allentoft from Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

“In other words, we could not detect any changes to the female gene pool over this very long time frame. This is highly interesting because this region has experienced multiple cultural shifts over the same time period, but these changes do not appear to have had a genetic impact—at least not on the female population.”

This region is of particular interest for researchers because it has been a unique cultural crossroad since ancient times. It is also potentially considered the area of origin and spread of Indo-European languages.

“This result suggests that there were no major genetic shifts in the mtDNA gene pool in South Caucasus across the last 7,800 years.

We find that the lowest genetic distance in this dataset is between modern Armenians and the ancient individuals, as also reflected in both network analyses and discriminant analysis of principal components.”

Modern Armenians from various regions of the Armenian Highlands, including Erzurum, Ararat, and Arstakh demonstrated strongest similarity with the ancient inhabitants of this territory.

“It is clear that the modern Armenian groups and the ancient group display obvious similarities.”

The MDS analysis showing Armenians cluster closest to ancient inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands.

Moreover, the study spotted a noticeable decrease in the effective female population size ca. 25,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). The decline is then followed by a rapid, roughly 10-fold population increase, which lasted until about 10,000 years ago. The rapid growth is suggested to have taken place during the Neolithic, when people discovered farming for the first time.

It appears that during the last 8,000 years, the Armenian female gene hasn’t been affected significantly, despite a number of known and well-documented cultural turnovers in the region.

“The archaeologically and historically attested migrations of Central Asian groups (e.g., Turks and Mongols) into the South Caucasus do not seem to have had a major contribution in the maternal gene pool of Armenians. Both geographic (mountainous area) and cultural (Indo-European-speaking Christians and Turkic-speaking Muslims) factors could have served as barriers for genetic contacts between Armenians and Muslim invaders in the 11th–14th centuries CE.”

The researchers look forward to expanding the study of both modern and ancient samples from neighboring countries, which could be possibly done in collaboration with scientists from Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Source: PeopleOfAr

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