Armenians, “A Living Fossil” – Thousands of Years of Armenian Ancestry

Armenians, “A Living Fossil” – Thousands of Years of Armenian AncestryRecently, several genetic studies examined Armenian DNA, revealing some fascinating and, most importantly, consistent results.

For instance, the 2014 Hellenthal et. al. study investigated worldwide human admixture history in the period of the past 4,000 years, allowing them to create a Genetic Atlas of human admixture. Oddly, experts could not identify any Armenian admixture for those 4,000 years, thus placing the Armenians into the “no admixture, uncertain” category.

Another recent study conducted by Haber et. al. (2015) has uncovered more by specifically focusing on the Armenian Genetics. The researchers discovered that the Armenians’ DNA has traces of an origin from a mixture of diverse populations, which occurred between 3,000 and 2,000 BC. In its turn, these estimations coincide with the legendary date of the foundation of Armenia by the patriarch Hayk in 2492 BC. Even the New York Times featured this revelation.

Haber et. al. also identified that after the Late Bronze age, the Armenian DNA ceases to show significant signs of admixture. Apparently, Armenians at some point stopped mixing, becoming genetically isolated. The study reads:

“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.”

In a region remarkable for its great genetic diversity and admixture, Armenian genetics are unique. As such, Armenians seemingly represent the ancient Near Eastern populations better than their neighbors. Haber et. al. demonstrated the continuous change of the genetic landscape in the Middle East and that:

“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. Their genetic resemblance today to other genetic isolates in the Near East, but not to most other Near Easterners, suggests that recent admixture has changed the genetic landscape in most populations in the region.”

The researchers also discovered that modern Armenians show great genetic similarity to ancient Europeans because modern Armenians maintain the genetic makeup of ancient Near Easterners who spread into Europe in several migration waves.

5,000 years of Armenian ancestry

Along with the results of genetic studies, the millennia-old Armenian ancestry is evidenced by archaeological excavations throughout Armenia. DNA samples from burial grounds all over Armenia had been collected and sent for testing by the University of Copenhagen. Before the publication of the results of the study in the “Nature” journal, the authors uncovered some of their discoveries.

DNA of ancient bones indeed matches with the modern Armenians’. In a 2015 interview to the press, the Head of the Laboratory of the Institute of Molecular Biodiversity of the National Academy of Sciences Levon Yepiskoposyan stated that “Modern Armenians are direct descendants of the people who lived in the territory of Armenia 5,000 years ago”, based on the examination of eight ancient samples.

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

Yepiskoposyan added that the results of the study allow us to confidently conclude that modern Armenians have very old roots in the Armenian Highlands.

“In this study, we were able to solve not only some of the genetic, historical, and archaeological questions, but also to some extent disprove the allegations that the Armenians are only living 200 years in the territory of Eastern Armenia.”

The genetic isolation of Armenians once again demonstrates that Armenians are the representatives of an ancient Near Eastern population. Thus, Armenians can be considered a “living fossil”.

In regard to the aforementioned genetic studies, an expert participating in them explains as follows:

“Armenians became genetically isolated during the Late Bronze Age (about 3,500 years before the present) and have not intermixed with populations from distant regions since then. Because Armenians are Late Bronze Age (LBA) genetic isolates, we, as a population, are like a living fossil.

When comparing the ancient DNA of individuals dug up in modern Armenia with those of Armenians, there isn’t much of a difference in the DNA. It essentially means that we represent a genetic continuum of at least 3,500 years.

What this means beyond just Armenians is that we can compare modern European populations with modern Armenians, knowing that it’s the same as comparing the modern European population with ancient Near Easterners (as Armenians represent an essentially pure sample of the Late Bronze Age).

We are closer to the basal populations that existed in the Near East, subsequently migrated toward Europe during the Bronze Age-Iron Age, than any other population in present Europe.

So if you compare ancient DNA found in Europe between the Neolithic to the Iron Age, you see huge shifts in populations as Near Easterners and others from the East settled and influenced the substructure of the European genome.

These groups were present as populations in the Near East, having contributed to the early Highland group that then became genetically isolated and became the Armenians as we know them today. Think of us as frozen in time for at least 3,500 years. Comparing us to modern European groups is like comparing the modern groups to 3,500 years old Highland tribes.

So imagine that you have various tribes in the Near East that coalesced to form Armenians. Let’s designate them with alphabetical letters. So assume that people from tribes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and J became genetically isolated during the Bronze Age and coalesced to form Armenians. A few groups of people from some of these tribes, say A-D, migrated to Tuscany and mixed with indigenous tribes M, N, O, P, Q, forming modern Tuscans.

We can now compare modern Tuscans with modern Armenians as though we were comparing modern Tuscans with ancient Armenians (the Near Eastern tribes from over 3500 years ago) and uncover the links between the two. By doing so, we can recover the fact that Armenians and Tuscans share A-D in their genome.

We can then recover ancient DNA from Tuscany and determine when the A-D tribal migration took place. As we do this all over Europe, we find certain patterns. These patterns show that there were substantial population shifts in the genome of Europeans, particularly after the Neolithic, based on Near Eastern waves of migration.

The groups that migrated from the Near East during the Mesolithic/Chalcolithic were later replaced by Early Bronze Age groups, then Mid-Late Bronze Age, then Iron Age, etc. By looking at ancient DNA, and also comparing the admixture of modern populations with each other, we can make sense of how Europe was populated.”

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