A somewhat interesting paper on Basque genetics in a pan-European and Mediterranean perspective:
Kristin L. Young et al., Autosomal short tandem repeat genetic variation of the Basques in Spain. Croatian Medical Journal, 2011. Freely available at PubMed Central.
The authors studied allele frequencies for 9 autosomal STR
loci (D3S1358, D5S818, D7S820, D8S1179, D13S317, D18S51, D21S11, FGA, and vWA) in Basques and other populations of Europe, West Asia and North Africa.
The formal conclusions are that individual Basque provincial subpopulations have low heterozygosity (genetic diversity) for European standards and that there is no relevant genetic connection between Basques and either Caucasus or North African peoples that could justify the corresponding linguistic hypothesis.
This is not new but at the very least it does say that genetics does not support at all the Vasco-Caucasian linguistic hypothesis, at least if this one is understood as Neolithic genetic and linguistic flow from the Caucasus (or anywhere nearby).
|Multidimensional Scaling plot of genetic distance between 27 populations (click to expand)
Which I decided to annotate a bit:
|click to expand
Comments on the notes:
PC1 is described mostly by the red horizontal axis between Navarre and Scotland and seems to define internal European variation (what is logical because most populations are Europeans). The axis has a Basque vs Scottish distinction and I think it points to pre-Neolithic differences.
PC2 is described by the two blue vertical axes and it seems to indicate an opposition of the like of European vs Transmediterranean (West Asian or North African, which are dumped together by a negative definition). It is notable however that Turks are outside this group and cluster instead with those Europeans (Greeks, Tuscans) who show a greater tendency (admixture) towards the Transmediterranean zone. In the opposite pole of barely diluted Europeanness stand Catalans, most Basques (except those from Araba/Alava), Scots, Polish and, curiously enough Murcians.
The position of Murcians is interesting and I think that easy to explain from the viewpoint that Murcia shows no Cardium Pottery settlement, as far as I know. Not even geometric Epipaleolithic (second Epipaleolithic wave, from “France”, related to Tardenoisian/Azilian) and this is why I annotated Azilian zone over there. I was going to write Pyrenean zone when I saw Murcia right there and thought again.
Murcians also seem to stand out as relatively “Northern-looking” in the context of Southern Iberia, at least according to what Heraus and I discussed some time ago at his blog
, this may be for relative lack of Transmediterranean admixture (compare in the chart above with their Valencian and Andalusian neighbors), which is in agreement with what I think I know of Murcian deep origins.
Cantabrians in comparison stand as Basque-like but also with marked Transmediterranean admixture (low in the vertical axis). This may have to do with the high presence among them of Transmediterranean Y-DNA lineages like E1b or J. At the moment (recent findings) it seems that there is a much older Neolithic arrival to Cantabria (and Enkarterriak) than to most of the Basque Country, what may be an explanation.
Why are Catalans so strong in the axis of Europeanness? Were not they affected by Cardium Pottery colonization. In fact Catalonia was probably more colonized than Murcia: there was one single known colony (as far as I know) at Cova de Montserrat. All the rest are assimilated natives. Later Catalonia has a quite autonomous prehistory of their own until mainland European influences arrive with Urnfield culture (Celts?) and later Goths and Franks. Still there may be an element of fluke in the sample, whose quality I could not ponder because it is referred to an older pay-per-view study.
Scots are also quite a curiosity. A lot of ink has been wasted trying to relate Scots and Irish with Basques and what not. This is because of commonality of European Paleolithic persistence in the blood of all these peoples but otherwise there is no particular relation. Even recently Steven Oppenheimer was in a gig through the Basque Country sowing confusion on this matter and claiming happily that the Irish are some sort of Basques.
This and other studies clearly indicate otherwise: when the samples allow, Basques and Scots (or Welsh or Irish too) can even describe the main axis of difference at pan-European levels. Both populations show strong index of Europeanness (vertical axis) but are otheriwse different (horizontal axis).
Not wanting to go into any depth with the label, I described them as the Nordic Pole (toying of course with the concept of North Pole). The late Paleolithic or Epipaleolithic origins of this pole are to be surely found, at least partly in the Hamburgian-Ahrensburgian-Maglemosean cultural sequence. And it is indeed true that the first Scots were of Ahrsensburgian culture. However there should be another Neolithic component from Brittany and West France, originally related surely to the Tardenoisian-Sauveterrean side of Epi-Magdalenian, proper of Northern France and the Rhine-Danube province. To much of a complexity to ponder here, where the data does not allow for more.
A brief mention of the Tuscans is almost obligatory (or I will suffer the ires of some readers no doubt). They are high in Transmediterranean influence (as expected) but they are also high in Nordicness, more than any other population except Scots themselves. It is difficult to judge here but I suspect this has to do with the high frequency of similar looking people between North Italy and Britain (not just any Nordic area, specifically Great Britain but also those more classically Nordic in this island). This connection is tenuous, elusive and hard to explain but since I have dabbled with human anthropometry I have once and again found this connection where some (not all) North Italians look, not like Austrians, Sud-Slavs or even French, but rather like Brits. I say this with all kind of doubts but I feel I must open my heart in this matter anyhow.
the preliminary discussion at the previous post
‘s comment section, an old post on Achilli 2008
, where the mtDNA PCA had some similarities with this one, and Bauchet 2007
, where again there are some similitudes (but also some differences ) with how the data behaves in this study.
Update: it may be interesting to compare with Nelis et al. 2009 (open access) which also address European autosomal genetics from a particular ethno-geographic perspective, that of Estonians. There are differences and elements of similitude, notably that the overall European structure that we are more or less used to see in more generalist papers is in these two cases perceived from certain perspective and therefore somewhat distorted (sample size rules).
This is not a bad thing at all, it is a feature and not any bug: these kind of locally focused studies on the wider continental region, add unique complementary perspectives but also help us to understand better how relatively minor changes on the emphasis of the samples can alter very much the results. And that is why one study on Europeans will emphasize N/S differences while other emphasizes E/W ones instead for example. And that’s why certain study (for example all those with focus on the Jewish genetic place in the World) can put all Europe quite linearly in dependence of, say, West Asia (where there is diversity barely indicated here) and then another one put all Europe as a function of the Pyrenees and little more.
The funny thing is that both are right and that a more holistic perspective and great care on the weight given to each population for reason of the samples used are needed to see the whole picture properly.
Update (Aug 12): Dienekes just mentions another paper focused on a single population (Armenians in this case) within their wider West Eurasian context. It is particularly comparable with this one because the methods (a handful of STR sites) are very similar.
However, the results are very different: where Basques are extreme, Armenians (black dots) are in the middle:
This attends to geography, genetic isolation and history/prehistory. Similarly in the previous counter-example of Estonians, these are somewhat extreme but only because their Finnish relatives are even more extreme than they are.
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