The Etruscans, their DNA and the Orient

Perkins, P. (2011). The Etruscans, their DNA and the Orient. In: Duistermaat, Kim and Regulski, Ilona eds. Intercultural Contacts in the Ancient Mediterranean: Proceedings of the International Conference at the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo, 25th to 29th October 2008. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta (202). Leuven: Peeters, pp. 171–180.



Studies of genetic diversity in Tuscany, Italy, have recently been used to suggest that ancient accounts of the Etruscan people as migrants to Italy from Lydia, now in south-western Turkey, may be correct. This interpretation of the data runs against the current archaeological consensus that sees the Etruscans as a people indigenous to Italy. This paper explores alternative explanations for the presence in Tuscany of genetic material that is more commonly found in Near Eastern populations. The genetic evidence points towards the exchange of maternal genetic material in the post-Neolithic period between Italy and the Near East. Rather than interpreting this in terms of the movements of peoples, this paper investigates genetic exchange in the context of cultural interaction across the Mediterranean, focussing on the Orientalizing Period (800-600 BCE). In this period there is archaeological evidence for intensive cultural contact and economic exchange between the south-eastern shores of the Mediterranean and Italy leading to a widespread cultural hybridity. The DNA studies may, in this context, be seen as providing evidence for a genetically hybrid population in the central Mediterranean. This interpretation challenges basic assumptions about genetic identity, ethnicity and cultural identity.

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