On the origin of the Etruscans

From: Francesco Brighenti
Message: 47547
Date: 2007-02-21

Dear List,

The theory about the Anatolian origin of the Etruscan people *and*
language appears to have been strenghtened by a new genetic study of
cattle in the Tuscan region:

"One of anthropology's most enduring mysteries -- the origins of the
ancient Etruscan civilisation -- may finally have been solved, with a
study of cattle. This culturally distinct and technologically
advanced civilisation inhabited central Italy from about the 8th
century BC, until it was assimilated into Roman culture around the
end of the 4th century BC. The origins of the Etruscans, with their
own non-Indo-European language, have been debated by archaeologists,
geneticists and linguists for centuries. Writing in the 5th century
BC, the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus claimed that the Etruscans
had arrived in Italy from Lydia, now called Anatolia in modern-day
Turkey. To try and discover more about the Etruscans' movements,
Marco Pellecchia at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in
Piacenza, Italy, and colleagues have analysed mitochondrial DNA in
modern herds of Bos Taurus cattle in the north, south and central
regions of Italy. This genetic material is passed down the female
line from mother to offspring. The team found that almost 60% of the
mitochondrial DNA in cows in the central Tuscan region of the
country -- where the Etruscan civilisation is thought to have arisen -
- was the same as that in cows from Anatolia and the Middle East.
There was little or no genetic convergence between cows from the
north and south of Italy and those from Turkey and the Middle East,
the researchers say. Pellecchia notes that no archaeological or
genetic traces of Etruscan culture have been found elsewhere between
Turkey and Italy. This, combined with the Etruscans' famed nautical
prowess leads Pellecchia to conclude that the Etruscans and their
cattle arrived in Italy by sea, and not by land. Mark Thomas, a human
geneticist at University College London in the UK, says that European
cattle tend to be genetically very similar, so the study's conclusion
is plausible."

The results were published in the Feb. 6, 2007 issue of the _American
Journal of Human Genetics_; the abstract of the paper is available at


Cf. also a 2004 population-genetic study on the Etruscans at

http://tinyurl.com/2a555d ,

whose authors conclude that "genetic distances and sequence
comparisons show closer evolutionary relationships with the eastern
Mediterranean shores for the Etruscans than for modern Italian
populations," and that "the similarity between the Etruscan and
Turkish gene pools may indeed reflect some degree of gene flow."

A recent longish publication by R.S.P. Beekes arrives at the same
conclusions on linguistic and historic grounds:

R.S.P. Beekes, _The Origin of the Etruscans_, Amsterdam, Koninklijke
Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, 2003; the booklet, which
seems to be a fundamental philological study in my profane eyes, can
be downloaded in PDF format at


With kindest regards,
Francesco Brighenti