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Glasilo Magazine Excerpt:
Etruscans, Veneti and Slovenians

by Jože Škulj

This article was published in the September / October 2004 issue of
Glasilo Magazine. Our magazine helps build community. We value your support.

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of modern populations has become a useful tool for human population studies and for reconstructing aspects of evolutionary history. The maternal mode of inheritance of the mtDNA, allows it to be used for inferring the pattern of prehistoric female migrations and peopling of different regions of the world. It is now technically possible to validate these analyses by directly studying the DNA of ancient people (Malyarchuk 2003, Vernesi 2004).

Vernesi et al. obtained fragments of well preserved skeletons from Etruscan necropolises, covering much of the Etruria in terms of both chronology (7th to 2nd centuries B.C.) and geography. The tombs typically belong to the social elites, so the individuals studied may represent a specific social group, the upper classes. The ancient human remains came from the following sites: Adria, Volterra, Castelfranco di Sotto, Castellucio di Pienza, Magliano and Marsiliana, Tarquinia and also Capua. Two cities, Adria in the Po valley and Capua in Campania, were at the fringes of Etruscan territory. In Adria the hybridization with the Veneti may have occurred (Vernesi 2004).

Vernesi et al. compared the mtDNA results obtained from the ancient remains to a number of modern populations. Unfortunately, they did not take into account the genetic studies of Slovenians (Malyarchuk 2003), who are geographically relatively close to Adria.

The Etruscans are one of the mysterious peoples of the ancient world, who seem to have appeared for a time on the stage of history, and then seemed to have disappeared. In fact, from the end of the Roman period to the Middle Ages, they could be said to have ceased to exist, since the sites of their cities, towns, villages and farms had been completely lost. It was in the19th century that the study of the Etruscan legacy began in earnest. The heart of Etruria was the territory, in the present day Italy, on the Tyrrhenian Sea between the rivers, Arno on the north and Tiber on the south and extending to Perugia in the east. The Etruscan influences in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., went beyond its heartland and extended to, Adria in the Po valley in the north and to Capua in the south. It is generally accepted, that present day Tuscans are the Etruscans’ closest neighbors (Wellard 1973, Vernesi 2004).

The Veneti are also one the historic peoples, subject of many discussions and debates, but who were more widespread than the Etruscans. They were present in many lands (Mogentale- Profizi 2001): Veneti in Paphlagonia (northern coast of present day Turkey) were mentioned by Homer in 9th cent. BC., Veneti in Illyricum (Enetoi) on the lower Danube and in the upper Adriatic, were mentioned by Herodotus in 5th cent. BC:, Veneti in central Europe mentioned by Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, Veneti in Gaul were mentioned by Caesar, and Veneti in Latium who are referred to as Venetulani by Pliny the Elder. The Veneti and Etruscans appear to be related. However, Adria was in the 10th Roman province ’Venetia et Histria’ until the downfall of the empire. There is historical, linguistic and topographic evidence that present day Slovenians are indigenous to their land and descendents of the Veneti ([avli 1996).

Discussion of Genetic Studies
In the bone fragments, taken from the tombs of Etruria, Capua and Venetia, Vernesi et al. have found that out of 22 mtDNA HVS1 haplotypes, which they observed in 28 individuals, only two of them, CRS and 16126, occur in a sample of modern Tuscans and carried by 14% of them. Tuscans are considered to be the descendants of the Etruscans. Both haplotypes occur in skeletons from Adria and Magliano/Marsiliana. The fragments from Magliano/Marsiliana have been dated at 7th- 6th centuries B.C., whereas those from Adria are from 5th-4th centuries B.C. (Vernesi 2004).

Comparing the results of Vernesi et al and Malyarchuk et al, it becomes apparent that, the present day Slovenians, carry more than just CRS and 16126 ’Etruscan’ mtDNA HVS1 haplotypes found in the Tuscans. Twice as many ’Etruscan’ haplotypes have been found in Slovenians than in Tuscans, namely: CRS, 16261, 16223, 16311. These were found in skeletal remains from Adria, Magliano/Marsiliana and also from Volterra. Two additional haplotypes from Adria, 16126 and 16129, are similar to Slovenian haplotypes, but the Slovenian haplotypes differ from the ’Etruscan’ ones of Adria, by an additional substitution; 16069- 16126 and 16129-16304. However, haplotype 16129 without the 16069 substitution is found in Bosnia. This leaves just one haplotype out of five, namely, 16126-16193-16278, where no similar haplotype is found in Slovenia. However, this 16126-16193- 16278 haplotype is similar to that found in skeletal remains from Capua at the southern limit of Etruscan influence where hybridization with Samnium natives or Greek colonizers may have occurred (Malyarchuk 2003, Vernesi 2004).

The root type 16069-16126 HVS1 sequence, present in 8% of Slovenians, is very diverse and may represent a trace of Neolithic (new Stone Age at the beginning of agriculture) migration from the Middle East (Malyarchuk 2003). Haplotypes CRS, 16223, 16261 and 16311 are carried by 17% of Slovenians. They belong to haplogroup H, which is estimated to be 20, 000 years old; this haplogroup is the most common one in Slovenians at 47% (Richards 2000, Malyarchuk 2003).

Adria in Veneto
Focusing on 5 haplotypes, CRS, 16126, 16129, 16223, 16126-16193-16278 found in skeletal remains from Adria, which was part of Venetia et Histria during the Roman era,. (Adria is even now located in Veneto, Italy), and comparing them to the present day populations, we find:

- CRS in Slovenians at 13% (Malyarchuk 2003), in Europe at 24%
  (Richards 1996)

- 16126 is found as 16069-16126 in Slo at 8% (M), in Eu 16069-16126 is at
  7% (R)

- 16129 is found in Bosnians (Bos) at <2% (M), in Russians at 1% (M1) in
  Basques at 9% (R); in Slo it is found as 16129-16148-16223-16391 and
  16129-16223-16391 at 2% (M).

- 16223 is found in Slo at 1%, elsewhere in Eu only in South Germans and
  Ukrainians (M)

From the above comparison, it can be seen, that there is a genetic continuity between ancient populations as attested from the skeletal remains found in Etruria proper and especially between those found in Venetia and the present day Europeans. While Tuscans share 2 haplotypes with the Etruscans, Slovenians and Bosnians share 3 haplotypes. It should also be noted that 2 additional Etruscan haplotypes from Adria in Veneto, differ from the Slovenian haplotypes by one to three substitutions. Considering the evidence, this shows the relatively strong genetic mtDNA relationship between ancient Veneti and modern day Slovenians.

In addition to the haplotypes in ancient Veneti from Adria, Slovenians also share haplotypes with the skeletal remains of Etruscans from Etruria proper, namely from Volterra (Vo) and Magliano/ Marsiliana (M/M). Furthermore,Russians and Poles share one lineage with Castelfranco di Sotto (CS) not found in the Slovenian sample.

- 16261 of Vo is found in Slo at 1% (M), in Eu at <1% (R).

- 16311 of M/M is found in Slo at 2%, in Bosnians at 7% (M), in Eu at 5%

- 16126 of M/M is found in Slo as 16069-16126 lineage at 8% (M) in Eu at
  7% (R).

- CRS of M/M is found in Slo at 13% (M), in Eu at 24% (R).

- 16189-16356 of (M/M) is found in Poles at 0.5%, Russians at 0.5% and
  Germans at 0.4% (M1)

Here again, no abrupt differences are seen between skeletal remains from Etruria proper and the present day Slavic populations in the Balkans. Richards et al., in their study of 520 individuals from Europe, where the Slavic populations were not included, did not detect in the 16223 haplotype, which present in skeletal remains from Adria, nor has it been found in a sample of modern Tuscans (Richards 1996, Vernesi 2004), but is has been found in Slovenia, South Germany and Ukraine (Malyarchuk 2003).

The Y chromosome studies revealed that Haplogroup I (Hg I), reached ~40%-50% in two distinct regions—in Nordic populations in Scandinavia and around the Dinaric Alps. Overall, this suggest, that populations carrying the Hg I could have played a central role in the process of human re-colonization of Europe, after the Ice Age (Rootsi 2004). Semino proposes that Hg I (M170) haplogroup originated in Europe in descendants of men that arrived from Middle East 20,000 to 25,000 years ago. This can be associated with an Epi-Gravettian culture in the area of the present-day Austria, the Czech Republic and the northern Balkans (Semino 2000). Subhaplogroup HgI1b* is the most frequent clade in eastern Europe and the Balkans; its subclade Hg I1b2 is found in Sardinia, Castille and in Basques (6%). Rootsi et al., mention and also show graphically, that Hg I1b* and Hg I1b2 cooccur west of the Italian Apennines. In the Veneto region of Italy, Hg I1b* occurs at a frequency of10% and I1b2 is absent; only Hg I1b* is present west of the Appenines; east of the Adriatic Hg I1b* reaches its highest concentration in the north western Balkans (Rootsi 2004). This is also an indication that there is a genetic continuity, based on paternally inherited Y chromosomes, between the Slovenians and the people of Veneto region, including Adria.

Barbujani in his paper “Genetics and the population history of Europe”, shows graphically a genetic continuity between the populations of the north western Balkans and the peoples now occupying the land of the ancient Veneti and Etruscans in Italy. A clear demarcation is seen in northern Italy at the western boundary of the Veneto region (Barbujani 2001). In another genetic study of the present day populations, it has been found, that the population in eastern Veneto, is more akin to Tuscanian, than to western Veneto population (Mogentale-Profizi 2001). Furthermore, Malyarchuk et al., have also noted, that Slovenians have a high frequency, at 5%, of H-subcluster 16162, which is characteristic for central and eastern European populations. In the western neighbors of Slovenians, in the Veneto speakers of Italy, this is also present, at 6% (Malyarchuk 2003).

What language did the Etruscans and/or Veneti speak? Barbujani has made an intriguing observation, that partial correlations with language are stronger for the Y chromosome than for mtDNA (Barbujani 1997). Conventional opinion has it, that Etruscans spoke a language isolate, a non-Indo-European language and that it disappeared 90 B.C., when they lost their autonomy to the Romans (Vernesi 2004). Some Slovenian scholars held/hold a different view. Bor had postulated that Etruscans were people originally linguistically related to the Veneti; (the genetic evidence supports his hypothesis); they came from the north and in course of time merged with another people, which in turn influenced their language. By using Slavic languages, as a point of reference, he was able to decipher some of the older Etruscan inscriptions, including the Pyrgian Tablets, but not their later inscriptions. On the other hand, he was quite successful in deciphering the Venetic inscriptions ([avli 1996).

There is a genetic continuity between the ancient Etruscans and Veneti and the present day Slovenians.

Genetic information makes it evident, that Slovenians are indigenous to their land as indicated by the mtDNA relationship with the 2,500 year old skeletal remains of the Etruscans, particularly those from Adria in Veneto.

Genetic information supports the historic quotation from the biography of St. Columban written in 615 A.D. and cited by Toma`i~ “Termini Venetiorum qui et Sclavi dicuntur”—the land of the Veneti who are also called Slavs ([avli 1996).

Barbujani G (1997) "DNA Variation and Language Affinities". Am J Hum Genet 61:1011-1014.

Barbujani G, Bertolle G (2001) "Genetics and the population history of Europe". PNAS vol. 98 no.1:22-25.

(M) Malyarchuk BA, Grzybowski T, Derenko MV, Czarny J, Drobnič K, Miscicka-Sliwka D (2003) "Mitochondrial DNA Variability in Bosnians and Slovenians". Ann Hum Genet 67: 412- 425.

(M1) Malyarchuk BA, Grzybowski T, Derenko MV, Czarny J, Wozniak M, Misicka-Sliwka D (2002) "Mitochondrial DNA in Poles and Russians". Ann Hum Genet 66:261-283.

Mogentale-Profizi N, Chollet L, Stevanovitch A, Dubut V, Poggi C, Pradie MP, Spadoni JL, Gilles A, Beraud-Colomb E (2001) "Mitachondrial DNA sequence diversity in two groups of Italian Veneto speakers from Veneto". Ann Hum Genet 65: 153- 166.

Richards M, Macaulay V, Hickey E and 34 others (2000) "Tracing European Founder Lineages in the Near Eastern mtDNA Pool". Am J Hum Genet 67:1251-1267.

Richards M, Corte-Real H, Forster P and 7 others (1996) "Paleolithic and Neolithic Lineages in the European Mitochondrial Gene Pool". Am J Hum Genet 59:185-203.

Rootsi S, Magri C, Kivisild T and 42 others (2004) "Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup I Reveals Distinct Domains of Prehistoric Gene Flow in Europe". Am J Hum Genet 75:128-137.

Šavli J, Bor M, Tomazic I, trans. Škerbinc A (1996) "VENETI: First Builders of European Community". Wien, Boswell: Editiones Veneti ISBN 0-9681236- 0-0. pp.80, 197- 199, 344, 443, 501.

Semino O, Passarino G, Oefner PJ and 14 others (2000) "The Genetic Legacy of Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens in Extant Europeans: A Y Chromosome Perspective". Science vol.290 10 November.

Vernesi C, Caramelli D, Dupanloup I, Bertorelle G, Lari M, Capellini D, Moggi-Cecci J, Chiarelli B, Castri L, Casoli A, Mallegni F, Lalueza-Fox C, Barbujani G (2004) "The Etruscans: A Population - Genetic Study". Am J Hum Genet 74: 694-704.

Wellard J (1973) "The Search for the Etruscans". London: Sphere Books Ltd. ISBN 0 351 18677 8. pp.11,113.