Origin of the Tuscans


Tuscany was home to the Etruscan culture, in the first millennium ad and is one of the few areas of Europe for which the genealogical relationships between past and present inhabitants have been thoroughly investigated at the genetic level. Analyses of deoxyribonucleic acid show that the contemporary Tuscans have affinities with people from the Near East but share very few mitochondrial haplotypes with the local Iron‐age population, that is, the Etruscans. These results do not imply that the Etruscans got extinct, but certainly that they cannot be regarded as ancestral to most modern people of Tuscany. By contrast, there is evidence of genealogical continuity between Medieval and current times, which suggests that the main demographic change(s) occurred in previous centuries.

Key Concepts:

  • Comparison of DNAs in ancient and modern individuals provides evidence about their genealogical relationships.

  • Modern methods to infer genealogical relationships from DNA data are based on extensive computer simulations.

  • The available evidence demonstrates that current populations are not necessarily descended from pre‐historic ancestors who dwelt in the same places, although there are a few cases of genealogical continuity across the past 2500 years.

  • Genetic variation in modern and ancient Tuscany shows that the Etruscans cannot be regarded as the direct ancestors of the bulk of the contemporary population. It also suggests that one or more immigration processes, probably occurring in the first millennium ad, have reshaped the population structure.

Keywords: population genetics; demography; ancient DNA; mitochondrial DNA; Etruscans

Figure 1.

Map of Italy showing the area of maximum Etruscan expansion (grey), seventh and sixth centuries bc. A solid line identifies the boundaries of Tuscany. Circles are sampling locations for Vernesi et al.'s study: A, Adria (5 individuals sequenced); V, Volterra (3); S, Castelfranco di Sotto (1); P, Castelluccio di Pienza (1); M, Magliano and Marsiliana (6); T, Tarquinia (5); C, Capua (6).

Figure 2.

Genetic distances (FST×1000) between the Etruscans and selected contemporary samples of Europe.



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Further Reading

Barbujani G and Colonna V (2010) Human genome diversity: frequently asked questions. Trends in Genetics 26: 285–295.

Beaumont MA, Zhang W and Balding DJ (2002) Approximate Bayesian computation in population genetics. Genetics 162: 2025–2035.

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How to Cite close
Barbujani, Guido, and Ghirotto, Silvia(Feb 2011) Origin of the Tuscans. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022887]