European Journal of Human Genetics (2009) 17, 1314–1324; doi:10.1038/ejhg.2009.46; published online 1 April 2009

The maternal aborigine colonization of La Palma (Canary Islands)

Rosa Fregel1, Jose Pestano2, Matilde Arnay3, Vicente M Cabrera1, Jose M Larruga1 and Ana M González1

  1. 1Departamento de Genética, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
  2. 2Laboratorio de Genética, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria,Gran Canaria, Spain
  3. 3Departamento de Prehistoria, Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

Correspondence: Dr R Fregel, Department of Genetics, University of La Laguna, Avda. Astrofísico Fco. Sánchez, La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife 38271, Spain. Tel: +34 922 318 350; Fax: +34 922 318 311; E-mail:

Received 14 October 2008; Revised 17 February 2009; Accepted 20 February 2009; Published online 1 April 2009.



Teeth from 38 aboriginal remains of La Palma (Canary Islands) were analyzed for external and endogenous mitochondrial DNA control region sequences and for diagnostic coding positions. Informative sequences were obtained from 30 individuals (78.9%). The majority of lineages (93%) were from West Eurasian origin, being the rest (7%) from sub-Saharan African ascription. The bulk of the aboriginal haplotypes had exact matches in North Africa (70%). However, the indigenous Canarian sub-type U6b1, also detected in La Palma, has not yet been found in North Africa, the cradle of the U6 expansion. The most abundant H1 clade in La Palma, defined by transition 16260, is also very rare in North Africa. This means that the exact region from which the ancestors of the Canarian aborigines came has not yet been sampled or that they have been replaced by later human migrations. The high gene diversity found in La Palma (95.2±2.3), which is one of the farthest islands from the African continent, is of the same level than the previously found in the central island of Tenerife (92.4±2.8). This is against the supposition that the islands were colonized from the continent by island hopping and posterior isolation. On the other hand, the great similarity found between the aboriginal populations of La Palma and Tenerife is against the idea of an island-by-island independent maritime colonization without secondary contacts. Our data better fit to an island model with frequent migrations between islands.


ancient DNA, mtDNA haplogroups, Canarian aborigines, colonization