The Greeks in the West: genetic signatures of the Hellenic colonisation in southern Italy and Sicily

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Abstract

Greek colonisation of South Italy and Sicily (Magna Graecia) was a defining event in European cultural history, although the demographic processes and genetic impacts involved have not been systematically investigated. Here, we combine high-resolution surveys of the variability at the uni-parentally inherited Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA in selected samples of putative source and recipient populations with forward-in-time simulations of alternative demographic models to detect signatures of that impact. Using a subset of haplotypes chosen to represent historical sources, we recover a clear signature of Greek ancestry in East Sicily compatible with the settlement from Euboea during the Archaic Period (eighth to fifth century BCE). We inferred moderate sex-bias in the numbers of individuals involved in the colonisation: a few thousand breeding men and a few hundred breeding women were the estimated number of migrants. Last, we demonstrate that studies aimed at quantifying Hellenic genetic flow by the proportion of specific lineages surviving in present-day populations may be misleading.

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Acknowledgements

This project was funded by the British Academy (BARDA-47870; CC). The authors would like to acknowledge all the participants who offered their biological samples for analyses. We thank Giacomo De Leo and Anna Flugy (the Università di Palermo) and the staff of the Servizio di Medicina Trasfusionale dell'Ospedale Muscatello di Augusta, AVIS Comunale di Santa Croce camerina, UOC Medicina Trasfusionale, Ospedale di Lentini, Unita` Operativa Complessa di Medicina Trasfusionale, Azienda Ospedaliera Umberto I and Siracusa for assistance in sample collection. ST is grateful to Domenico Accorinti and Domitilla Campanile for their suggestions. The Croatian collection was funded by grants from the Medical Research Council (UK), European Commission Framework 6 project EUROSPAN (Contract No LSHG-CT-2006-018947) and Republic of Croatia Ministry of Science, Education and Sports research grants to IR (108-1080315-0302).

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Correspondence to Cristian Capelli.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on European Journal of Human Genetics website

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