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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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).

Author information

Author notes

    • Sergio Tofanelli
    •  & Francesca Brisighelli

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Pisa, Pisa, Italy

    • Sergio Tofanelli
    •  & Luca Taglioli
  2. Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

    • Francesca Brisighelli
    • , George B J Busby
    •  & Cristian Capelli
  3. Sezione di Medicina Legale-Istituto di Sanità Pubblica, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Roma, Italia

    • Francesca Brisighelli
  4. Dipartimento di Biologia Ambientale, Università “La Sapienza”, Roma, Italy

    • Paolo Anagnostou
  5. Istituto Italiano di Antropologia, Roma, Italy

    • Paolo Anagnostou
  6. Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford, UK

    • George B J Busby
  7. Dipartimento ad Attività Integrata di Laboratori, Anatomia Patologica, Medicina Legale, U.O. Struttura Complessa di Medicina Legale, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy

    • Gianmarco Ferri
  8. Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, UK

    • Mark G Thomas
  9. Centre for Population Health Sciences, The University of Edinburgh Medical School, Scotland, UK

    • Igor Rudan
  10. Department of Medical Biology, University of Split, School of Medicine, Split, Croatia

    • Tatijana Zemunik
  11. MRC Human Genetics Unit, Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM), University of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK

    • Caroline Hayward
    •  & Deborah Bolnick
  12. Dipartimento di Fisica e Chimica, Università di Palermo, Palermo, Italy

    • Valentino Romano
    •  & Francesco Cali
  13. Laboratorio di Genetica Molecolare, I.R.C.C.S. Associazione Oasi Maria SS., Troina, Italy

    • Valentino Romano
  14. Laboratorio di Antropologia Molecolare, Dipartimento di Scienze Biologiche, Geologiche e Ambientali, Università di Bologna, Bologna, Italy

    • Donata Luiselli
  15. A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • Gillian B Shepherd
  16. Sopraintendenza del mare, Palermo, Italy

    • Sebastiano Tusa
  17. Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Calabria, Reggio Calabria, Italy

    • Antonino Facella


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Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cristian Capelli.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on European Journal of Human Genetics website (http://www.nature.com/ejhg)

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