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Summary

We have analysed 11 human-specific Alu insertion polymorphisms in the Balkans to elucidate the origins of the Aromuns, a linguistic isolate inhabiting scattered areas in the Balkan Peninsula. Four Aromun samples (two from the Republic of Macedonia, one from Albania, and one from Romania) and five neighbouring populations (Macedonians, Albanians, Romanians, Greeks, and Turks) were analysed by means of genetic distances, principal components and analyses of the molecular variance (AMOVA). Three hypotheses were tested: Aromuns are Romanophonic Greeks; the result of a Romanian southward migration; or local descendants of the Thracians. The analyses show that the Aromuns do not constitute a homogeneous group separated from the rest of the Balkan populations. Grouping by language or geography does not explain the genetic differences observed in the region, suggesting a lack of genetic structure in the area. Aromuns do not seem to be particularly related to Greeks, Romanians, or to other Romance speakers. The Aromuns might have their origin to the south of the Danube river, with extensive gene flow with the neighbouring populations. The present results suggest a common ancestry of all Balkan populations, including Aromuns, with a lack of correlation between genetic differentiation and language or ethnicity, stressing that no major migration barriers have existed in the making of the complex Balkan human puzzle.