The Genetics of the Pre-Roman Iberian Peninsula: A mtDNA Study of Ancient Iberians

Authors


  • Present address: Unitat d'Antropologia, Dept. Biologia Animal, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona

*Corresponding author: Carles Lalueza-Fox, Unitat d'Antropologia, Dept. Biologia Animal, Universitat de Barcelona, Avda Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona (Spain) Telf. 34934021461. E-mail: clalueza@ub.edu

Summary

The Iberians developed a surprisingly sophisticated culture in the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula from the 6th century BC until their conquest by the Romans in the 2nd century BC. They spoke and wrote a non-Indo-European language that still cannot be understood; their origins and relationships with other non-Indo-European peoples, like the Etruscans, are unclear, since their funerary practices were based on the cremation of bodies, and therefore anthropology has been unable to approach the study of this people. We have retrieved mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from a few of the scarce skeletal remains that have been preserved, some of them belonging to ritualistically executed individuals. The most stringent authentication criteria proposed for ancient DNA, such as independent replication, amino-acid analysis, quantitation of template molecules, multiple extractions and cloning of PCR products, have been followed to obtain reliable sequences from the mtDNA hypervariable region 1 (HVR1), as well as some haplogroup diagnostic SNPs. Phylogeographic analyses show that the haplogroup composition of the ancient Iberians was very similar to that found in modern Iberian Peninsula populations, suggesting a long-term genetic continuity since pre-Roman times. Nonetheless, there is less genetic diversity in the ancient Iberians than is found among modern populations, a fact that could reflect the small population size at the origin of the population sampled, and the heterogenic tribal structure of the Iberian society. Moreover, the Iberians were not especially closely related to the Etruscans, which points to considerable genetic heterogeneity in Pre-Roman Western Europe.

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