A recent study on mitochondrial DNA revealed that the female line of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry closely resembles that of Southern and Western Europe, rather than the ancient Near East, as many scholars proposed in the past. Ashkenazim, a Jewish group who migrated to Central and Eastern Europe, make up the majority of the world’s Jewish population today. A recent article in Nature Communications discusses the results mtDNA tests. The article, written by a team of scientists led by the University of Huddersfield’s Martin B. Richards, includes the following in its abstract:
Like Judaism, mitochondrial DNA is passed along the maternal line. Its variation in the Ashkenazim is highly distinctive, with four major and numerous minor founders … we show that all four major founders, ~40% of Ashkenazi mtDNA variation, have ancestry in prehistoric Europe, rather than the Near East or Caucasus. Furthermore, most of the remaining minor founders share a similar deep European ancestry. Thus the great majority of Ashkenazi maternal lineages were not brought from the Levant, as commonly supposed, nor recruited in the Caucasus, as sometimes suggested, but assimilated within Europe. These results point to a significant role for the conversion of women in the formation of Ashkenazi communities, and provide the foundation for a detailed reconstruction of Ashkenazi genealogical history.
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Earlier DNA tests performed on male chromosomes in Jewish communities generally reveal Near Eastern DNA patterns. Population migration and conversion to Judaism may have led to the growth of the Ashekenazi population. Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry may, in fact, stem from the Jewish community in the early Roman Empire. The authors write that “a substantial Jewish community was present in Rome from at least the mid-second century BCE, maintaining links to Jerusalem and numbering 30,000–50,000 by the first half of the first century C.E. By the end of the first millennium CE, Ashkenazi communities were historically visible along the Rhine valley in Germany.”
Read more in Nature Communications.
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