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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Y Chromosomes of Iberia reflect Sephardic and Moorish Origins?

A recent article in the American Journal of Human Genetics, The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal LIneages of Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula attempts to estimate the percentage of Sephardic Jewish and Moorish origins in the present day Iberian population. The results yielded very surprising figures; that upwards of 20% of Iberian Y Chromosomes are of Sephardic Jewish origin and 10% could be of Moorish origin. The history of Iberia certainly records the presence and impact of these 2 cultural groups on the peninsula. This article represents the first attempt using genetics to estimate levels of religious conversion that happened during the Spanish Inquisition period. The study included 1140 DNA samples from Iberia, representing a hugely informative look at the haplogroups of Spain and Portugal as well as long awaited data on the Sephardic Jewish communities mostly originating from Belmonte, Bulgaria, Djerba, and Turkey. The data itself shows that of the 14 haplogroups found in the Sephardic Jewish community, M172, Haplogroup J2 is the most frequent haplogroup overall, representing 25% of this population group. This was followed closely by M267, Haplogroup J1 which represented 22% of the total. In the Iberian Peninsula, M172, Haplogroup J2 was most frequent in the south, 15% in Southern Portugal, 14% in Western Andalusia and 12% in Extremadura. Interestingly, the Balaeric Islands showed lower levels of M172, Haplogroup J2 in Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza at 8, 3 and 4% respectively.

One glaring observation which might challenge the conclusions of the article is the ratio of J:J2 found in the Sephardic Jewish population compared to that of the Iberian population. This ratio is 0.88 (22% vs 25%) in the Separdich Jewish population but only 0.125 (1% vs 8%) in the Iberian Population. If one was to assume the converted Jewish population of Iberia contained a similar genetic makeup to present day Sephardic Jewish communities, looking at Haplogroup J1 as a defining marker, the amount of Sephardic ancestry could not exceed 5% since J1 makes up 22% of present day Sephardic Jews but was found in only 1% of Iberians. From this perspective, the articles conclusions of a 20% Sephardic Jewish ancestry seem lofty. The study's approach was to look at the genetic markers of the Basque population, Moroccan population and present day Sephardic Jewish population to represent Iberian, Moorish and Sephardic ancestry respectively. It then compared this data with that of the 1140 Iberian Y-Chromosomes from the study. Again, the study seems to largely discount the possible input of Phoenician or other near eastern populations as a source for the present day genetic makeup of the Iberian Y chromosome data assuming both Phoenician and Greek impact would be in the eastern parts of Iberia and not in the West where most Haplogroup J2 and J is found. The authors also note a good degree of Haplotype sharing (exact matches) at 3.6% between Sephardic Jewish haplotypes and Iberian Haplotypes. The study also notes the Sephardic sample which is taken from a small group of individuals would have been subject to Founder effect, bottlenecks and other factors which might reduce haplotype diversity.

Looking at the impact of the Moors, the study does provide good evidence linking E3b (M81) to a Moorish population originating in North Africa. The low diversity of this genetic marker comparing North African and Iberian M81 haplotypes supports a very recent common origin, likely brought to Iberia by the Islamic Moors, who controlled the Peninsula for 700 years.

Overall the study does a good job of a very difficult task in attempting to uncover the genetic history of Iberia and how its recent history has had a profound impact on its present day population which undoubtedly includes both Sephardic Jewish and Moorish origins.


Al Aburto said...

This article illustrates a (perhaps significant) problem with the population sampling process. Data from two different articles for Galicia, Spain, illustrates the problem. Brion et al (2004) studied the haplogroup distribution of Galicia, Spain, specifically with 292 samples and found that haplogroup Y-DNA J occurred at a frequency of 49/292 ~ 17%, clearly different from the 7/88 ~ 8% from the Adams et al (2008) paper. The problem is that studies like Adams et al (2008) assume no error in the frequency estimates when in truth there is considerable error.

Another problem is that Phoenicians from Byblos and Tyre (Lebanon) were confused with the Carthaginians. If the authors of Adams et al (2008) had read the book by Maria Aubet, "The Phoenicians and the West", they would have realized that the Phoenicians in Iberia had a long history already (not only in the east but west too) before Carthage.

For me the most useful aspect of this article is the publication of haplotype data. This data alone makes the article very valuable.

Anonymous said...

This study is deeply flawed in its goals and methodology. Dividing the population of Iberia, a European land mass containing in excess of 55 million people, into three arbitrarily broad genetic categories and then, on the basis of limited testing, offering an opinion of a 20% Sephardic Y component that resulted from "forced conversions" in the 14th and 15th centuries, is absurd. The historical record (summarily pronounced "biased" by the authors)does not support anything remotely close to this finding. A 3% to 5% Sephardic presence is closer to reality.

Some of the M-81 found in Iberia today is young enough to qualify as 8th century in origin. Probably more than half of it is much older.

As for the 20% Sephardic opinion, one of the study's leading authors noted in "Science News":

“We think it might be an over estimate,” says Francesc Calafell, a human population geneticist at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. Calafell and Mark Jobling at the University of Leicester in England led the study.

The genetic makeup of Sephardic Jews is probably common to other Middle Eastern populations, such as the Phoenicians, that also settled the Iberian Peninsula, Calafell says. “In our study, that would have all fallen under the Jewish label.”

Anonymous said...

Jews seem to be extraordinarily powerful and fecund judging by the 20% Sephardic contribution claimed by the study.

I am of the belief that the people called Jews today have very little Near Eastern contribution. Jews are mostly the descendants of converts originally from North Africa and southern Europe. Sephardic Jews are a mix of Iberians, North African Berbers, other Mediterraneans and some Arabians. The J1 and J2 present in Jews shows their Mediterranean origins since both of those clades of J originated in the Near East, the eastern side of the Mediterranean, the Levantine/Fertile Crescent area and moved west and south of the Mediterranean Sea even before the Neolithic agricultural movement probably by sea travel.

The assumption made by everyone is that J1, J2, the E clades common in Europe, and G only came to Europe at or after the Neolithic age. But that is an assumption not really born by facts except the high frequencies of J1 and J2 and the others in the Near East. R1b is very common in South west Europe, and the western littoral of Europe but it originated in Central Asia but is more diversified, though much lower in frequency in Eastern Europe showing that R1b's origin in Central Asia. Haplogroup I originated in the same Eastern Mediterranean zone as J1 and J2 but is now mostly found in Europe. High frequencies don't prove point of origin only where the haplogroup is common.

It is my opinion that J1, J2, the E clades existed in Europe in the Mesolithic but never had the reproductive success of R1b, R1a and I in Europe, and became marginalised in the south after the movement of peoples out of the refuges after the LGM.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, they make a bad job in their conclusions, how to they can say that all J is of jewish origin, that hipocrisy, and pure lie.

Anonymous said...

Sephardic jewish are not the descendants of Jacob, Israel. They decent of the edomites, who were forced to convert to the hebrew´s monotheism in the era of Maccabees. Their biblical father was Esau, and their haplogroup is E.

The haplogroup J is one of the ancient Israel.

The Gothic Peoples & Their Possible Connection to Our Lines,
by Stan St. Clair

Jewish males generally belong to haplogroup E3b, into which one member of our project fits, and Cohens, said to be descendants of Moses’ brother, Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, are haplogroup J.

E3b, however, may not have been around from the beginning of the history of Israel. The Bene Israel, a Jewish community in Western India, also has traditions of Jewish descent, and members have a high frequency of the Cohen Modal Haplotype J, substantiating these claims. They lack haplogroup E3b, and the authors of the linked study suggest that they split from other Jews before E3b entered the Jewish gene pool.