November 29, 2012

Roma orignis and the Y-DNA haplogroup H1a1a-M82

The origins of the Roma people of Europe and West Asia are better understood each day.

Niraj Rai et al., The Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup H1a1a-M82 Reveals the Likely Indian Origin of the European Romani Populations. PLoS ONE 2012. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048477]


Linguistic and genetic studies on Roma populations inhabited in Europe have unequivocally traced these populations to the Indian subcontinent. However, the exact parental population group and time of the out-of-India dispersal have remained disputed. In the absence of archaeological records and with only scanty historical documentation of the Roma, comparative linguistic studies were the first to identify their Indian origin. Recently, molecular studies on the basis of disease-causing mutations and haploid DNA markers (i.e. mtDNA and Y-chromosome) supported the linguistic view. The presence of Indian-specific Y-chromosome haplogroup H1a1a-M82 and mtDNA haplogroups M5a1, M18 and M35b among Roma has corroborated that their South Asian origins and later admixture with Near Eastern and European populations. However, previous studies have left unanswered questions about the exact parental population groups in South Asia. Here we present a detailed phylogeographical study of Y-chromosomal haplogroup H1a1a-M82 in a data set of more than 10,000 global samples to discern a more precise ancestral source of European Romani populations. The phylogeographical patterns and diversity estimates indicate an early origin of this haplogroup in the Indian subcontinent and its further expansion to other regions. Tellingly, the short tandem repeat (STR) based network of H1a1a-M82 lineages displayed the closest connection of Romani haplotypes with the traditional scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population groups of northwestern India.

Figure 1. The most parsimonious route of prehistoric expansion of Y-chromosomal haplogroup H1a1a-M82 and the recent out-of -India migration of European Roma ancestors.
Figure 2. Phylogenetic network relating Y-STR haplotypes within haplogroup H1a1a -M82.

I don't feel I can say much more. Just, as usual, to insist in taking the proposed age estimates with caution.


  1. I note , in passing, that the discrimination and “oppression” of the current Roma populations across all of Europe is not so unlike the discrimination and “oppression” being suffered by their distant cousins who are the current Adivasis in India.

    1. True but it must be asked if that's not something they, as community, have feed. Many other ethnicities and communities of all sorts have been absorbed into the host populations but some stubbornly insist to remain segregated by means of endogamy, both cultural and biological.

      I am of the opinion that, gradually but in few generations, immigrants must integrate with the host populations (language and cultural adoption, out-marrying, etc.) When they don't they risk perpetual discrimination and while this non-integration may have a component stemming from the hosts, it's as far as I can discern critically fed by the xenophobia of the discriminated group, which insists on being different.

      This happened with the Roma and also with the Jews, for different reasons and in different ways but with striking parallelisms anyhow. But it did not happen with many other historical groups like Syrian, Greek or Viking traders, Slavic slaves (sometimes later kings), Germanic invaders... who were assimilated (sometimes by force admittedly but most often by mere gradual melting) but assimilated in any case.

      I don't see the Roma wanting to melt with the general society in most cases. Here in the Basque Country it is even more striking because most speak with Andalusian accent and are almost the only people who enjoy flamenco music and dance, resulting Andalusian in all in a society that has no other relation with Andalusia (excepting occupation forces maybe). In the past there were Basque-speaking Roma ("ijitoak") who even spoke their own Basque dialect but today they are incredibly Spanish and they never seem to drop that exotic Andalusian affinity: generations pass but it's the same.

      Otherwise they are alright (depending on who, of course) but the fact that they insist in remaining a marginal separated community baffles me. A healthy society cannot be a mere amalgamation of many different communities each ruled in their own way but needs a standard and in Europe that standard is Western secular culture.

  2. I can see that both groups (Roma and Adivasis) bring much of their current isolated state on themselves by their own behaviour. But my question (or rather speculation) is whether "the propensity for isolation" or the reverse in behavioural terms, "the propensity to mingle with others" are themselves inheritable traits? I am inclined to think that it could be so.

    1. A main difference is that the Adivasis of South Asia are generally native from where they live (in some cases at least the Doma are considered "first peoples") and that the caste culture is deeply rooted in the region, so their communitarian isolation exists more in a context in which that's the rule (or used to be until a few decades ago).

      Europe has a much weaker caste tradition (not non-existent because in the Middle Ages at least it was the rule in most of the continent, and also in the Early Modern Ages, but weaker in any case), the Muslim regions through which the Roma traveled first had an even weaker caste system (Islam is very "bourgeois" in their social ideology: formally egalitarian even if not in practice). And critically Europe has radically destroyed that partial caste system (feudal inherited status) in the last centuries and other marginal minorities like the Agotes or Cagots have been successfully equalized with the mainstream society.

      But not always. Groups like the Irish and English Travelers, with a lifestyle similar to Roma but genetically of local roots, remain segregated by their own lifestyle.

      In the Roma case it's all about being Roma as being different, exclusive (in spite of widespread poverty). "We Roma do this, we Roma believe that, we Roma like whatever"... and then there are the "Payos" or "Gadjos", the others, who are like the world around their ethno-cultural bubble.

      Is it genetic? It would seem absurd to me that it could be that way (see the example of the Travelers, etc.) It is a clear cultural process in which the only or almost only social network they have is the Roma community. That is implicitly understood by both Roma and Gadjos (non-Roma) alike and therefore most interactions (which do exist and are daily, of course) imply to some extent the virtual crossing of a frontier, a cultural and identitarian frontier.

      This stubborn identity is a socio-cultural device. Some people in places like Slovakia complained that with "Communism" the relation with the rather large Roma community was much better because everybody was compulsorily to have a job, what allowed a much more horizontal integration. When jobs are scarce, as usually happens under Capitalism, the Roma are much more easily excluded as are any group or person who strike as different.

      It's complex but socio-cultural, not genetic.

      Said that, stubborn endogamy surely does not help the genetic pool of Roma people, especially in Western and Northern Europe (where they essentially descend all from some shared 1000 founders). This also happened probably with Ashkenazi Jews. Balcanic Roma and Sephardi Jews are more diverse genetically because they lack such extreme founder effects.

      But genetics should not affect their sociology because there are many examples of peoples who, with totally different genetic background, go through similar circumstances or vice-versa, with similar genetic background do not.


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