August 21, 2016

Paleolithic European mtDNA lineage U5b2c1 in Carthaginian man


Elizabeth A. Matisoo-Smith et al. A European Mitochondrial Haplotype Identified in Ancient Phoenician Remains from Carthage, North Africa. PLoS ONE 2016. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155046]


While Phoenician culture and trade networks had a significant impact on Western civilizations, we know little about the Phoenicians themselves. In 1994, a Punic burial crypt was discovered on Byrsa Hill, near the entry to the National Museum of Carthage in Tunisia. Inside this crypt were the remains of a young man along with a range of burial goods, all dating to the late 6th century BCE. Here we describe the complete mitochondrial genome recovered from the Young Man of Byrsa and identify that he carried a rare European haplogroup, likely linking his maternal ancestry to Phoenician influenced locations somewhere on the North Mediterranean coast, the islands of the Mediterranean or the Iberian Peninsula. This result not only provides the first direct ancient DNA evidence of a Phoenician individual but the earliest evidence of a European mitochondrial haplogroup, U5b2c1, in North Africa.

The lineage is the same one as La Braña 1, an Epipaleolithic man buried in a cave at the mountains NE of León. Its presence on a Carthaginian from the 6th century BCE almost certainly indicates that he had native Iberian maternal ancestry, that his family had arrived to Carthage from Gadir (modern Cádiz) or some of the other Phoenician colonies of Andalusia. The location of his burial at the acropolis and the wealth of the burial goods indicate that he belonged to the highest social elite of the still incipient Carthaginian empire. He has been nicknamed "Ariche" (the loved one) and his face reconstructed as you can see in this blog.

Thanks to Jamel of Lapurdi for the reference an a nice related discussion.

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