October 5, 2011

Genetics of Marsh Arabs (Iraq)

There is a new paper on haploid human genetics focused in the Marsh Arabs of Iraq, arguably descendants of ancient Sumerians (or the southern fraction of them).

The study offers a host of data on Y-DNA and mtDNA genetics of Iraq and by extension in some cases of the whole West Asian region. 

Y-DNA (paternal lineages):

Y-DNA is 74.3% a single haplogroup: J1c3 (P58/Page8), however this is most of all J1 also in all other studied populations except the Caucasus. Overall J1 in Marsh Arabs adds up to 81.3%, the rest being E (7.7%), P (7%), J2 (3.5%), G (1.4%) and L (0.7%). 

By contrast other Iraqis show a much more diverse Y-DNA pool, with only 31.1% J1 but 24% J2, 21.3% P (of which 17.5% is R1), 13.6% E, 6.5% T (totally absent among Marsh Arabs), 1.9% G and 0.6% L.

Obviously J1 (and J1c3 within it) requires further research but I wonder if this may inform us of the Neolithic (??) scatter southwards of West Asian peoples. Not only Arabia Peninsula was probably recolonized in this period but also southern Iraq as well as far as I know, because there was a time when it was part of the sea. Then people from the North (Samarra culture) apparently colonized the region, becoming the famed Sumerians and founding the first widely acknowledged civilization ever.

Fig. 6 frequency (left) and variance (right) of J1, J1* and J1c3

The figure above offers us a glimpse of the likely origins of J1 in highland West Asia (Kurdistan, Armenia, Georgia, nearby areas of Turkey), although South Italy also displays surprisingly high diversity I must say. J1c3 may have similar origins.

Mitochondrial DNA (maternal lineages):

Table 1 goes into great detail on the lineages of Marsh Arabs and other Iraqis (control group). Notably Marsh Arabs display in comparison with other Iraqis:
  • significantly more: 
    • Within R: R*, R0a, R2, K1a8, U3, U7, J2
    • Within N(xR): N1 (N1b and N1c), W
    • Other: M2, M37e
  • significantly less: 
    • Within R: R0(xR0a), HV(xH), H, U1
    • Other: L(xM,N)
  • roughly the same:
    • Within R: U(xU1, U3, U7, K1a8), JT(xJ2)
    • Within N(xR): X2
Overall they display more of some specific R subclades (R0a, R2, K1a8, U3, U7, J2 and the intriguing R*), more N1, more W, more M2 and more M37e. 

The most important mtDNA lineages of Marsh Arabs seem to be as follow: 
  • R0 (24.1%)
    • H* (7.6%)
    • R0a (6.9%)
    • HV* (3.4%)
    • H5 (3.4%)
  • J (22.7%)
    • J1b (5.5%)
    • J2a (4.1%)
  • U (15.9%)
    • K1 (6.2%)
    • U3 (5.5%)
    • U7 (4.8%)
  • N1 (8.9%)
    • N1b1 (4.8%)
    • N1c (3.4%)
  • T (7.6%)
    • T1a (3.4%)
  • W (4.8%)


  1. Do you know why southern Italy sometimes seems to be so close to Mesopotamia, in contrast with other European regions?

  2. South Italy does not have much J1 all in all and I do not think it falls close to Mesopotamia in any case.

    If anything sometimes it looks close to Greece or the Aegean/Eastern Mediterranean areas, but often Tuscany appears in fact more "Oriental" (probably because of the Etruscan input).

    What is intriguing about Italy in general is that it tends to accumulate high diversity and/or upstream branches of many lineages but always at very low frequencies. It may be because it has been destination of many different small waves since deep in Prehistory.

  3. Hooray for U3! I am still trying to figure out how my U3 matri-clan ended up in W Europe. Once were Sumerians?

  4. "significantly more ... Within N(xR): N1 (N1b and N1c), W"

    Why does that not surprise me at all?

    "southern Iraq as well as far as I know, because there was a time when it was part of the sea. Then people from the North (Samarra culture) apparently colonized the region, becoming the famed Sumerians and founding the first widely acknowledged civilization ever".

    I mentioned at Dienekes blog on the subject that I read, only today, of such a theory. Makes sense.

  5. @Joy:

    U3 is relatively common in the Balcans from where it was absorbed into the Roma (Gypsy), specially the Western and Northern population (from Spain to Finland), which has a very marked founder effect "bottleneck" at their origins. These have c. 45% U3 in their highly simplified mtDNA pool.

    With all likelihood your maternal ancestors at some point migrated from around modern day Bulgaria or Turkey (or otherwise in West Asia/Balcans). A Romani origin should not be discarded if you (your maternal ancestors) are from Western or Northern Europe (very likely, although I imagine this could be checked because the Romani U3 lineage must belong to a very specific line).

    Sumerians were not really an expansionist people (and in any case never conquered anything outside West Asia). Regardless of their historical prestige, it's not like they were founding colonies all around the World, not at all (and much less in Europe, which borders to the "wrong" seas). But, apart of the Romani, there have been many circumstances in which West Asian/Balcanic lineages like these may have migrated westwards (Roman Empire for instance).

  6. One should also note that the found haplogroups capture an extremely long time period, which would require much finer sub-types to make sense of.

    Just the fact that we keep finding rather high diversity in the (rather small) Caucasus should remind us that we only see the left-overs of formerly large populations.

  7. Divide the Y-DNA age estimate from the paper by three and you end up very close in time to the expansion of the Islamic empire. So the notion that they may be somewhat representative of 7th century Arab populations seems more likely than any Sumerian affinity as the paper implies.

    The contrast also makes the Y-DNA T signal in other Iraqis stronger, and if you could statistically parse out the Arab admixture in the other Iraqis (to oversimplify, e.g., by using Marsh Arabs as a stand in for a putitive ancestral Arab population), the Arab admixture percentage would be in the ball park of 40% among other Iraqis, and you end up with a back of napkin estimate on the order of 11% Y-DNA T in pre-Arabic expansion Iraqis.

  8. I have not even commented, nor paid any attention, to age estimates, which are as dead as Steve Jobs.

    Anyhow, it's simply impossible that a bunch of religiously propped-up Bedouins from the Arabian emptiness could alter the whole genetics of an agricultural powerhouse like Mesopotamia (and then become sedentary farmers, what for?) Much less moving the lineages from the wrong end of their expansion vector: Armenia and such.

    When you can demonstrate that expanding Turks did that in Turkey, then come back and argue again that Arabs did that in Mesopotamia (and why not Egypt or even Iran?!)

    The lack of T is interesting but rather it decries as unlikely the coastal expansion model proposed by Terry for this haplogroup (just on frequency distribution maps), because back in the day those Marshes were the coast.

  9. @ Andrew Oh-Willeke:

    That is interesting.

    In case you were unaware:

    Y-DNA T/hg26 %

    Mendez et al. (2011)
    Iraqi Jews, C Iraq (N=32) = 22%
    Kurdish Jews, N Iraq (N=50) = 18%
    Assyrians, ~N Iraq (N=31) = 13%

    Yepiskoposian et al. (2006)
    Assyrians, ~N Iraq (N=106) hg26 = 15.1%

    Nebel et al. (2001)
    Kurdish Jews, N Iraq (N=99) hg26 = 19.2
    On another note, I found one of my best mtDNA matches to date. One of the "Iraqi" samples appears to be HV4a2. He shares changes at loci 16287 and 16311 with myself, and the Jordanian HV4a2 listed at GenBank. These two differences are not shared by the other HV4a2 at GenBank, an Egyptian.

  10. Thanks. I was familiar with the Mendez paper, but not the other two, although the other two do seem to simply confirm the first.

    (FYI, a big part of my interest in Y-DNA hg T is its high frequency in historically Dravidian language speaking India, where no other Y-DNA hgs found at any frequency in Africa are found.)

  11. "Sumerians were not really an expansionist people (and in any case never conquered anything outside West Asia). Regardless of their historical prestige, it's not like they were founding colonies all around the World, not at all (and much less in Europe, which borders to the "wrong" seas). But, apart of the Romani, there have been many circumstances in which West Asian/Balcanic lineages like these may have migrated westwards (Roman Empire for instance)."

    Agreed. Sumeria had trade with people from the mountains surrounding Mesopotamia and with the people of the Indus River Valley (who probably derived their food production methods and a number of other technologies from Mesopotamia), but their sea trade with their own ships didn't appear to extend beyond the Persian Gulf after which they appear to have acted through intermediary sailors based roughly around Bahrain and Qatar.

    There are commercial practices of the Sumerians that have similarities with the Vinca culture of the Balkans (the use of proto-linguistic seals, for example) but this may simply be a result of technology transfer through trade or a common shared early Neolithic experience, rather than any later colonization. Of course, Marsh Arabs are very unlikely to have an actual links to the Sumerians anyway, the abstract of the paper notwithstanding.

    Forced to hazard a guess, I'd suspect a Western European U3 was probably a residual trace of very early Neolithic food producers, probably more likely to be herders than horticulturalists, given the Caucusian focus and its very thin European-wide distribution and its absence from Upper Paleolithic ancient DNA. U3 isn't associated with any other major non-Romani population expansions or migrations of which I'm aware.

  12. Among Assyrians at FTDNA and 23andMe (N=59), mtDNA U (excluding K) is the second most significant maternal hg at ~25%. Of the 15 cases of U through U7, the distribution is as follows:

    U7 27%
    U3 20%
    U 13%
    U1 13%
    U5 13%
    U2 7%
    U4 7%

    The overall distribution is:

    H 28.81%
    U 25.42% (6.8% U7, 5.1% U3)
    HV 15.25%
    J 11.86% (5.1% J1b)
    T 8.47% (6.8% T1)
    K 3.39%
    X2 3.39%
    I 1.69%
    N 1.69%

  13. Thanks Maju, the Romani theory of U3 in W Europe is as good as any, but I haven't seen any Romani sequences to compare to.

    Took another look at Mitosearch (haven't been there in about 7 years) I have one confirmed HVR1 + HVR2 match traced to Britain, also HVR1 matches to Britain and Italy.

  14. The most likely predominant Y-chromosome in Sumerians ?

    J in general or J1* ?

  15. Is that a question for the gallery, Real? If so, I do not know for sure but there is a strong likelihood that Sumerians were the ancestors of local people living in the same area today, like Marsh Arabs. In this case their dominant Y-DNA lineage is J1c3 (which in turn is what most J1 people everywhere but in the Caucasus are).

  16. When asking about Sumerians, another important question is "when". It is certainly plausible that the language shift from Sumerian to Akkadian (a Semitic language) could have been accompanied by a major demographic infusion of Semitic individuals.

    If so, the Sumerians of ca. 4,500 BCE and 1,500 BCE would have had very different population genetics.

  17. You should know (emphasis in "should") that the Semitic invasions of c. 3900-3500 BCE (eventually leading to the Akkadian empire a thousand-plus years later) were concentrated in the North (today's Sunni triangle roughly) and did not replace the Sumerian culture nor language almost at all (Sumerian was a prestige language and remained for many many centuries, first spoken, then as religious and scribe's language, much as Latin did in Europe more recently). Gradually however Semitic (Akkadian first, Chaldean and Assyrian later) took over.

    I do not think that we can infer any migration except for the first one, which according to some would be the famous Flood (amaru), of people (Semitic people: a-maru or a-martu) rather than water. But it would have been circumscribed to the North of Mesopotamia, the Sunni triangle essentially, with some projection into Kurdistan later (Assyrians) and only to very limited extent in the South.

    You do not need a major genetic flow to change language, just prestige and convenience.

  18. Also you can't easily change the genetics of major agricultural zones. Even if intently and with modern genocidal methods it is extremely difficult, as the Palestinian case shows very clearly.

  19. I always thought that the Sumerians would have been heavier on the Y-DNA J2 side like the Elamites may have been. I say that based on the fact that many populations in the Zagros and in and around Mesopotamia are rather J2 heavy...a small sample of 34 people from the Zagros Mountains had frequencies as high as 59%.

    @Maju: That might be because the Jews are NOT commiting a genocide against the Palestinians.

    Compare that situation to what has happened in genuine, known genocides...there is no comparison because there is no genocide. Jews went from over 18 million to barely 12 million...only recently did Jews just get back to about 15 million.

    Palestinians have gone from 1.172 million in 1950...to over 10.5 million in recent years. The numbers don't tell the story of genocide because there is not one taking place. The Palestinian population has doubled more than 3 times in 60 years. Genocides majorly subtract from populations...there is very conspicuously no subtraction going on here, therefore, very conspicuously no genocide.

    Many times more Arabs have died because of violence from other Arabs, in the past 10 years, than have died in the conflict with Israel which has lasted at least 60 years. Again, the absolute numbers give the lie to your words.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. I'm not going to allow a Nazionist to hijack this thread (i.e. a post of political content was sent to spam in the hope that the author goes to a black list or something).

  22. That was unnecessary and invidious.

    The least you could have done was allow the Sumerian part to remain as that was legitimate and entirely pertaining to the thread.

  23. I cannot edit comments and I do not owe anything to you, well known as Zionazi to me.

    If you wish to stick to the matter at hand, do it. The slightest deviation and you are banished forever and with pleasure of my side.

  24. Basic fact: J1 came from the western shore of the Caspian in the area of Dagestan, so the ancestors of the Marsh Arabs came directly from that region. That rules out "Arabs" (wrong direction), Assyrians (who have a much more mixed ancestry), Akkadians (who came from the Levant), and the Sumerian ruling class, which had come from the area of Turkmenistan and is strongly suspected of having been predominantly R1b (based on their spreading of it, including to Egypt).

    What does that leave? It leaves the indigenous people of the region who were there before Sumerian arrival. That population likely survived as the Sumerian underclass, which appears to have also survived the Akkadian invasion. It also fits the apparent class status of the Marsh Arabs, who do not appear to be the remnants of any elite group.

    Though we don't have direct evidence of the pre-Sumerian indigenous people, who may not have buried their dead, it's a pretty good bet that they had come from the Caspian (as most people of the region did because the Caspian had been freshwater). That is the likely source of the Marsh Arabs.

    1. IJ and specifically I2 in (mostly?) Europe and J1 in West Asia and North Africa seem very old haplogroups corresponding to the early or maybe second Upper Paleolithic expansions.

      J1 is almost as diverse in NW Africa as in West Asia, so it must have been in Egypt, Sudan and The Horn since very long ago. We know that the NW African branch is derived from the NE one (much less diverse) and that it arrived with the Oranian and Capsian (Gafsan, do not confuse with "Caspian") flows, so that leaves us before a deadline for the J1 main expansion before the Oranian almost certainly, i.e. before 21,000 years ago, actually long before that in the 50-30 Ka time frame I was mentioning before: in the early Upper Paleolithic.

      This allows for populations that are genetically admixed Afroasians like Kushites to still have been in Africa (The Horn in this case) for 30-50 thousand years almost unchanged maybe. And they are J1-rich indeed, all or most Horners are but the Semitic groups have small amounts of J2 that the others lack.

      It's J2 the Semitic marker in Africa (in Europe it's rather Tyrseno-Roman instead) and it's J2 a lineage that appears to have expanded from the northern fringes of the Fertile Crescent into various directions, most clearly westwards to Asia Minor and the Balcans c. 5000 BCE (Pelasgo-Tyrsenian or Halaf-Vinca invasion) but also southwards somehow in relation to Semitic expansion (which surely coalesced in the semi-desert fringes further south, within the Circum-Arabian Pastoralist Complex).


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