The origins of the Etruscans, a non-Indo-European population of preclassical Italy, are unclear. There is broad agreement that their culture developed locally, but the Etruscans’ evolutionary and migrational relationships are largely unknown. In this study, we determined mitochondrial DNA sequences in multiple clones derived from bone samples of 80 Etruscans who lived between the 7th and the 3rd centuries b.c. In the first phase of the study, we eliminated all specimens for which any of nine tests for validation of ancient DNA data raised the suspicion that either degradation or contamination by modern DNA might have occurred. On the basis of data from the remaining 30 individuals, the Etruscans appeared as genetically variable as modern populations. No significant heterogeneity emerged among archaeological sites or time periods, suggesting that different Etruscan communities shared not only a culture but also a mitochondrial gene pool. Genetic distances and sequence comparisons show closer evolutionary relationships with the eastern Mediterranean shores for the Etruscans than for modern Italian populations. All mitochondrial lineages observed among the Etruscans appear typically European or West Asian, but only a few haplotypes were found to have an exact match in a modern mitochondrial database, raising new questions about the Etruscans’ fate after their assimilation into the Roman state.
American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol.74:4 (2004)