Glasilo Magazine Excerpt:
Etruscans, Veneti and Slovenians
by Joe Škulj
This article was published in the September / October 2004 issue
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Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of modern populations
has become a useful tool for human population studies and for
reconstructing aspects of evolutionary history. The maternal
mode of inheritance of the mtDNA, allows it to be used for inferring
the pattern of prehistoric female migrations and peopling of
different regions of the world. It is now technically possible
to validate these analyses by directly studying the DNA of ancient
people (Malyarchuk 2003, Vernesi 2004).
Vernesi et al. obtained fragments of well preserved skeletons
from Etruscan necropolises, covering much of the Etruria in
terms of both chronology (7th to 2nd centuries B.C.) and geography.
The tombs typically belong to the social elites, so the individuals
studied may represent a specific social group, the upper classes.
The ancient human remains came from the following sites: Adria,
Volterra, Castelfranco di Sotto, Castellucio di Pienza, Magliano
and Marsiliana, Tarquinia and also Capua. Two cities, Adria
in the Po valley and Capua in Campania, were at the fringes
of Etruscan territory. In Adria the hybridization with the Veneti
may have occurred (Vernesi 2004).
Vernesi et al. compared the mtDNA results obtained from the
ancient remains to a number of modern populations. Unfortunately,
they did not take into account the genetic studies of Slovenians
(Malyarchuk 2003), who are geographically relatively close to
The Etruscans are one of the mysterious peoples of the ancient
world, who seem to have appeared for a time on the stage of
history, and then seemed to have disappeared. In fact, from
the end of the Roman period to the Middle Ages, they could be
said to have ceased to exist, since the sites of their cities,
towns, villages and farms had been completely lost. It was in
the19th century that the study of the Etruscan legacy began
in earnest. The heart of Etruria was the territory, in the present
day Italy, on the Tyrrhenian Sea between the rivers, Arno on
the north and Tiber on the south and extending to Perugia in
the east. The Etruscan influences in the 7th and 6th centuries
B.C., went beyond its heartland and extended to, Adria in the
Po valley in the north and to Capua in the south. It is generally
accepted, that present day Tuscans are the Etruscans’ closest
neighbors (Wellard 1973, Vernesi 2004).
The Veneti are also one the historic peoples, subject of many
discussions and debates, but who were more widespread than the
Etruscans. They were present in many lands (Mogentale- Profizi
2001): Veneti in Paphlagonia (northern coast of present day
Turkey) were mentioned by Homer in 9th cent. BC., Veneti in
Illyricum (Enetoi) on the lower Danube and in the upper Adriatic,
were mentioned by Herodotus in 5th cent. BC:, Veneti in central
Europe mentioned by Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, Veneti in Gaul
were mentioned by Caesar, and Veneti in Latium who are referred
to as Venetulani by Pliny the Elder. The Veneti and Etruscans
appear to be related. However, Adria was in the 10th Roman province
’Venetia et Histria’ until the downfall of the empire. There
is historical, linguistic and topographic evidence that present
day Slovenians are indigenous to their land and descendents
of the Veneti ([avli 1996).
Discussion of Genetic Studies
In the bone fragments, taken from the tombs of Etruria, Capua
and Venetia, Vernesi et al. have found that out of 22 mtDNA
HVS1 haplotypes, which they observed in 28 individuals, only
two of them, CRS and 16126, occur in a sample of modern Tuscans
and carried by 14% of them. Tuscans are considered to be the
descendants of the Etruscans. Both haplotypes occur in skeletons
from Adria and Magliano/Marsiliana. The fragments from Magliano/Marsiliana
have been dated at 7th- 6th centuries B.C., whereas those from
Adria are from 5th-4th centuries B.C. (Vernesi 2004).
Comparing the results of Vernesi et al and Malyarchuk et al,
it becomes apparent that, the present day Slovenians, carry
more than just CRS and 16126 ’Etruscan’ mtDNA HVS1 haplotypes
found in the Tuscans. Twice as many ’Etruscan’ haplotypes have
been found in Slovenians than in Tuscans, namely: CRS, 16261,
16223, 16311. These were found in skeletal remains from Adria,
Magliano/Marsiliana and also from Volterra. Two additional haplotypes
from Adria, 16126 and 16129, are similar to Slovenian haplotypes,
but the Slovenian haplotypes differ from the ’Etruscan’ ones
of Adria, by an additional substitution; 16069- 16126 and 16129-16304.
However, haplotype 16129 without the 16069 substitution is found
in Bosnia. This leaves just one haplotype out of five, namely,
16126-16193-16278, where no similar haplotype is found in Slovenia.
However, this 16126-16193- 16278 haplotype is similar to that
found in skeletal remains from Capua at the southern limit of
Etruscan influence where hybridization with Samnium natives
or Greek colonizers may have occurred (Malyarchuk 2003, Vernesi
The root type 16069-16126 HVS1 sequence, present in 8% of Slovenians,
is very diverse and may represent a trace of Neolithic (new
Stone Age at the beginning of agriculture) migration from the
Middle East (Malyarchuk 2003). Haplotypes CRS, 16223, 16261
and 16311 are carried by 17% of Slovenians. They belong to haplogroup
H, which is estimated to be 20, 000 years old; this haplogroup
is the most common one in Slovenians at 47% (Richards 2000,
Adria in Veneto
Focusing on 5 haplotypes, CRS, 16126, 16129, 16223, 16126-16193-16278
found in skeletal remains from Adria, which was part of Venetia
et Histria during the Roman era,. (Adria is even now located
in Veneto, Italy), and comparing them to the present day populations,
- CRS in Slovenians at 13% (Malyarchuk 2003), in Europe at
- 16126 is found as 16069-16126 in Slo at 8% (M), in Eu 16069-16126
- 16129 is found in Bosnians (Bos) at <2% (M), in Russians
at 1% (M1) in
Basques at 9% (R); in Slo it is found as 16129-16148-16223-16391
16129-16223-16391 at 2% (M).
- 16223 is found in Slo at 1%, elsewhere in Eu only in South
From the above comparison, it can be seen, that there is a
genetic continuity between ancient populations as attested from
the skeletal remains found in Etruria proper and especially
between those found in Venetia and the present day Europeans.
While Tuscans share 2 haplotypes with the Etruscans, Slovenians
and Bosnians share 3 haplotypes. It should also be noted that
2 additional Etruscan haplotypes from Adria in Veneto, differ
from the Slovenian haplotypes by one to three substitutions.
Considering the evidence, this shows the relatively strong genetic
mtDNA relationship between ancient Veneti and modern day Slovenians.
In addition to the haplotypes in ancient Veneti from Adria,
Slovenians also share haplotypes with the skeletal remains of
Etruscans from Etruria proper, namely from Volterra (Vo) and
Magliano/ Marsiliana (M/M). Furthermore,Russians and Poles share
one lineage with Castelfranco di Sotto (CS) not found in the
- 16261 of Vo is found in Slo at 1% (M), in Eu at <1% (R).
- 16311 of M/M is found in Slo at 2%, in Bosnians at 7% (M),
in Eu at 5%
- 16126 of M/M is found in Slo as 16069-16126 lineage at 8%
(M) in Eu at
- CRS of M/M is found in Slo at 13% (M), in Eu at 24% (R).
- 16189-16356 of (M/M) is found in Poles at 0.5%, Russians
at 0.5% and
Germans at 0.4% (M1)
Here again, no abrupt differences are seen between skeletal
remains from Etruria proper and the present day Slavic populations
in the Balkans. Richards et al., in their study of 520 individuals
from Europe, where the Slavic populations were not included,
did not detect in the 16223 haplotype, which present in skeletal
remains from Adria, nor has it been found in a sample of modern
Tuscans (Richards 1996, Vernesi 2004), but is has been found
in Slovenia, South Germany and Ukraine (Malyarchuk 2003).
The Y chromosome studies revealed that Haplogroup I (Hg I),
reached ~40%-50% in two distinct regions—in Nordic populations
in Scandinavia and around the Dinaric Alps. Overall, this suggest,
that populations carrying the Hg I could have played a central
role in the process of human re-colonization of Europe, after
the Ice Age (Rootsi 2004). Semino proposes that Hg I (M170)
haplogroup originated in Europe in descendants of men that arrived
from Middle East 20,000 to 25,000 years ago. This can be associated
with an Epi-Gravettian culture in the area of the present-day
Austria, the Czech Republic and the northern Balkans (Semino
2000). Subhaplogroup HgI1b* is the most frequent clade in eastern
Europe and the Balkans; its subclade Hg I1b2 is found in Sardinia,
Castille and in Basques (6%). Rootsi et al., mention and also
show graphically, that Hg I1b* and Hg I1b2 cooccur west of the
Italian Apennines. In the Veneto region of Italy, Hg I1b* occurs
at a frequency of10% and I1b2 is absent; only Hg I1b* is present
west of the Appenines; east of the Adriatic Hg I1b* reaches
its highest concentration in the north western Balkans (Rootsi
2004). This is also an indication that there is a genetic continuity,
based on paternally inherited Y chromosomes, between the Slovenians
and the people of Veneto region, including Adria.
Barbujani in his paper “Genetics and the population history
of Europe”, shows graphically a genetic continuity between the
populations of the north western Balkans and the peoples now
occupying the land of the ancient Veneti and Etruscans in Italy.
A clear demarcation is seen in northern Italy at the western
boundary of the Veneto region (Barbujani 2001). In another genetic
study of the present day populations, it has been found, that
the population in eastern Veneto, is more akin to Tuscanian,
than to western Veneto population (Mogentale-Profizi 2001).
Furthermore, Malyarchuk et al., have also noted, that Slovenians
have a high frequency, at 5%, of H-subcluster 16162, which is
characteristic for central and eastern European populations.
In the western neighbors of Slovenians, in the Veneto speakers
of Italy, this is also present, at 6% (Malyarchuk 2003).
What language did the Etruscans and/or Veneti speak? Barbujani
has made an intriguing observation, that partial correlations
with language are stronger for the Y chromosome than for mtDNA
(Barbujani 1997). Conventional opinion has it, that Etruscans
spoke a language isolate, a non-Indo-European language and that
it disappeared 90 B.C., when they lost their autonomy to the
Romans (Vernesi 2004). Some Slovenian scholars held/hold a different
view. Bor had postulated that Etruscans were people originally
linguistically related to the Veneti; (the genetic evidence
supports his hypothesis); they came from the north and in course
of time merged with another people, which in turn influenced
their language. By using Slavic languages, as a point of reference,
he was able to decipher some of the older Etruscan inscriptions,
including the Pyrgian Tablets, but not their later inscriptions.
On the other hand, he was quite successful in deciphering the
Venetic inscriptions ([avli 1996).
There is a genetic continuity between the ancient Etruscans
and Veneti and the present day Slovenians.
Genetic information makes it evident, that Slovenians are indigenous
to their land as indicated by the mtDNA relationship with the
2,500 year old skeletal remains of the Etruscans, particularly
those from Adria in Veneto.
Genetic information supports the historic quotation from the
biography of St. Columban written in 615 A.D. and cited by Toma`i~
“Termini Venetiorum qui et Sclavi dicuntur”—the land of the
Veneti who are also called Slavs ([avli 1996).
Barbujani G (1997) "DNA Variation and Language Affinities".
Am J Hum Genet 61:1011-1014.
Barbujani G, Bertolle G (2001) "Genetics and the population
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(M) Malyarchuk BA, Grzybowski T, Derenko MV, Czarny J, Drobnič
K, Miscicka-Sliwka D (2003) "Mitochondrial DNA Variability
in Bosnians and Slovenians". Ann Hum Genet 67: 412- 425.
(M1) Malyarchuk BA, Grzybowski T, Derenko MV, Czarny J, Wozniak
M, Misicka-Sliwka D (2002) "Mitochondrial DNA in Poles
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of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup I Reveals Distinct Domains of Prehistoric
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Šavli J, Bor M, Tomazic I, trans. Škerbinc A (1996) "VENETI:
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Veneti ISBN 0-9681236- 0-0. pp.80, 197- 199, 344, 443, 501.
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