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martes, 24 de julio de 2007
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Origen de los etruscos a la luz de la antropología física y la genética de poblaciones

Este artículo aborda el problema del origen de los “misteriosos” etruscos desde la perspectiva de la antropología física y de la genética de poblaciones. Ambas han ofrecido resultados coincidentes, que corroboran el origen próximo-oriental defendido por los autores clásicos y apoyado por la evidencia lingüística (1).

En su obra Las Razas de Europa, Coon dedica una sección a las características físicas de los etruscos (2):

The last of the three non-Indo-European speaking ethnic groups, the Etruscan, probably came to Italy as early as the first quarter of the tenth century B.C. Another wave is said to have arrived in the eighth century. The colonists apparently kept up contacts with their homeland until about 650 A.D. This homeland, according to the classical tradition, maintained by all Greek and Roman historians from Herodotus to Pliny, was Lydia in Asia Minor. That this tradition is accurate is the belief of most modern classical scholars.

The cranial evidence from Etruscan tombs) substantiates the belief that these non-Indo-European, non-Semitic speakers were typical examples of the earlier Bronze Age population of the eastern Mediterranean. As with the earlier el Argar people of Spain, a mesocephalic mean for the cranial index covers the presence of pronounced long heads and round heads, with the two extremes, in this case, forming about equal proportions. Actually, the metrical characteristics of the two series are much alike, but the Etruscan skulls were a little larger, which is not surprising, for the el Argar crania were for the most part rather small.

The Etruscan skulls are notably smooth in surface relief, with little in the way of browridges; the side walls of the vaults, seen from above, are not parallel, as with the longer Mediterranean forms, but converging, with the greatest breadth in the parietals and a narrow forehead; the orbits are high and rounded, and the nose narrow. The Etruscans, with a typically Near Eastern cranial form, resemble both the Cappadocian type found in the Hittite period at Alishar, and the planoccipital brachycephals which appeared in the Bronze Age cemeteries of Cyprus. By Roman times these two varieties had blended, to a large extent, into a variable mesocephalic form, to which the Phoenicians as well largely belonged.

Resumiendo: Según Coon, la evidencia craneal de las tumbas etruscas muestra claras relaciones con las gentes del Mediterráneo oriental en el Bronce, y recuerdan en concreto a restos estudiados de Anatolia y Chipre. La antropología física apoyaba así el origen anatolio (y evidentemente no autóctono de la península itálica) de los etruscos, adelantándose en muchas décadas a la genética de poblaciones. Resulta también interesante contrastar los restos etruscos con el aspecto los romanos tempranos, que indicaría un origen septentrional (3), y de hecho los rasgos físicos de ambos pueblos indican solución de continuidad respecto del Neolítico italiano (4).

Pasemos ahora a la genética de poblaciones. Un estudio de Cristiano Vernesi et al. (5) de 2004 es particularmente interesante por trabajar directamente sobre restos óseos de antiguos etruscos.

[…] 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.


To better compare the Etruscan gene pool with those of contemporary Italy, we treated these populations as hybrids among four potential parental populations, from the four corners of the area considered in this study (table 2). The likely contributions of each parental population, or admixture coefficients, are similar for the three modern Italian populations, but Etruscans differ in two aspects: they show closer relationships both to North Africans and to Turks than any contemporary population. In particular, the Turkish component in their gene pool appears three times as large as in the other populations. These admixture estimates are not to be taken at their face value, for numerous assumptions underlie their estimation. Here they only serve to show that, with respect to modern Italian gene pools, the Etruscan one contains an excess of haplotypes suggesting evolutionary ties with the populations of the southern and eastern Mediterranean shores.

Es decir, los restos etruscos presentaban relaciones genéticas más cercanas con las poblaciones costeras del Mediterráneo oriental y meridional que las modernas poblaciones italianas.

Hay que tener en cuenta que el estudio se realizó sobre restos hallados en tumbas de la élite social etrusca, y que podemos estar hablando de un acervo genético propio de una clase social. En un modelo de aculturación por casta dirigente, por ejemplo, sería de esperar un mayor aporte foráneo en la casta dirigente.

Otro jugoso trabajo, esta vez sobre poblaciones actuales, de Alessandro Achilli et al. (6), publicado en este año 2007, estudiaba el acervo genético mitocondrial en tres áreas de la Toscana:

[…] we analyzed the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of 322 subjects from three well-defined areas of Tuscany and compared their sequence variation with that of 55 western Eurasian populations. Interpopulation comparisons reveal that the modern population of Murlo, a small town of Etruscan origin, is characterized by an unusually high frequency (17.5%) of Near Eastern mtDNA haplogroups. Each of these haplogroups is represented by different haplotypes, thus dismissing the possibility that the genetic allocation of the Murlo people is due to drift. Other Tuscan populations do not show the same striking feature; however, overall, sim5% of mtDNA haplotypes in Tuscany are shared exclusively between Tuscans and Near Easterners and occupy terminal positions in the phylogeny. These findings support a direct and rather recent genetic input from the Near Eastmdasha scenario in agreement with the Lydian origin of Etruscans. Such a genetic contribution has been extensively diluted by admixture, but it appears that there are still locations in Tuscany, such as Murlo, where traces of its arrival are easily detectable.

En resumen, los resultados señalaban claras relaciones con Oriente Próximo (5% de los haplotipos toscanos son exclusivamente compartidos con próximo-orientales), con acento en la peculiaridad de los habitantes de la pequeña población (de origen etrusco) de Murlo, que presenta una frecuencia inusualmente alta de haplogrupos de origen próximo-oriental.

Es digno de mencionar otro reciente estudio (7 ), esta vez referido a animales domésticos. Se trata de cierta ganadería vacuna que se cría en la Toscana, y cuya introducción con buena probabilidad se debe a los etruscos:

[…] bovine and human mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) have been investigated, based on the well-recognized strict legacy which links human and livestock populations.

In the region corresponding to ancient Etruria (Tuscany, Central Italy), several Bos taurus breeds have been reared since historical times. These breeds have a strikingly high level of mtDNA variation, which is found neither in the rest of Italy nor in Europe. The Tuscan bovines are genetically closer to Near Eastern than to European gene pools and this Eastern genetic signature is paralleled in modern human populations from Tuscany, which are genetically close to Anatolian and Middle Eastern ones.

The evidence collected corroborates the hypothesis of a common past migration: both humans and cattle reached Etruria from the Eastern Mediterranean area by sea. Hence, the Eastern origin of Etruscans, first claimed by the classic historians Herodotus and Thucydides, receives strong independent support. As the Latin philosopher Seneca wrote: Asia Etruscos sibi vindicat (Asia claims the Etruscans back).


1 Véase al respecto el artículo de Diocles, “Onomástica etrusca de origen egeo-anatolio”, en esta misma web:
2 Carleton Stevens Coon, The Races of Europe (1939), capítulo V, sección 6.
3 Ibid., capítulo VI, sección 4.
4 Ibid., capítulo IV, sección 7. Por cierto que, a su vez, los restos neolíticos evidencian un cambio respecto del Paleolítico-Mesolítico en Italia, que sugiere llegada de inmigrantes agricultores; sobre este punto existe un reciente trabajo: “Origins and spread of agriculture in Italy: a nonmetric dental análisis” Coppa A, Cucina A, Lucci M, Mancinelli D, Vargiu R. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2007 Apr 23.
5 “The Etruscans: A Population-Genetic Study” Cristiano Vernesi et al. The American Journal of Human Genetics, volume 74 (2004), pages 694–704.
6 “Mitochondrial DNA Variation of Modern Tuscans Supports the Near Eastern Origin of Etruscans” Alessandro Achilli et al. The American Journal of Human Genetics, volume 80 (2007), pages 759–768.
7 “The mystery of Etruscan origins: novel clues from Bos taurus mitochondrial DNA” Marco Pellecchia et al.

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