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Ancient Etruscans unlikely ancestors of modern Tuscans, statistical testing reveals

For the first time, Stanford researchers have used novel statistical computer modeling to simulate demographic processes affecting the population of Tuscany over a 2,500-year time span. Rigorous tests used by the researchers have ruled out a genetic link between ancient Etruscans, the early inhabitants of central Italy, and the region's modern day residents.

The findings suggest that something either suddenly wiped out the Etruscans or the group represented a social elite that had little in common with the people who became the true ancestors of Tuscans, said Joanna Mountain, assistant professor of anthropological sciences.

''Very often, we assume the most simple explanation for something,'' said Mountain, an expert in anthropological genetics. ''So when you find in a particular location the archeological remains of people, the simplest explanation is that those people are ancestral to whoever is living there now. How often do you get a chance to check that? Very rarely.''

The research advances the field of anthropological genetics by moving beyond simple storytelling about an ancient people to rigorous testing, using genetic data analysis, of a set of anthropological hypotheses, Mountain said.

The findings are documented in ''Serial Coalescent Simulations Suggest a Weak Genealogical Relationship Between Etruscans and Modern Tuscans,'' published May 15 in the online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Uma Ramakrishnan, a former Stanford postdoctoral fellow, and Elise M. S. Belle and Guido Barbujani of the University of Ferrara in Italy co-authored the paper with Mountain.

As the paper details, previous extensive archeological excavations have established that Etruscan culture existed in central Italy between the eighth and second centuries B.C. Its origins are still controversial: Some ancient historians, including Herodotus (circa 430 B.C.), suggested that the Etruscans came to Italy from Asia Minor. B
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Contact: Lisa Trei
lisatrei@stanford.edu
650-725-0224
Stanford University
25-May-2006


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