The genetics of the descendants of the Garamantes

By Razib Khan | July 2, 2009 6:12 pm

First Genetic Insight into Libyan Tuaregs: A Maternal Perspective:

The Tuaregs are a semi-nomadic pastoralist people of northwest Africa. Their origins are still a matter of debate due to the scarcity of genetic and historical data. Here we report the first data on the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genetic characterization of a Tuareg sample from Fezzan (Libyan Sahara). A total of 129 individuals from two villages in the Acacus region were genetically analysed. Both the hypervariable regions and the coding region of mtDNA were investigated. Phylogeographic investigation was carried out in order to reconstruct human migratory shifts in central Sahara, and to shed light on the origin of the Libyan Tuaregs. Our results clearly show low genetic diversity in the sample, possibly due to genetic drift and founder effect associated with the separation of Libyan Tuaregs from an ancestral population. Furthermore, the maternal genetic pool of the Libyan Tuaregs is characterized by a major „European” component shared with the Berbers that could be traced to the Iberian Peninsula, as well as a minor ‘south Saharan’ contribution possibly linked to both Eastern African and Near Eastern populations.

The Tuaregs of the Fezzan are almost certainly the remnants of what classical authors described as the Garamantes. The Spitton covers most of the important points. Do note that mtDNA is a very small slice of the total picture of a population’s ancestry, and because it is passed through only ~1/2 of the population the long term effective population is even smaller than most loci (and so subject to greater genetic drift). Interestingly the greater proportion of Sub-Saharan African ancestry among the Tuaregs of the western Saharan give one a sense of the relative importance of various trans-Saharan trade routes in a quantitative sense.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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