Assyrians & Finns in a worldwide genetic context

By Razib Khan | November 4, 2010 5:45 pm

Dienekes is now allowing people to “out” themselves in terms of their ancestry on a comment thread over at the Dodecad Ancestry Project. One of the major purposes of the project has been to survey variation in under-sampled groups which could give us insights into human genetic history. Yesterday I pointed to an analysis of Europeans from the British Isles to Russia. Basically Northern Europeans. There wasn’t anything too revolutionary about the nature of the results; rather, it confirmed some patterns we’d seen. Additionally it obviously didn’t resolve issues of timing, though it clarified hypotheses on the margin.

The main benefit of the ADMIXTURE bar plots is that it gives you a gestalt sense of relationships in a quantitative fashion. This is especially important for groups in the Eurasian Heartland, who are in some ways at the center of both genetic and cultural exchange. In the comments above some information was divulged as the provenance of two clusters of samples, Finns and Assyrians. The Assyrians here presumably represents the remnants of Mesopotamia’s Christian majority at the time of the Arab conquests in the 7th century. Prior to the Arab conquests Mesopotamia had been under the rule of the Sassanid Persian dynasty for nearly four centuries, but by early 7th century the Syriac speaking majority by and large adhered to a range of Christian sects (the balance seem to have been heterodox non-Christian Gnostics and Jews), with the ancient Church of the East dominant. Because of the social constraints which Christians were placed under within the Muslim Middle East prior to the modern era these communities may be particular informative as to the demographic impact of the Arab conquests, and the cosmopolitan and international nature of the Muslim polities and how they reshaped the genetics of the Middle East. A good approximation is that the Christian minorities are the dominant parent population of the Muslim majority, but that because of their tendency to withdraw into more isolated regions and their enforced economic marginality they would have not intermixed so much with the influx of slaves, both northern (Turk and Slav), Indian, and African, which characterized much of Mesopotamia over the past 1,400 years.

Below the fold is a slide show. I’ve reedited just a touch (removed a few populations, put the labels in larger fonts, etc.). First the total population set. Then I’ve dropped the Finns and Assyrians, respectively, into the global population set (obscure some which are less relevant).

First things first: the different ancestral components are popping out of ADMIXTURE and are suggestive inferences base on the data input. They do not necessarily represent real concrete ancestral populations! As I keep pointing out, the purple South Asian element is probably a compound of at least two very genetically distinct ancient groups in about equal measures, one with strong West Eurasian/European affinities, and another a long resident indigenous South Asian group with distant, but definite, affinities to East Eurasians (it may be that the latter South Asian element gave rise to the various branches of East Eurasians and Amerindians further back in prehistory).

The “Northeast Asian” element in the ancestry of the four Finns is not that surprising (though I believe some of these are related). In 23andMe Finns often seem to show trace “Asian” ancestry, on the order of ~1%.  Uniparental markers, especially Y chromosomal lineages, have long indicated ancient affinities between the Finnic peoples of Europe and various groups in Siberia. The major question has been whether the migration has been from the west to the east, or the east to the west. And yet perhaps this is the wrong way of looking at it, perhaps both these groups derive from an expansion south of the margins of the glaciers in the wake of the last Ice Age? The Finns clearly physically resemble their fellow Nordics more than the Yakuts. But perhaps this is not to be unexpected when you have mobile low density populations on the margins of more numerous conventional agriculturalists? I believe that the Mercator projection has also caused problems in assessing the plausibilities of connections between circumpolar peoples.

Next let’s move to the Assyrians. As with other such surveys the lack of African ancestry in relation to similar Muslim populations is striking. The Syrian set is probably the best point of comparison. Note the small slices from other populations in the Syrians. I would normally ignore that, but their absence in the Assyrians may be informative. This may be a function of close relatedness of the Assyrians, but I’d give it even odds that a low fraction of exogenous post-Islamic ancestry which is associated with travel within the Muslim lands explains some of the difference between the majority and minority populations (above and beyond the clear African element).

Finally, I’m going make up stories on the fly to generate some discussion (I think the stories correspond to reality more than expectation, but I have very weak confidence in them myself).

- The “Southern European” element which is maximal in Sardinia indicates the very first wave of agriculturalists. The Sardinians may not be purely descended from agriculturalists, but like the composite “South Asian” quantum this represents possibly the very first hybridization due to a rapid demographic pulse driven by agriculture which synthesized with the hunter-gatherers of Western Europe. Like the “Ancient South Indians” I doubt that the Ice Age Europeans of Western Europe are present in “pure” form anymore. The influence of this component can be found far to the east among the Assyrians, but it almost disappears in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think this may have something to do with R1b1b2.

- The “Northern European” element which is maximal in the Lithuanians is found among the Pashtuns and non-Arab Middle Easterners, but not Arab speakers. It drops off in India very quickly. I don’t think the Lithuanians are the “purest” Indo-Europeans, and I don’t think that this element was necessarily exclusive to Indo-Europeans. But there has to have been some leap-frogging going on, because on average Semitic Middle Eastern groups are more like Europeans than Gujaratis are in total genetic distance, but Gujaratis seem to have a higher fraction of this quantum. And suggestively Punjabis seem to carry the Central Eurasian lactase persistence alleles (I know this from the literature and genome sharing on 23andMe). Again, because these ancestral quanta don’t represent real populations, but are proportions popping out of ADMIXTURE, we shouldn’t take the orange fraction as the “Aryan” ancestry in South Asia. But that seems the most plausible explanation for why it seems at  far higher frequency in Indo-European speaking northwest India than it does in the Semitic speaking Fertile Crescent.

- The light-blue “West Asian” fraction gets around. It’s found at the same proportions in Tuscans as Uyghurs, and, you can find it pretty far south and east in South Asia (I have a fair amount of it, as does a Reddy from South India, and the Kannada speakers in the global Dodecad set have some of it too, though less). I assume that it is present at high frequency among the Uyghurs because of the Indo-European speakers. But it clearly doesn’t have an Indo-European origin as such. It has a high frequency among the Cypriots, but not the Sardinians, with modal proportions among various Caucasian groups. I assume it has something to do with agriculture, but seems to have less of an influence in Western Europe than further to the east. The Finns and Lithuanians have a little bit, about the same as South Indians. So again, something which probably hitch-hiked with population movements in the center of Eurasia, but I assume pre-dating the Indo-Europeans.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics, History
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  • pconroy

    I think it’s worth mentioning that this analysis is for K=10.

    My question is, if Dienekes increases his analysis to K=13 say, which existing cluster(s) would breakdown and where would the breaks be.

    I know you suggested previously that at higher K’s East Asians would probably split. I guess that this would be into East Asians and South East Asians.

    You seem to be also suggesting earlier today that South Asian would probably split too, would this be into the equivalent of ANI and ASI, or some other combination?

    Do you think South West Asian would split into Arab and non-Arab?

    Do you think Southern Europe would split into an Eastern and Western components?

    Do you think West African would split into a Bantu, non-Bantu components?

    Or alternatively, might a new component emerge, like Central Asian, Atlantic European or Finnic European?

  • Ponto

    Regarding the usage of haplogroups. It is better to leave haplogroups to the date and times they are discovered. It is pointless trying to speculate on what the haplogroups were in the past or what type of people carried them. R1b1b2, R1a1, J1e, J2*, E1b1b1 and others have certain distributions in certain populations and regions – TODAY. But really, so what! You can get out your crystal balls or seers stones and guess where, in whom and in what race those haplogroups existed in the past. Good Luck. Tell me the Lottery numbers for next weeks lotto, thanks.

    Stick to what we know as fact. A murdered pre British, pre Anglo inhabitant of England was found after 9,500 years in a cave: Cheddar Man. He was mtDNA U5. Another murdered man found frozen in Italy, Oetzi belonged to mtDNA K, but a subclade that has not been found in living Europeans. Some remains of ancient, though not so old, Germans were found to be R1a1 Y chomosome haplogroup. Just stick to facts and leave imagination to J.K Rowling et al.

  • Razib Khan

    ponto, are you a congenital asshole, or is english not your first language?

  • pconroy

    Ponto is just mad that he’s a man of Maltese extraction, who has partly assimilated into Australian culture, and finds the dissonance exacting. A few years ago when I first encountered him on the interwebz, he initially berated me for being Irish, then let off a stream of stereotype slurs.

    Why do you call the 4,600 year old R1a1 burials at Eulau, Germans?? There was no Germany then, there were no Germans :o )

  • Razib Khan

    paul, wuteva. i’m not havin’ the attitude anymore. i thought his command of english idiom and delivery was weird, like onur’s, but he just seems like he’s a dick. zero tolerance from now on.

  • Paul Givargidze

    Hi Razib. Thank you very much for your post. Just one thing I wish to add. When combining the nine Assyrian samples, and comparing to Dienekes’ population average values, the Assyrians are most similar to the Armenians. If Dienekes ever expands the scope of his project to include some of the Mizrahim populations, specifically, the Iranian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Georgian Jews, and Azeri Jews, you will notice an even greater consistency to the Assyrian mosaic of components.

  • humayun aryani

    The bronze age dated Indo-European component is most likely the light blue one because proto indo-european homeland is in western asia (a fact) and indo-europeans spread very lately to north&western Europe so that they left small input=>bronze age dated indo-european migrations can not outnumber the well established and numerous paloelithic and neolithic Europeans.
    NB: the Syrians and Jordanians are also Arabic speaking.

  • Razib Khan

    don’t assert so stridently in the future or i won’t post your comments.

  • onur

    I think you should compare Assyrians also with Armenians and Turks, to whom they show up genetically quite similar in Polako’s genetic analyses.


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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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