I suppose in the next few years there will be more research in this area, especially with the development of newer, more accurate ways of analysing old genetic material. Although it is very difficult to interpret these data and establish possible affiliations between the various populations, it seems that the DNA analyses suggest, at least, a clear pattern of discontinuity in Etruria/Tuscany. Traditionally, the Etruscans (speakers of a non-IE language) have been seen as an autochthonous population of the Italian Peninsula, older than the Italic populations (speakers of IE languages). This view, based on a Roman-centred perspective, has rarely been challenged or tested, and has been held as undisputed truth for centuries. Now, with the development of new tools for research, it seems that the picture is exactly the opposite: it was the Etruscans, as an intrusive elite, that arrived later.
Now, the logical question is: where did they come from? Some connections with Turkish or eastern Mediterranean populations have been suggested from ther genetic data, but they don’t seem to be conclusive. I suppose there will be some more research on this, and not only in the field of genetics: it is necessary to compare the genetic data with the evidence found by archaeologists and linguists. Let’s take Mario Alinei for example. His idea that the Etruscans descended from ancient Hungarians is based on archaeological and linguistic evidence. Maybe he's right, or maybe not, but in any case his proposals are coherent (see this post for more details). One of his assumptions, namely the late arrival of the Etruscans, seems to be corroborated by independent research, as we have seen; his proposals about the chronology of Hungarian prehistory and the linguistic parallelisms between Etruscan and Hungarian are much more speculative and still need to be tested. A curious coincidence is that, according to Alinei, there are numerous Turkic elements in both the Hungarian and Etruscan languages, which he interprets in the context of Ugric-Altaic contacts in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC. I remembered this when I read about the ‘Turkish’ and eastern Mediterranean component in the Etruscan genetic material. It is obvious that the terms ‘Turkic’ and ‘Turkish’ refer to completely different concepts: a language family in Asia (Turkic) and a modern country where a Turkic language is spoken (Turkey). Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but who knows? I’m sure geneticists will come up with new, sometimes surprising results.
- Guimaraes et al (2009). Genealogical discontinuities among Etruscan, Medieval and contemporary Tuscans. MBE, Advanced Access published on-line. (Abstract).
- Vernesi et al (2004). The Etruscans: a population-genetic study. AJHG 74: 694-704.
Images (from top to bottom): 1. Sarcophagus of the Bride and Bridegrrom, 6th c. BC. Museo Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome; 2. Map of the Etruscan territories in ancient times; 3. Etruscan Musicians. From a tomb in Tarquinia, 5th c. BC.
Last Edit: 20 July 2009