The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)


Genetic Diversity and Population History in Svaneti, Northwestern Georgia

THEODORE G. SCHURR1, ARAM YARDUMIAN1,2, RAMAZ SHENGELIA3, LIA BITADZE4, DAVID CHITANAVA4, SHORENA LALIASHVILI4, IRMA LALIASHVILI4, AKIVA SANDERS1, ANDREW AZZAM1, VICTORIA GRONER1, KRISTI EDLESON1 and MIGUEL VILAR1.

1Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 2Department of History and Social Sciences, Bryn Athyn College, 3Department of History of Medicine and Bioethics, Tbilisi State Medical University, 4Institute of History and Ethnology, Tbilisi, Georgia

March 26, 2015 1:45, Lindbergh Add to calendar

In this analysis of the genetic diversity and ethnohistory of Svans, a highland population from northwest Georgia, we evaluated a number of important questions concerning population histories in the South Caucasus. To what extent have the current inhabitants of the Caucasus descend from Upper Paleolithic populations? How did the dispersal of Near Eastern agriculturalists into Georgia affect the region’s genetic diversity? Did changes in social organization and culture during the Bronze Age of the Caucasus reflect an influx of new settlers into the region? To what extent do geographic boundaries of language-affiliation mirror genetic patterning? To address these questions, we analyzed mtDNA and Y-chromosome variation in 200 Svan and Georgian individuals, and compared the genetic data with ethnohistorical evidence from Svaneti. We observed a predominance (~70%) of one major paternal lineage in Svans, haplogroup G2a, with others (I, J, and R1) being present at lower frequencies. From a maternal genetic perspective, we noted a wide spectrum of mtDNA diversity in Svans, with haplogroups C, H, HV, J, K, M1, N1b, T, U1, U3, U4, U7, W and X2 being present. These data reveal strong genetic similarities between Svans and neighboring Ossete and Abkhaz (both non-Kartvelian-speaking) populations, but also distinct patterns of mtDNA and Y-chromosome variation in them. Our results provide new insights into anthropological genetic variation in the South Caucasus, and will help to situate Georgian history more firmly within the broader context of the Caucasus and Near East.

This study was funded by NSF BCS-1249281 and Faculty Research Funds from the University of Pennsylvania.