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

Mitochondrial lineages in Assyrian populations


Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University

March 26, 2015 2:30, Lindbergh Add to calendar

Assyrians are a Neo-Aramaic-speaking people who, prior to the Genocide of 1914-1919, resided in a territory today divided between northern Iraq, southern Turkey, and northwestern Iran. Present-day Assyrians share their name with the people who established the north Mesopotamian state of Assyria in the second millennium BCE. Assyrians are one of three pre-Islamic ethnoreligious groups to have survived the Islamization of Mesopotamia and the Levant in the seventh century. The ongoing religious persecution of Assyrians since the Sassanid Era, accompanied with their linguistic and cultural separation from neighboring communities, has encouraged a tradition of endogamy among Assyrians. Therefore, Assyrian communities are believed to have experienced limited admixture since the third century CE. This is especially significant in the context of Mesopotamia, where mass migrations during the Islamic Era have substantially changed the demographics of this region. Very little is known about the population genetics of Assyrians and prior to this study, data on Assyrian maternal lineages was limited to 22 Iraqi Assyrians. In order to investigate Assyrian mitochondrial lineages, cheek swab samples were collected from 65 unrelated diasporic Assyrians residing in the United States. Our initial results show that all these individuals belong to eight different West Eurasian haplogroups. Considering that East Asian and sub-Saharan haplogroups, especially L1, are present in low frequencies in neighboring Iraqi and Iranian ethnic groups, their absence in the Assyrian community is particularly interesting. These results are consistent with historical and ethnographic evidence which suggest relative isolation of Assyrians as a native Mesopotamian population.