The researchers at the University of Huddersfield used archaeogenetics to solve the controversy of the origin of Ashkenazi Jews of whether they migrated from Palestine in the first century AD or their ancestors were Europeans who converted to Judaism. They analysed the DNA samples to investigate the prehistoric settlements of Europe by migrants from Near East.
Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA samples revealed that the Ashkenazim female line descended from southern and western Europe and not the near East. DNA analysis claims that most of the Ashkenazi Jews were at least half genetically Europeans debunking the previous assumptions that they were of Middle Eastern region.
“The origins of the Ashkenazim is one of the big questions that people have pursued again and again and never really come to a conclusive view,” said Professor Martin Richards, head of the Archaeogenetics Research Group based at the University of Huddersfield and co-author of the study, who has described the new data as “compelling”.
Ashkenazi in Hebrew means ‘Germans’ and is used for Jews of eastern European origin who historically spoke Yiddish or Judeo-German language. Not much is known about the history of Ashkenazi Jews before they moved out from the Mediterranean and settled in present day Poland around the 12thCentury.
According to Dr. Harry Ostrer, pathology, pediatrics and genetics professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, on an average, all Ashkenazi Jews are genetically as closely related to each other as fourth or fifth cousins, LiveScience reports.
In the current study, the researchers found that a majority of Ashkenazi Jewish lineages were closely linked to the Southern and Western Europe and they were residing in Europe for thousands of years.
”This suggests that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they seem to have married European women,” states Professor Richards.
By studying the mitochondrial genomes from more than 3,500 people from Europe, the Near East, the Caucasus, including the Ashkenazi Jews, the researchers discovered that they basically originated some 10,000 – 20,000 years ago. They found that four founders were responsible for 40 percent of Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA. More than 80 percent of the maternal lineages of the Ashkenazi Jews could be traced to Europe, NBC News reports.
This genetic study confirms that Ashkenazi women were basically converts from local European population.
“….This suggests that, in the early years of the Diaspora, Judaism took in many converts from amongst the European population, but they were mainly recruited from amongst women. Thus, on the female line of descent, the Ashkenazim primarily trace their ancestry neither to Palestine nor to Khazaria in the North Caucasus – as has also been suggested – but to southern and western Europe,” according to the press release.
The findings are documented in the journal Nature Communications.