Genetic map of Europe

Genetic Map
Click to enlarge

The New York Times has published an article on the results of a genetic study that sought to show the genetic interrelationships of the peoples of Europe. This is fascinating to me as an Indo-European linguist and someone interested in the early history of Europe. Looking at the map provided in the article, I see that the Europeans as grouped according to their genetic heritage correlate strikingly with the reconstructed language families and with the conclusions of archaeology – or should I say “intelligent historical linguistics” and “intelligent archaeology”? (Sorry, couldn’t resist a dig. Or the bad pun!)

Naturally, the speakers of Germanic languages are closely related. It is also not surprising that the Celtic peoples in Ireland have overall interbred with the Germanic peoples who have displaced them, but it is quite interesting that they share such a close relationship with the continental people of the Netherlands and that both these are tangential to France, whose old name Gaul is related to “Gaelic” because of its ancient Celtic population. The Celtic languages are almost extinct, but as they were assimilated rather than wiped out, their genetic inheritance is still noticeable enough to detect relationships between those who remained on the continent and those who broke off and populated the British Isles.

The close grouping of most Romance language speakers on the genetic map belies the geographic spread of Portugal and Italy as expected, but those not well read in medieval European history would be surprised that the French population overlaps with the populations of Germany and Austria much more than with the other Romance groups. This is quite expected, however, and would have been predicted by anyone who knew that the name “France” is derived from a Germanic tribe called the Franks. Ancient France was the hub of a lot of activity; populated by Celts in the time of Julius Caesar, it was invaded and taken over by the Germanic peoples early in the Christian era. Because the Holy Roman Empire situated itself in France, the language of the Romans, Latin, became the official language of the region, so that what we have in France today is an admixture of Celtic and Germanic people speaking an Italic language. I would be interested to how much the contiguity and overlap of the Italic/Romance people groups on the map is a result of relatively recent geographical proximity and how much is attributable to the proposed prehistorical relationship between the Celtic and Italic people/languages (Italo-Celtic is a popular, but not uncontested, subgrouping of Indo-European).

And of course I would be remiss not to point out the position of Finland on the genetic map. Their noticeably divergent genetic stock is not explainable in simply historical terms, but it’s completely understandable given the separate linguistic history of the Finns and the other Europeans: Europeans are descendants of the Indo-Europeans, and the Finns are rather descended from a group of people whose language family is usually called Finno-Ugric. The fact that Hungarian, the “Ugric” half of Finno-Ugric, is spoken by people genetically indistinguishable from the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe is only marginally remarkable because they have not been isolated geographically as have the Finnish, but I don’t know enough about that language family and its history to make any more comments.

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  • tom

    Thanks for this article. It’s really interesting. It makes me wonder what the 3rd, 4th, and higher dimensions might say — perhaps giving credence to geological factors as Jared Diamond might promote, or perhaps cultural factors allowing or preventing various peoples from mixing.

  • tom

    Thanks for this article. It’s really interesting. It makes me wonder what the 3rd, 4th, and higher dimensions might say — perhaps giving credence to geological factors as Jared Diamond might promote, or perhaps cultural factors allowing or preventing various peoples from mixing.

  • I think the article even mentions the possibility that the Alps contributed to the relative isolation of Italy’s population from the rest of Europe.

    Re: cultural factors, no doubt that played a part in, say, the prevention of mixing the Finns with the Scandinavian Germanic peoples. I’d say that cultural factors discouraging mixing would have been more important as time progressed, since the overwhelming bulk of the population descended from the same cultural stock.

    I’d definitely be interested in theories regarding cultural factors encouraging mixing. Given the predisposition of all the Indo-European subgroups to fight to defend themselves (they didn’t just lay down arms when attacked), I don’t think there’s any doubt that the single most important factor for intermarriage was political hegemony.

    • Fabien

      I tend to think that Italy seems “relatively” isolated of the rest of Europe not because of the Alps, but because the samples have been made in central and southern Italy.  If the sample has been taken in Turin, Milan, Bergame, Bologna or Venice it would probably constitude a cluster closer to the french one, or just to the south of Austria. 

  • I think the article even mentions the possibility that the Alps contributed to the relative isolation of Italy’s population from the rest of Europe.

    Re: cultural factors, no doubt that played a part in, say, the prevention of mixing the Finns with the Scandinavian Germanic peoples. I’d say that cultural factors discouraging mixing would have been more important as time progressed, since the overwhelming bulk of the population descended from the same cultural stock.

    I’d definitely be interested in theories regarding cultural factors encouraging mixing. Given the predisposition of all the Indo-European subgroups to fight to defend themselves (they didn’t just lay down arms when attacked), I don’t think there’s any doubt that the single most important factor for intermarriage was political hegemony.

  • Fabien

    I have to disagree with your interpretation of the map concerning France.
    You said that the french cluster was not overlaping with the other Romance countries, supposing that it was supposed to confirm the idea that french people are genetically different from Spanish and Italian people, and contrary to them we are supposed to be a genetically a mix of celtic and Germanic people.

    I believe that this map actually exactly shows, at the contrary, that the french are not more genetically different to other latin countries. 
    – We just have to look at the distance between the “average situation” of Spain to notice that the distance it separates to Italian “average situation” is actually much farther than the distance with the “average french position”.
    – The map actually show us a bigger overlap between the french samples (taken in Lyon) and the Spanish/Catalan samples (taken in Barcelona), than between them and Italian samples taken in Rome.  Globally speaking the overlap between Spain and Italy is very limited, most of Italian cluster is globally much distant.  We can easily image that if the french samples were taken in areas of the south, south-west of the west, those would probably be even closer than they are with samples taken in Lyon.
    – Bourgogne and Lyon is usually said to be relatively more “nordic” than a big part of the rest of France, especially the regions of the south and the west (the north-east and north would be a little bit closer to the south German or Austrian cluster).  If we had samples taken in Bordeaux, Toulouse, La Rochelle, Poitiers, etc…  it is higly probable that the results for France would be even closer to Spanish samples, especially if those samples would be taken in Cataluna, Aragon or Pais Vasco.
    – You said that the map showed that the french were basically a mix of Germanic and Celtic people…  Well I don’t know where on the map the “celtic” cluster you speak about is supposed to be?  What area is the references of “celticness”. 
    Is it Ireland? What the map tell us is that the Irish are not genetically different to the other British (English sample taken in Kent in south-east England); but also largely overplap with Netherlands or Norway…  If the Irish are supposed to be reference of what is supposed to be a “celtic” ethnicity, and we french would have a majority of “celtic” compoanant as you said, we would see it on the map… Actually we see the reverse, French and Irish samples are completly non-overlaping.
    Since the origin of Germanic cultures is historically around Denmark, and if we suppose that there is such a thing as a “germanic” ethnicity, this ethinicty should be more or less centred around the clusters of Denmark (where largely overlap the samples of Northern Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and England).   If, as you said, french people were a genetic mix of those people with the “celtic” people of Irish type,  our position on the map should be overlapping on England sample…  Which is not the case at all.
    Or maybe you consider the term “celtic” in the more historical point of view, considereing that the point of origin of celtic people is the area around southern Germany and Austria. (and then have to accept that Irish people are not at all ethnically “celtic”, contrary to the common thought spread by Irish nationalism since the 19th century to try to take distance with the English, but are basically ethnically “germanic”.)
    So, if the “genetic celts” are basically the population of Central Europe (Samples of southern Germany and Austria);  the “genetic Germanic” are from the population of denmark/northern Germany/Norway and if we french people are supposed to be a mix of those “celts” and those “Germanics”, as is usually said by many people (as you said), we would have found the french samples on the map centred about the areas of Southern Germany and Northern Germany!   It is absolutly not what we observe on the map!  On the contrary, the french sample center below the supposed “celtic” cluster of  Southern-germany and Austria…  Since on the map it is situated between southern Germany and Spain (Cataluna).  The map learns us that the french cluster is situated at exact distance between the central Spain cluster (Madrid/Castilla) and the “Germanic” cluster – How could we say that the french are basically a mix of Germanics and Celtic ethnicities??  since, in all definitions of these groups, these groups are situated “more to the north than the french cluster is.  If you consider the Central Spanish cluster as a “latin” or “mediterranean” cluster, then you should conclude that the french can’t be basically a mix of “Celtic” and “Germanic” people, but should be at least 50% Spanish/mediterranean, and maybe 25% Celtic and 25% “Germanic”.

    • Raphaeldevalentin

       Spaniards are mostly “Celtic”. Don´t be deceived by images of ethnic looking celebrities and sportsmen: Many belong or have gypsy ancestry, or are immigrant derived, and hence are not representative of native Spaniards. At least half of the Spanish women I see every day show clear Nordic phenotypical traits.

  • Joehio

    Fabien, your interpretation of the map is correct.  I have seen even more detailed breakdowns of this genetic mapping of Europe, and it is even more clear.  Basically, “everyone” north of Andalusia and south of the Loire and west of the Rhone are basically genetically the same people.  And even in northeast France and southern Spain, even though they have a few differences with the big central Franco-Spanish block, the differences are almost negligible.  This probably corroborates the theory of the Franco-Cantabrian reserve that ancient peoples were pushed into during the ice age, and from which they spread throughout the Atlantic region of Europe afterward.

    The really big surprises of this genetic mapping – the results that were maybe counter-intuitive or ran against popular mythology – were the large genetic distance of the Finns from the rest of the Europeans, and the relatively distant position of the Italians.  That, and the Swiss being totally subsumed in the French “blot”.

    Also surprising was how little the language groups seem to have to do with the DNA in many cases.  The Hungarians, former Yugoslavs and Romanians have quite a lot of overlap, although they speak languages from completely different language groups.