Writing in the journal Current Biology, researchers said despite the modern-day diversity of language, lifestyle and religion found in Europe's 11 million Romani, genetic evidence points to a specific geographic origin in the north or northwestern parts of India a millennium-and-a-half ago.
"We were interested in exploring the population history of European Romani because they constitute an important fraction of the European population, but their marginalized situation in many countries also seems to have affected their visibility in scientific studies," said David Comas of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain.
Because historical records on Romani origins and dispersal are lacking, Comas and European colleagues gathered genome-wide data from 13 Romani groups across Europe to confirm an Indian origin, a finding consistent with earlier linguistic studies.
Once entering Europe, Romani people began settling in various regions in a dispersal by way of the Balkans about 900 years ago, researchers said.
The size of the current Romani population rivals that of several European countries, including Greece, Portugal and Belgium, they said.
"From a genome-wide perspective, Romani people share a common and unique history that consists of two elements: the roots in northwestern India and the admixture with non-Romani Europeans accumulating with different magnitudes during the out-of-India migration across Europe," researcher Manfred Kayser from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands said.