The genetic study, published in the journal Nature Communications, points to European women as the principal female founders and to the Jewish community of the early Roman Empire as the possible source of the Ashkenazi ancestors.
It had long been assumed those ancestors migrated into Europe from Palestine in the first century A.D. -- after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans -- with some intermarriage with Europeans later on.
The study of the Ashkanzi female line using mitochondrial DNA, led by Martin Richards from the University of Huddlesfield in Britain, found Ashkenazi lineages, in the vast majority of cases, are most closely related to southern and western European lineages -- and these lineages have been present in Europe for thousands of years.
That suggests that although Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2,000 years ago, they brought few or no wives with them, the researchers said, and subsequently married and converted European women, first along the Mediterranean and later in western and central Europe.
Therefore, Ashkenazim primarily trace their ancestry on the female line of descent the not to Palestine but to southern and western Europe, they said -- and at least 80 percent of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry comes from women indigenous to Europe, with 8 percent from the Near East and the rest uncertain.