May 17 (UPI) -- A genomic study has revealed a shared genetic heritage throughout the southern Mediterranean, extending geographic and national borders, from Italy to Cyprus.
While tracing the genetic ancestry of modern populations in Sicily and Southern Italy, researchers from the University of Bologna discovered high-density genomic markers linking people throughout the southern coastal regions of Europe,
"This shared Mediterranean ancestry possibly traces back to prehistoric times, as the result of multiple migration waves, with peaks during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age," lead researcher Stefania Sarno said in a news release.
Genomic studies of Europe have previously revealed the importance of an east-west migration from the Asian steppe. Researchers believe Bronze Age migrants from the grasslands between the Black and Caspian seas helped population much of Europe, introduced the antecedents of the Indo-European languages that came to define the continent.
Interestingly, the gene markers of the Asian steppe migration are largely absent from the people of the southern Mediterranean.
"These new genomic results from the Mediterranean open a new chapter for the study of the prehistoric movements behind the diffusion of the most represented language family in Europe," said researcher Chiara Barbieri. "The spread of these languages in the Southern regions, where Indo-European languages like Italian, Greek and Albanian are spoken nowadays, cannot be explained with the major contribution from the steppe alone."
Researchers set out to explain the origins of unique pockets of ethnic anomalies throughout the Mediterranean -- like historically non-Italian-speaking communities in Italy. But tracking the flow of new genetic material into the southern Mediterranean revealed broader connections.
"The study of linguistic and cultural isolates in Italy proved to be important to understand our history and our demography," said Alessio Boattini, geneticist and anthropologist from the University of Bologna. "The cases of the Albanian- and Greek-speaking communities of Southern Italy help to shed light into the formation of these cultural and linguistic identities."
The researchers shared their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
"Overall, the study illustrates how both genetic and cultural viewpoints can inform our knowledge of the complex dynamics behind the formation of our Mediterranean heritage, especially in contexts of extensive -- both geographically and temporally -- admixture," said Davide Pettener, professor of anthropology at Bologna.