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DNA tests continue to trace ancient and medieval origins and migrations

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New information is discovered about the ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews: Are the females mostly Greek or Greek immigrants to Italy, and/or from other southern Europeans, possibly including some ancient Romans? And could they also include origins in most other Southern European geographic areas around the Mediterranean regions, according to a recent study discussed in the October 8, 2013 news release, "New information is discovered about the ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews"? In ancient times, were women more likely to have converted to various religions?

The lead researcher is Professor Martin Richards, of the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield. Richards and his team have published a paper uncovering new information about how Ashkenazi Jewish men moved into Europe from the Middle East, and their possible marriage practices with Southern European women.

Professor Martin Richards, heads the University of Huddersfield’s Archaeogenetics Research Group. He also participated in another similar 2002 study. In the latest study, his team and colleagues sequenced 74 mitochondrial genomes and analyzed more than 3,500 mitochondrial genomes – far more data than the 2006 survey, which reviewed only a short length of the mitochondrial DNA, containing just 1,000 or so of its 16,600 DNA units, in all their subjects, says Jon Entine's October 8, 2013 article, "Ashkenazi Jewish women descended mostly from Italian converts, new study asserts" at the Genetic Literacy website.

Professor Martin Richards, of the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield, has published a paper uncovering new information about how Ashkenazi Jewish men moved into Europe from the Middle East, and their marriage practices with European women

The origins of Ashkenazi Jews – that is, Jews with recent ancestry in central and Eastern Europe – is a long-standing controversy. It is usually assumed that their ancestors migrated into Europe from the Levant in the first century AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, with some intermarriage with Europeans later on. But some have argued that they have a mainly European ancestry, and arose by conversion to Judaism of indigenous Europeans, especially in Italy.

Are the women descended from a mixture of ancient Greeks and ancient Romans? Other researchers have hypothesized that the women were largely assimilated in the North Caucasus during the medieval time of the Khazar Empire, whose rulers turned to Judaism possibly during the eighth to tenth centuries of the common era. You also may be interested in the December 11, 2013 news article, "New Genetic Map of Jewish Diasporas." The study, led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, is recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You may wish to check out the article, "New Study Defines the Genetic Map of the Jewish Diasporas."

The current study from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, also included members of Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Yemen and Georgia. Researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 509 Jews from 15 populations along with genetic data on 114 individuals from seven North African non-Jewish populations.

Speaking of women converting to any given faith, DNA tests often show how many thousands of women preferred to convert to their husband's religion and raise their children in pious homes in ancient times instead of practicing the pagan customs, especially as various customs applied to children. It's a selling point for any faith, the more conversions, the more attractive were the rituals for the women as compared to whatever the rituals were like before the conversions. The DNA actually reveals a voice of resilience and confidence in whatever motivated the women to convert...to any religion that focuses on human compassion such as caring, sharing, and repairing.

The study of Levites

And in another study, the Middle Eastern origin of the male Levites is shown by analysis of their Y chromosome. See the December 17, 2013 study in the journal Nature Communications, "Phylogenetic applications of whole Y-chromosome sequences and the Near Eastern origin of Ashkenazi Levites." (Rootsi, S. et al.).

Another article, this one a draft of or for a study, published online December 12, 2013, "A Tale of Two Hypotheses: Genetics and the Ethnogenesis of Ashkenazi Jewry," by Aram Yardumian, compares Armenians, Anatolians, Greeks, Italians, and others to Ashkenazim and says that Ashkenazim are mostly descendants of converted Byzantine-era or ancient Greeks and ancient Anatolians with DNA closest to ancient Anatolians. What's needed is to compare modern Ashkenazim DNA with ancient Judean DNA to see how the DNA evolved in the last 2,000 years.

Ethogenesis hypothesis

On the other hand, the medieval book, originally written in Arabic is known as the Kitab al Khazari, commonly called the Kuzari, is one of the most famous works of the medieval Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, completed around 1140. Its title is an Arabic phrase meaning Book of the Khazars, that contains medieval thought.

Other studies such as "On the Politics of Genetic Research Pertaining to the Jews." by Falk, Raphael. AJS Perspectives: The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies. Association for Jewish Studies (AJS). Fall 2007: 36-38, review some of the discoveries of scientists examining the genetics of Jewish populations worldwide.

In some articles authors caution that many of the scientists involved in such research have not been alert enough to the sociopolitical implications of their work. You can read the how the various authors describe some of the hot-button issues which can be triggered by inquiries into this topic where numerous studies happen each year.

And you have articles such as the one published on October 8, 2013, "Ashkenazi Jewish women descended mostly from Italian converts," by Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project. That article discusses the release of a massive new study published in Nature Communications challenging some established views of the origins of European Jewry. You may wish to check out the study, "A substantial prehistoric European ancestry amongst Ashkenazi maternal lineages."

Interestingly, numerous ancient Roman women converted to Judaism. For example, see, the story of Paulina Beturia, who converted to Judaism from traditional Roman religion. Her conversion happened around the year 50 CE.

Numerous females may have been southern European, but the latest genetic study is that the males were Middle Eastern, sometimes perhaps also Persian and/or Kurdish, as there also was a Kurdish conversion to Judaism by numerous people in the first century. The field of archaeogenetics may help to resolve this dispute about who originated in the Middle East or the rest of Southwest Asia. See, "Genetic Roots of the Ashkenazi Jews | The Scientist Magazine®"

Y-chromosome studies have shown that the male line of descent does indeed seem to trace back to the Middle East

Researchers note that the female line, which can be illuminated by studies of mitochondrial DNA has until now proved more difficult to interpret. This would be especially intriguing because Judaism has been inherited maternally for about 2000 years. So the scientists began to trace back in time the mitochondrial DNA to see where they're firmly nested in ancient and in prehistoric times.

Researchers have settled this issue by looking at large numbers of whole mitochondrial genomes – sequencing the full 16,568 bases of the molecule – in many people from across Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. We have found that, in the vast majority of cases, Ashkenazi lineages are most closely related to southern and western European lineages – and that these lineages have been present in Europe for many thousands of years. You also may wish to check out, "Y chromosome evidence for a founder effect in Ashkenazi Jews."

The migrations of young men in search of brides and business

This means that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they brought few or no wives with them. They seem to have married with European women, firstly along the Mediterranean, especially in Italy, and later (but probably to a lesser extent) in western and central Europe.

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, but to southern and western Europe, discusses the news release on the latest work of the Archaeogenetics Research Group. Also, you can read more about the work of the Archaeogenetics Research group. For more information on the research group and its various studies, see, "Archaeogenetics Research Group - University of Huddersfield."

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