Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The latest findings confirm what was said about the matter almost 2,500 years ago, by the Greek historian Herodotus. The first traces of Etruscan civilisation in Italy date from about 1200 BC.

About seven and a half centuries later, Herodotus wrote that after the Lydians had undergone a period of severe deprivation in western Anatolia, "their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed".

It was a Roman who muddied the waters. The historian Livy, writing in the first century BC, claimed the Etruscans were from northern Europe. A few years later, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek writer living in Rome, came up with the theory that the Etruscans were, on the contrary, indigenous Italians who had always lived in Etruria.

. . .

Herodotus's story about the drawing of the lots may or may not be true, but the genetic research indicates that some Lydians did, as he wrote, leave their native land and travel, probably via Lemnos, to Italy.

The above page provides more details, including a concise timeline 0f Etruscan history.

Research into Tuscan cattle origins has recently offered comparative insights, summarized here on the Economist website.

Writing in this week's Proceedings of the Royal Society, Paolo Ajmone-Marsan of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Piacenza, Italy, and his colleagues conclude from the genetic make up of modern cattle in Tuscany (the part of Italy where the Etruscans lived) that these animals' ancestors came from the Middle East. By implication, the ancestors of their owners did, too.

An earlier (2004) report on Etruscan human genetic origins by Vernesi et al, entitled The Etruscans: A Population-Genetic Study can be found on the American Journal of Human Genetics website (April 2004, v.74/4).