Research Article

Ancient Rome: A genetic crossroads of Europe and the Mediterranean

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Science  08 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6466, pp. 708-714
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay6826

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A 10,000-year transect of Roman populations

Rome wasn't built (or settled) in a day. Antonio et al. performed an ancestral DNA analysis to investigate the genetic changes that occurred in Rome and central Italy from the Mesolithic into modern times. By examining 127 Roman genomes and their archaeological context, the authors demonstrate a major ancestry shift in the Neolithic between hunter gatherers and farmers. A second ancestry shift is observed in the Bronze Age, likely coinciding with trade and an increased movement of populations. Genetic changes track the historical changes occurring in Rome and reflect gene flow from across the Mediterranean, Europe, and North Africa over time.

Science, this issue p. 708

Abstract

Ancient Rome was the capital of an empire of ~70 million inhabitants, but little is known about the genetics of ancient Romans. Here we present 127 genomes from 29 archaeological sites in and around Rome, spanning the past 12,000 years. We observe two major prehistoric ancestry transitions: one with the introduction of farming and another prior to the Iron Age. By the founding of Rome, the genetic composition of the region approximated that of modern Mediterranean populations. During the Imperial period, Rome’s population received net immigration from the Near East, followed by an increase in genetic contributions from Europe. These ancestry shifts mirrored the geopolitical affiliations of Rome and were accompanied by marked interindividual diversity, reflecting gene flow from across the Mediterranean, Europe, and North Africa.

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