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Read more...Sicilian Gene­alo­gy & Heraldry. The only book ever pub­lished about Sicilian family history re­search is now available from Amazon and other vendors. Histori­ography, folk customs, religious practices, research strategies, records to consult. A definitive guide to Sicilian genealogy and a Sicilian identity. (300 pages on acid-free paper, ebook available soon) Read more.

Read more...The Peoples of Sicily: A Multi­cultural Legacy. Full of Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Germans and Jews, the most signif­icant general history of Sicily ever pub­lished is about much more than an island in the sun. Can the eclectic medieval experience of the world's most conquered island be a lesson for our times? Find out as you meet the peoples! (368 pages on acid-free paper, ebook available) Read more.

Read more...Women of Sicily: Saints, Queens & Rebels. Meet a time­less sister­hood of pious Roman maidens, stead­fast Sicilian queens, and a Jewish mother who faced the horrors of the Inquisi­tion. Find an island's feminine soul in the first book about Sicily's historical women written in English by a Sicilian woman in Sicily. (224 pages on acid-free paper, ebook available) Read more.

Genetics & Anthropology in Sicily

"Norman Sicily stood forth in Europe --and indeed in the whole bigoted medieval world-- as an example of tolerance and enlightenment, a lesson in the respect that every man should feel for those whose blood and beliefs happen to differ from his own."

-- John Julius Norwich, The Kingdom in the Sun 1970

"Sicilians are a diverse people, having had contact with a great variety of ethnic stocks and physical types throughout the centuries."

-- Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 10, page 779 1997

Genes and populations.The most personal of biological sciences, genetics influence everything about who we are. Our appearance, talents and health - even our identities - are all shaped to a great extent by the genes we inherited through our parents. Perhaps for this reason, the topic often provokes strong emotions and opinions. This very simplified overview is not intended as a detailed scientific or sociological treatise, nor is it intended for research purposes. (For insights into population genetics, works such as those of the distinguished geneticist Luigi L. Cavalli-Sforza should be consulted; Matt Ridley's Genome is a good introduction for the layman; Steven Oppenheimer's Out of Eden and Spencer Wells' The Journey of Man place pre-historic human migration in perspective.) First, let's define a few terms. Ethnology generally refers to the social study of peoples and the comparative differences among them, in view of culture, history and traditions; ethnography is a methodical identification of peoples based on ethnology. Genealogy is the historical study of ancestral lineages, descent and kinship. As a research tool, genealogy is quite useful in genetic studies, but social concepts such as consanguinity ("blood" relationships between people descended from the same ancestor) are not, strictly speaking, biological in nature. In a place as ethnically diverse as Sicily, ethnology is interesting (though this is not an "ethnic" website), while genetic knowledge is obviously important in treating certain diseases. Race is a traditional social method of identifying people from various regions based primarily on their appearance and various physical characteristics. Anthropology is the study of man generally - physically, socially, culturally. In its most general sense, anthropology often embraces ethnology, population genetics, genealogy and many aspects of biology, history, archeology, linguistics and the arts. (For more information about the origins and ethnology of the various Sicilian peoples, see the Sicilian Peoples series linked from "Brothers" in the following section.)

Take your place in history.This all seems rather abstract --even impersonal-- until you start to trace your own ancestral DNA. That's the idea behind the 5 year long Genographic Project sponsored by the National Geographic Society. The project's website offers a good overview and atlas of population genetics, explaining its impact on individuals. To participate in their study, you'll need DNA analysis from a company such as Family tree DNA. Eventually, Best of Sicily will present a summary based on their results. We've already received correspondence from a number of readers about their own results from genetic analysis. This indicates, for example, a high prevalence of gene marker M172 (Haplogroup J2), shared by peoples (including Sicily's Elymians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Arabs) having remote origins in the Fertile Crescent.

Brothers: Out of Africa
Genetic Heritage and History
Population Genetics
Sicilian Haplogroups
Ethno-Regional Origins
Popular Perceptions
Further Reading & Links
Terms Defined

Brothers: Out of Africa
The brotherhood of mankind has ancient roots. In the remote shadows of human pre-history, there was only a single primitive culture. "Genetic tracking" is a new science but it indicates that "modern" man existed as a hunter-gatherer in eastern Africa around 150,000 years ago, with evidence of these same people discovered in the Middle East dated from around 80,000 years ago. A well-researched hypothesis that all humans are descended from a "mitochondrial" Eve (a reference to the mitochondrial DNA traced to a female ancestor living in east Africa 150,000 years, or about 7,000 generations, ago) emphasizes the "commonality" of all humans and our descent from a single "race." At one point, there were probably only around 10,000 humans in the world, and they gradually migrated, leaving a DNA trail behind them. Stephen Oppenheimer (author of Out of Eden - The Peopling of the World), among others, suggests a single major "exodus" out of Africa, not necessarily many waves of emigration as was previously theorized. This theory is supported by geneticists such as Spencer Wells (author of The Journey of Man - A Genetic Odyssey and director of the Genographic Project). Genetic drift would have resulted in a single line of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) surviving in isolated populations.

Peoples of Sicily Series
Vandals & Goths

About 72,000 years ago, the effects of a major volcanic eruption (Toba) with global consequences killed off many humans. By some estimates, as few as 2,000 humans survived the disaster --in Africa. They were already making simple jewelry. Art was a reflection of the modern mind, and early culture. The divergence of humans into regionalised groups with their own particular genetic characteristics, often in response to climatic conditions, mutations or disease, generally took place at some point after this. At least this is suggested by genetic evidence. According to the best estimates, it was probably only around 45,000 to 40,000 BC (BCE) that a large group settled permanently in Europe, though they had already established a permanent presence in the Middle East and certain eastern and central Mediterranean coastal areas. By 25,000 BC, if not earlier, groups of humans could be identified, albeit very generally, by their cultures and superficial physical characteristics. (Comparative linguistic studies, though useful, enlighten us about only much more recent historical periods, written language being a relatively recent development.)

There is a point where evolutionary genetic conditions become localized (ethnic) ones. The Ice Man found frozen in the Alps in 1991 lived about 5,300 years ago, and genetic testing indicates his considerable affinity with the present Alpine population.

Is race an antiquated concept? It's becoming so, and important (professional) anthropologists increasingly rely on genetics for determining human migrations and human evolution. Observations made here concerning genetic differentiation relate only to the last twelve thousand years or so.

The earliest identifiable (pre-historic) "modern human" inhabitants of Sicily were present at least 10,000 to 12,000 years ago and many lived in caves. People are interested in the physical appearance of their ancestors, whether recent or ancient. For lack of a more descriptive term, the earliest Sicilians would be identified as "Caucasoid" in appearance. Generally, they probably had darker hair and eyes than most of their northern-European counterparts, and probably tanned easily. Extant visual evidence (sculpture, mosaics, etc.) and surviving literary accounts indicate that most ancient Mediterranean peoples, whether Phoenician, Egyptian, Greek, Roman or Sicanian, were generally a little darker than northern Europeans. Ancient peoples were, on average, shorter than modern ones, and did not live as long. Peoples from across Europe were drawn (or coerced) to Rome, but it was the Middle Ages that brought Vandals, Vikings and Visigoths to the sunny "Med" in large numbers, literally changing the face of the Mediterranean population. (Even today, when there are more blondes in Sicily than in ancient times, Sicilian women joke about the obsession of the local men with foreign blondes, and a black-haired, dark-eyed Sicilian girl is referred to as a "mora," or Moor, while a redhead is a "normanna" or Norman --terms in wide use since the Middle Ages.) Until the fall of the Roman Empire, there were no known large-scale "non-Mediterranean" incursions into Sicily by sub-Saharan or east-Asian peoples (the Huns come to mind), nor do there appear to have been any substantial "Nordic" (northern European) colonisations until the arrival of the Longobards and Normans. Rather, the Sicels and Elymians were Mediterranean peoples arriving from regions such as the Italian peninsula or the eastern Mediterranean at some point after 1500 BC, while the Sicanians were probably descended from the earliest inhabitants of Sicily. There are few archeological differences among the three civilizations and their Iron Age cultures, though the very few known linguistic distinctions, inferred from Greek-era records and a few stone inscriptions using Phoenician characters, link them in some way to particular regions. (In theory, contact with certain civilizations, rather than colonization per se, may partly explain this; by analogy, many Indians and Chinese speak English but are not descended from the English, and many non-Italic peoples in the Roman Empire spoke Latin, just as many Romans spoke Greek.) The earliest Sicilians assimilated, and then amalgamated, with the Phoenicians and Greeks within a few brief centuries. By 300 BC, they had ceased to exist as distinct ethnic populations, having become Hellenized.

We are on more solid ground in describing the civilizations of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and Normans of Sicily through extensive literary, archeological, linguistic and artistic evidence. Their migrations and activities are well-chronicled. Historians occasionally debate the merits of certain particularly detailed events, but not the most fundamental historical facts (migration, colonization, amalgamation) which complement knowledge drawn from genetic data.

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Genetic Heritage and History
It's important to remember that gene markers are placed into their proper chronology based on generations rather than years, and an average historical generation is presumed to span 25 years. If recorded and purely anthropological (i.e. non-genetic) knowledge of human migrations is rather recent, in Sicily there are certain native animal species that (based on genetic studies) are European in origin while others are African. This involves not only birds that could fly to Sicily but mammals such as wild cats and foxes. Genes are part of the human essence, but genetic testing only deals with particular gene markers in certain sample individuals; it is the science of statistics that allows us to generalize based on such studies. Various genetic traits (even superficial physical ones like red hair and green eyes) were introduced into the population by individuals from various places. This is a generality; it is probable that there were red-haired Sicilians in Greek times but equally probable that there were far more following the influx of the "Celtic-Nordic" Normans intermarrying with the local population. History indicates that amalgamation was always quite normal in Sicily; many of the tenth-century Arabs (mostly men) arriving from northern Africa married Sicilians who were already present, and the island's population doubled within two centuries as the Arabs founded dozens of towns and smaller communities across Sicily. In the flow of history, certain localized communities of ethnic Sicilians occasionally left Sicily (some Arabs from a few localities during the reign of Frederick II in the thirteenth century and some Jews during the Spanish rule at the end of the fifteenth century), but most of these people remained to be completely integrated into the population. A mass exodus of Siculo-Arabs, who had lived in Sicily for generations and knew no other country, would have entailed the migration of at least a half million people. Eventually, most Arabs and Jews in Sicily were Christianized. This is reflected in the historical record not only in actual chronicles but in medieval feudal records of taxes and population movements and, still later, acts of baptism.

Some simple examples of this immigration and residence information are in order. Towns such as Palermo, Castrogiovanni (Enna), Calascibetta, Caltanissetta, Read
about historically multicultural Palermo.Caltagirone, Caltabellotta, Racalmuto, Favara, Mistretta, Marsala, Mussomeli and Misilmeri were either founded by Arabs or grew considerably under Arab domination, and bore Arabic names (under the Greeks Palermo, from the Arabic Bal'harm, was Panormos). The specific mention of Arabs and the presence of Arabic given names and surnames was evident in these places long after Frederick II banished a few thousand Arabs of western Sicily to Apulia. As regards Jews present in many Sicilian localities until 1492, those who converted usually continued to name their children according to tradition (hence Abramo, Beniamino, Isacco, etc.) and to practice professions traditionally associated with Jews in Sicily (dyers, bankers). Many assumed distinctive surnames (Siino for Zion, Rabino for Rabbi) indicating a Jewish orgin. Similar generalities about the permanence of Phoenician, Carthaginian, Greek and Roman populations in Sicily are valid. Where are these peoples today? Genetically (so to speak), they are represented in the modern Sicilians --an amalgamated group of European and Mediterranean peoples. However, as we shall see, genetics and ethnic identity are two distinct ideas.

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Population Genetics
The idea of genetic testing in general populations is that a particular gene marker, based on a mutation, is identified with a certain frequency in samples from the two (or more) populations being compared. Broadly defined, population genetics is the study of the distribution of, and change in, allele frequencies in particular populations. (Allele frequency is a term used in describing the genetic diversity of any species population.) There are also, strictly speaking, phenotype and genotype frequencies, but we'll leave the scientific complexities to the scientists.

With the use of terms such as "Pacific Rim" to describe cultures or even economies by the bodies of water they border (or particular physical features such as plains or mountain ranges) rather than by their continental land masses and political borders, the term "Mediterranean" has again become popular in recent years. Considering that the ancient and early-medieval (pre AD 1000) peoples of southern Europe, Asia Minor and northern Africa were racially similar, and also culturally similar Ancient routes to Sicily...in many respects, we prefer to define them as Mediterranean rather than European, Asian or African --partly because broad geographical definitions (based on continents) had little political meaning until "new" places (like America) were "discovered" in the latter Middle Ages. The "European" Romans scarcely knew of the existence of the Lapps of northern Scandinavia, a unique ethnic group. Though the Egyptians had contact with Ethiopia, the "African" Carthaginians and Saracens had little, if any, knowledge of the peoples of what is now Zambia. Via the Persians, the Phoenicians traded with India and even Mongolia, but they probably knew nothing of Japanese civilization. Despite political differences, the Romans had more in common with the Carthaginians than with most northern European groups, while the Carthaginians had more in common with the Persians than with most sub-Saharan peoples.

This "cultural" perspective of Mediterranean ethnography is far from perfect, but it compares favorably to the blind geographic point of view espoused by those who would have us believe, despite reliable iconographic and numismatic evidence to the contrary, that Jesus was a blue-eyed "Caucasoid" European and Hannibal was a dark "Negroid" African.

Considering their common roots, the medieval Sicilians were overwhelmingly similar to the Byzantines and Saracens who conquered them; indeed, they may have had more in common with these peoples than they did with the Romans. Was Sicily geographically part of Africa when it was ruled by Carthaginians or Saracens, only to be re-integrated into Europe when it was ruled by Romans and Normans? A good question, but one that was rarely posed before the modern era. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, "Italy" didn't become a political reality (a nation) until the nineteenth century. The Italian (and Sicilian) vernacular languages we know today came into widespread literary use only in the thirteenth century.

Twelfth-century Sicily's multiculturalism was not a trendy socio-political concept. It was an everyday reality. By then, the human race had splintered into numerous ethnic groupings and societies. When anthropologists speak generically of genetic or even "racial" influences, they are usually speaking of various mutations and adaptations during the historical period (from cica 4000 BC) or the known neolithic era (10,000 BC), when Proto-Celts, Proto-Indo-Europeans (and Sicily's Proto-Sicanians) were well established as distinct cultures. Certain gene markers, based on mutations, are associated with certain populations at certain times (in specific generations), but it is not only these markers which made one a Roman, Viking or Mongol; that's really a social matter.

Sicilian Haplogroups
Haplogroups reflect the most ancient genetic influences, dating to at least 8,000 years ago. These can be traced easily along the main Typical 12-marker Sicilian genetic profile.patrilineal line (your father's father et al.) or Y-chromosome. While this is a tiny fragment of one's genetic heritage, it is easy to isolate.

Haplogroup M173, associated with the descendants of the first waves of humans into Europe (often seen as a branch of the Cro-Magnon haplogroup M343, or R1b), is widespread in Sicily and indeed across Europe, where many English (including some 70% of Englishmen in southern England) and French share it. Today it is most prevalent (90%) among the Spanish and Irish. M173 originated about 30,000 years ago. In effect, some 80% of western Europeans living today are in this haplogroup. Though the neolithic Proto-Sicanians were probably part of this haplogroup, many Sicilians more likely inherited it from ancestors descended from subsequent foreign conquerors arriving from the North and West --Sicels, Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Normans, Lombards, Swabians (Germans), Angevins (French) and Spaniards among them -- but possibly from some Greeks as well. (These observations are only intended as generalities.)

In Sicily one of the most interesting haplogroups to geneticists is the much more recent M172 (also called J2), probably introduced about 8,000 BC with the introducton of agriculture to a native people sometimes referred to as the "Proto-Sicanians." At least 21% of Sicilians carry the marker for this haplotype (probably about 19% throughout Europe), and no more than 10% of people in regions such as Spain, but it is very frequent in the Middle East, Ethiopia and particularly the Caucasus region of west-central Asia (where it reaches 90%), and is present among some central-Europeans and north-Africans.

It has been plausibly suggested that M172 may be associated with the arrival of neolithic farmers from the Fertile Crescent who were the probable predecessors of the Indo-European society which later emerged in western Asia, a "hypothetical" society whose culture and language greatly influenced prehistoric peoples from India to Ireland. The language of Sicily's Sicanians does not seem to have had Indo-European roots, though the issue is far from conclusive. However, the comparatively sophisticated farmers from the East must have had an influence in prehistoric Sicily as elsewhere in the Mediterranean and western Europe (only the Basques' ancestors may have been largely untouched by the earliest Proto-Indo-European influences). Later, it is unlikely that the Indo-Europeans actually supplanted entire populations; they probably represent an influx of a few migratory waves of settlers whose language and culture greatly influenced those of peoples already present. Lines bearing haplotype M172 could have arrived in Sicily with various waves of colonisers from the South and East --Elymians (probably from Anatolia), Phoenicians (and Carthaginians), Greeks, Byzantines and Arabs among them --but possibly from some Romans and (in the late 1400s) Albanians as well. (These observations, like those about M173, are only intended as generalities.)

Several early observations (they are hardly "conclusions") emerge from research conducted thus far. The notion that certain parts of Sicily still genetically reflect the influence of specific ancient peoples (Phoenicians, Greeks) has been largely disproven, yet certain small, relatively-isolated towns seem to be marked by a predominance of one medieval group or another (Arab, Norman). Leaving aside specialized studies, if we consider the major Y haplogroups, Sicily's population-genetic distribution is somewhat similar (though by no means identical) to mainland Italy's. If only approximately the proportions are: J Group (J1, J2, etc.) 35%, R Group (primarily R1b) 25%, I Group 15%, K Group 10%, H Group 10%, Others (E, T, G, etc.) 5%. Along female lines, Sicilians' descent from the "Seven Daughters of Eve" seems to be distributed fairly equally, but much more data must be collected in this area. These factors (and scholarly studies) all point to the island's multi-peopling as the main cause of its genetic diversity.

As they are based on several sources, the percentages indicated here may vary somewhat from what you find reported elsewhere. Haplogroup E1b1b, for example, is sometimes reported at a slightly higher frequency. Such variations are geographical, based to some degree on who populated a specific locality — Greeks, Normans, Arabs...

Without the influx of significant "foreign" genetic influences (admixture) over time, a small, localised population might become "inbred" in a matter of centuries. If this were the case in Sicily, today's Sicilians would be genetically identical to the Proto-Sicanians of 6000 years ago. Instead, they reflect a fair degree of genetic diversity.

Ethno-Regional Origins
Attempts to ascertain Sicilian "ethnic" origins should be undertaken with caution because haplogroups do not correspond precisely to medieval or modern conceptions of nationality. At best, they are approximate. For example, J2 is identified with Greeks but also with some Germans.

Speaking very broadly, the most frequent Y haplogroups of the world's most conquered island may be correlated most probably (albeit imprecisely) to the following peoples:
Estimated percentage of haplogroup presence
in Sicily circa 1400.• J1 - Arabs, Berbers, Carthaginians, Jews,
• J2 - Greeks, Romans, Jews, Spaniards,
• R1b - Germans, Normans, Longobards, Aragonese, Spaniards, Romans,
• I1 & I2b - Vikings and Normans,
• I & I2a - Elymians,
• E1b1b - Arabs and Berbers,
• G - Arabs and Elymians,
• N - Vikings and Normans,
• K - Arabs, Greeks, Berbers, Carthaginians,
• H - Arabs,
• T - Phoenicians, Carthaginians.

To make effective use of our map requires at least 37 "recent" Y-chromosome markers rather than the 12 ancient ones revealed by basic haplogroup tests, and SNP or subclade identification.

Click on a name to
read a cultural description....

Popular Perceptions (and misperceptions)
"Racialist" descriptions of perceived "racial" characteristics of so-called sub-races (Pontids, Dinarics, Mediterranids, Armenids, Saharids, Arabids, and so forth) are still Click
on an image to read about the influence of Frederick II or Mussolini on Sicilian
history.entertained in certain quarters. Viewed in terms of the human genome, race (as the term is commonly used and understood) is a relatively insignificant (or at best superficial) and arbitrary consideration, and we are already seeing more reliance on purely genetic identification. Genetic diversity is a reality. While race, as the term is traditionally used, is fast becoming an outmoded concept, specific gene markers (based on relatively "recent" mutations) are naturally linked to persons sharing common origins (i.e. the same gene pools) coinciding with Asian, African, European or other "racial" groups or sub-groups. The legitimate scientific basis of regional (racial) distinctions (but not racialism) is genetic differentiation over thousands of generations.

Genetic studies have proven beyond doubt that, ultimately, we are all descended from the same people. Implications of "recent" migrations and cultural factors involving the human race, particularly over the last 8,000 years, may be discussed (even debated) for decades to come. Outside academic and scientific circles, much of the debate finds fertile ground among those seeking to prove that their ancestors were "black" or "white" rather than humans living in a certain region or identified with a certain culture. While it might be overzealous to define all such people as racists, it is clear that their views, based on interpretations (and misinterpretations) regarding gene markers and mutations originating in the last 8,000 years (and the "historical" period of the last 6000) rather than those of the last 80,000 years, are outdated.

Prevalent stereotypes (and ignorant authors outside Italy) sometimes paint a superficial physical picture of Sicilians which bears little similarity to reality. While individuals having extremely light blonde hair represent only a small part of the Sicilian population, many Sicilians have blue or green eyes and light complexions (and red hair). In Sicily the range of complexions, from cream to olive, is striking, and combinations are interesting --blue-eyed dark brunettes and brown-eyed strawberry blonds. Moreover, the idea that northern Italians are overwhelmingly "lighter" than southerners is statistically inaccurate. Anybody who spends even a few weeks travelling the country could plainly observe this. Let's remember, of course, that superficial physical traits are only a tiny part of an individual's genetic profile. Sicily, more than most other parts of Italy, has had a particularly wide influx of "immigrants" over the centuries, creating a greater genetic diversity than one might find in some other regions of Europe.

Sicilian history and ethnology are well documented. Not surprisingly, genetic studies of the Sicilian population for the ancient and medieval periods generally confirm what is known historically. As genetic conclusions are keyed to generations rather than years, historical knowledge sometimes helps to place genetic developments in their proper context. For example, the prevalence of multiple sclerosis in Enna and Monreale may be attributed to genes brought with the Normans, while diseases of the thalassemia group may have arrived with Phoenician, Greek or Arab peoples. Certain superficial physical traits probably were widely introduced by specific groups --blue eyes by Normans and Longobards, kinky hair by Arabs, and so forth. That said, apart from avoidance of "inbreeding," the most important aspect of any migration and amalgamation is usually cultural rather than physical. We've come to accept that most Vikings had blue eyes, but would their achievements be attenuated if the Norsemen were all brown-eyed?

Are there connections between genetic traits and ethnic culture? In a few respects there are, though perhaps not in ways that many of us imagine. Here are a few examples:

• If prehistoric hunters in a certain region had to be a certain height (either short or tall) to capture the fauna they ate, it's possible that hunters bearing this trait would more likely survive to pass it on to offspring. Thus a particular range of stature might come to be identified with that population. Exceptionally acute vision is another trait beneficial to the hunters which might find its way into the gene pool.

• Let's imagine that a certain kind of edible plant grows in a specific region, but some of the inhabitants of that area are allergic to this food. Perhaps such a food might not find its way into the local cuisine. Conversely, if it were a dietary staple, those allergic to it might not survive to transmit their allergy to offspring.

• Art often reflects the appearance of the people who create it, and while it may be idealized it can provide us with an insight into the minds of its creators. Thus the earliest Elymian, Phoenician and Greek art in Sicily often --though not always-- reflects the physical appearance of its artists, or at least their aesthetic standards. Moreover, if a certain random physical trait (small feet, big ears, green eyes, flat noses, long fingers, excessive body hair) were considered especially beautiful, it might eventually become dominant in a population as people chose their mates based on such factors; consequently, a society's visual arts and literature would reflect this beauty standard.

• If most people in a certain place were born with a certain voice type or vocal range, it is possible that their music would reflect this. Such factors would seem more prevalent among smaller, isolated populations, but the principle is valid.

• Skin pigmentation is a response to exposure to sunlight, and while Sicily is not an extreme (equatorial) example of this, it is clear that in equatorial regions people with more pigmentation are less likely than paler ones, statistically speaking, to suffer skin cancer from overexposure to solar radiation, and therefore more likely than lightly-pigmented individuals to survive and transmit this physical trait to their children. Consequently, a certain complexion becomes associated with a specific group.

• If a certain competitive sport were most successfully played by athletes of exceptional stature who could quickly scale a particular type of tree (or place a ball into a basket set at a fixed height higher than most players' heads), people of a certain height would play it better than others. This is relative, of course, but in a society where most people are rather short it is possible that such a game might not be developed as it would in a society of taller individuals. In effect, a physical characteristic spawns a cultural one.

• A society in which people lived to be exceptionally old might develop a culture different from that of one where longevity was rare. This would influence attitudes (perhaps greater tolerance of aged parents), which in turn could influence the social roles of the elders.

Generalities aside, distinctions often exist between a person's ethnic (or even genetic) identity and "nationalist" or group identities. As a nation state, a united "Italy" has only existed since the 1860s, and being "Italian" (or German or Russian) means different things to different people. In the long term, passing political ideas (for example the Fascist, Nazi and Communist governments in the case of the three countries mentioned) have little effect on ethnic identities formed over the course of many centuries. Beyond generalities (collectively related to language, history, art, music, cuisine, etc.), it's difficult --and rarely appropriate-- to place an undue emphasis on a person's supposed "ethnic" identity. Statistically, most of today's Italians are at least nominally Roman Catholic, but many belong to other religions (or profess none), and those in the minority are no less Italian than those in the majority, just as a Neapolitan's dislike for pasta or opera makes him no less "Italian" than anybody else in Naples.

Much remains to be discovered in comparative population genetics and its integration with historical knowledge. The mapping of the human genome is only a useful first step. Within the limits of scientific methodology (hypothesis, controls, parameters, analysis, etc.), genetic research involving the Sicilian populatiuon generally tends to confirm, rather than refute, the presumptions arrived at via historical research, which in recent years has become increasingly multi-disciplinary (linking archival history to climatic studies, geology and other fields). It's a good beginning...

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Further Reading & Links
Books: Our knowledge of population genetics increases day by day. A page such as this one can serve as little more than a very brief, simplified introduction, with an eye toward the subject's Sicilian context (our remote African, then Asian and finally European forebears). For more detailed explanations of human genetic history (and "pre-history") we suggest the following books. Each differs in its approach, but despite occasional redundancy these works complement each other surprisingly well. For example, the book by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, the dean of population genetic studies, has an interesting cultural and linguistic perspective. If we could make a single suggestion to somebody seriously interested in this topic, it would be to read all of these books, plus the one (following the list) on the Indo-Europeans.

Out of Eden - The Peopling of the World - by Stephen Oppenheimer. An exceptional examination of the human journey out of Africa, with useful maps and pragmatic explanations of the correlations between climatic conditions, languages and early human development. The work reported in this book formed the partial basis of a documentary film with a focus on Mitochondrial Eve. Buy from Amazon US. Buy from Amazon UK.

The Journey of Man - A Genetic Odyssey - by Spencer Wells. Like Oppenheimer and Sykes, Spencer Wells conducted actual genetic research around the world (in cooperation with the National Geographic Society) to connect various peoples to pre-historic ancestors. Mediterranean and European connections are dealt with here, and (with Out of Eden) this book is a very good introduction to the topic. Wells' work was the basis of an interesting documentary for National Geographic now available on DVD (and presently included with test kits from the Genographic Project). Buy from Amazon US. Buy from Amazon UK.

Genes, Peoples and Languages - by L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza. While the layman may find it best to already have read the books by Wells or Oppenheimer before this one, anybody interested in the early links between human migrations and languages (and cultures) should not overlook this volume. The author's groundbreaking genetic studies began decades ago, setting the stage for everything to come. Buy from Amazon US. Buy from Amazon UK.

Mapping Human History - Unravelling the Mystery of Adam and Eve - by Steve Olson. Though it relies on the same genetic research as the other books described here, this one often transcends specific discussions of haplotypes in order to focus on more "social" factors, and some of the conclusions are fascinating. Buy from Amazon US. Buy from Amazon UK.

The Seven Daughters of Eve - by Bryan Sykes. Setting Seven Daughters of Eve.aside patrilineal (Y-chromosome) research, Sykes concentrates on our common descent, based on mitochondrial DNA, from one of the women who lived at least ten thousand years ago. (A Sicilian might descend from any of the women Sykes has named Katrine, Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Jasmine and Tara.) The human link is interesting, and it's one you can easily establish with a minimal investment in your own genetic research. Buy from Amazon US. Buy from Amazon UK.

In Search of the Indo-Europeans - Language, Archaeology and Myth - by J.P. Mallory. First published in 1989, this book's perspective is slightly dated and the text contains no reference to genetic research (such as Cavalli-Sforza's landmark work in genetics and linguistics), but it makes at least one passing reference to Siculan, the language of the ancient Sicels. Sicily's Elymians are ignored altogether, though the (presumably) non-Indo-European Etruscans are mentioned, and it has been postulated that the Elymians and Etruscans might share common or similar origins. Nevertheless, the author presents an insightful reconstruction of what Proto-Indo-European society must have been. This is an important element in understanding the earliest civilizations that emerged from the darkness of prehistory, influencing early-historic Sicily. A good companion volume to Cavalli-Sforza's (above). Buy from Amazon US. Buy from Amazon UK.

Links: Interpreting published Sicilian genetic studies is interesting, but the most "current" general observations come from people (from around Sicily) who have actually had their DNA tested for haplotypes and other markers, and shared the results. Presently the largest online forum is Family Tree DNA's Sicily Project. For understanding "familial" lineages dealing with the last few centuries (the individuals behind the genes) there's really no substitute for documented genealogical research, described on our Sicilian genealogy page.

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Some Terms Defined
This is hardly a complete list but includes a few terms used in genetic anthropology and allied fields:

Angevin - relating to the French region of Anjou. King Charles of Naples (who followed the Hohenstaufens) was descended from the Royal House of France, called Anjou for its fief there. In medieval Sicilian history, the term "Angevin" refers generally to French associated with the House of Anjou, and not specifically to people from the Anjou region.

Afrocentrism - various sociological philosophies which emphasise particular modes of studying African anthropology and history in a positive way, often as a reaction to longstanding bias present in certain "Eurocentrist" and race-based "Nordicist" histories of Africa. Afrocentrism seeks to present global history from an African perspective. Extreme Afrocentrism is sometimes revisionist or racist in tone. As a social and political movement, it is particularly popular outside Africa, though the independence of African countries from European colonial powers clearly reflects a positive (and practical) form of Afrocentrism.

allele - one of two or more alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on the same chromosome.

amalgamation - process of ethnically or genetically diverse populations uniting through marriage, resulting in a "mixed" population.

anthropology - comparative study of societies and cultures, including human evolution.

Arabs - Semitic people of the middle-east and northern Africa.

assimilation - process of distinct ethnic populations coexisting in the same place, possibly adapting similar ethnological characteristics, without necessarily intermarrying.

Byzantine Greek - reference to Greeks and their eastern Mediterranean society following the fall of the western Roman Empire.

Carthaginians - residual Phoenician civilization of Carthage (in northern Tunisia) in ancient times.

consanguineous - relating to or denoting people descended from the same ancestor.

consanguinity - state of sharing descent from the same ancestor.

chromosomes - structure made of nucleic acids found in most living cells, carrying information in form of genes.

DNA - deoxyribonucleic acid, substance present in most living organisms and carrier of genetic information.

Elymi - also Elami or Elimiian; one of the three most ancient Sicilian peoples, inhabiting parts of far western and northwestern Sicily, sharing some regions with the Sicans. Probably a west Asian people from what is now Turkey, arriving via Africa around 1200 BC.

ethnic - relating to a population or group having common cultural or national traditions.

ethnology - study of characteristics of various peoples and differences and relationships between them.

ethnography - scientific description or classification of peoples and cultures with reference to their particular characteristics and customs.

Eurocentrism - vague sociological concept (and new term) which emphasises study of European anthropology as pre-eminent, sometimes implicitly regarding it as superior to all others. Western historical perspectives popular through the 1960s are often considered broadly "Eurocentric" because they seem to minimise or even overlook the cultural importance of peoples in Africa, Asia and the New World, or view these cultures from an exclusively European perspective. Extreme Eurocentrism is sometimes revisionist or racist in nature, though it rarely reflects a well-defined philosophy or a formal movement.

genealogy - social study of lines of descent, kinship and familial history.

gene - unit of heredity consisting of DNA forming part of a chromosome.

gene pool - stock of different genes in an interbreeding population.

genetics - scientific study of heredity and variation of hereditary characteristics based on genes.

genetic drift - statistical model by which certain genes (or haplotypes) become more frequent than others over the course of many generations, based in part on factors which, over time, are seen as random.

genetic tracking - science applied to determine migrations of people in antiquity, particularly pre-historically.

genome - haploid or complete set of genetic material of an organism.

Greek - the people of Greece; the language of Greece. (Here the term refers to the ancient Greeks of Greece, Sicily and all of Magna Graecia.)

haplogroup - those sharing a haplotype from a remote common ancestor.

haplotype - genetic sequence inherited from a common ancestor.

heterogeneous - diverse in character or content.

Italianism - nationalist theory popularised during the Italian unification era (1848-1870) and subsequently encouraged under Fascism (1922-1945) advocating the idea of Italians as having existed as a united people continuously since Roman times, notwithstanding the factionalization existing from the end of the Roman Empire (Early Middle Ages) until the nineteenth century; the theory often supports the Roman Catholic Church as the only "Italian" church, and the standard use of the Tuscan-Italian language (over regional Italic languages such as Piedmontese, Milanese, Sicilian and Sardinian) to the complete exclusion of all others. Italianism has become less popular with the advent of regionalism (federalism) in Italy. Nowadays, Italianists are most often encountered in extremely reactionary right-wing (Neo-Fascist) circles; the movement discourages the use of languages other than Italian even in traditionally non-Italian-speaking territories such as South Tirol (German), Aosta (French) and Trieste (Slovenian). Fascism's Italianist laws prohibited the study of English and French, and strictly regulated public worship by Protestants and Jews. In a broader (non-political) humanistic and positive cultural context, Italianism refers to an affinity for Italy, Italians and Italian culture.

Italic - pertaining to the Italian peninsula, its ancient peoples and the ancient languages related to Latin, particularly Oscan and Umbruian. More generally, refers to Italian peoples generally, but not to be confused with "Italy," a nation state which was established in the 1860s.

Italy - modern nation (Italian Republic) which includes the Italian peninsula and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. (In historical references the term is often used to describe the Italian peninsula as opposed to the two large island regions, but today's Sicilians are Italian.) Italy has existed as a united country only since 1860, before which time the peoples of this region identified themselves as Milanese, Piedmontese, Sardinians, Venetians, Sicilians, etc.

Magna Graecia - Megara Hellas (Greater Greece); Italian regions colonized by ancient Greeks, including Sicily and most of the peninsula south of the Etruscan regions around Rome.

Mediterranean - relating to the Mediterranean Sea and the land masses touching it; the peoples of this region.

Moors - residual medieval Arab population of northern Africa; also Saracens. (Moor is favored in describing Arabs of medieval northwestern Africa who invaded the Iberian peninsula.)

multicultural - relating to, or constituting, several cultural or ethnic groups. (Norman Sicily is said to be multicultural because during this era various ethnic groups lived in equality.)

Nordic - most generally, refers to native inhabitants of Scandinavia, nortwestern Europe and regions bordering the North Sea.

Nordicism - various modern sociological philosophies which emphasise study of "Nordic" anthropology, often (but not always) as a racial "science" based on principles no longer widely accepted. Often characterised by its own unique definition of the term "Nordic," contemporary Nordicism is sometimes revisionist or racist in nature, and particularly popular outside Nordic regions. Certain Nazi ideas of race were, in a very broad sense, Nordicist.

Normans - residual Norse civilization of medieval Normandy, amalgamated with the essentially Gallic-Celtic population already resident there. In the medieval context, the Normans were Frankish as well as Scandinavian.

Phoenicians - seafaring semitic people of Phoenicia who settled coastal areas of the Mediterranean.

population genetics - study of genetics applied to populations or groups of persons, particularly allele frequencies.

Punic - pertaining to Phoenician descendants in northern Africa, especially the Carthaginians; also the language of the ancient Carthaginians, based on Phoenician.

race - major division of humans having distinct physical characteristics; distinct population (as a subspecies) within a species.

racial science - also racialism, pseudo-science which purports to identify and explain "racial" differences based primarily on superficial traits (i.e. physical appearance), and various concepts popularised in the nineteenth century and formerly considered accurate, sometimes advancing arbitrary philosophies rooted in racism. Nazi and Fascist concepts of race owe much to racial science.

racism - discrimination against or antagonism towards other races; belief that there are abilities or qualities specific to each race. In practice, racism is usually negative, as it often seeks to demonstrate that one race is clearly superior to another.

Romans - people of Rome, the Roman Province (Italian peninsula) or Roman citizens of the Roman Empire.

Saracens - residual medieval Arab population of northern Africa; also Moors. (Saracen is favored in describing Arabs of medieval northwestern and north-central Africa who invaded Sicily.)

Sicans - also Sicanians; one of the three most ancient Sicilian peoples, inhabiting central and western regions following arrival of Sicels and Elymians but originally present throughout Sicily. Probably native to Sicily, descended from neolithic inhabitants; their language apparently was not Indo-European.

Sicels - also Sikels or Siculi; one of the three most ancient Sicilian peoples, inhabiting central and eastern Sicily from around 1100 BC. Probably an Italic people.

Sicilian - of or pertaining to Sicily; the people of Sicily; the language of Sicily.

Sicilianism - any of several regionalist movements and fields of study which focus on Sicily and Sicilian ethnology (including the Sicilian language and literature), as well as Sicilian history and culture, usually in the wider context of Mediterranean and Italian society. Sicilianist studies and social movements were ruthlessly suppressed from 1860 until 1943, when the Allied liberation of Sicily spawned an independence movement resulting in Sicilian semi-autonomy politically.

sickle-cell anemia - also sickle-cell disease; hereditary form of anemia in which a mutated form of hemoglobin distorts red blood cells into a crescent shape at low oxygen levels.

Siculo- - descriptive of the quality of being Sicilian, of Sicilian origin, or being in Sicily (i.e. the Siculo-Normans of Palermo as opposed to Anglo-Normans of London)

Swabian - relating to the German region of Swabia. Sicily's Hohenstaufen dynasty was Swabian and brought a Germanic influence to Sicilian society.

thalassemia - British thalassaemia; hereditary hemolytic disease caused by faulty hemoglobin synthesis, prevalent in Mediterranean, African and Asian countries.

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