A new genetic analysis may have finally revealed the origin of the Etruscans — a mysterious people whose civilization thrived in Italy centuries before the founding of Rome.
It turns out the enigmatic Etruscans were local to the area, with nearly identical genetics to their Latin-speaking neighbors.
This finding contradicts earlier theories that the Etruscans — who for centuries spoke a now extinct, non-Indo-European language that was remarkably different from others in the region — came from somewhere different from their Latin-speaking neighbors.
Instead, both groups appear to be migrants from the Pontic-Caspian steppe — a long, thin swath of land stretching from the north Black Sea around Ukraine to the north Caspian Sea in Russia. After arriving in Italy during the Bronze age, the early speakers of Etruscan put down roots, assimilating speakers of other languages to their own culture as they flourished into a great civilization.
The finding “challenges simple assumptions that genes equal languages and suggests a more complex scenario that may have involved the assimilation of early Italic speakers by the Etruscan speech community,” David Caramelli, an anthropology professor at the University of Florence, said in a statement.
With cities as sophisticated as those of the ancient Greeks; trade networks as lucrative as the Phoenicians’; and a vast wealth to rival ancient Egypt’s, the Etruscan civilization, the first known superpower of the Western Mediterranean, had a brilliance matched only by the mystery surrounding its language and its origins. Rising to the height of its power in central Italy in the 7th century B.C., Etruria dominated the region for centuries until the advent of the Roman republic, which had all but conquered the Etruscans before the middle of the 3rd century B.C., fully assimilating them by 90 B.C.
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