Friday, April 27, 2012

Natufian Culture in Jericho & the Ancient Israelites

The ancient Israelites are commonly believed to have arisen from the epipaleolithic Natufian culture which ranged from Southern Turkey to Sinai.

The Natufian culture is the name given to the sedentary hunter-gatherers living in the Levant region of the near east between about 12,500 and 10,200 years ago. They were hunter-gatherers, foraging for food such as emmer wheat, barley and almonds, and hunting gazelle, deer, cattle, horse, and wild boar.

It is also known that Natufians were the first inhabitants of Jericho. Oh, wait! the Israelites famously conquered Jericho and its inhabitants, the first inhabitants of the Holy Land. Hmm, maybe the Israelites were not Natufians at all as commonly believed.

This scientific paper [Tracing European Founder Lineages in the Near Eastern mtDNA Pool] suggests mtDNA haplogroup U5 may have ultimately originated in the [semitic] Near [Middle] East about 50,000 YBP, migrated to Europe where it evolved, and then back-migrated to the Middle East (and North Africa, think sojourn to Egypt and Exodus) several times:

Recent back-migration can be estimated by an examination of the presence, in the Near East, of clusters that are most likely to have evolved within Europe. Haplogroup U5 is very ancient (∼50,000 years old) in both Europe and the Near East, but it occurs more sporadically in the Near East and is absent from Arabia. In the Near East, it is largely restricted to peripheral populations (Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Azeris, or Egyptians): only three individuals from the core Near Eastern regions (namely, the Fertile Crescent and Arabia) harbor U5 sequence types; of these, one is the root sequence type, whereas the other two are members of the highly derived subcluster U5a1a (for the nomenclature for U5, seetable 2). Overall, 8 of 22 Near Eastern U5 types are members of this highly derived subcluster, and an additional 6 are members of the next-most-derived subcluster, U5a1*. There are four members of U5b, one member of U5a*, and only three members of U5*. Moreover, these Near Eastern types are frequently derivatives of European intermediate types: one Egyptian type is derived from a Basque type, and many Armenian and Azeri types are derived from European and northern-Caucasian types. Therefore, whereas the U5 root sequence type (16270) could conceivably have originated in the Near East and have spread to Europe ∼50,000 YBP, with recurrent back-migration ever since, a European origin for the U5 cluster seems just as probable. In either case, the U5 cluster itself would have evolved essentially in Europe. U5 lineages, although rare elsewhere in the Near East, are especially concentrated in the Kurds, Armenians, and Azeris. This may be a hint of a partial European ancestry for these populations—not entirely unexpected on historical and linguistic grounds—but may simply reflect their proximity to the Caucasus and the steppes. Of the Near Eastern lineages, 1.8% (95% CR = .012–.027) are members of U5, in contrast to 9.1% (95% CR = .081–.103) in Europe; in the core region of Syria-Palestine through Iraq, the proportion falls to 0.5% (95% CR = .002–.015). Overall, this suggests the presence of as much as 20% of back-migrated mtDNA in the Near East but only ∼6% in the core region.

The point of all this is the possibility of a Middle Eastern origin for mtDNA haplogroup U5 (despite its larger evolutionary presence in Europe) with subsequent migration into Europe followed by recurrent back-migrations to the Middle East (and North Africa). Taken together with the fact that the ancient Israelities invaded an already present Natufian culture when they conquered Jericho suggests that the Israelites may not have been Natufian themselves as some believe they were. Consequently, in my mind, mtDNA haplogroup U5 cannot be excluded as a founder mtDNA haplogroup of the ancient Israelites based upon the evidence I've found so far. The many wandering travels of U5 seem quintessentially Jewish as well.

According to this blog, on the genetics of the Natufians:

There has been some bickering over their race, as they show a mix of features. Unfortunately there haven’t been that many burials found, so the sample sizes have been a bit too small to make definite conclusions about who they were. They seem to show a mix of racial features, and this varies in each era and site, so there was probably a fairly fluid population at that time. C Loring Brace’s paper that measured them said they were slightly closer to to the Eurasian Population, and all the Sub Saharan traits seem to vanish when the Natufian culture faded away.

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