Iron Age J2b-L283>Z38240 Samples found in Phoenician city Kerkouane (Tunisia)

Two recently available samples were analyzed by Flor Veseli:

  • R11751, 569 BCE, Kerkouane, Tunisia Iron Age: J2b-L283>>Y15058>Z38240>PH1602
  • R11753, 531 BCE, Kerkouane, Tunisia Iron Age: J2b-L283>>Y15058>Z38240

They represent two firsts for ancient J2b-L283 samples, the first time it has been found in Africa and the first time it has been found in a Phoenician-controlled settlement. This was around the time of the rise of Carthage's power.

From the paper, A Genetic History of Continuity and Mobility in the Iron Age Central Mediterranean, the two samples are in the second autosomal cluster, though both have substantial Morocco Neolithic component and one sample is missing any Anatolian Neolithic which is a head-scratcher.

A second cluster, visible in PCA (Fig. 3 and Fig. S5) and identified in qpWave (Fig. 5), contains seven individuals who are genetically similar to Bronze Sicilian and central Italian populations, as well as some individuals from the Hellenistic Iberian Greek colony of Empúries (14, 23).

So they were probably living somewhere in Italy before coming to Kerkouane, which we would also have assumed just based on their male line - that you have to go past Italy to get from the western Balkans (site of older ancient diversity in this line, discussed below) to Tunisia.

A single data point (or two in this case) with such clear geography and associations can help refocus how we view the other ancient J2b-L283 between Italy and Tunisia and the western Mediterranean.

The Sardinian Question

Is the high diversity of older branches of J-L283>Z600 on Sardinia indicative of this line having originated in Sardinia / Italy? Or is it merely an artifact of the combined effects of Sardinia as a refugium and the very high DNA sampling rate of Sardinians?

I will skip this main question to instead focus on some aspects of our presence on Sardinia and in Italy that I think can be better understood given the current evidence.

Rather than answer the question I'll pose one.

What seems more likely?

  • Some men of a lineage that formed in Sardinia or Italy 3500 BCE migrated to Mokrin, Serbia by 1900 BCE to become the MOK15 ancient sample, which is about 400 km inland, the nearest river being the Tisza.
  • A lineage that formed somewhere around Serbia/Romania/Hungary 3500 BCE happened to have a rare offshoot that nearly went extinct, except for a group of men who around 1100 BCE (or earlier) had a successful expedition to south-eastern Sardinia from wherever in Italy they had been living prior to that.

There are other factors to consider, like cultural vectors deduced by archaeology or other ancient DNA analysis (autosomal or other haplogroups), but unless some other explanation can be suggested, I would think one of the two aforedescribed scenarios must have taken place.

J2b-L283 Probably Dominated the Adriatic and Some Coastal Regions of Italy during the Late Bronze Age

"Dominated" may seem like a strong word, but I think there is circumstantial evidence to back it up.

The oldest ancient J2b-L283 samples yet found in Italy date to the 10-12th centuries BCE and are found in Sardinia, Foggia and Bari. If they (or most of them) weren't there before, and suddenly are found over a wider area with MRCAs dating to the LBA, this suggests a new dominance during that period enabled the migration and subsequent growth.

J2b-L283 ancient DNA map managed by Flor Veseli that I added some yellow text on top of showing our oldest ancient samples in mainland Italy

It is possible that older samples in our haplogroup will eventually be found in these places or elsewhere in Italy. There are simply not very many Bronze Age sites/samples in general in Italy that I see on this ancient DNA map by rosenblatt.

While some lineages, like J-YP157, could theoretically have been in Sardinia for one to two thousand years before the date of the ancient samples so far found, we have some circumstantial evidence of later migrations to Sardinia also taking place by men in our haplogroup.

One likely later migration is a modern Sardinian in J-Y23094>YP26. I recently discovered that his closest male line relative is a man tracing his male line to Kefalonia, an Ionian island of Greece. Given that the oldest ancient samples yet found in related lines are from Croatia and Serbia, I had assumed that the geography of the man from Kefalonia was more indicative of the origin of the J-Y23094>YP26 MRCA who lived roughly around 800 BCE (this is counting each SNP after the J-Y23094 MRCA as 100 years) than Sardinia would be.

This assumption is somewhat strengthened by a new ancient sample, SP-2, from Sárrétudvari-Poroshalom in eastern Hungary. The sample dates only to 950 CE so it isn't very ancient but it does split J-Y23094. So parent J-Y23097, with TMRCA 1900 ybp, may have originally lived somewhere more inland in the western Balkans or along the Danube or Tisza in Pannonia - otherwise it would likely have been already found in the better LBA-sampled areas of Croatia.

We can't know yet whether the J-Y23094>YP26 Sardinian's ancestor migrated to Sardinia during the Iron Age or whether it was later. Interestingly, his closest relative from a common ancestor who lived 800 BCE, the Kefalonian, is also from an island. Most living J-Y23094 are not from islands between Sardinia and the Balkans, so the coincidence could imply that their ancestor was a sailor.

Now that we know other J2b-L283 have been living in the Phoenician port city of Kerkouane in the 6th century BCE, it's not far fetched to think that the entire area between Sardinia, Kerkouane, Sicily, the Italian coasts, the Adriatic and maybe even down to Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea were part of a trade network that many J2b-L283 participated in, prior to the later arrival or ascendance of Etruscans, Greeks and Phoenicians.

Significant Illyrian-mediated migration of J2b-L283 to Italy

I think that mainstream archaeologists and linguists believe that some tribes of western Balkan peoples now collectively roughly classified as Illyrians (rather than using the term to refer to one or two specific tribes of the Illyrian Kingdom known to the Romans in parts of Albania/Montenegro) appear to have colonized parts of the southern Adriatic coast of Italy sometime around the LBA/Iron Age transition. In Italy they and their colonies are collectively referred to as Iapygians.

I leave it to them to argue the linguistics or archaeology. I will note that I am skeptical of linguistic comparisons between preliterate peoples. Presumably the archaeological evidence is compelling, I have not analyzed it.

We do now have a growing body of circumstantial evidence in J2b-L283 that indicates that a lot of J2b-L283 likely migrated to these parts of Italy from the western Balkans at around the same time. Maybe some were already in Italy, like some of the older, rarer branches of J-Z600 (though maybe not), but anything descending from major branch J-Z615 has (so far) strong circumstantial evidence pointing to western Balkan Bronze Age proximal origin vs Italy, anchored by MOK15 from 1900 BCE Serbia, I4331 from 1600 BCE Croatia and I26726 from 1400 BCE Croatia.

We seem to know a lot more about the Etruscans, Greeks and Phoenicians than we do about the Illyrians or the ancient peoples who lived along the Adriatic coast of Italy. It is no wonder because they were the dominant groups of the Iron Age.

This is from the study "Genetic history from the Middle Neolithic to present on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia"

During the late Nuragic period, the archeological and historical record shows the direct influence of several major Mediterranean groups, in particular the presence of Mycenaean, Levantine and Cypriot traders. The Nuragic settlements declined throughout much of the island as, in the late 9th and early 8th century BCE, Phoenicians originating from present-day Lebanon and northern Palestine established settlements concentrated along the southern shores of Sardinia21

No mention of Illyrians or people from the Adriatic here.

This is the one mention of "Adriatic" in the Encyclopedia Britannica for "Etruscan":

On the Adriatic coast to the east, Ravenna, Rimini (ancient Ariminum), and Spina traded with Istria (ancient Istra) and the Greek Dalmatian colonies.

We know that some J2b-L283 had been living in Etrurian cities. J2b-CTS473 is now nearly exclusively NW Italian and found in an ancient context in Civitavecchia dating to 600-700 BCE.

By the time of the heyday of Iron Age Italy, Sardinia, Sicily and Phoenician trade networks, it appears likely that whatever material cultural elements that would have made our J2b-L283 ancestors that we knew lived in these places recognizably Illyrian, or from the western Balkans, were no longer present or are still eluding researchers.

Maybe some archaeologists or researchers of other disciplines can begin to look for the more subtle evidence linking ultimately western Balkan peoples to the wider trade networks peripheral to Italy.

Fishermen, Traders, Pirates, Roman Soldiers, Carthaginian Mercenaries?

One interesting new idea I hadn't before considered, given the link to Carthage, was the possibility of some J2b-L283 having been recruited as mercenaries for the Carthaginians.

It makes sense that some ancient J2b-L283 that had colonized Italy as Illyrians were accomplished seafarers and militarily capable of taking and settling Apulia. The Romans also give the Illyrians credit as having been capable pirates and later recruited them heavily as infantry.

From Wikipedia article on Military of Carthage:

Contrary to most other states in the Mediterranean at the time, the army was composed almost exclusively of foreign mercenary units while its navy was manned by citizens.

Carthage lacked a history of citizen infantry forces, requiring its army to be composed mainly of foreign troops, particularly Libyans, Numidians, Iberians, Gauls, and Greeks.

Italians and Illyrians are not in the list.

But we may want to consider some J2b-L283 that made it to Iberia, especially J2b-Z38240 which we now have evidence for having been living among Phoenicians in Kerkouane, as having possibly been recruited into Carthaginian armies as mercenaries.

I don't know enough about Carthaginian society to know if non-Carthaginian men could ever, by marrying a woman, gain citizenship. So this would have possibly limited J2b-L283 to the mercenary army as opposed to the citizen navy.

Anyone with the right skills in the right place at the right time could probably have been hired as mercenaries to any state with the coin to pay. The historical record just captures part of the story.

J2b-PH1602 in both Tunisia and Croatia in 6th Century BCE

J2b-PH1602 has a TMRCA of 1100 BCE. Within the next 500-600 years, some of the J2b-PH1602 ancestor's descendants wound up in the Iapydes tribe of Croatia and others found themselves in Kerkouane, Tunisia rubbing elbows with Phoenicians.

And one lineage of J2b-PH1602 is a geographic outlier found only in the Levant.

J-Y86930 on YFull YTree. These ancient samples I have hypothesized as being part of or related to the Iapydes tribe of Iron Age Croatia, due to the samples' age of 6th century BCE and the proximity of Smiljan to where I see the tribe marked on maps on Wikipedia.

With regards to PH1602 origin, in addition to the ancient samples from Smiljan, we should keep in mind the Jazinka cave sample (I26742) sitting upstream at ~Z38241*. This is just north of Split.

Now that we know that some J2b-PH1602 were living among Carthaginians, we know it could have been possible that the migration of J2b-FT150993 to the Levant took place within the context of ancient Phoenician trade.

Curiously, there is not a single man of (known) southern Italian descent in J2b-PH1602 on the YFull YTree. Yet it would make sense that if this line migrated to Tunisia, they must have also stopped somewhere in southern Italy along the way. There is a sample I know of from Trentino who is positive for child J2b-130866 but he may reflect an overland migration directly from the Balkans not far to the east.

I'm going to start looking for other J2b-PH1602 in Italy now. And try to raise funds to upgrade the Trentino man to WGS.

Another line with a similar split is J-Y146400. One of its lines is found in Croatia and Cosenza, Calabria and another line appears to have migrated to Syria / Lebanon by 900 BCE. This migration to the Levant could also have been within the context of ancient Phoenician trade. 900 BCE is the same time that J-FT150993 started developing from parent J-Y86930.

I5691 from 666 BCE Novo Mesto, Slovenia may be positive for this line, being Z628+, Z2507-, FT367030-, FT29034-, FGC64029- (SNPs analyzed by Flor Veseli).

I will call this the Reverse Phoenician Hypothesis.


These posts are the opinion of Hunter Provyn, a haplogroup researcher in J-M241 and J-M102.

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