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A new genetic study confirms the North African origin of the Canarian Guanches

The origin of the aboriginal populations of the Canary Islands, the Guanches (a term that today is used to encompass all the ancient Canaries, although originally only those of the island of Tenerife), has always been based on theories and hypotheses, endorsed by archaeological finds.

Now a new genetic study confirms that, as was already almost unanimously accepted, the origin of the ancient canaries is North Africa. This hypothesis has been tested for the first time by sequencing the mitochondrial genomes of the remains of twelve individuals from archaeological sites in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, prior to the Castilian conquest, and donated in the 19th century to the Anatomical Museum of the University of Edinburgh.

The results show that the Guanches maintained a genetic homogeneity over time, with the greatest affinity with Northwestern African populations, that is, supporting the Berber origin.

Principal component analyzes performed on the Guanches and various populations in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Green symbols represent individuals from Tenerife; red symbols represent individuals from Gran Canaria / photo Ricardo Rodríguez-Varela et al.

But also that they carried a mixture of ancestry, with a small portion of ancestry deriving from populations closer to Stone Age European farmers. A type of genetic ancestry that was introduced to Europe from Anatolia with the migrations of Neolithic farmers around 7,000 years ago.

Other North African populations show different percentages of this same lineage, the spread of which is not yet fully understood.

According to the researchers, the Guanches also appear to have had varying proportions of Middle Eastern ancestry, specifically from the Bedouin population.

Reconstruction of a Guanche village / Photo R.Liebau on Wikimedia Commons

One of the individuals analyzed had a higher proportion of hunter-gatherer ancestors, suggesting a genetic influence from Europe prior to the conquest of the fifteenth century. Archaeological evidence seems to support this, since Phoenician-Punic amphoras and fragments of Roman pottery have been found in Lanzarote, which would indicate that the Guanches had sporadic contacts with other peoples and cultures.

On the other hand, the analysis found no clear indication that the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb (in the mid-late 7th century) had a significant impact on the ancestry of the Guanches. Although this, the researchers note, does not rule out the possibility of a limited contribution to the Guanche gene pool from non-African populations.

The study also provides data on the genetic legacy of the Guanches in modern Canaries, who would have inherited between 16 and 31 percent of their genomic ancestry from them.


Sources

Genomic Analyzes of Pre-European Conquest Human Remains from the Canary Islands Reveal Close Affinity to Modern North Africans / Phys.org


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