One of the intriguing things about Moroccans is their insistence that they are "not African" and "not Arabic". When asked they will normally respond by saying they are "Mahgrebi" - that is Moroccan. And now it turns out that science is on their side. A recent publication from National Geographic reports on the research...
The Genographic Project was launched in 2005 by geneticist Spencer Wells. The study analyzes historical trends of the DNA of subjects spread across the world to understand our genetic roots. The researchers collected DNA samples from all continents. This long sampling work allows to dissect the movements of populations through the history and origins of 60 ethnic groups. The study revealed surprises in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The Genographic Project, produced by the National Geographic Corporation, decrypts the DNA of populations across the planet. In the Maghreb, it helps to deconstruct prejudices about the predominance of the Arab genome.
The human leukocyte antigen HLA DNA data suggest that most Moroccans are of a Berber origin and that Arabs who invaded North Africa and Spain in the 7th century did not substantially contribute to the gene pool. It now appears that the Arabisation of the area was mainly a cultural process, rather than a demographic replacement of the Berber populations that inhabited the region where the Arabic expansion took place
The Arab genome is not dominant in North Africa
Maghreb and North Africa are often referred to as part of the "Arab world". For example, the results show that the Arab genome is a minority in Tunisia, which has a similar population to Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb. Only 4% of the genome is Arab, compared with 88% of the genome of North Africa.
|Typical genome distribution in the Maghreb|
The Arab component came in two waves: first with the arrival of agriculture came from the Middle East some 8000 years ago, then during the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. Egypt, which thinks of itself as the country of Arab civilisation, has only 17% of the Arab genome, compared with 68% of the genome from North Africa and 4% from the Jewish diaspora.
The Arab genome has not spread so widely in the neighbouring countries of Europe
While historically the Arab conquest has gone to Europe, very few traces of the genome of this ethnic group have been found in the DNA of the populations of the old continent. There are none, for example, in France, Italy, Spain or Portugal. On the other hand, the genome of North Africa is present in 9% of the samples of Spanish and Portuguese population. Its content is 2% among Italians and French. " North African components represent the historical population migrations through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Iberian Peninsula in the last 2 000 years ", scientists explain.
The genome of North Africa present in unexpected places
The Genographic project reveals that the populations of North Africa would have gone much further than we imagined. Traces of their genome have been found even in South America! In Peru, 3% of the population genome comes from North Africa, as is Puerto Rico (3%), compared with 6% in Colombia. The project's initiators explain on their website that the presence of the North African genome in these areas is due " to the slave trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, which had a significant influence on local genetic models ."
The country where the Arab genome is most present is Kuwait (84%). The genetic makeup of the populations of this area also includes 7% of Asia Minor, 4% of North Africa and 3% of East Africa. " The small component of North Africa reflects the proximity of Kuwait with Africa, and could have been increased by the Arab slave trade between the eighth and the nineteenth century ," explains the National Geographic website.
The Lebanese population also has an important ratio of the Arabic genome (44%). The remaining percentage is very diverse, with 14% in the Jewish diaspora, 2% in East Africa, 11% in North Africa, 10% in Asia Minor and 5% in Southern Europe.
But the biggest surprise...
Tracing the ancient roots of the Moroccan Amazigh (Berber) brings some unexpected results. DNA analysis has found commonalities between Amazigh Moroccan populations and those of the Saami (Lapp) people of Scandinavia showing a link dating from around 9,000 years ago.
This unexpected finding not only confirms that the Franco-Cantabrian refuge area of southwestern Europe was the source of late-glacial expansions of hunter-gatherers that repopulated northern Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum but also reveals a direct maternal link between those European hunter-gatherer populations and the Amazigh. See the research here: Saami and Berbers—An Unexpected Mitochondrial DNA Link