STUDY BACKS 5TH-CENTURY HISTORIAN'S DATE FOR FOUNDING OF ARMENIA
New York Times
March 10 2015
By NICHOLAS WADEMARCH 10, 2015
Movses Khorenatsi, a historian in the fifth century, wrote that his
native Armenia had been established in 2492 B.C., a date usually
regarded as legendary though he claimed to have traveled to Babylon
and consulted ancient records. But either he made a lucky guess or he
really did gain access to useful data, because a new genomic analysis
suggests that his date is entirely plausible.
Geneticists have scanned the genomes of 173 Armenians from Armenia
and Lebanon and compared them with those of 78 other populations
from around the world. They found that the Armenians are a mix of
ancient populations whose descendants now live in Sardinia, Central
Asia and several other regions. This formative mixture occurred from
3000 to 2000 B.C., the geneticists calculated, coincident with Movses
Khorenatsi's date for the founding of Armenia.
Toward the end of the Bronze Age, when the mixture was in process,
there was considerable movement of peoples brought about by increased
trade, warfare and population growth. After 1200 B.C., the Bronze
Age civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean suddenly collapsed,
an event that seems to have brought about the isolation of Armenians
from other populations. No significant mixing with other peoples
after that date can be detected in the genomes of living Armenians,
the geneticists said.
The isolation was probably sustained by the many characteristic
aspects of Armenian culture. Armenians have a distinctive language and
alphabet, and the Armenian Apostolic Church was the first branch of
Christianity to become established as a state religion, in A.D. 301,
anticipating that by the Roman empire in A.D. 380.
The researchers also see a signal of genetic divergence that developed
about 500 years ago between western and eastern Armenians. The date
corresponds to the onset of wars between the Ottoman and Safavid
dynasties and the division of the Armenian population between the
Turkish and Persian empires.
"This DNA study confirms in general outline much of what we know
about Armenian history," said Hovann Simonian, a historian of Armenia
affiliated with the University of Southern California.
The geneticists' team, led by Marc Haber and Chris Tyler-Smith of
the Sanger Institute, near Cambridge in England, see long-isolated
populations like that of the Armenians as a means of reconstructing
Armenians share 29 percent of their DNA ancestry with Otzi, a man
whose 5,300-year-old mummy emerged in 1991 from a melting Alpine
glacier. Other genetically isolated populations of the Near East,
like Cypriots, Sephardic Jews and Lebanese Christians, also share
a lot of ancestry with the Iceman, whereas other Near Easterners,
like Turks, Syrians and Palestinians, share less. This indicates
that the Armenians and other isolated populations are closer than
present-day inhabitants of the Near East to the Neolithic farmers
who brought agriculture to Europe about 8,000 years ago.
The geneticists' paper was posted last month on bioRxiv, a digital
library for publishing scientific articles before they appear in
journals. Dr. Tyler-Smith, the senior author of the genetics team,
said he could not discuss their results for fear of jeopardizing
publication in a journal that he did not name.