PARIS – Ashkenazi Jews trace their maternal lineage to southern and Western Europe, rather than the Near East or Caucasus, as many Jews believe, a study published Tuesday found.
The ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews — Jews who dispersed into Central and Eastern Europe in the early Middle Ages — is a hotly debated topic.
There are competing schools of thought but it is generally agreed is that their ancestors migrated from Palestine after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.
Researchers led by Martin Richards at the University of Huddersfield in northern England analyzed mitochondrial DNA — genetic signatures handed down only by the maternal line — from people across Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
“We have found that, in the vast majority of cases, Ashkenazi lineages are most closely related to southern and Western European lineages, and that these lineages have been present in Europe for many thousands of years,” they said in a press release.
This meant that the Jews who originally left Palestine for Europe around 2,000 years ago were predominantly men, and they brought few or no wives with them, the scientists suggested. “They seem to have married with European women, firstly along the Mediterranean, especially in Italy, and later (but probably to a lesser extent) in western central Europe,” the investigators said.