Using Medieval DNA to track the barbarian spread into Italy
Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2018-09-14
Longobard grave goods and skeleton. (credit: Institute for Advanced Study)
The genetics of Europe are a bit strange. Just within historic times, it has seen waves of migrations, invasions, and the rise and fall of empires—all of which should have mixed its populations up thoroughly. Yet, if you look at the modern populations, there's little sign of all this upheaval and some indications that many of the populations have been in place since agriculture spread across the continent.
This was rarely more obvious than during the contraction and collapse of the Roman Empire. Various Germanic tribes from northeastern Europe poured into Roman territory in the west only to be followed by the force they were fleeing, the Huns. Before it was over, one of the groups ended up founding a kingdom in North Africa that extended throughout much of the Mediterranean, while another ended up controlling much of Italy.
It's that last group, the Longobards (often shorted as "Lombards"), that is the focus of a new paper. We know very little of them or any of the other barbarian tribes that roared through Western Europe other than roughly contemporary descriptions of where they came from. But a study of the DNA left behind in the cemeteries of the Longobards provides some indication of their origins and how they interacted with the Europeans they encountered.