|Sicily actually has more Greek temples than Greece. That's Alfio di Mauro on the right, with our tour group in Agrigento, Sicily.|
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Genetic diversity in DNA testing of Italians should be expected
To people of Italian – and especially Sicilian Italian – descent who have had DNA tests and are bothered that results didn’t show them to be 100% genetically Italian – don’t sweat it. In fact, if anything, these results could just be proof of how Italian you really are!
Before I explain, first of all let’s establish that when most of us say we’re Italian, we mean that either we, our parents of our ancestors came from Italy and that we embrace the Italian culture. DNA tests are an entirely different measurement. They try to trace where all of our thousands of ancestors came from in the past 2,000 years. By the standards used, it would be virtually impossible for anyone to test 100% Italian—or for someone with one Italian parent to test 50% Italian.
While on a tour of Sicily in 2015, I interviewed Alfio Di Mauro, whose family roots go back centuries on this beautiful island. Di Mauro has a science PhD and was a researcher at the University of Catania, but now he’s a guide with Rick Steves. He pointed out that a true Sicilian or Southern Italian would have to be a blend of diverse genetic origins.
‟Sicily was in the center of what the Romans called the Mare Nostrum – Our Sea – the Mediterranean,” he said. ‟It was important first of all because it was a fertile land, a garden-like island of the Mediterranean. And second, it was a natural stepping stone between Europe and Africa. Between the western tip of Sicily and Tunisia is only 80 miles.
‟Also, Italy’s long shape divides the Mediterranean from East to West. Sicily is at the end of it, and it’s like the cork in the bottle. So if you were controlling the 80 miles of sea, plus the two miles between Sicily and the Italian peninsula, you were controlling any trade routes between East and West, and North and South. For thousands of years, Sicily was THE island to control. It was considered the center of the civilized world.”
And so the invaders came, saw and conquered, leaving behind traces of their languages, traditions, favorite foods, superstitions and genetic footprints.
‟We’ve had more than 17 invasions in 2,000 years,” Di Mauro said. ‟No other part of the world so small has had so many invasions! You will never find such a power-packed, genetically diverse and historically interesting place like Sicily. If you do a genetic survey of Europe, which is the country with the highest diversity? It’s Italy! What is the region that has the highest diversity? It’s Sicily! It has the highest genetic diversity in Europe.”
What Di Mauro didn’t mention but easily could have: Sicily’s status as a multi-cultural hub of travel and trading also drew many outsiders interested in establishing businesses. When the Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, for example, many found Italy a safe haven with prospects for making a healthy income.
So if your ancestors came from Italy, don’t expect your DNA results to show anything other than a blend of civilizations. It’s actually additional evidence that you truly ARE Italian.