Tuscany's name in modern days comes from the Etruscans, a very advanced ancient civilization, highly influential in the development of the early Roman civilization. But the origins of the Etruscan civilization has been a vivid debate amongst archaeologists, historians and linguists for centuries.
Three are three main theories about their origin: they came from Anatolia (modern day Turkey), as stated by the Greek historian Herotodus; they developed from the local Iron Age Villanovan society, as suggested by another Greek historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus; or they came from an Indo-European invasion from the north, like the Latins did.
Now, the most accurate approach, the DNA analysis, was applied. A team led by Professor Piazza has investigated genetic samples from three present-day Tuscany (central Italy) populations from in Murlo, Volterra, and Casentino. "We already knew that people living in this area were genetically different from those in the surrounding regions. Murlo and Volterra are among the most archaeologically important Etruscan sites in a region of Tuscany also known for having Etruscan-derived place names and local dialects. The Casentino valley sample was taken from an area bordering the area where Etruscan influence has been preserved."
This DNA samples were compared to those coming from healthy males from Northern Italy, the Southern Balkans, the island of Lemnos (Greece), Turkey, and the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
The Tuscan samples came from individuals living in the area for at least three generations, based on their surnames, having a geographical distribution limited to the linguistic area of sampling. "We found that the DNA samples from individuals from Murlo and Volterra were more closely related those from near Eastern people than those of the other Italian samples. In Murlo particularly, one genetic variant is shared only by people from Turkey, and, of the samples we obtained, the Tuscan ones also show the closest affinity with those from Lemnos", Piazza said.
Previously, the same relationship had been found for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in the female lineages. Another mtDNA of local ancient breeds of cattle still living in Tuscany and other areas found a close link to those from Anatolia.
Many Etruscan cities were continuously inhabited since the Iron Age, and the people who lived in the ancient Etruria region did not appear "out of the blue". The Etruscans took the Greek alphabet, and their inscriptions revealed a language developed in situ before their first historical record, in 800 BC, without any connection with the Indo-European languages, thus the third theory was totally excluded. By 265BC, the Etruscans were totally incorporated into the Roman Empire. "But the question that remained to be answered was - how long was this process between pre-history and history?" said Piazza.
In 1885, an inscription in a pre-Greek language discovered in the island of Lemnos, dated to about the 6th century BC, presented many similarities with the Etruscan language both in its form and structure and its vocabulary. Herodotus' theory, criticized by many historians, claimed that the Etruscans emigrated from the ancient region of Lydia (now western Turkey). Half the population sailed from Smyrna (now Izmir) until they reached Umbria in Italy.
Indeed, tombs discovered in ancient Lydia are extremely similar to those of the Etruscans. The Etruscans were also skilled sailors, who traded with the Greeks and Cartagena and the God of the Sea, Neptunus, was important in their religion.
The Lydian theory also links the Etruscans to the Minoans and "People of the Sea", seafaring raiders that were at war with the Egyptians in the 12th century BC. Their civilization was centered in Crete (now an island in southern Greece) and other neighboring islands (like Lemnos) and these people spoke non-Indo-European related languages. There are significantly increasing proofs that match the Crete and Minoan civilization to Atlantis and its decline in a huge ancient tsunami.
"We think that our research provides convincing proof that Herodotus was right and that the Etruscans did indeed arrive from ancient Lydia. However, to be 100% certain we intend to sample other villages in Tuscany, and also to test whether there is a genetic continuity between the ancient Etruscans and modern-day Tuscans. This will have to be done by extracting DNA from fossils; this has been tried before but the technique for doing so has proved to be very difficult." said Piazza.
"Interestingly, this study of historical origins will give us some pointers for carrying out case-control studies of disease today. In order to obtain a reliable result, we had to select the control population much more carefully that would normally be done, and we believe that this kind of careful selection would also help in studies of complex genetic diseases." he added.
The theory of Dionysos of Hallikarnas would have linked the Etruscans to the Basque, but the probability for Indigenous pre-Indo-European people to survive the massive Indo-European invasion for millennia and even impose their domination afterwards was relatively low.