Are Spaniards of African descent

Genetic surprise for Spanish men

Leicester - Nobody knows exactly when the first of them came, why, and where they first settled on the Iberian Peninsula. One thing is certain: Sephardic Jews lived for many centuries in numerous communities between the Pyrenees and the Strait of Gibraltar.

The "Sephardim" were already present during the Roman occupation of Iberia. They survived various persecutions and, above all, were firmly anchored economically in the historically unstable Christian and Muslim rulers of the region.

Until 1492. In that year Christian troops defeated Granada, the last Moorish-Islamic kingdom on Spanish soil. The "Reconquista" was thus completed. The "Alhambra Edict" subsequently issued forced all Spanish Jews either to convert to Christianity or to leave their homeland forever. A human and cultural tragedy began.

These terrible "religious cleansing" were not limited to the Sephardic Jews. Muslims who did not flee after the fall of Granada were also exposed to increasing pressure. The number of converts grew.

Former followers of Islam were called "Moriscos", Christianized Jews "Conversos". It is not known exactly how many people - forced - changed their faith. It is estimated that around 400,000 Sephardim lived in Spain at the end of the 15th century, 160,000 of whom may have emigrated, most of them to the eastern Mediterranean and Morocco.

DNA legacy of history

On the Iberian Peninsula, the persecutions gradually led to the extinction of the Moorish and Sephardic cultures. Much was forgotten, the historiography of Catholic historians did the rest.

What significant roles Sephardic Jews and Moors actually played in the history of Spain and Portugal can be seen today in the specialist magazine American Journal of Human Genetics guess published study. An international team of researchers examined the DNA samples from 1,140 Iberian men and analyzed the variability of certain sections of the Y chromosome. The origin of certain sequences can be traced back fairly precisely by comparing them with samples from other areas.

The result is astonishing: According to this, 10.6 percent of the Y chromosome gene segments examined come from North Africa, and a total of 19.8 percent largely correspond to the type of Sephardim living today.

"This means that three out of ten Spanish and Portuguese men have ancestors who do not come from the Iberian Peninsula," says study leader Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester in England in an interview with the Standard.

As expected, the exotic haplotypes are not evenly distributed geographically. In the Basque Country, for example, the scientists did not find any men with Moorish genes, while in Galicia and northwestern Castile, astonishingly, more than 20 percent of those examined were of North African origin.

This is likely to be a consequence of the forced resettlement of the "Moriscos" in the 16th century. The new study opens up extremely interesting perspectives for historians. "Spain has a very rich cultural history," says Mark Jobling. "And our genetic research results fit this diversity very well." (Kurt de Swaaf, DER STANDARD, print edition, December 5, 2008)