9/Dec/2012: Genetic scientists have found that the Romani, Europe’s largest minority group with approximately 11 million people, began their migration into Europe 1,500 years ago, much earlier than previously thought, from a single population in northern India.
They speak a mosaic of languages and practice different religions and lifestyle, but all share a common yet complex past.
Despite their beginnings, the size of the Romani population now rivals that of several countries, including Greece, Portugal, and Belgium, the Daily Mail reported.
They first arrived through the Balkans and began dispersing outwards from there 900 years ago, the team found.
The gypsies first arrived in the UK in 1513, the team believes.
“We were interested in exploring the population history of European Romani because they constitute an important fraction of the European population, but their marginalised situation in many countries also seems to have affected their visibility in scientific studies,” the paper quoted Professor David Comas, of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, as saying.
The Romani people lack written historical records on their origins and dispersal, so the team gathered genome-wide data from 13 Romani groups collected across Europe to confirm an Indian origin for European Romani, consistent with earlier linguistic studies.
The study offers the first genome-wide perspective on Romani origins and demographic history.
The authors claim that their findings could have implications for various disciplines including human evolution and health sciences.
“From a genome-wide perspective, Romani people share a common and unique history that consists of two elements – the roots in northwestern India and the admixture with non-Romani Europeans accumulating with different magnitudes during the out-of-India migration across Europe,” co-author Professor Manfred Kayser from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands said.
“Our study clearly illustrates that understanding the Romani’s genetic legacy is necessary to complete the genetic characterisation of Europeans as a whole, with implications for various fields, from human evolution to the health sciences,” he said.
The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.