The origin of the Etruscan people has been a source of major controversy for the past 2,500 years, and several hypotheses have been proposed to explain their language and sophisticated culture, including an Aegean/Anatolian origin. To address this issue, we analyzed the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of 322 subjects from three well-defined areas of Tuscany and compared their sequence variation with that of 55 western Eurasian populations. Interpopulation comparisons reveal that the modern population of Murlo, a small town of Etruscan origin, is characterized by an unusually high frequency (17.5%) of Near Eastern mtDNA haplogroups. Each of these haplogroups is represented by different haplotypes, thus dismissing the possibility that the genetic allocation of the Murlo people is due to drift. Other Tuscan populations do not show the same striking feature; however, overall, ~5% of mtDNA haplotypes in Tuscany are shared exclusively between Tuscans and Near Easterners and occupy terminal positions in the phylogeny. These findings support a direct and rather recent genetic input from the Near East--a scenario in agreement with the Lydian origin of Etruscans. Such a genetic contribution has been extensively diluted by admixture, but it appears that there are still locations in Tuscany, such as Murlo, where traces of its arrival are easily detectable.
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