The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has been involved with a study which has identified genes of shepherds from the Eurasian Steppe in the genome of the most ancient settlers in the Balearics.
The CSIC states that the results suggest that settlement in the Balearics may have been due to the arrival of peoples from the Eurasian Steppe on the Iberian Peninsula over 4,000 years ago. The climate in the Balearics, the council notes, is not conducive to the preservation of genetic material. This makes it difficult to obtain samples, but the genome from the remains of three individuals has been extracted.
One of these, which dates to around 4,300 years ago and is the oldest in the Balearics, is in Cova des Moro (Manacor). The other two are in Formentera and at the Naveta des Tudons in Minorca.
Another 58 genomes from Sicily and Sardinia have also been analysed. These date from between 5000BC and 1000AD and have enabled the reconstruction of the oldest genomic sequences in the western Mediterranean.
The study confirms the archaeological evidence from the Bronze Age that there were contacts between continental Europe, Africa and the peoples of the islands in the western Mediterranean. The co-author of the study, Carles Lalueza-Fox, says that the Bronze Age was a period of unprecedented cultural exchange. "The Mediterranean was a first highway, a place for communication and trading by the peoples bathed by its waters."
As the Balearic Islands can be seen from points along the Catalonian coast, he says that some local merchants would probably have been tempted to find out what this land was.
The mutation of the Y chromosome, characteristic of Iberia in the Bronze Age, has also been found in Sicily, but not in Sardinia. One of the researchers, Íñigo Olalde, says that the implication is that there was some type of contact between peoples on the Iberian Peninsula and in the Balearics and Sicily. It is perhaps surprising, however, that the same genetic trace has not yet been found in Sardinia.
Samples in Sardinia, where there was a megalithic culture similar to that of the Talayotic period in the Balearics, indicate that the two cultures were not connected; from a genetic point of view at any rate. Lalueza-Fox believes that the descendants of the peoples from the Eurasian Steppe reached the south of the Iberian Peninsula and then crossed to north Africa. Future analysis of the samples from the Bronze Age in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria will help with an understanding of the evidence that links Iberia and the Balearics to Sicily.