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Ancient genomes: Insights into the history of the Longobards revealed

Nature Communications

September 12, 2018

Insights into the social organization and migration of the Longobards - a barbarian people that ruled large parts of Italy for over 200 years after invading from Pannonia (in present day western Hungary) in 568 CE - are revealed in an analysis of ancient genomic DNA. The findings are published in Nature Communications.

Western Europe underwent a major socio-cultural and economic transformation from the third to tenth centuries, which included the collapse of the western Roman Empire and the migration of barbarian groups throughout Europe. However, the only direct evidence of barbarian societies comes from archaeological remains, which have been used to make inferences about group identities, social structures, and migration patterns. Although sixth to seventh century archaeological cemeteries in Pannonia and Italy suggest a pattern consistent with the historical account of a Longobard migration, much is unknown about their society and movement.

Johannes Krause, Krishna Veeramah, Patrick Geary, David Caramelli and colleagues sequenced and analysed ancient genomic DNA from 63 individuals from two cemeteries: Szolad (Hungary) and Collegno (Italy), previously associated with the Longobards. Each cemetery was found to be organized around one large family with at least two groups of different ancestry and funeral customs identified at each location.

At Szolad, the cemetery appears to be organized around one high-status, predominantly male, kin-based group of three generations, which also incorporated other males that may have some common central/northern European descent. Collegno likely reflects a community that settled for multiple generations. Amongst both family groups of primarily central/northern European ancestry, the authors found evidence of admixture with individuals with more southern ancestry. The findings are also consistent with the proposed long-distance migration of the Longobards from Pannonia to Northern Italy.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-06024-4

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