Summary: The same authors of the study that showed the persistence of North African genes in the Spanish population published another article in 2003 showing the radical genetic separation between the populations of both sides of the Gibraltar Straits.
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The findings of the study published last December in the American Journal of Human Genetics have inspired several articles in the world media. Gates of Vienna has already shown that the presentation of those findings has been used to whitewash Islam and to paint Christianity in the worst possible light (Colonization and Intolerance). My purpose is, first, to show that many of the statements in those articles are plain nonsense and, second, to point out that the authors of that study had done a similar investigation in 2003 that highlighted the opposite conclusions.
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The article commented at GoV, Spanish Inquisition couldn’t quash Moorish, Jewish genes, should not have passed the most generous filter on historical accuracy. Starting with the title, it should be noted that, first, the Inquisition had no jurisdiction on non-Christians and, second, that its purpose was not to quash genes, but memes, that is, to suppress ideas, unorthodox, heretic ideas. The sentences that I find more intellectually outrageous in the article are the followling:
The Moorish invasion of Spain was never completely repelled, a new genetic analysis reveals.
Nonsense. The Reconquista was an ideological, not a race battle. As a result of it, Muslim rule was eradicated from Spain, which can claim to be one of the few countries that has ever done it successfully. I think we can be proud of our ancestors.
As many as one in 10 men from Spain and Portugal still carry genetic evidence of North African ancestry, and nearly twice that number had Sephardic Jewish ancestors, reveals a study in the Dec. 12 American Journal of Human Genetics. Those results don’t fit with expectations from the historical record.
The results may not fit with the wrong conclusions drawn by not-so-well-intellectually-gifted journalists, but they actually fit with the standard historical accounts. To start with, there were historical migrations through the Strait well before the 8th Century. There is no reason not to find some genetic commonality between Spaniards and Northafricans, irrespective of the Reconquista. Another reason to find common genes is that many (probably most of the) Moriscos expelled were genetically Spanish. In this sense, and contrary to the interpretation of the study, the commonality found in the genetic material would show that Islam was thoroughly erradicated.
With regard to the Jewish genetic presence in current Spaniards, it should be noted that most of the Spanish Jews converted. Around 10% of the Spanish population was Jewish in the late Middle Age, because Jews had been expelled from other countries (England and France in particular) and settled in Spain. Jews who converted remained in Spain. Then, necessarily, we must now have Jewish genes. I do not see any problem. As a matter of fact, I hope to have a good share.
Sephardic Jews, who were likely in the Iberian Peninsula since Roman times, were supposed to all have fled the region in the wake of pogroms and persecutions between the early eighth and 14th centuries. In the late 15th century, 160,000 Spanish Jews (Sepharad is the Hebrew word for Spain) were expelled and then settled in other parts of the Mediterranean.
As explained, this is utterly wrong from a historical point of view. Most of them remained, over half of them. It was Judaism that was banned, not the Jews themselves, who converted mostly. Moreover, the number of executions sentenced by the Spanish Inquisition in its nearly four centuries of activity is estimated between 3 and 5,000. By the way, this is around one tenth of the witches executed in the XVII North of the Pyrenees by the perpetrators of the Spanish Black Legend.
Moors from northern Africa swept into Spain in 711, colonizing the Peninsula and spreading Islam. But during the Spanish Inquisition, Spanish Muslims were driven out or forced to convert in a wave of religious intolerance.
The Inquisition -which means investigation- had no jurisdiction against non-Christians. The Moriscos had to be expelled after their continuous revolts and because of the high risk that they would open a bridgehead to Barbary pirates and Turks.
But the new study, which analyzed Y chromosomes from 1,140 men from the Iberian Peninsula, shows that, even though large numbers of Sephardic Jews and Spanish Muslims left the peninsula, these groups also left behind descendents and a strong genetic presence.
As already explained, this is not news.
The second article, DNA study shows Spain’s Jewish and Muslim ancestry, is mostly correct as far as the Jewish genetic heritage is concerned. Still, we find statements like this one:
The new finding bears on two very different views of Spanish history: One holds that Spanish civilization is Catholic and all other influences are foreign, the other that Spain has been enriched by drawing from all three of its historical cultures – Catholic, Jewish and Muslim.
This is ludicrous. Ideology has nothing to do with genetics. The «enriching» influence of the «historical cultures» should be looked for in the culture not in the genes of Spaniards.
It goes without saying, Spanish media have also reflected on those studies in a biased pro-Islamic way. Two examples:
- El País: «Sephardis and Moriscos are still here» (Sefardíes y moriscos siguen aquí). This is our NYT. Progressive, multiculturalist, islamophilic.
- La Vanguardia: «Catalonia and the Basque Country are the Spanish regions with purest Iberic roots» (Catalunya y el País Vasco, las comunidades de más profunda raigambre ibérica de España). This is a Catalonian, «moderatedly nationalist» paper. The title states that the population in Catalonia and the Basque Country are the «purest Spaniards». But do not they say they are not Spaniards?
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The media has made a strongly biased used of the findings of this study, but the problem actually lies on the study itself. The same authors (Bosch, Calafell et al.) had done a similar investigation in 2003 highlighting the opposite conclusions: the cultural exchange between the North of Africa and Spain did not convey large population exchanges. Second, the genetic distance between Spaniards and North Africans is larger than the distance between Spaniards and not only the rest of the Europeans, but also Middle East populations.
In reality, the recent study (2008) does not contradict the older one (2003), it still shows that the genetic contribution of Northafrican populations is minoritarian. Taking into account that a genetic marker spreads with the intermarriage of the population the news is that they are found only in 10% of the population (but please note that I am not a biologist).
I translate to English a selection of sentences in the article published at Investigacion y Ciencia, Febrero, 2003:
«With a few exceptions, all the genetic markers analysed show a clear separation between the North African and those of Spain and Portugal, included, nevertheless, in the range of variation of Caucasian populations (those of European origin, plus North African and Middle Eastern origin). But, the genetic distance between Iberians and the rest of the Europeans are smaller than between Iberians and Magbrebis»
Following our analysis of classical markers, the genetic distance between Iberians and the populations of the Middle East are smaller than the distance between Iberians and North Africans. There is, besides, an abrupt discontinuity in the genetic landscape of the Mediterranean basin between the north and South coastlines, with a maximum tilt in the Straits of Gibraltar.»
I think that these statements are strong enough. The study has also some quantitative indicators:
«… the North African contribution to the Iberian genetic pool can be estimated around 8%»
The recent study rounded it to 10%. In any case, it is a minoritarian proportion.
«Its frequency [of R1b group], 2.8% in North Africans, reaches 78.4% in Iberians; these means a European contribution of 3.6% to the North African genetic pool».
This percentage is not only due to the Moriscos expelled. In Roman times, North Africa (Tingitania and Mauretania) were very close linked to Spain. And before the Muslim invasion in 711, the Vandals crossed Spain and settled also in the North of Africa. Alandalus comes from al Vandalus, the land of the vandals.
Boabdil, the last King of Granada, hands over the keys to the Catholics Kings.
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In summary, the real news in this case is the reason why the same authors that stated in 2003 that there is «an abrupt discontinuity in the genetic landscape of the Mediterranean basin between the north and South coastlines, with a maximum tilt in the Straits of Gibraltar» publish five years later a study with similar scientific findings but present them in a completely different light. I can sugggest that the problem was that the message of the first article was nor in line with the Euro-Mediterranean policy now formaly adopted by the EU.