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First Ashkenazi Jewsish Mothers Mostly European Converts, Genetic Study

Update Date: Oct 09, 2013 02:59 PM EDT
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The latest findings from a new genetic study goes against previous theories about the maternal ancestry of Jews from central and Eastern Europe.

New research reveals that about 80 percent of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry comes from Europe and not the Near East. Investigators said that the findings suggest a mass conversion of women to Judaism may have occurred more than 2,000 years ago.

Previous research to trace the origins of the Ashkenazi, the most common Jewish ethnic division, has been controversial. Researchers said that it is usually assumed that their ancestors migrated into Europe from Palestine in the first century AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, with some intermarriage with Europeans later on. However, others have argued that the Ashkenazi Jews have a European ancestry, and arose by conversion to Judaism of indigenous Europeans.

The latest findings, which come from studying mitochondrial DNA, which passes from mother to offspring, in about 3,500 people revealed that about 80 percent of the maternal lineages of Ashkenazi Jews came from Europe, according to Bloomberg News

"A detailed genealogical history for every maternal lineage in the Ashkenazim is now within reach," lead researcher Gil Atzmon of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and his team wrote in the study. "In fact, it should soon be possible to reconstruct the outlines of the entire dispersal history of each community."

Researchers discovered that the four major female founders and most of the minor founders of the Ashkenazi show roots in Europe 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. They noted that only 8 percent of the mitochondrial DNA shows sings of being from the Near East.

Atzmon and his team explained that the latest finding suggest that Jewish men who migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2,000 years ago brought few or no wives with them.

"The simplest explanation was that it was mainly women who converted and they married with men who'd come from the Near East," Professor Martin Richards from the University of Huddersfield in England told LiveScience.

The latest findings are published in the journal Nature Communications

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