The Roma people - once known as "Gypsies" or Roma - were subject to curiosity and persecution for centuries. Today, some 11 million Roma, with different cultures, languages and lifestyles, live in Europe - and beyond. But where do they come from?
Previous studies in their language and surface analysis of the genetic model point to India as the place of origin of the group and a later influence on Central Asian linguistics. But the new study uses sequencing of the genome to point out the departure of a group of northwestern India about 1,500 years ago, and also revealed a variety of subsequent population changes, as the population spread across Europe.
"Understanding the genetic heritage of Roma is necessary to complete the genetic characterization of Europeans as a whole, with implications for different fields, from human evolution to health sciences," says Manfred Kaiser of Erasmus University in Rotterdam and co-author of the book, in a prepared statement .
To begin the study, a team of European researchers gathered data on about 800,000 genetic variants (polymorphism of a single nucleotide) in 152 Roma from 13 different Roma groups in Europe. The team then compares the Roma sequences with those already known to more than 4,500 Europeans, as well as samples from the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the Middle East.
According to the analysis, the initial founding group of Roma probably left from what is now the Punjab state in northwestern India close to 500 AD. Hence, they most likely traveled through Central Asia and the Middle East, but it seems that they interfered only with the locals there. The next door in Europe seems to have been a Balkan area - specifically Bulgaria - from which the Roma began to disperse around 1,100 AD.
However, these trips were not always easy. For example, after the initial group they left India, their number was scattered, with less than half of the population surviving (about 47 percent, according to genetic analysis). And once Roma groups that continue to populate Western Europe leave the Balkan region, they suffered another new elimination, losing about 30 percent of their population. The findings were published on December 6 in the Current Biology.