Central Asia is located on the Silk Road, where numerous ethnic groups characterised by different languages and historical modes of subsistence co-exist. These include the Tajik populations, who speak an Indo-Iranian language and are sedentary agriculturalists, and several Turkic populations, who speak an Altaic language and are traditionally nomadic herders.
However, some of the latter (e.g. Uzbeks) have shifted to a sedentary agriculturallybased lifestyle more recently, during the sixteenth century. These two groups of populations have different lifestyles, but also different social organisations. Agriculturalist societies are patrilocal and are organised into families. Marriage rules are based on kinship and geographical proximity with a strong preference for first-cousin marriages. Conversely, nomadic societies are organised into so-called "descent groups", namely "lineages, clans, and tribes". Individuals belonging to each of these descent groups claim to share a recent common ancestor on the paternal line. We have previously shown that such claims have a biological basis for individuals belonging to lineages and clans, but that links between individuals from a given tribe and their claimed paternal ancestor are socially constructed rather than biological.
Membership of these descent groups is transmitted through the father to the children, and we have previously shown that the dynamics of these descent groups increase the Y-chromosomal inter-population genetic differentiation among Turkic populations, in comparison to the level of Ychromosomal differentiation among agriculturalist populations and reduces male effective population size.
However, the level at which Central Asian groups are genetically differentiated, in particular for the Y chromosome, remains unclear. Indeed, it remains to be understood whether the genetic variation differentiates primarily ethnic groups (e.g. Uzbeks versus Kazakhs, etc.) or whether it differentiates primarily populations within ethnic groups (e.g. Kyrgyz from the lowlands, versus Kyrgyz from the mountains). More generally, the underlying question is whether ethnicity is the major determinant of genetic differences between populations. We are also interested in understanding better the processes leading to the emergence of ethnic groups, and in understanding the extent to which constituted ethnic groups are endogamous.
One focus of this study was to assess the levels of genetic differentiation between ethnic groups on one hand and between populations of the same ethnic group on the other hand in order to understand better how ethnicity shapes the genetic diversity of human populations, and to give insights on the processes leading to the formation of ethnic groups. To address this question, we sampled several populations per ethnic group (from 2 to 6 populations per ethnic group) from the two major linguistic groups in Central Asia. An additional aim of this study was to use genetic data to understand better the history and formation of particular Central Asian ethnic groups. Indeed, parts of their history remain controversial. Among the Turkic groups, the Karakalpaks, Uzbeks and Kazakhs are thought to be subgroups of the same Uzbek confederation that emerged during the fifteenth century following the collapse of the Golden Horde after the dissolution of Genghis Khan's empire. The Karakalpak group emerged more recently and resulted from a split from the Kazakh confederation in the seventeenth century.
However, the origin of the Kyrgyz living in Kyrgyzstan is still a matter of debate in the scholarly literature. Late in the eighth century the Kyrgyz state was a major rival of the Great Turkic Empire and later defeated the Uighur in the ninth century. The prevailing current opinion is that part of this Kyrgyz population moved from South Siberia to Kyrgyzstan in the fifteenth century and included some nomadic groups that inhabited the region for several centuries. Turkmen tribal genealogies trace their origin to the Oghuz who lived in the area in the sixth century. The agriculturalist Tajik sedentary populations speak a western Indo-Iranian language that entered the area through the Muslim invasion in the tenth century, and are perhaps descendants of former eastern Indo-Iranian speakers who have lived there for more than two millennia. For all historical references see. In this study, we used genetic data that we collected in Central Asia, in addition to data from the literature (24 populations, 846 individuals for mitochondrial DNA and 20 populations, 745 individuals for the Y chromosome), to understand better the origins of Central Asian groups at a fine-grained scale, and to assess how ethnicity influences the shaping of genetic differences in the human species.
Genetic diversity and the emergence of ethnic groups in Central Asia
Authors: Patricia Balaresque, Mark A Jobling, Lluis Quintana, Raphaelle Chaix, Laure Segurel, Almaz Aldashev and Tanya Hegay