Crusades, Islam Expansion Traced in Lebanon DNA

Amitabh Avasthi
for National Geographic News
March 28, 2008

A new study has found genetic traces of both the arrival of the Crusades and of the expansion of Islam in Lebanon.

The findings not only confirm well-documented history but also present a rare genetic trail showing the movement of two major religions into Lebanon, scientists say.

"Lebanon has always had a rich history of receiving different cultures," said the study's lead author, Pierre Zalloua, an associate professor at the Lebanese American University,

"This study tells us that some of them did not just conquer and leave behind castles. They left a subtle genetic connection as well."

(Related photos: "Lebanon's Ruins Survive Recent Bombings" [August 2006].)

Zalloua and his colleagues at the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project were conducting a broader survey of Middle Eastern populations when they stumbled upon their finding. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Unlike previous studies that have relied on mitochondrial DNA—which is passed on maternally—to unlock secrets of human migration, researchers in the current study focused on the paternally provided Y chromosome, as it is thought to provide more detailed information.

The study appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Crusaders and Muslims

The distribution of genetic markers at first appeared virtually indistinguishable across the Christian, Druze, and Muslim populations of Lebanon. But a closer look at the Y chromosomes of 926 Lebanese men sampled in the study revealed something intriguing.

"We noticed some interesting lineages in the dataset. Among Lebanese Christians, in particular, we found higher frequency of a genetic marker—R1b—that we typically see only in Western Europe," said Spencer Wells, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

The study matched the western European Y-chromosome lineage against thousands of people in France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Wells said the lineage was seen enriched to a higher frequency only in the Christian populations in Lebanon and was not seen in the Muslim population.

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