Modern-day gypsies, Europe's widespread Romani population, are now as diverse in language, lifestyle, and religion as any demographic but they all share a common past.
And that past started about 1,500 years ago in northwestern India, according to the first genome-wide perspective on Romani origins and demographic history. With
approximately 11 million people, the Romani represent the largest minority group in Europe, rivaling the total populations of Greece, Portugal, and Belgium. Yet they lack written historical records on their origins and dispersal. To fill in those gaps, researchers gathered genome-wide data from 13 Romani groups across Europe to try and confirm an Indian origin for European Romani, which was the conclusion of linguistic analyses.
The genome-wide evidence specified the geographic origin toward the north or northwestern parts of India and provided a date of origin of about 1,500 years ago. While the Middle East and Caucasus regions are known to have had an influence on Romani language, the researchers saw limited evidence for shared genetic ancestry between the European Romani and those who live in those regions of the world today. Once in Europe, Romani people began settling in various locations, likely spreading across Europe via the Balkan region about 900 years ago.
"We were interested in exploring the population history of European Romani because they constitute an important fraction of the European population, but their marginalized situation in many countries also seems to have affected their visibility in scientific studies," said David Comas of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain.
"From a genome-wide perspective, Romani people share a common and unique history that consists of two elements: the roots in northwestern India and the admixture with non-Romani Europeans accumulating with different magnitudes during the out-of-India migration across Europe," said
Manfred Kayser from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands
. "Our study clearly illustrates that understanding the Romani's genetic legacy is necessary to complete the genetic characterization of Europeans as a whole, with implications for various fields, from human evolution to the health sciences."
Published in Current Biology