Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Druze Origins

The latest data on Druze origins is consistent with the leading existing data on the subject.
The Druze are an aggregate of communities in the Levant and Near East living almost exclusively in the mountains of Syria, Lebanon and Israel whose ~1000 year old religion formally opposes mixed marriages and conversions. Despite increasing interest in genetics of the population structure of the Druze, their population history remains unknown. 
We investigated the genetic relationships between Israeli Druze and both modern and ancient populations. We evaluated our findings in light of three hypotheses purporting to explain Druze history that posit Arabian, Persian or mixed Near Eastern-Levantine roots. 
The biogeographical analysis localised proto-Druze to the mountainous regions of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and southeast Syria and their descendants clustered along a trajectory between these two regions. The mixed Near Eastern–Middle Eastern localisation of the Druze, shown using both modern and ancient DNA data, is distinct from that of neighbouring Syrians, Palestinians and most of the Lebanese, who exhibit a high affinity to the Levant. Druze biogeographic affinity, migration patterns, time of emergence and genetic similarity to Near Eastern populations are highly suggestive of Armenian-Turkish ancestries for the proto-Druze.
Scarlett Marshall, et al., "Reconstructing Druze population history" Nature Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 35837 (November 16, 2016) (open access).

The paper also notes a modest level of admixture with local populations, particularly in Syria. In terms of the timing of this migration and ethnogenesis, a time period not long after Y1K seems likely in light of the historical and genetic evidence. The vicinity of Lake Van is particularly plausible as a core homeland of many pre-Druze people. None of the other populations of the Levant has the significant Turkish affinities of the Druze.

The conclusion to the paper notes that:
The biogeographical analysis localised many of the Druze to the Zagros Mountains and the mountains surrounding Lake Van and postulated that their migration path ran along a trajectory from southeast Turkey to southeast Syria. The dating analysis points to a major admixture event, which may have occurred towards the end of the Middle Ages in support of a Seljuk ancestry for the proto-Druze.
Interestingly, the paper hypothesizes that the Druze affinity for mountainous areas may reflect genetic adaptations to higher altitudes. The places where the Druze have the highest affinity seem to be largely Armenian and Kurdish.

The paper notes that Palestinians have a very localized origin, probably in continuity with the people of Israel who converted to Islam early in the Islamic expansion, and that the Lebanese show genetic affinity to Bedouins, probably during the late Roman Empire era and possibly in connection with Incense trade routes.

A notable observation about contemporary Druze culture is also found in the body of this open access paper:
In 2002, a survey of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the proportion of atheists among Israeli Druze is the highest of all Israelis (48%), including Jews (44%), Arabs (18%), Muslims (12%), and Christian Arabs (35%)41
An independent study examined the 145 officially recorded cases of Israeli Druze ‘straying’ from the religion, often motivated in part by a desire to marry outside the community39. Despite the excommunication fears, there has been a growing practice of exogamous marriages amongst Druze, particularly in the United States42 where inter-religious marriages, especially between Druze men and non-Druze women, are becoming more commonplace. These are becoming increasingly widespread in Israel43. However, such practices are expected to change according to the regional marriage laws that may be very strict. For example, in Lebanon, civil marriages are not allowed44, whereas in the US fewer prohibitions on marriage exist. With a lack of updated information regarding Druze marital practices, it is reasonable to conclude that the practice of exogamy is on the rise among the Druze, although it is difficult to assess whether this also entails a decline in the number of “religious” Druze due to the changing nature of this term. Secularisation processes, including the decline of strict religious practices such as endogamy5, especially among the younger generation40, can be expected to intensify the gene exchanges with neighbouring populations over time.
It is fascinating that two of the ethnic populations most formally defined by ancestral religion, the Druze and Jewish Israelis, are each almost half atheists, while "Christian" Arabs in Israel are more than a third atheists.

Another interesting contemporary observation about the populations of the region is that:
Levantine populations showed higher inbreeding coefficients and longer runs of homozygosity compared to Africans and Europeans, but lower compared to Central Asian and American populations. These results are to be expected given the high level of consanguinity among Druze (47%), Muslim Arabs (41.7%) and Bedouins (60.1%)57. The Druze’s effective population size (5,700 ± 300) is much higher than would be expected for a population isolate and is within the same order of magnitude as Palestinians (7,000 ± 300) and Bedouins (6,500 ± 300)58.
These levels of consanguinity are extremely high compared to most areas of Europe and North America, where the norm would be in the low single digit percentages, often below 2%.

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