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Sicilians have 10% sub-Saharan African DNA March 2, 2009

Posted by ethnicgenome in Italians and Sicilians.
Tags: , , ,

I am not publishing the results of these two studies to argue to Sicilians aren’t white. They do have an above average amount of black DNA, but so do all white people. All Caucausian peoples have small amounts of both African and Asian blood.

Whites are in fact the most “versatile” race. For instance, there are whites who have curly hair like blacks, straight hair like Orientals and everything in between. Whites are between Africans and Asians in most qualities: IQ, athletic ability and so on.

Nor am I writing this to argue that there are no races. The fact that a poodle may have 1-10% of bulldog blood somewhere does not make him a bulldog.

As surprising as it may sound, I am writing this purely for academic reasons – to air out the truth.

Now onto the evidence.

Sicilians have 4.4% African mtDNA (maternal). But there is a lot more total African heritage.

It is likely that African DNA flow came from slaves brought into Rome who were mostly men. Sicily and southern Italy may have been the slave drop of points, and therefore would have the highest number of slaves.

I haven’t seen this proved anywhere, but it seems the most likely hypothesis based on DNA studies.

Acta Haematol. 1978;60(6):350-7.

Blood group phenotypes and the origin of sickle cell hemoglobin in Sicilians.

Sandler SG, Schiliro G, Russo A, Musumeci S, Rachmilewitz EA.

As an approach to investigating the origin of sickle cell hemoglobin (hemoglobin S) in white persons of Sicilian ancestry, two groups of native Sicilians were tested for blood group evidence of African admixture. Among 100 unrelated Sicilians, the phenotypes cDe(Rho) and Fy(a-b-), and the antigens V(hrv) and Jsa, which are considered to be African genetic markers, were detected in 12 individuals.

Among 64 individuals from 21 families with at least one known hemoglobin S carrier, African blood group markers were detected in 7 (11%).

These findings indicate that hemoglobin S is only one of multiple African genes present in contemporary Sicilian populations. The occurrence of hemoglobin S in white persons of Sicilian ancestry is considered to be a manifestation of the continuing dissemination of the original African mutation. PMID: 103355 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Immunogenetics. 2004 Jan;55(10):674-81. Epub 2003 Dec 2.

Gm and Km immunoglobulin allotypes in Sicily.

Cerutti N, Dugoujon JM, Guitard E, Rabino Massa E.

Department of Animal and Human Biology, University of Turin, Via Accademia Albertina 17, 10123, Turin, Italy.

The presence of a typical African marker (haplotype Gm 5*;1,17;…), especially in the genetic structure of Alia and Palermo, highlights the possibility of past contacts with peoples from Africa. [...] Therefore, the introduction of an African polymorphism could have been due to the Phoenician colonization or to the more recent Arab conquest of the territory (9th century A.D.). A study (Semino et al. 1989) carried out with restriction enzymes on mtDNA indicated the presence of African haplotypes (4.4%) in a sample of Sicilians. The authors hypothesized an input of genes from Africa to Sicily (estimated at about 10%) brought by Phoenician migrations.

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1. Big Al - April 30, 2009

Are you sure that the “African” DNA isn’t North African, and hence Caucasian? I understand that North Africa has always been a diverse place, but during the periods of Carthaginian and Arab rule in Sicily, there were far fewer sub-Saharan Africans in North Africa than there would soon be in the next several centuries on account of the trans-Saharan slave trade. At least that was the case with present-day Tunisia, from where most of the North Africans to Sicily came. By the mid-11th century, Sicily was no longer in Arab hands but had passed to the Normans. Today’s Tunisians are pretty easily picked apart from the Sicilians in most cases on account of the greater sub-Saharan admixture they possess now.

I’ve also seen a recent study illustrating that about 6-7% of Sicilian Y chromosomes are of North African origin, but not at all sub-Saharan. I’m not trying to cover anything up either, it’s just that after hearing some wildly bizarre comments on Sicilians over the years (I’m of Sicilian descent btw), I’m very skeptical. I’m also well-read on Sicilian history too.

I don’t doubt there might be some sub-Saharan genetic markers in Sicily given its history of being such an important strategic center and trading point for thousands of years, but 10% sub-Saharan sounds a bit high. I’ve actually heard it’s the Portuguese who have the most among Europeans, at c. 8% or so on average in southern Portugal. After all, it was the Portuguese who were the biggest participants in the European slave trade.

I honestly believe that Hollywood as well as various Nordicist and Afrocentrist groups have been trying to push this idea of Sicilians as being largely mixed with sub-Saharan ancestry for some time, without having much evidence to back it up. Sicilians actually are more Greek and mainland Italian than anything in terms of their ancestry. To this day, Sicilians and Greeks share a large percentage of genetic markers, and it’s thought that roughly 37% of Sicilian Y chromosomes have an origin in the southern Balkans (i.e. Greece and the Aegean region). For centuries Sicily was intertwined with politics in ancient Greece, and following the period of Roman occupation, the Byzantine Greeks held it for a few centuries prior to the Muslim Arab period.

BTW, as for North Africans, isn’t the average North African about 1/8-1/4 sub-Saharan or so in ancestry? I’m talking about autosomal DNA too, not exclusively mtDNA or Y-DNA. Some regions and groups have more than others too. For example, the coastal Berbers have the least, whereas the Arab populations have as much as 20-25% sub-Saharan mtDNA (such ancestry is almost always on the maternal side there).

Feel free to reply to this, I’d greatly appreciate some further input and/or discussion.

2. Becsters - May 16, 2009

Big Al must not know a lot about history! Many Portuguese have African blood because some (not all) of the Moors who ruled over and occupied Spain for 700 years were of black African descent. I find it funny when people seem to think the whole world began with slavery, or that the first time anyone in the world encountered Africans was with slavery. That is NOT true. Many Greeks and other Mediterraneans actually came into West Africa to study at places such as Timbuktu (in modern day Mali) and Jeene centuries before, as Africans have been a part of that area of the world for a LONG time. They were not running around in loincloths ALL over Africa, apart from popular (uneducated) belief.

While it is true that many of the African empires such as Ghana and Mali, or even Nubians and Ethiopia, dealt a LOT more with Arabs or others in the Middle East, Africans were NOT unknown to the Romans or Greeks. There is even speculation that at least 1 or a few of the rulers of ancient Rome had African blood. Hannibal Barca (the annihilator), the man who weakened the Roman empire on an elephant, was 25% Lebanese and 75% African.

ONCE AGIAN, can I remind you that the modern day racism of seeing Africans as below anyone, or people perhaps not wanting to believe they have African blood for those reasons, is a NEW concept. Africans, Middle Easterners/Arabs (Few Arabs were actually African blood, because the term Arab meant anyone who embraced Islam and Arabic culture and lived amongst them, it did NOT mean skin color or the actual people indigenous to that region) and South Europeans had intermingled for centuries while Western Europeans were in their own world and apart from that society.

I HONESTLY think many people are far too caught up in the modern world and the (inane) ideas of race. For centuries people did NOT care what color one person’s skin color was, it was more about culture or religion. The world did not start 500 years ago with the Europeans and the slave trade! The idea of Sicilians having “Sub Saharan” African blood is NOT shocking unless you live solely in the modern world and don’t realize that Many centuries and years ago, the thought of a black/African person mixing with someone else was NOT shocking! ESPECIALLY for people from Southern Europe! (My Goodness, one day I WISH people will open their eyes and realize this)

Western Europe had hardly known anything about what was going on beyond the Anglican Church or whichever power was in control at the time. In America and the U.S Those same Europeans still hold power and they continue to tell things from their lopsided view. The world was moving on around what was going on in Europe and there are histories that do not include them.

AND whites do not have the most “versatile” race, That spot actually belongs to Africans who have many different strands of DNA, from the Bushmen (San) and Pigmeys to your “average” black Africans and Somalians and Ethiopians, even the Aborigines of Australia are considered African blood and many have naturally light hair. Africans have different DNA from one another more than any other race, party for the large size of the African continent and because that is where life is said to have begun and spread from there (Ethiopia). While Europeans may look different from one another in some ways do not forget the world we live in of hair dye and surgery, 2% of Europeans have naturally light hair, even though they have different variations of eye color.

My point is: If Sicilians have 10% African blood, what does it matter? And there is no reason to honestly believe otherwise.

sorry this is long, I could have put more information, and I can give sources for anything anyone wants to dispute.

thanks! (read a book!)

3. Gianina - July 18, 2009

im sicilian and southern italian.(100% italian) get very dark in summer. natural olive skin tone. am i part black?

4. Gianina - July 18, 2009

Ps, naturally curly hair. (thick) dark brown. brown eyes. and almost arabic looking sometimes.

5. Big Al - July 26, 2009


With all due respect I know and have read plenty of history. You made good points about the Greeks and Romans having had contact with people from sub-Saharan Africa (as well as Mediterranean North Africa), but I’m skeptical of claims stating that Hannibal Barca’s African ancestry was sub-Saharan (if that’s what you implied there). The ancient Carthaginians were predominantly a blend of Phoenicians from present-day Lebanon and native Berbers. Although Berber-speaking populations vary in looks, the coastal Berbers of North Africa have always been essentially Mediterranean Caucasoids. Thus, Hannibal likely looked more like Tony Shalhoub (actor of Lebanese ancestry) than say, Denzel Washington. Many people fail to realize that there has always been a big difference between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Also, how would you know that Hannibal was 75% African and 25% Lebanese (actually Phoenician since today’s Lebanese aren’t exactly the same as the ancient Phoenicians)?? If you’ve actually found and tested his DNA then fine, otherwise you have no definitive proof. Like I said though, judging from where he was from, Hannibal was most likely a mix of Phoenician and Berber stock as he was a Carthaginian from what is now Tunisia.

The Mediterranean world has always been a cultural crossroads of different peoples, I’m aware of that, but the fact is that the vast majority of people who have ventured into that area were (and are) what we would now call Caucasoid. With respect to the Moors, there seems to be a great deal of confusion. The Moors who invaded southern Europe were overwhelmingly Arabs and coastal Berbers. Although certainly some sub-Saharans were in their ranks, their numbers were much smaller. Also, I will again say that Hollywood has definitely skewed the image as to what MOST Moors looked like, that is Arab/Berber. I also noticed that the one source stated that Sicilians have 10% African ancestry via the Phoenicians. Just by the wording that’s so insanely false I don’t know where to begin. As we’ve already established, Phoenicians were from the Levant and were hence not even from Africa. Their residual civilization, the Carthaginians, were based in Tunisia and they were mixed with coastal Berbers, a kindred Mediterranean people who would’ve resembled the Phoenicians. I promise I don’t have an agenda, I’m just stating what I thought was common knowledge. I don’t doubt your knowledge of history but I think that you may have stumbled upon sources that did in fact reflect some agenda. There are loads of scholars (of any ethnicity) who have their own personal agendas as well.

You also seem to suggest that the rest of Europe was always totally isolated from the Mediterranean world while the Middle East/sub-Saharan Africa was not. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the best way to say it is that the Middle East and the rest of Europe always had far greater contacts with the Mediterranean world than sub-Saharan Africa ever did. Geography alone would explain this. Germanic and Celtic slaves were known in Rome, and the Romans were constantly at war with the Celts or Germanic tribes to their north. Additionally, Germans and Celts figured prominently in the Roman legions, especially in the later centuries during its decline. After Rome fell, Germanic Lombards invaded and conquered Italy, Visigoths conquered Spain, and more would also follow. Centuries later the Normans established a kingdom in southern Italy and Sicily. Thus there was considerable migration of northern Europeans to southern Europe in ancient and especially medieval times.

BTW, yes the Roman emperor Septimius Severus is said to have had African ancestry, but by “African,” again by no means does that imply black African. In fact, the land comprising today’s Tunisia was known as the Roman province of “Africa” from which the whole continent later got its name. I’m not saying it’s impossible that he had black African ancestry, but it’s equally probable and in fact considerably more probable that he was of Berber stock. Below is a link with information on that emperor.


Any black African admixture in the Portuguese is in fact heavily a result of the slave trade that began in the early modern period and not with the Moors. As for the Sicilians, the study I posted is the most recent, and hence likely the most accurate, genetic study to date. Any African ancestry in Sicilians is overwhelmingly North African Arab/Berber. Is there anything wrong with having black African ancestry? Not at all, it’s just that any amount of it in the Sicilian gene pool is negligent, that’s all. Furthermore, not only were the Moors mostly not black Africans, but they were also only one of several groups that conquered Sicily over the ages. Mainland Italians, Greeks, Normans, Lombards, French, Spaniards, and others also came to Sicily and intermarried with the preexisting population.

I suggest you take a look at the following website to get a better grasp on Sicilian history and the genetic composition of its population. It’s quite informative and does not reflect a personal agenda or bias.


One more thing: I wasn’t trying to imply that sub-Saharan Africa was barbaric and uncivilized prior to the modern era. I’m well-aware of the kingdoms and empires of Ghana, Ethiopia, Kush, Mali, etc., and they were magnificent civilizations, but frankly the Moors were overwhelmingly a distinct group of people. OK I wrote too much and I’m tired now lol. I hope those sources are helpful.

6. italian historian - August 10, 2009

big al is completely correct, i couldn’t agree more with everything you have said. i also have read extensively on sicily and it is true that there was never a time of significant black african admixture in sicily and it was only north african admixture that was present an they were caucasians. as for becsters, you obviously have not been reading reputible sources and nearly everything you said is incorrect. maybe you should read a little more because it sure seems like you don’t know what the hell your talking about.

7. funEye - August 16, 2009

Why is it stated that the African blood was due to slavery? There is documented evidence of trade with dark Africans, free Romans the where Black, and in paintings of the time many depictions that reflect Africanized features in some of the prominent subject of said paintings.

Its just like the History Channel always shows Egyptian, Middle Eastern or Mayan illustrations (by the ancient people themselves) only then to use White actors in the Dramatizations. It give a very strong message that everyone was White and anyone who says others goes against so much imagery embed into our heads that everything good is White and bad things are Black.

8. italian historian - August 25, 2009

funeye, i would like to see where you have found proof of africans because they were rare in italy. also the romans were white as depicted in art of the time. the only questionable nonwhites in the empire would have been arabs but they are not black africans. you people need to get your history straight. there is a huge desert that would have been impossible for the romans to pass in order to reach africas interior, the sahara.

9. italian historian - August 26, 2009

before you believe what this article says, read the last paragraph: the author says it is a HYPOTHESIS THAT HAS NOT BEEN PROVEN. sicilians are most likely to have just as much african dna as any other part of europe.

10. Big Al - August 28, 2009

^Thank you Italian historian. Good to see there are others out there who haven’t been caught up in fantasy theories, propaganda, and extreme political correctness. It gets irritating when people try to deny your ethnic group their true heritage. Hollywood has really twisted the actual history of Mediterranean ethnic groups for its own agenda, as have racist jackasses of all stripes. Yet, as soon as you throw a little logic and evidence into the equation, they immediately clam right up.

Today’s Italians are certainly a mixed lot, but they’re a mixture of a wide array of Caucasoid groups, mostly European, but some Arab, Phoenician, and other Near Eastern bloodlines as well (mostly in Sicilians and some others from the far south of mainland Italy, i.e. Calabria). The fact is, most Italians have brown hair and brunet white skin (that tans well in summer). Go to Italy in January, and the people are as light as any other European (save some Brits/Irish, Scandinavians, and others with pinkish-white skin). Romans/Italic groups, Celts (Gauls), Greeks, Etruscans, Lombards, Goths, Arabs, Phoenicians, Normans, and others have all contributed to the genetic makeup of today’s Italians. Of all these groups, the Romans/Italic tribes, Celts, Greeks, and Lombards probably contributed the most to the genetic composition of Italians. Of course, there is also regional variation to this. Northern Italians have a largely Celtic and Lombard lineage, central Italians are heavily Roman/Italic with perhaps some Etruscan, and southern Italians are heavily Roman/Italic and Greek with some Arab, Phoenician, Norman, and Lombard admixture. Yes, the Arab/Phoenician admixture is mostly in Sicily, but again, these groups are Caucasoids. I do have relatives who look a bit Arabic (i.e. olive complexions, dark curly hair, Semitic features, etc.), but they certainly don’t look sub-Saharan. Likewise, I have blond blue-eyed relatives, and most of my relatives look Greek or standard Italian. Hence, my relatives basically sum up in a nutshell as to how Sicilians can look, and which looks are most common.

11. italian historian - August 29, 2009

at least now i know i’m not the only one in the world who knows italian history. your absolutely correct. certain movies have started the myths that italians, or more specifically, sicilians have african admixture, but when you look into history, this is not true. people are just historically deprived and believe everything they hear in the movies. i am part sicilian, but i see no black or even arabic traits in my family. they look much like a typical italian/ central european. none of my sicilian family has curly hair or dark skin, and those sicilians who do have these traits, are probably, like you said of arabic/semetic ancestry, somewhere down the line. also bear in mind that the original greeks who settled southern italy were quite different in apperance than modern greeks due to the genetic mixture as a result of ottoman rule after the fall of the byzantine empire. i myself am a mix of italian origin from, sicily, calabria, tuscany and basilicata, and i also have norman ancestors(my great grandfather). this article is non-sense, has no sources, and is simply an article that someone wrote to stir controversy.

12. Big Al - August 30, 2009

^Yes it’s true that I should specify that the Greek ancestry in southern Italians/Sicilians is Ancient/Byzantine Greek, which predated the Slavic incursions into Greece and the Turkish occupation. In Byzantine times, the Greeks who fled to Italy were actually fleeing Slavic and other invasions in the Balkans. However, I’m going to give today’s Greeks their due and state that they also still have substantial genetic continuity with the Ancient Greeks. But, I also agree that there has been considerable admixture with other groups down through the centuries as well (i.e. Slavs, Turks, Albanians, Armenians, and others). This is not unique to Greeks of course, and as I’ve explained Italians have likewise changed somewhat since the days of the Roman Empire.

I’ve seen many Greeks with typical Ancient Greek features (i.e. actress Melina Kanakeredes or actor Costas Mandylor), but yet I’ve also seen others who could’ve easily passed for Turkish, Lebanese, etc. Today’s Greeks are also a mixed bunch, no doubt. Still, it’s that Ancient Greek look that people to this day associate with a distinctly Greek appearance. It’s this look that many southern Italians and Sicilians also share. Ancient Greeks were certainly prevailingly brunet and Mediterranean in appearance, but they would not really have resembled many of the modern inhabitants of Turkey or the Levant.

I’m also careful to specify that the Arab ancestry in Sicilians is medieval Arab. Medieval Arabs (also “Moors” or “Saracens”) were from North Africa, but unlike today’s North Africans, they did not have much admixture from sub-Saharan populations. This is because the trans-Saharan slave trade was not yet in full force. In Arab societies, the children of Arab men and slave women (many of whom were of sub-Saharan ancestry) were regarded as being ethnically Arab due to the patrilineal nature of Arab culture. The obvious result was that sub-Saharan genes were introduced into Arab populations in North Africa and elsewhere. This practice occurred over the course of roughly a good millenium or so. Hence, this is why many of today’s North Africans have very dark complexions and other characteristics that suggest admixture. In my experience, Egyptians and Moroccans seem to have the most admixture of the North Africans, but even in a country as far removed from sub-Saharan regions as Tunisia, you’ll see many people who look somewhat mixed. With respect to Egypt though, it’s also quite likely that such admixture was present even in more ancient times, due to the presence of the Nile which would’ve facilitated contacts with lands to the south, such as Nubia, Ethiopia, etc.

13. italian historian - August 30, 2009

Yes, I agree with you in what you have said. The medieval arabs did have very little sub-saharan admixture(if any), unlike modern north africans who now can be seen to have more sub-saharan mixture. Basically to sum things up this article is non-sense, and it is highly unlikely that there is significant sub-saharan mixture in sicily. Sicilians are just as much Sub-saharan African as any other European group, however, they have more mixture with Arab/Semetic groups which is why they may sometimes look somewhat similar. Also, dark skin is common in southern europe more probably do to the fact that it is a sunny and warm climate, than it has to do with mixture from Middle Eastern groups. In fact, tan/darker skin is not unusual in people from Italy, Greece, Southern France, and many Balkan countries( I leave out Iberians because of Moorish mixture). Darker conplextions are also even sometimes seen in Northern Europe as well. I know a Scandinavian man who has significantly darker skin than I do. That said, there are clines in features such as complextion, but there is large variability in Europeans. This is why it is sometimes hard to place a person of Europeab ancestry into a specific nationality. If I ask someone what nationality they think I am, they often say I look Eastern European(such as Polish or Jewish which I get often). In todays world, there really are no 100% ethnic people, excluding very few isolated groups such as native americans. When people tell you their nationality, it is highly likely that they are not completely that nationality because even going back 500 years, you will have as many as 2 million ancestors(approximately 20 generations back). So in all reality when you tell someone your nationality, your telling them what majority you are, but your likely to have other groups as well. This goes for all Europeans, Asians, and Middle Eastern/North Africans. Of course i’m sure you realize this, but most people
do not. I appreciate your input , hopefully people learn something from reading this.

14. Big Al - August 30, 2009

^Exactly. Like you, I also get people who think I look “Eastern European,” but that’s a very vague term in and of itself. When I inquire further, they usually mention a country like Romania, Albania, or the former Yugoslavia. These people are really largely of pre-Slavic Thracian/Illyrian/Greek ancestry (or Dacian/Roman in the case of Romanians) and hence look more like Greeks or Italians than they do Slavs from Russia, Poland, and thereabouts. I’ve gotten Russian before too, but many of the “Russians” in the U.S. are actually Jewish, Georgian, Armenian, or from a number of other ethnicities that were simply part of the former Soviet Union and hence are not really ethnically Russian. Most of the real ethnic Russians I’ve seen are very fair and blond, with small eyes, concave noses, and other very distinct facial features.

All that said, most people think I’m Italian or Greek. I even had a Palestinian girl who thought I was Palestinian, so maybe I have some Arab/Phoenician ancestry on my Sicilian side. I usually get told I resemble the actor Jason Biggs, who is Italian-American and often gets cast as Jewish characters.

My paternal ancestry is fully Sicilian, and my maternal ancestry is a mix of Tuscan (Florentine), Alsatian (French-German mix), English, and Irish.

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