Study shows Croatians from Hvar have a minor Central Asian/East Asian genetic component

Modern wooden statue of Perun, the god of thunder and lightning, Ruthenia

Modern wooden statue of Perun, the god of thunder and lightning(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The evidence of mtDNA haplogroup F in a European population and its ethnohistoric implications, European Journal of Human Genetics September 2001, Volume 9, Number 9, Pages 717-723, by  Helle-Viivi Tolk1, Lovorka Barac2, Marijana Pericic2, Irena Martinovic Klaric2, Branka Janicijevic2, Harry Campbell3, Igor Rudan3,4, Toomas Kivisild1, Richard Villems1 and Pavao Rudan2

Mitochondrial DNA polymorphism was analysed in a sample of 108 Croatians from the Adriatic Island isolate of Hvar. Besides typically European varieties of human maternal lineages, haplogroup F was found in a considerable frequency (8.3%). This haplogroup is most frequent in southeast Asia but has not been reported before in Europe. The genealogical analysis of haplogroup F cases from Hvar suggested founder effect. Subsequent field work was undertaken to sample and analyse 336 persons from three neighbouring islands (Brac, Korcula and Krk) and 379 more persons from all Croatian mainland counties and to determine if haplogroup F is present in the general population. Only one more case was found in one of the mainland cities, with no known ancestors from Hvar Island. The first published phylogenetic analysis of haplogroup F worldwide is presented, applying the median network method, suggesting several scenarios how this maternal lineage may have been added to the Croatian mtDNA pool. European Journal of Human Genetics (2001) 9, 717-723.

…The topology of the tree as well as the distribution of the frequencies of the mtDNA haplogroups15 do not differ substantially from that expected for a European Mediterranean population7,32 ± except for the presence of haplogroup F at a frequency about 8%. As mentioned above, haplogroup F must be very rare in European populations because it was not reported in largest recent collections (nR5000) of mtDNA varieties.19 ± 23 There- fore, its finding in Hvar was intriguing. Figure 2 shows the location of Hvar Island and its villages, along with reconstructed genealogies of nine haplogroup F cases. More- over, it is worth noting that a subject indicated by two asterisks developed an additional mutation at np 16207 over a span of the four generations from the common ancestor.
The two competing hypotheses were that the haplogroup F was introduced to the island from an unidentified source population by sea or from the nearby mainland. The nine subjects with haplogroup F came from three different villages (Vrbanj, Svirce and Bogomolje). The reconstruction of genealogies to five generations linked these persons to three female ancestors (Figure 2). It failed to link them to a single ancestor since Parish registry records revealed that the female (indicated by an asterisk) immigrated to the island from the nearby mainland city of Podgora. On interview, this individual stated that her ancestors had arrived from within the Balkans mainland a few centuries ago. This implies that haplogroup F might be present in the Croatian general population. Subsequent field work was undertaken and 715 unrelated mtDNA genomes from all Croatian counties were analysed. One subject (0.26%) from the northern part of Croatia (Zagreb county), was found to have the haplogroup F and was unaware of any ancestors from Hvar Island. Out of the 336 individuals from three other Eastern Adriatic islands (Krk, Brac and Korcula) no one had haplogroup F.
Haplogroup F derives from an internal node R of the human mtDNA phylogenetic tree10 and is a sister group to an eastern Eurasian haplogroup B, as well as to haplogroups H, J, K, T and U; the latter five comprising about 95% of the European mtDNA diversity.5 ± 7 In order to obtain further insight into the origin of the `Croatian F’ lineages, we constructed a phylogenetic network from HVS-I haplotypes belonging to mtDNA haplogroup F which were published in the literature. Two main boughs of the subset of the limb F1, F1a and F1b, are depicted in Figure 3.
Haplogroup F is characteristic of the Chinese population (10.8%) and reaches the highest frequency in the Vietnamese population (32%).13,14,16,26 It is relatively frequent also among Mongolians (8.7%), Koreans (5.1%) and Japanese (5.1%),13,17 but very rare in northeastern Asians.33,34 The sample from three Turkic-speaking Central Asian populations3 comprises 11 likely (based on HVR-I sequence information only) individuals, carrying haplogroup F mtDNA genomes (5.4%) and the corresponding mtDNA varieties originate from different limbs of haplogroup F. In a total sample of European, Near Eastern, Anatolian and South Caucasian data (n=7190)12,19 ± 23 only three individuals (0.04%) had a haplogroup F: two Turks and one Azeri (Figure 3).
Figure 3 indicates that within the phylogeny of limb F1, the particular varieties found in Croatia, belong to a mono- phyletic clade within bough F1b, specified by a rare C to A transversion at np 16232 and a transition at np 16249. The internal node is shared by Croats, Mongols and Turkic- speaking Uighurs, Kazakhs, Turks and even by one South Asian (Sri Lankan, our unpublished results) mtDNA. A further extension of this bough via additional transitions at nps 16129 and 16344 leads to a twig, shared by Korean and Japanese13,14,18 populations, including Ainus and Ryukyu people. Yet another twig (np 16172) is occupied by mtDNAs, found among Koreans and Turkic-speaking Uighurs.3,13 The single haplotype found in Croatian mainland belongs there as well (Figure 3). Considering all the available data, the coalescence age estimate for the base node of haplogroup F is approximately 40 000 ± 50 000 years before present, which agrees with an early Upper Palaeolithic origin of this major eastern Eurasian variety of mtDNA. However, it does not imply that the node containing Croatian mtDNAs started to expand at that time period. Bearing in mind a limited divergence of the corresponding internal node comprising Croatian haplogroup F sequences, it may have happened much more recently. More importantly, its phylogeography suggests that the particular variety of maternal lineages must have been within a migrational wave(s), carrying haplogroup F north and westwards from a putative origin in Southeast Asia.

… There may have been many occasions when haplogroup F could have reached Croatia; several possibilities can be found in recorded history. At the end of the 4th century AD, the Huns left Central Asia and invaded Europe for a short period. As a consequence, this major migration also ended a long period of a predominantly Indo-Aryan nomadic presence in the Steppe Belt, extending from China to Europe with their replacement by Mongoloid and Altaic pastoral nomads.37 A few centuries later, the Avars (a Mongol people) established a state on the Pannonian planes (current Hungary and North Croatia). It is historically well documented that Avars formed tribal alliances with Slavs, and, subsequently, partially dissolved into the Slavic populations.38 More recently, in the year 1241, Mongols reached the eastern Adriatic through Croatian territory.39 Finally, much earlier, there was the ancient Silk Road from China through Central Asia to the Mediterranean that can be considered as another possible route for the introduction haplogroup F to Europe. Any of these named population movements could have brought haplogroup F maternal lineages to Croatia. A more extensive admixture of Croatians with Central Asian Turkic or Mongoloid females (eg with Avars) is a less likely explanation of our findings because in this case, one would expect to observe the haplogroup M lineages in the Croatian mtDNA pool. The latter haplogroup is almost an order of magnitude more frequent in Central Asians than is haplogroup F.3 Since this is not the case, a more specific and narrow founder effect is a more likely explanation.

In summary, the above data show that a maternal lineage, likely arising in the early Upper Palaeolithic period in southeastern Asia, has found a route to Europe and, probably because of random genetic drift, could become a significant component of mtDNA variety in an isolated Adriatic island population. We have also demon- strated that a detailed phylogeographic analysis makes possible the tracing of this lineage back to its possible geographic origin among eastern-central Asian popula- tions. This, in turn, suggests historic and demographic events possibly explaining the presence of mtDNA haplogroup F in Europe.

The above study is supported by the results of another study “Review of Croatian genetic heritage as revealed by mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomal lineages“, Croat Med J. 2005 Aug; 46(4):502-13. Pericić M1, Barać Lauc L, Martinović Klarić I, Janićijević B, Rudan P.

This high-resolution phylogenetic study of the mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome variation in mainland and insular Croatian populations found that while the phylogeography of mtDNA and Y chromosome variants of Croatians can be adequately explained within typical European maternal and paternal genetic landscape, the mtDNA haplogroup F and Y-chromosomal haplogroup P* genetic component indicated a connection to Asian populations.

Croatia – Folklore and regional stories

“Towards sunset, having ‘done’ a few more sights, I sat with a pivo in the Stradun, the Old Town’s only wide street – of polished stone, lined with tall, gravely imposing buildings. And there Dubrovnik’s free evening entertainment mesmerised me: thousands of swifts giving a dizzying display of aerobatics, circling high in the sky , then swooping and darting low between the buildings, their speed and flock coordination something to marvel at, their shrill frenetic twitterings so loud I had to raise my voice when ordering another pivo. Looking up and down the Stradone, I mentally congratulated the successors to the Major Council: no plastic disfiguring of shop façades is allowed and only café table sunshades – Coca-Cola and Marlboro – marred the Adriatic’s most famous thoroughfare.

The above extract is taken from Through the Embers of Chaos: Balkan Journeys by Dervla Murphy (John Murray, 2002).

Croatian mythology should be told on a cold winter’s night. It’s the sort of stuff that needs flickering light from a dying fire and a howling wind whistling outside, occasional draughts sending extra shivers down your spine. Sitting in a semi-circle before a wise old woman, or a huge bearded man, you don’t get Croatian folk stories from a book, just from memory and invention.

Croatian myth is part of the Slavic tradition that sweeps across Baltic, central and Eastern Europe, terrifying children and giving nightmares a ghoulish flavour. There is almost nothing that can be called specifically Croatian, hardly surprising given that there has hardly been an area that would answer to the name of Croatia for very long.

The Slavic tradition itself is nothing like as hard and fast as Greek mythology. There are no ancient written authorities and all that survive are the characters, but without any actual stories.

There are Gods like Perun, God of Thunder, King of the Gods, who are recognisable from all mythologies. Most of the Slavic Gods, like Veles, God of the Underworld, would feel at home round a Greek or a Norse Gods’ banqueting table. But it is the lesser deities, who inhabit the world around us every day, who give Slavic myth its own peculiar dimensions.

Harry Potter fans might recognise the Vila, fairies who appear in the shape of beautiful women. There are also the domaci, good house spirits who live in cupboards and under the stairs. And who could forget those most famous of mythological demons, the vampires and werewolves!

Some fables are specific to Croatia, like that of Malik Tintilinic, a very naughty little boy dressed in red from head to toe. Known to the story-tellers of coastal Croatia, Malik loves to joke and dance and brings good fortune to his master. Typical to all Croatian stories, though, there is a darker subtext: folk say that Malik is the spirit of an unbaptised dead child.

These, and many other Croatian stories – like the tale of the frozen city of Legen – have been adopted and put into stories by one great Croatian writer. In her Croatian Tales of Long Ago (1916), long overdue for a new English edition, Ivana Brlic Mazuranic, used the rudiments of Slavic mythology to create a real mythology just for her country Croatia.

Called by contemporaries “The Croatian Andersen”, and more recently “The Slavic Tolkien”, Ivana was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her characters include Mokos, wife or helper of the chief God Perun, who is the Earth Goddess. We also meet gods of beauty, morning, bright skies, and a sphinx-like creature who asks travellers awkward questions.

In Brlic’s work, as in all Slavic tales, everything is black and white: there are creative and destructive forces and each good character has a nemesis, an opposing force in a dualistic universe.

These are folk tales with simple messages and characters in search of narrators; luckily, although Croatian mythology lacks a Homer or an Ovid, it has its Tolkien.”

The Croats arrived to the shores of Adriatic in the 7th century, giving their contribution to the Slavic migrations across Europe. In the following eras they developed their own myths and legends, often mixing real history with the world of fables. Here are just a few of them.
The legend of the founding of Zagreb
Somewhere in the early eleventh century, a young lad decided to leave his home and become a wandering knight. He spent many years on adventures throughout the area, doing good deeds with his wit and sword. Once he was going through a dark forest in the vicinity of Bear Mountain. As it came to be, he lost his way and became mortally thirsty.
There was no stream or pond to save him, and he sat in the dirt hoping for rain. Then, all of the sudden, a beautiful maiden came out of nowhere. At that moment, he was so thirsty he could barely speak, but the girl couldn’t help him as she wasn’t carrying any water. However, she advised the knight to dig on the place of his respite.

“Zagrebite!” said the girl. Or, in English if you wish, “Scratch it!” she yelled, pointing at the dirt below the knight’s feet. The young man scratched the ground to soon find water pouring from the shallow hole he dug.
The adventurer thought young girl was of elven kind, but she introduced herself as a poor human orphan, without anybody of her own. Her name was Mandusa. The young lad smiled, named the stream Mandusevac , and asked for her hand in marriage, with promises of building a huge city in which they would dwell. As she accepted, rays of sunlight engulfed the pair, and through some kind of enchantment, showed them the size and fame of the town in the future.
Therefore, Zagreb literally means “The place which is scratched,” while its heart, Mandusevac fountain on Jelacic square, is the place it was founded. It is said that drinking the water from it will make you never forget the town, but considering that people today throw their coins into the water, stick to your camera for memories.

The stone nuptial

On the western part of Medvednica Mountain, close to the romantic town of Samobor, lies an interesting site of dolomite rocks. These stones look almost human, and as if they are participating in some kind of rite or celebration.

Croatian writer August Senoa wrote a poem explaining the nature of the place. Based on his story, there was a family running a big mill under the mountain. The owner was an honest, hardworking man, and his son was not much different. However, the miller’s wife had an evil heart.

When her son expressed his desire to marry Janja, the daughter of poor blind man without any income, the woman was shocked. If it weren’t for the young girl’s father, the marriage would not be arranged. But the anger of the miller’s wife was unstoppable, and seeing the nuptial celebration, she cursed it, transforming all participants into cold stone.

The woman, of course, regretted her words, but it was too late. The rocks, once happy cortege and now rocks under Medvednica, can be seen near Jablanovec village.

The building of Pula’s amphitheatre

The size and magnificence of Pula’s amphitheater triggered people’s imagination, and legend was formed around it. According to this tale, Istria was inhabited by a strange kind of fairies called Divicas. Although small in size and very feminine, they had remarkable physical strength and were skilled in masonry.

By nature good towards humans yet shy enough to evade any contact with them, the Divicas had another unique feature. They were nocturnal creatures which dwelled outside until the first rooster’s cry in the morning.

They once decided to build their own settlement, called Divic-town (Divic being the word used for anything miraculous in Istrian language). They took large boulders from Ucka Mountain and carried them all the way to what is now Pula. Being so powerful, they managed to build the whole amphitheater in one night. A roost cried to warn them of the approaching daylight.

The Divicas immediately left the construction yard and went to their hideouts. They didn’t have time to build the roof of the amphitheater and had hoped to finish it the following night. For some reason, they never came back. This is why Pula’s arena remains roofless.

St. Vlaho and Richard Lionheart in Dubrovnik

Saints and kings like Dubrovnik, according to two prominent legends about the town. Based on the first one, St. Vlaho (known as St. Blaise in the West) miraculously appeared to Dubrovnik cathedral’s rector named Stojko. He reported that Venetians have disembarked on neighboring Lokrum Island and were preparing an assault on the town.
Stojko shared this information with the town guard, which organized defenses and scared the enemy troops away. Because of this event, St. Vlaho became the patron saint of Dubrovnik, visible on the emblems and architecture of the place.

As for royalty, it was said that no other than the famous Richard the Lionheart of England helped build the Romanic basilica in Dubrovnik. During the third crusades, he shipwrecked in the Adriatic and managed to reach the aforementioned Lokrum Island. To thank God for survival, he gave money for the church’s construction. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in an earthquake five hundred years later, leaving the place for today’s baroque cathedral.

Many more Croatian stories can be told and shared, but for now, let’s end with these. Just remember that if you find a strange rock in Istria, leave it there. The Divicas are probably building something in the vicinity.

Folktales of mermaids falling in love with fishermen, and legends starring Zeus and Poseidon (sky and sea gods) and thunder gods are mythical elements found on the Hvar island of Croatia that echo those found in the East as well.

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