Medieval era encounters of nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe and largely sedentary East Europeans had a variety of demographic and cultural consequences. Amongst these outcomes was the emergence of the Lipka Tatars?a Slavic-speaking Sunni-Muslim minority residing in modern Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, whose ancestors arrived in these territories via several migration waves, mainly from the Golden Horde. Our results show that Belarusian Lipka Tatars share a substantial part of their gene pool with Europeans as indicated by their Y-chromosomal, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA variation. Nevertheless, Belarusian Lipkas still retain a strong genetic signal of their nomadic ancestry, witnessed by the presence of common Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA variants as well as autosomal segments identical by descent between Lipkas and East Eurasians from temperate and northern regions. Hence, we document Lipka Tatars as a unique example of former Medieval migrants into Central Europe, who became sedentary, changed language to Slavic, yet preserved their faith and retained, both uni- and bi-parentally, a clear genetic echo of a complex population interplay throughout the Eurasian Steppe Belt, extending from Central Europe to northern China.
Medieval migrations of Turkic-speaking nomads constitute a series of massive migration events in the history of Eurasia. They led to the spread of Turkic languages over a vast area, ranging from East Europe and Anatolia in the West to East and North Siberia in the East1. These migrations, besides their cultural influence, left a detectable impact on the genetic landscape of Eurasia: almost all extant Turkic peoples carry in their genomes DNA segments, though in different amounts, which they share with populations from South Siberia and Mongolia2. Despite this common feature, the genetic and demographic histories of Turkic populations can differ considerably. As far as East Europe is concerned, many of the mighty, largely Turkic-speaking tribes and confederations thereof, - such as Khazars, Volga Bulgars and Cumans, who once dominated the Ponto-Caspian steppes and beyond ? already vanished from political and ethnic maps long ago; whereas such as Volga Tatars, Chuvashes, Bashkirs, Crimean Tatars and a number of the northern Caucasus Turkic speakers, have to a larger or lesser extent, preserved their identity, even after many political transformations.
Lipka Tatars, or Lipkas, are an ethnic and religious Sunni-Muslim minority in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, accounting for about twelve thousand people. The majority of Lipkas ? about seven thousand people reside nowadays in Belarus (National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus. Population Census of the Republic of Belarus 2009. Available at: http://belstat.gov.by/homep/ru/perepic/2009/main_new.php. (Accessed: 18th June 2014)) and are below referred to as Belarusian Lipka Tatars (BLT). Lipkas are thought to descend from migrants of the Golden Horde and post-Golden Horde khanates3. According to historical records, they were invited as mercenaries to the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania during the period from the late 13th to the middle of the 16th century. The core of Lipkas as a distinct ethnic group had formed already by the end of the 14th century3 and it is likely that the documented migrations from the Crimea, Azov Sea and Don River regions played a major role in this process4,5,6. Initially, these migrants spoke one or several languages belonging to the Kipchak group of the Turkic languages7, but by the beginning of the 17th century they had already switched to Belarusian or Polish5. This relatively rapid language replacement may have been facilitated by (i) the initial linguistic heterogeneity of Lipka’s ancestors, (ii) the widespread practice of marriages with locals during the 14th and 15th centuries, and (iii) participation of Lipkas in the military service of the host country8. Despite these aspects of cultural integration into East European society, Lipkas retained their Muslim religion, which remains a core component of their ethnic self-identification today. The practice of marriages with locals was subsequently banned, helping to establish and maintain the ethnic boundaries between Lipkas and their neighbours5,8. The transition from a nomadic to sedentary lifestyle, language change, and their preservation of the Muslim religion, are the three features that make Lipkas an intriguing population not only per se but also in the broader context of the population history of the Eurasian Steppe.
We have shown previously9 that BLT bear about 30% of East Eurasian mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups, while the rest of their mtDNA pool can be broadly defined as West Eurasian in origin, with some haplotypes shared between BLT and Belarusians. Our preliminary Y-chromosomal DNA analysis revealed considerable heterogeneity of the BLT patrilineal heritage, witnessed by the presence of haplogroups typical of East European, Caucasian, Volga-Uralic, Central Asian and Siberian populations, with some Y-STR haplotypes shared specifically between BLT and Belarusians10.
Here, in order to infer the origin of different components of the gene pool of the present-day BLT, together with the mode and timing of their admixture in the past, we analyze BLT samples in the context of 120 complete mtDNA sequences from 35 Eurasian populations including 11 BLT and 27 new sequences from other populations, 1628 Y-STR haplotypes from 81 populations including 74 BLT and 80 new haplotypes from other populations, and 1231 genome-wide genotypes from 87 populations including six new BLT samples.
East Eurasian ancestry in the middle of Europe: genetic footprints of Steppe nomads in the genomes of Belarusian Lipka Tatars
Vasili Pankratov,a,1 Sergei Litvinov,2,3 Alexei Kassian,4,5 Dzmitry Shulhin,6 Lieve Tchebotarev,7 Bayazit Yunusbayev,3 Mart Mols,8 Hovhannes Sahakyan,3,9 Levon Yepiskoposyan,9 Siiri Rootsi,3 Ene Metspalu,3,10 Maria Golubenko,11 Natalia Ekomasova,12 Farida Akhatova,12,13 Elza Khusnutdinova,2,12 Evelyne Heyer,14 Phillip Endicott,14 Miroslava Derenko,15 Boris Malyarchuk,15 Mait Metspalu,3 Oleg Davydenko,1 Richard Villems,c,3,10 and Alena Kushniarevichb,1,3