Circassian Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries

by Kevin Alan Brook

Family Tree DNA - Genetic testing service
Family Tree DNA: Genetic Testing Service
Genetic testing will reveal your relationships to other families, other tribes from the Caucasus, and ethnic groups outside of Russia. Once you've received your DNA results, you'll be eligible to join the "Circassian DNA" project administered by Ali Berzeg and Astemir Shebzukho if you're a Circassian either paternally or maternally. It has around a thousand members.

The Circassians are an ethnic group native to the northwestern Caucasus region. They've lived there for many thousands of years. The western group of Circassians proper call themselves Adyghe. They are also sometimes called Adiga, Adygs, Adygey, and Adygei. Names like Cherkess and Circassian were applied to them by outsiders but Circassian (first used by an Italian) is the most recognizable term for them that's used in the English language. The western Circassians (Adyghe) live in the Adyghe Republic. The Kabarda (Kabardin) people are eastern Circassians living in Kabardino-Balkar Republic and they call themselves Kebertei. The Cherkess subgroup of central Circassians live in Karachay-Cherkessia.

The Circassians have been subjected to deportations and murders that have depopulated their presence in the Caucasus. Most of them were deported against their will to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.

The Circassian languages Adyghe and Kabardian are part of the Northwest Caucasian language family that also includes Abkhaz, Abaza, and the recently extinct Ubykh.

I own a copy of Amjad Jaimoukha's book The Circassians: A Handbook and recommend that you consult that if you want to learn more about this people.

Research by Behar et al. found that the Adyghe people are mostly West Asian but also have South Asian (Pakistani region) and Northeast Asian (Altaic Mongoloid) elements. On average, they say the Adyghe have about 5.7%-5.9% Siberian ancestry and about 7% South Asian ancestry.

U is the most common mtDNA haplogroup among the Adyghe people with a frequency of 32%. Of these, 14% belong to U3, 8% to U5, 4% to U2, and 4% to U4. The mtDNA haplogroup H is encountered among 22% of the Adyghe, of which 8% belong to H1+H3. T is found among 14% of those tested, followed by I with 6%, J with 4%, X2 with 3%, K with 2%, and W with 0.5%. Other mtDNA haplogroup(s) are found among 15.5%.

According to The ALlele FREquency Database, 7.6% of the 106 Adygei people studied carry at least one T allele in the R151C (rs1805007) gene where TT usually causes red hair.

Major studies of Circassians (Adyghe, Cherkess, Kabarda)

Jun Z. Li, Devin M. Absher, Hua Tang, Audrey M. Southwick, Amanda M. Casto, Sohini Ramachandran, Howard M. Cann, Gregory S. Barsh, Marcus Feldman, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, and Richard M. Myers. "Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation." Science 319:5866 (February 22, 2008): pages 1100-1104.
      51 different ethnic groups were genetically tested. The Adyghe people in the study were found to have genes in common with Europeans, Central Asians, and South Asians.

Bayazit Yunusbayev, Mait Metspalu, Mari Järve, Ildus A. Kutuev, Siiri Rootsi, Ene Metspalu, Doron M. Behar, Kärt Varendi, Hovhannes Sahakyan, Rita Khusainova, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Peter A. Underhill, Toomas Kivisild, and Richard Villems. "The Caucasus as an asymmetric semipermeable barrier to ancient human migrations." Molecular Biology and Evolution For future print publication. First published online on September 13, 2011.
      Many populations belonging to multiple religions were sampled, including on their paternal DNA, their maternal DNA, and their autosomal DNA. The Y-DNA haplogroups of the study's 154 "Adyghe", 126 "Cherkessian", and 140 "Kabardin" men were reported to be as follows:
C = 3 Adyghe men, 1 Cherkessian man, 3 Kabardin men
C3a = 1 Adyghe man
E1b1b1a = 1 Adyghe man, 1 Kabardin man
E1b1b1c = 1 Cherkessian man, 2 Kabardin men
G1 = 1 Adyghe man, 1 Kabardin man
G2a = 72 Adyghe men, 57 Cherkessian men, and 60 Kabardin men, making this the most frequent Y-DNA haplogroup among Adyghe and indeed it's frequent among multiple western Caucasus peoples
H1 = 1 Kabardin man
I1 = 1 Cherkessian man, 2 Kabardin men
I2* = 2 Adyghe men, 1 Kabardin man
I2a = 5 Adyghe men, 3 Kabardin men
I2b = 1 Cherkessian man
J1* = 3 Adyghe men, 1 Cherkessian man, 9 Kabardin men; J1 haplogroups are also common among Arabs
J1e* = 2 Adyghe men, 5 Cherkessian men, 4 Kabardin men
J2a* = 18 Adyghe men, 14 Cherkessian men, and 13 Kabardin men, tied with R1a1* as the second most frequent Y-DNA haplogroup among Adyghe
J2a2* = 5 Adyghe men, 14 Cherkessian men, 5 Kabardin men
J2a2a = 3 Cherkessian men, 3 Kabardin men
J2b* = 3 Adyghe men, 1 Kabardin man
K* = 2 Cherkessian men
L1 = 1 Adyghe man
L2 = 3 Adyghe men
L3 = 1 Kabardin man
N1c = 1 Adyghe man, 3 Cherkessian men, 2 Kabardin men
Q = 1 Cherkessian man, 1 Kabardin man
R1a* = 1 Kabardin man
R1a1* = 18 Adyghe men, 16 Cherkessian men, and 19 Kabardin men, tied with J2a* as the second most frequent Y-DNA haplogroup among Adyghe
R1a1f (M458) = 3 Adyghe men, 3 Cherkessian men, 1 Kabardin man
R1b1b1 = 1 Adyghe man, 1 Kabardin man
R1b1b2 = 11 Adyghe men, 4 Kabardin men
T = 1 Kabardian man

Ivan Nasidze, E. Y. S. Ling, D. Quinque, I. Dupanloup, R. Cordaux, S. Rychkov, O. Naumova, O. Zhukova, N. Sarraf-Zadegan, G. A. Naderi, S. Asgary, S. Sardas, D. D. Farhud, T. Sarkisian, C. Asadov, A. Kerimov, and Mark Stoneking. "Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Variation in the Caucasus." Annals of Human Genetics 68 (2004): pages 205-221.
       This is a comprehensive collection of data on the peoples of the Caucasus Mountains region.
       Table 1 indicates that they studied:
► the mtDNA of 50 "Adygheians" from:
V. Macaulay, M. Richards, E. Hickey, E. Vega, F. Cruciani, V. Guida, R. Scozzari, Batsheva Bonne-Tamir, Bryan Sykes, and A. Torroni, "The emerging tree of West Eurasian mtDNAs: a synthesis of control-region sequences and RFLPs" in American Journal of Human Genetics 64 (1999): pages 232-249.
► the mtDNA of 44 "Cherkessians" and 51 "Kabardians" from:
Ivan Nasidze, G. M. Risch, M. Robichaux, S. T. Sherry, M. A. Batzer, and Mark Stoneking, "Alu insertion polymorphisms and the genetic structure of human populations" in European Journal of Human Genetics 9 (2001): pages 267-272.
► the Y chromosomes of 59 "Kabardians" from: Ivan Nasidze, T. Sarkisian, A. Kerimov, and Mark Stoneking, "Testing hypotheses of language replacement in the Caucasus: Evidence from the Y-chromosome" in Human Genetics 112 (2003): pages 255-261.
       Table 2 indicates they identified 32 different mtDNA haplotypes among the Adygheians in the study and 37 among the Cherkessians. They do not state the names of those haplotypes here.
       Table 3 gives the following frequencies for Y-DNA haplogroups among the Kabardians:
G* = 29%
F* = 24%
K* = 15%
J2* = 12%
I* = 10%
P* = 7%
R1* = 2%
R1a1* = 2%

Ivan Nasidze, Hiltrud Schädlich, and Mark Stoneking. "Haplotypes from the Caucasus, Turkey and Iran for nine Y-STR loci." Forensic Science International 137 (2003): pages 85-93. Among other populations, 59 "Kabardinians" were sampled for their Y-DNA. These are presumably the same 59 Kabardinians studied in the article "Testing hypotheses of language replacement in the Caucasus: Evidence from the Y-chromosome".

Siiri Rootsi, Natalie M. Myres, Alice A. Lin, Mari Järve, Roy J. King, Ildus A. Kutuev, Vicente M. Cabrera, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Kärt Varendi, Hovhannes Sahakyan, Doron M. Behar, Rita Khusainova, Oleg Balanovsky, Elena Balanovska, Pavao Rudan, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Ardeshir Bahmanimehr, Shirin Farjadian, Alena Kushniarevich, Rene J. Herrera, Viola Grugni, Vincenza Battaglia, Carmela Nici, Francesca Crobu, Sena Karachanak, Baharak Hooshiar Kashani, Massoud Houshmand, Mohammad H. Sanati, Draga Toncheva, Antonella Lisa, Ornella Semino, Jacques Chiaroni, Julie Di Cristofaro, Richard Villems, Toomas Kivisild, and Peter A. Underhill. "Distinguishing the co-ancestries of haplogroup G Y-chromosomes in the populations of Europe and the Caucasus." European Journal of Human Genetics 20 (2012): pages 1275-1282. First published online on May 16, 2012.
      This paper's Supplementary Table 1 distinguishes between the 3 major Circassian groups: "Adyghes", "Cherkessians", and "Kabardinians". Their genetic data on the 3 groups of Circassians were updated from Yunusbaev et al. 2001. For Adyghes 44.9% (70 out of the 156 Adyghe males) belonged to G: 0.6% in subclade G-M285, 3.8% in G-P16, 0.6% in G-M485, and 39.7% in G-U1, with haplogroup diversity of 0.21. For Cherkessians 45.2% (57 out of the 126 Cherkess males) had G: 1.6% in G-P15, 7.1% in G-P16, and 36.5% in G-U1, with haplogroup diversity of 0.33. For Kabardinians 43.3% (61 out of the 141 Kabardin males) had G: 0.7% in G-M285, 2.1% in G-P15, 9.9% in G-P16, 0.7% in G-M485, 29.1% in G-U1, and 0.7% in G-M406, with haplogroup diversity of 0.50. As we can see, G-U1 is by far the most common G subclade in all 3 groups.

David Tarkhnishvili, Alexander Gavashelishvili, Marine Murtskhvaladze, Mariam Gabelaia, and Gigi Tevzadze. "Human paternal lineages, languages, and environment in the Caucasus." Human Biology 86:2 (May 2014): pages 113-130. Excerpts from the paper:

"Adyghean languages spoken by G2-dominated people are linked to extinct languages of Anatolia [...], spoken by ancient people of paternal lineage J2 that is rare in Adygheans. Thus, the languages spoken by present-day Ossetians and Adygheans, who genetically descend from the glacialtime population (patrilineage G2) of the Caucasus, have probably been adopted from paternally unrelated populations of the Eastern Europe and the Middle East, respectively."

Bayazit Yunusbayev, Mait Metspalu, Ene Metspalu, Albert Valeev, Sergei Litvinov, Ruslan Valiev, Vita Akhmetova, Elena Balanovska, Oleg Balanovsky, and Shahlo Turdikulova. "The Genetic Legacy of the Expansion of Turkic-Speaking Nomads across Eurasia." PLoS Genetics 11:4 (April 21, 2015): e1005068.
      The autosomal DNA of Adyghe people and other non-Turks were compared to many Turkic-speaking populations. Excerpts from the paper:

"[...] Adyghe [...] shared a relatively high number of IBD [identical-by-descent] tracts [...] with the SSM [Southern Siberian and Mongolian] populations. We conclude that the recent gene flow from the SSM area inferred in our previous analysis was not restricted to the western Turkic peoples, [...] [but] also contributed to non-Turkic populations. In this regard, alternative explanations not related to Turkic and Mongolic migrations cannot be excluded, but these historical events remain the most likely scenario, since the high proportion of SSM matching tracts is a unifying hallmark of many western Turkic peoples and such a correlated signal of sharing with Siberian populations is not observed for any other group of populations [...]"

Michael P. Donnelly, Peristera Paschou, Elena Grigorenko, David Gurwitz, Csaba Barta, Ru-Band Lu, Olga V. Zhukova, Jong-Jin Kim, Marcello Siniscalco, Maria New, Hui Li, Sylvester L. B. Kajuna, Vangelis G. Manolopoulos, William C. Speed, Andrew J. Pakstis, Judith R. Kidd, and Kenneth K. Kidd. "A global view of the OCA2-HERC2 region and pigmentation." Human Genetics 131:5 (May 2012): pages 683-696. First published online on November 8, 2011.
      This study indicated that the C allele of the OCA2 gene causes lighter skin but is different from the key light skin varieties that most Europeans possess.

"Our data confirm that the putative light skin allele of rs1800414 (C) is found almost exclusively in East and Southeast Asia, at frequencies ranging from 0 to 76% (Fig. 4) at higher levels in eastern East Asia (62-76.1%) compared with Southeast Asia (0-54.3%) and Western China (15.5-37.5%). Outside of East and Southeast Asia, the C allele is only found in low frequencies in the Adygei, Chuvash, and Hungarians in Europe (>1-3.6%), the Yakut in Siberia (8.8%), and the Micronesians in the Pacific Islands (4.2%)."

Also of interest: "The linguistic and genetic mosaic of the Northwest Caucasus" by Asya Pereltsvaig

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