Ossetian 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. North Ossetians and South Ossetians who get tested on Y-DNA by Family Tree DNA are invited to join the company's "Ossetian DNA Project" co-administered by Alan Berezov and Alexander Baimatov.

The Ossetians are a people of the central Caucasus who speak an Iranian/Iranic language called Ossetian. The primary dialects of Ossetian are Iron and Digor. In the present day, their homeland is divided into North Ossetia (part of the Russian Federation) and South Ossetia. The Ossetians probably descend in part from the medieval Alan (As) people. Under the influence of the Khazars, with whom the Alans were in alliance at one time, some of the Alans converted to Judaism.

Genetic evidence shows that they share maternal ancestry with other Iranian peoples but have paternal ancestry in common with their non-Iranian neighbors. The North Ossetians have paternal relationships with North Caucasian peoples while South Ossetians have them with South Caucasian peoples.

A genetic admixture analysis by "Dienekes Pontikos" using ALDER suggests that North Ossetians have a small amount of East Asian ancestry that arrived in their gene pool about around the 1000s or 1100s, probably from Turkic-speaking nomads who immigrated to the area - perhaps from Kipchaks or Khazars.

Y-chromosomal DNA haplogroups among North Ossetians in the "Ossetian DNA Project" include C3b2b1, E1b1b1a1b1a, G2a1a1a, G2a1a1a1b1, G2a1a1a1b1a, G2a1a1a1b1a2, I2c, J1a3a, J2a*, J2a1b, Q1a1b1a, R1b1a2a1a, R1b1a2a2c1, T1a, and more. South Ossetians in the project have haplogroups including G2a1a1a1a, G2a1a1a1b1, J2a1b, L1b, and R1b1a2a2c1.

Major studies of Ossetians

Ivan Nasidze, D. Quinque, I. Dupanloup, S. Rychkov, O. Naumova, O. Zhukova, and Mark Stoneking. "Genetic evidence concerning the origins of South and North Ossetians." Annals of Human Genetics (November 2004) 68 (Part 6): pages 588-599. (mirror)
       As the article's title indicates, they used data from both South Ossetians and North Ossetians. They studied the mtDNA and Y-DNA of 70 people from 3 previously unstudied North Ossetian populations and combined that data with previously published data about other North Ossetian and South Ossetian populations. (The previously published data came from the articles "Deep common ancestry of Indian and western-Eurasian mitochondrial DNA lineages", "Haplotypes from the Caucasus, Turkey and Iran for nine Y-STR loci", "Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Variation in the Caucasus", and "The Eurasian heartland: a continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity".)

Excerpts from the "Results" section, "MtDNA HVI Sequence Variability" subsection:

"Overall, Ossetians are more distant from the other Indo-European-speaking populations from the Caucasus (Armenians; average Fst = 0.030) than from Caucasian-speaking populations (average Fst = 0.026), although these values are not significantly different (t = 1.430, p = 0.212). However, Ossetians are significantly closer to Iranian-speaking populations from Isfahan and Tehran (average Fst = 0.019) than to Caucasianspeaking populations (average Fst = 0.027; t = -2.564, p = 0.026). The same trend holds when we compare haplotype sharing between Ossetian and Iranian populations versus Ossetians and their closest geographic neighbors from the Caucasus. South Ossetians share just 4% of their mtDNA sequences with Georgians, whereas they share 12% and 19% of their mtDNA sequences with Iranian-speaking groups from Isfahan and Tehran respectively. The haplotype sharing between North Ossetians and Iranian groups varies from 13% to 31%. With Ingushians, their closest eastern geographic neighbours, North Ossetians share from 22% to 33% of their mtDNA sequences. With Kabardinians, their closest western geographic neighbours, North Ossetians share 26% to 54% of their mtDNA sequences. This relatively high percentage of shared haplotypes between North Ossetians and their closest geographic neighbours can be explained by recent gene exchange among these groups."

Excerpts from the "Results" section, "Y-SNP Haplogroups" subsection:

"Haplogroup E* (YAP) was found only in South Ossetians (Wells et al. 2001), and haplogroup C* (RPS4Y) was completely absent. The most frequent haplogroup among North Ossetians was G* (M201). Unfortunately, M201 was not typed in South Ossetians by Wells et al. (2001); therefore, it is impossible to distinguish between haplogroups G* (M201) and F* (M89) in this group: the latter is the most frequent haplogroup in South Ossetians. In our analyses these individuals were classified as haplogroup F* (M89), although some unknown proportion could be haplogroup G* (M201). We therefore classified all haplogroup G* (M201) North Ossetian individuals as haplogroup F* (M89) in order to be able to use Y-SNP data from South Ossetians for the MDS and Fst analyses. Haplogroup I* (M170) was found in substantial frequencies in groups from Digora and Ardon, whereas this haplogroup is absent from the rest of the groups. Haplogroup J2* (M172) was found in all groups, with frequencies ranging from 0.03 in the Digora group to 0.29 in the Ardon group. Haplogroup K* (M9) was found in all groups except for South Ossetians and the Digora group."

Exceprts from the "Discussion" section:

"The results are somewhat different for mtDNA vs. the Y-chromosome. North and South Ossetians do cluster somewhat in the MDS plot based on mtDNA (Fig. 2A), which may indicate a common origin. However, for the Y-chromosome, North Ossetians are more similar to other North Caucasian populations, and South Ossetians to other South Caucasian populations, than to each other. The SAMOVA analysis also identifies a boundary between South Ossetians and other groups for the Y chromosome, but not for mtDNA. Thus, there is no indication in the Y-chromosome of a particularly close genetic relationship between N. Ossetians and S. Ossetians. If they did have a common origin in the past, it has apparently become obscured by subsequent gene flow with their geographic neighbours on the same sides of the Caucasus Mountains. [...] Subsequent and largely male-mediated migrations between Ossetians and neighbouring groups in the North and South Caucasus, respectively, would explain the greater similarity between Ossetians and Caucasians for the Y-chromosome, as discussed previously. In conclusion, the genetic results are supported by the archaeological record, in that they reflect a common Iranian origin of South and North Ossetians, as well as a genetic footprint of ancient migrations in the North Caucasus that mostly involved male individuals."

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 says they studied the mtDNA of 56 North Ossetians (26 from the town of Ardon + 30 from the city of Digora) and the Y-DNA of 59 North Ossetians (28 from Ardon + 31 from Digora).
      Table 2 indicates they found 19 mtDNA haplotypes among North Ossetians from Ardon and 21 among North Ossetians from Digora.
      Table 3 lists Y-DNA haplogroups they found among their study's Ossetians. Those from Ardon had frequencies of 32% I*, 29% J2*, 21% G*, 7% K*, 4% P*, 4% R1a1*, and 4% F*. Those from Digora had frequencies of 74% G*, 13% I*, 6% P*, 3% F*, and 3% J2*. Of 17 South Ossetian men 41% were in Y-DNA haplogroup F*, 24% in J2*, 18% in E*, 12% in R1a*, and 6% in R1a1*.

Excerpts from the text:

"North Ossetians from Digora had the highest frequency of the haplogroup G* (0.74). [...] Haplogroup I* was at high frequency in Darginians (0.58), Abkhazians (0.33), and North Ossetians from Ardon (0.32). [...] The North Ossetians from Digora, Darginians, Rutulians, Lezgi (from the S. Caucasus), Svans, and Kazbegi had the lowest haplogroup diversities (range 0.15-0.65), while for the other groups the haplogroup diversity was 0.72-0.86. Almost all of the groups with low haplogroup diversities are small in size, isolated, and inhabit the highland Caucasus region. [...] Svans, Ossetians (Digora), Kazbegi, and Darginians are fairly well separated from the remaining Caucasus groups."

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.
       The Y-DNA of many North Caucasus populations was sampled and analyzed for haplotype diversity, including that of 31 North Ossetians from Digora and 27 North Ossetians from Ardon. 22 different Y-DNA haplotypes were found among those from Digora and 17 from those from Ardon. No South Ossetians were sampled for this study.

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.
       Supplementary Table 1 says that 23 South Ossetian males were tested and 10 of them (43.5%) carried G Y-DNA haplogroups (the root is called G-M201). Also, 132 North Ossetian males were tested and 92 of them (a whopping 69.7%, the highest frequency of any population in the study) carried G. 63.6% of the North Ossetians belonged to subclade G-P16 compared with 43.5% of the South Ossetians. That is to say that every South Ossetian in this study who had G belonged to G-P16. The North Ossetians had more subclades: 2.3% in G-U1, 2.3% in G-P303, and 1.5% in G-P15.

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:

"Although Ossetian is a language closely related to Scytho-Sarmatian [...], speakers of this language have a very high frequency of [Y-DNA haplogroup] G2, not R1a. [...] 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."

Toomas Kivisild, M. J. Bamshad, Katrin Kaldma, M. Metspalu, E. Metspalu, M. Reidla, S. Laos, J. Parik, W. S. Watkins, M. E. Dixon, S. S. Papiha, S. S. Mastana, M. R. Mir, V. Ferak, and Richard Villems. "Deep common ancestry of Indian and western-Eurasian mitochondrial DNA lineages." Current Biology 9 (1999): pages 1331-1334.
       mtDNA HV1 sequences from 201 South Ossetians are among the data published in this study.

R. Spencer Wells, N. Yuldasheva, R. Ruzibakiev, Peter A. Underhill, I. Evseeva, J. Blue-Smith, L. Jin, B. Su, R. Pitchappan, S. Shanmugalakshimi, K. Balakrishnan, et al. "The Eurasian heartland: a continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 98 (2001): pages 10244-10249.
       This includes South Ossetian samples.

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.
       This autosomal DNA study of many populations across Eurasia found that North Ossetians share significant identical-by-descent (IBD) segments with Turkic-descended peoples originating from the region of Southern Siberia and Mongolia. This is shown on Figure 4 and on S4 Figure.

  • Family Tree DNA Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. - This site is an affiliate

  • Tales of the Narts: Ancient Myths and Legends of the Ossetians translated by Walter May
  • The Ossetes: Modern-Day Scythians of the Caucasus by Richard Foltz
  • Ossetian by Bela Hettich
  • Ossetian Proverbs and Sayings translated by Iqroriddin Sayfutdinov

  • Ossetian Music by Ensemble Kelaptari
  • Ossetian Melody by the National Instrument Orchestra of North Ossetian Radio

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