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The genetic imprint of the inhabitants at La Hoya

The tracing carried out by researchers at the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country does not rule out maternal genetic continuity in the human groups across the area

  • Research

First publication date: 17/08/2016

Researchers in the UPV/EHU's BIOMICS group have traced the genetic imprints of the extinct inhabitants in the settlement of La Hoya in Alava. The analysis of the maternal lineages does not rule out genetic continuity in the human groups in the area since the Iron Age at least and up until today and, specifically, in the town of Laguardia.

The PLOS ONE journal has published the paper entitled ‘Mitochondrial DNA Reveals the Trace of the Ancient Settlers of a Violently Devastated Late Bronze and Iron Ages Village', in which researchers in the UPV/EHU's BIOMICs group report on the study into the tracing of the genetic imprints of the ancient inhabitants of La Hoya (Álava, Basque Country) through the analysis of the maternal lineages to confirm the genetic continuity and its presence in the area.

In this study the genetic imprints of the ancient inhabitants at La Hoya were traced through the analysis of the maternal lineages. More specifically, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region of the 41 human remains recovered from this archaeological settlement was analysed so that they could be compared with a sample of 51 individuals of Laguardia as well as of 56 individuals from the general population in the province of Alava. Results in 25 out of the 41 remains analysed were achieved and 14 different maternal lineages (or haplotypes) were identified.

The major mtDNA subhaplogroups observed at La Hoya were H1, H3, J1 and U5, which display a distinctive frequency pattern in the autochthonous populations in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. As the researchers explained, "the results have not been able to show a genetic continuity between Laguardia and La Hoya in terms of haplotypes, although it was necessary to take into consideration factors such as the effects of the sampling, recent admixture events in the population and genetic bottlenecks that would hamper the detecting of possible traces of continuity".

Yet the great similarity in the composition of subhaplogroups detected between La Hoya and Laguardia, and the population of Álava, means that one cannot rule out maternal genetic continuity in the human groups that have inhabited the area at least since the Iron Age and up until the present day. A more exhaustive analysis based on a larger set of samples and other genetic markers would be of tremendous interest to fine-tune the history of these human groups who inhabited the plain of Alava from the late Bronze Age onwards.

Importance of the findings at La Hoya

The settlement of La Hoya was one of the most important settlements in the Bronze and Iron Ages in the north of the Iberian Peninsula until it was destroyed around the 4th century and abandoned in the 3rd century BCE. The archaeological evidence suggests that the descendants of La Hoya settled once again on a nearby hill where the town of Laguardia is currently located.

The discovery of well-preserved adult human skeletons of the Celtiberian Iron Age at the settlement of La Hoya is hugely important both historically and biologically since so far very few adult remains from the Celtiberian culture have been discovered. This is due to the fact that cremation was common practice in accordance with the funeral rites followed in this period for adult individuals. The discovery of adult remains at La Hoya is probably due to the fact that after the devastation of the settlement, the usual cremation practices did not occur. On the other hand, La Hoya has led to a significant increase in Celtiberian remains due to the discovery of numerous remains of new-born babies and infants found in this settlement; the ritual followed was to bury, under the eaves of the home, any newborns who had died prematurely.

The BIOMICS Group

BIOMICS is a multidisciplinary research group that brings together scientists in the areas of Cell and Molecular Biology, Anthropology, Neurosciences, Nutrition and Zoology and is made up of personnel drawn from the UPV/EHU's faculty of Pharmacy, Medicine and Nursing and the faculty of Science and Technology. Its activities focus on the study of genome diversity, both human and of other species, its flexibility and its capacity to respond in states of health and disease.

 

Photos: Nuria González. UPV/EHU.

Bibliographic reference