(JTA) — The maternal ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews comes mainly from Europe, a new study shows.
The findings, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, fly in the face of the commonly accepted notion that European Ashkenazim are descended from Jews who left Israel and the Middle East some 2,000 years ago and moved to the Near East. The study suggests that large numbers of European women converted to Judaism.
Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield in England led a team of researchers from Russia, the Czech Republic, Portugal and the United States that looked at mitochondrial DNA, which is contained in the cytoplasm of the egg and is passed down through the maternal line.
More than 80 percent of the 3,500 DNA samples studies were traced to Europe. The 80 percent is made up of four maternal lines.
“These analyses suggest that the first major wave of assimilation probably took place in Mediterranean Europe, most likely in the Italian peninsula, with substantial further assimilation of minor founders in west/central Europe,” the study said in its conclusion.