Matrilineal Heritage in Southern Iberia Reveals Deep Genetic Links between Continents
Within the Mediterranean Basin, the Iberian Peninsula has been a focus of attraction for several cultures and civilizations from its prehistory and history, making it a target territory for studying human migration patterns and peopling processes using a wide and heterogeneous spectrum of genomic markers. While its Cantabrian fringe represents the most regularly analysed area in terms of its mitochondrial diversity, the absence of monographic surveys on the maternal genetic composition of southern Iberians (i.e., Andalusians) is striking. In this work, we present a comprehensive view of various aspects of the human maternal heritage of the autochthonous Andalusian population regarding specific mitochondrial haplogroups considered key candidates to determine the genetic relationship between Europe and Africa. Data reveal that southern Iberian populations do not have genetically homogeneous mitochondrial DNA profiles, and their observed genetic affinity with north-western African populations represents strong signals of old, sustained and bidirectional human movements between the northern and southern shores of the western Mediterranean. Thorough analyses of African mtDNA haplogroups have shown that the most relevant African contribution within Iberian Peninsula could be explained as a consequence of prehistoric events. The subsequent historic episodes helped to strengthen the ties between both shores. In southern Iberia, mitochondrial and other genetic markers show that the Strait of Gibraltar together with its surrounding maritime areas should be considered a bridge between continents. More broadly, the Mediterranean Sea has acted as a transport surface, that is, as a permeable barrier to human migrations from prehistoric and historic times. In conclusion, this research contributes to our knowledge of processes that have shaped the recent human genetic history in the Mediterranean and, more specifically, of the population dynamics that the inhabitants of southern Iberia have experienced with respect to other neighbouring North African populations.