The Samaritan community, which numbered more than a million in late Roman times and only 146 in 1917, numbers today about 640 people representing four large families. They are culturally different from both Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the Middle East and their origin remains a question of great interest. Genetic differences between the Samaritans and neighboring Jewish and non-Jewish populations are corroborated in the present study of 7,280 bp of nonrecombining Y-chromosome and 5,622 bp of coding and hypervariable segment I (HVS-I) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences. Comparative sequence analysis was carried out on 12 Samaritan Y-chromosome, and mtDNA samples from nine male and seven female Samaritans separated by at least two generations. In addition, 18-20 male individuals were analyzed, each representing Ethiopian, Ashkenazi, Iraqi, Libyan, Moroccan, and Yemenite Jews, as well as Druze and Palestinians, all currently living in Israel. The four Samaritan families clustered to four distinct Y-chromosome haplogroups according to their patrilineal identity. Of the 16 Samaritan mtDNA samples, 14 carry either of two mitochondrial haplotypes that are rare or absent among other worldwide ethnic groups. Principal component analysis suggests a common ancestry of Samaritan and Jewish patrilineages. Most of the former may be traced back to a common ancestor in the paternally-inherited Jewish high priesthood (Cohanim) at the time of the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.