Recent genetic studies of the Tuareg have begun to uncover the origin of this semi-nomadic northwest African people and their relationship with African populations. For centuries they were caravan traders plying the trade routes between the Mediterranean coast and south-Saharan Africa. Their origin most likely coincides with the fall of the Garamantes who inhabited the Fezzan (Libya) between the 1st millennium BC and the 5th century AD. In this study we report novel data on the Y-chromosome variation in the Libyan Tuareg from Al Awaynat and Tahala, two villages in Fezzan, whose maternal genetic pool was previously characterized. High-resolution investigation of 37 Y-chromosome STR loci and analysis of 35 bi-allelic markers in 47 individuals revealed a predominant northwest African component (E-M81, haplogroup E1b1b1b) which likely originated in the second half of the Holocene in the same ancestral population that contributed to the maternal pool of the Libyan Tuareg. A significant paternal contribution from south-Saharan Africa (E-U175, haplogroup E1b1a8) was also detected, which may likely be due to recent secondary introduction, possibly through slavery practices or fusion between different tribal groups. The difference in haplogroup composition between the villages of Al Awaynat and Tahala suggests that founder effects and drift played a significant role in shaping the genetic pool of the Libyan Tuareg.
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