A recent study by a team of researchers in India shows that the Parsis’ maternal genes connect them to both Middle Eastern and South Asian populations.
Undertaken by scientists from Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences in Lucknow, and the department of archaeology at Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, the study also revealed the shared ancestry of Parsis in India and Pakistan, stemming from the same original group that arrived in Sanjan in Gujarat some eight to 10 centuries ago.
The team analysed 19 ancient human skeletal samples excavated from Sanjan and concluded that these samples show the presence of Persian genetic lineages.
The genetic origin of ancient Parsis was found more towards the Middle Eastern while the modern Parsi population is a mixture of Persian as well as Indian with a high proportion of modern day Gujarati ancestry, they said. The study reaffirms the presence of Middle Eastern genetic elements in the community, reinforcing historical accounts of their migration from Persia.
Niraj Rai, group head of the Ancient DNA Lab at Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, told TOI, “The Parsi community, comprising less than 60,000 individuals, is one of the many that makes up the multicultural fabric of India. They are Zoroastrian refugees from Iran, who fled persecution in their homeland and first landed on the coast of western India around 750 CE. The archaeological site at Sanjan was first discovered in 2001. Medium-scale excavations were carried out for three seasons, jointly by the World Zarathusti Cultural Foundation, Mumbai and Indian Archaeological Society, New Delhi, at three different locations of the site.”
He said that this is the first complete ancient mitochondrial DNA data generated, so far, to infer the origin and genetic makeup of the Parsis at Sanjan dokhma (Tower of Silence).
“The results have shown that Indian Parsis are genetically closer to ancient Neolithic Iranians, while those in Middle East (Iranians and Caucasians) have undergone significant ad-mixture. This shows that the oldest Parsi religion’s descendants are only to be found in India, even though the religion was born in Iran,” Rai said.
It also provides evidence of sex-specific admixture and prevailing female gene flow from South Asians to the Parsis.
The results are consistent with the suggested migration of the Parsi populations to South Asia centuries ago and in agreement with their assimilation with the local South Asian population.
“It also shows that Parsis in India and Pakistan come from the same original group who landed in Sanjan,” Rai said.
About the Author
Neha Madaan is a senior feature writer at The Times of India, Pune. She holds an M A degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from University of Pune. She covers tourism, heritage development and its conservation, apart from an array of subjects such as civic issues, environment, astronomy, civic school education as well as social issues concerning persons with disabilities. Her interests include metaphysical research and animal rights.