Genographic Scientists Trace the Origins of Europe’s Gypsies

Gypsies at the Ponorita, Romania gyspy settlement. Photo by Alexandra Avakian

by Amy Werner

Who are Europe’s Gypsies?

European Roma, often referred to as gypsies, are the largest ethnic minority in Europe, numbering more than 10 million people dispersed across the continent. Roma groups have a distinct culture and language, different from their non-Roma neighbors, suggesting a common origin generally placed in South Asia. However, little is known about their deep history and the events that took place during their migration from India through Persia, Armenia, Turkey, to the Balkans, and their eventual spread across Europe.

Gypsies at the Ponorita, Romania gyspy settlement. Photo by Alexandra Avakian

To learn more about Europe’s gypsies, Genographic Project researcher David Comas and his team worked with 753 Roma and 984 non-Roma to better understand their genetic influence on the European gene pool. The study took place over several years and across Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine and Spain. Results ultimately revealed high sharing of male and female lineages from European non-Roma to the Roma population, and a much less in the opposite direction.

The Genographic study showed that more than 40% of Roma men belonged to the South Asian haplogroup H (or branch of the human family tree), while fewer than 1% of non-Roma belonged to that haplogroup. Similarly, South Asian mitochondrial haplogroup M accounted for 23% of the Roma, but was nearly absent in non-Roma groups. What’s more? Lineage matching showed the most probable homeland for the European Roma was northwest India. Yet, Comas’ team found few distinct founder lineages among the Roma, suggesting it was likely a single wave of migration from India to Europe.

Genographic Project Migration Map for Y Chromosome Haplogroup H in India.

Once in Europe, the Roma spread from the Balkans. To show this, Comas and his team looked at the correlation between geographic distances and genetic diversity and —> Read More