genetic code

A research team solved the 1,000-year-old mystery of the Druze people’s origin – with a genetic GPS

Illuminating the origins of one of the oldest peoples in the Middle East.

For a thousand years, the mysterious origin of the Druze people – who live almost exclusively in the mountains of Syria, Lebanon and Israel – has captivated linguists, historians, and sociologists, who have not been able to agree whether the Druze are of Arabian, Turkish, Caucasus or Persian origin. But thanks to our new research that mystery may now have been solved, with the use of a genetic GPS system – that works in a similar way to the Sat Nav in your car.

There are thought to be around 1m Druze people in the world today, whose secretive religion was developed in 986 AD as a movement within Islam. While the spiritual elements of their religion are highly guarded and known only to the elders, the known practices are made up of various religions which include Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. This variety is most likely based on historical gatherings that are typical of nomadic tribes.

Previous research has always placed the origins of the Druze in the the Near East region. And by zooming in on the area, our genetic GPS traced most Druze to the region that overlaps northeast Turkey, Southwest Armenia and northern Iraq. This area borders the Zagros and the Ararat mountains and is the tallest region in Turkey.

This was discovered by applying our GPS tool to the genomes of over 150 Druze, along with Palestinians, Bedouins, Syrians and Lebanese to compare their ancestral origins.

Mountain dwelling warriors  

Throughout history, the Caucasus region – which borders Europe and Asia – was subjected to political, military, religious and cultural conflict, which prompted many tribes to seek refuge in remote regions. The Druze were no different.

It is thought that the first Druze worshippers probably lived in Cairo, where Druzism was adopted by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah who ruled in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean – known as the Levant – between 996 and 1021. But after his sudden disappearance, his successor prosecuted the Druze ruthlessly and abolished the faith in Egypt. By that time, however, the faith had already spread outside Egypt and become accepted among several Levantine groups.

Divers recently found gold coins from this period at an ancient port in Caesarea, that were produced in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa. Most of the coins carry the name of Al-Hakim. Carla Amit, Israel Antiques Authority
Divers recently found gold coins from this period at an ancient port in Caesarea, that were produced in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa. Most of the coins carry the name of Al-Hakim. Carla Amit, Israel Antiques Authority

The Druze were first recorded by the 12th century Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela who described them as fearless, mountain-dwelling warriors who favoured the Jews. And by that time, because of earlier persecutions, their faith was closed to new followers and they opposed marriage outside of the Druze faith.

The remote mountainous regions provided the Druze with protection and allowed them to maintain the close societal structure that is integral to their religious practices. Like other Caucasus populations, the Druze may even be genetically adapted to cope with the thinner mountain air allowing them to live comfortably in these remote parts.

Druze meet the Jews  

Though the Druze have previously been considered to have little genetic mixing – known as a
population isolate” by some geneticists – this is actually incorrect. And in fact by exchanging their diverse Near Eastern genes with Middle Eastern populations – such as Syrians and Palestinians – the Druze people created a more mixed genome than their ancestors, or other Middle Eastern populations.

Genetic evidence also suggests that over the years non-Druze tribes and individuals have contributed and enriched the Druze gene pool.

Previous research has also shown that Ashkenazic Jews and Druze are genetically closer to one another than Middle Eastern populations – but until now, it was not clear why. Combined with our earlier research showing the northeastern Turkish origins of Ashkenazic Jews, we can explain that genetic similarity via the shared origin of Ashkenazic Jews and Druze. Medieval Ashkenazic Jews lived in ancient villages in northeast Turkey known as “ancient Ashkenaz” – which was close to the mountainous homeland of the Druze.

Our findings explain a 1,000-year saga of two people living side by side in these lands. And as the Ashkenazic Jews moved northward into the Khazarian Empire, the Druze moved southwards to Palestine – only for both people to reunite hundreds of years later. And although by that time, neither one recalled their common roots, both retained the evidence in their genes.

Eran Elhaik, Lecturer in population, medical and evolutionary genomics, University of Sheffield.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.