The Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean has long been considered by scholars to be the “first international age”, especially the period from 1600 to 1200 BC. in the Middle East. These empires fought, traded, and corresponded with each other, and ancient texts from the time reveal rich economic and social networks that allowed the movement of people and goods.
A new study led by an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, geneticists and isotope experts, and published in PLOS ONE, investigated the movement of people during this period in a single regional center, a Bronze Age city-state called Alalakh in present-day south-eastern Turkey. Their results indicate that the majority buried in Alalakh were raised locally and descended from people who lived in the area.
The team’s goal was to see if the high levels of interregional connectivity evidenced by the architecture, texts and artefacts found at the site during 20 years of excavations, sponsored by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Hatay Mustafa Kemal University, could be detected. among the population buried in the city.
To do this, they performed strontium and oxygen isotope analyzes on tooth enamel, which can detect whether an individual grew locally in Alalakh or moved there only in adulthood. Genetic data, on the other hand, can be used to determine where a person’s recent ancestors came from.
Isotope analysis identified several non-local individuals. However, their DNA showed local ancestry to Alalakh and neighboring regions. “There are two possible explanations for our findings,” said Stefanie Eisenmann, co-lead author of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “Either these individuals are short-distance migrants from the region or return migrants, people whose parents or grandparents are from Alalakh.”
Only one individual sampled, an adult female, was not part of the local gene pool, instead showing the ancestry that most closely matched the Central Asian groups. However, its isotopic signatures suggested local upbringing. “We expected isotope analysis to show that this person immigrated to Alalakh because their genetic data was so different from the rest of the population, so we were surprised to see that they were probably from Alalakh. It could have been his parents or grandparents who decided to move, ”said Tara Ingman, the other lead author of the Koç University study.
While different types of mobility were identified, including short-haul, long-haul, and return migration, there were no complete outsiders in the dataset. Most of the people were born and raised in Alalakh and their ancestors also came from the region.
“There are several ways to explain this. It is possible that far fewer long-distance migrants lived in Alalakh than we previously thought. Another possibility is that we have yet to find their graves. that most of the people who came from far away were not buried directly in Alalakh, or in a way that we cannot trace, ”said Murat Akar, director of the excavation.