The question has been raised: how did the Sardinians manage to stay genetically similar to the typical European farmers of six thousand years ago?  Why haven’t the currents of history homogenized them? I’ve wondered myself.

Sardinia has been conquered over and over again: Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, etc, etc. But ever since the Carthaginian conquest, the island has had a serious problem with falciparum malaria, which hit the marshy lowlands, which also happened to be the areas that the conquerors were interested in, because of their high agricultural potential.  It looks as if those areas were population sinks – so the foreigners that moved in were evanescent.  The Romans, for example, faced labor supply problems, which forced them to constantly replenish the island’s work force with slaves, prisoners, and political exiles. All this time the old-fashioned Sardinians are persisting in the highlands, raising sheep and goats, while resisting Roman control for more than a century.

People in the lowlands eventually developed various genetic defenses to malaria, but their genetic contribution may have been limited by Moslem raids on the coast, which continued for several hundred years.

If I had to guess, I’d explain Sardinian old-fashioned genetics mostly by malaria in the lowlands and outsiders not really wanting the rocky highlands.





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42 Responses to Sardinia

  1. Ron Pavellas says:

    Hmmm. I’ve got Beta Thalassemia Minor, presumably conferring immunity to malaria–from my mother’s side. I wonder if Haplotype K1a4a is found in Sardinia?

  2. Yet Latin was able to take hold on the island pretty thoroughly, far more thoroughly than in Iberia.

    What about Corsica ? Almost pretty mountainous.

    • ALSO pretty mountainous, I mean, about Corsica. And also pretty malarial until after the second world War. And Corsican dialects are spoken in the northern part of Sardinia.

    • Bones and Behaviours says:

      There’s a theory that Corsican and Sardinian are both pre-Romance Italic languages.

      • Not quite sure what you mean. Do you mean Sardinian and Corsican are the oldest, most conservative descendants of Latin ? That could be. Is that such a big deal though ? Or perhaps you mean they are not descendants of Latin but cousins of Latin, like Faliscan or Umbrian or some such thing. That would be nonsensical. You could read Sardinian or Corsican and see they are clearly Romance languages. You can find samples of both online.

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    Yes, looking at that map, I would most want to own the southwest lowland quadrant, but that’s probably most exposed to malaria and Muslim pirates.

  4. Steve Sailer says:

    Is there an inland Old Sardinian type, a look that, say, Corsicans would instantly recognize as Sardinian?

    • I’m really surprised Steve Sailer hasn’t mentioned the Sardinian angle to the Monster of Florence case. Seems like the sort of thing he would mention. For a while an entire family of Sardinian migrant workers in Florence was suspected of being behind the serial killings.

    • Bones and Behaviours says:

      Its the ‘Paleosardinian’ or ‘coarse Mediterranean’ type present also in places like Iberia and Plynlimmon. Welsh singer Tom Jones, English serial killer Fred West and Libyan leader Colenol Gadaffi are all non-Sardinians of a comparable appearance. In honesty, the coarseness of upland populations is under positive selection.

  5. PF says:

    The hg discrepancies continue to intrigue me. Almost all of the early farmer skeletons in Europe are g2a — yet g2a is pretty low in Sardinia. This needs explaining.

    Also, reminds me of Crete! Looks like there is continuity between some modem Cretans/Greeks and Minoans (and pre-Minoans)… Mountainous islands FTW?

  6. icareviews says:

    Jean-Paul Marat’s father was from Sardinia. (The family name was originally Mara.) Does Marat have typical Sardinian physiognomy?

  7. jb says:

    Even if the lowlands were a population sink due to malaria, wouldn’t you expect lowlanders — whatever their origin — to be a majority of the Sardinian population at any given point in time, due to the same agriculturial productivity that made the lowlands attractive to outsiders? So why is Sardinia not mixed today? Are we saying that at some point all the lowland foreigners disappeared and were replaced by highlanders? When would that have happened?

    • Poor soil fertility. Agriculture has never been a significant part of the Sardinian economy until modern times. The island supports sheep & goat pastoralism, which is why Sardinia beats Papua New Zealand for the honour of the highest sheep-to-person ratio. Only the part of the island that pleases Steve Sailer (in the south) has been a growing region, and primarily in the post-war period.

      • gcochran9 says:

        “The Romans, who occupied Sardinia in 283 BCE, continued the pattern of agricultural exploitation established by the Carthaginians, and Sardinia became a major source of wheat production.”

        You don’t keep using up slaves and prisoners on low-productivity agriculture.

      • But Sardinia produced for the Roman Republic. You didn’t need that much acreage to feed Rome in 200-150 BC.

        You’re quoting from Randall Packard’s Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria, which has a tiny section on Sardinia.

        Your own source says that the current lowland population of Sardinia possesses genetic protections against malaria but the highlanders have much less. JB was asking why the lowlanders didn’t overwhelm the island demographically and why isn’t Sardinia more mixed today ? Your answer is Muslim raids from the south.

        A better answer is that the agriculturally useful part of Sardinia has always been relatively small.

        “Research on Carthaginian imperialism in Sardinia has focused on the Punic development of an intensive agricultural export economy based on a combination of agricultural villages and planations. The Carthaginians have been credited with the initial development of the system of latifundai or large, slave-based estates that was later imported and refined by the Romans. The southwest of Sardinia and especially the valley of the Campidano northwest of Cagliari [note : these are the Steve Sailer areas] have been seen as one of the areas where the Carthaginians pioneered the system (Bondi 1987:191-95). Such intensive and extensive agriculture would have required a much more aggressive exploitation of the interior thant he Phoenicians had undertaken, and it also would have required the creation of frontier defenses to protect these farming settlements from the still-unconquered warriors of the interior”.

        “With the final triumph of Augustus in 31 BC the place of Sardinia within the food supply system for teh city began to change. Two Augustan writers still commented on Sardinia’s wheat productivity. It has been calculated that with optimal productivity Augustan Sardinia could have supplied subsistence-level grain for about 300,000 people (Rowland 1990). However, the emperor could now call upon the surpluses of Egypt and the intensified production of North Africa to supply the bulk of the Roman subsidised grain”.

        [Does stress the importance of Sardinian wheat to earlish Republican Rome.]

        Stephen L. Dyson, Archaeology and History in Sardinia from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages …

      • Besides the slaves to feed the Roman latifundias in Sardinia would have come from where, probably ? North Africa I’m guessing.

      • dearieme says:

        “Besides the slaves to feed the Roman latifundias in Sardinia would have come from where, probably ? North Africa I’m guessing.” Anywhere the Romans had recently conquered. Cities that hadn’t surrendered, defeated armies ……

      • And unless transport costs meant absolutely nothing to the Romans, then the closest cities would have been the recently conquered Punic ones in…. North Africa.

      • dearieme says:

        Yes, but you miss the point – ex hyp, the slaves kept dying, therefore you keep replacing them with whichever new slaves become available.

  8. dave chamberlin says:

    I know a bit about Sardinia and that is my guess as well. The Phoenicians brought Falciparium Malaria to Sardinia and it really thrived in the fertile lowlands. It transformed this once densely populated populated bronze age Mediterranean power and drove the remaining population to be herders in the dryer highlands. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that they were able to get this nastiest form of malaria under control. Falciparium Malaria is thought to be only 3000 years old and it’s arrival to Europe rewrote history in many places. The Mason Dixon line in the United States, the division between north south, isn’t by coincidence the boundary of the northern most reach of the mosquito that carries this disease. It was known in Rome that swamps had to be drained, but when the decline started this expensive activity wasn’t maintained. I’ll wager a thousand details in history can be better understood when the impact of this form of malaria is considered. Starting from winners and losers in the Greek city states and moving all the way through time to the apparent incompetence of Union generals during the US Civil War when they lost the ability to move their troops because a sizable portion had contracted this disease once they moved south of the Mason Dixon line. Now the Sardinia coast is a rich man’s paradise full of mansions from people from all over Europe but nobody went here up to very recently. It was poor and very violent.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Once upon a time smoking was all the rage not only because of it’s addictive properties but because having a smoking cigarette in your hand drove away the dreaded mosquito. Many cultures actually thought smoking was good for you, they made the connection that if you smoked you were less likely to come down with malaria and they were right with that last point.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Vivax malaria was found in much of the North, as well as the South,. Falciparum, generally more severe, was found in the lower South, below the 35th parallel (not the Mason-Dixon line).

      Quinine helped, not least in the Civil War. Looks as if the North had the advantage on that: quinine all had to be imported, and the blockade limited Southern access.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        A discussion of Sardinia has to include a link to it’s national flag. Here it is It is four severed African heads, they were slavers that were caught trying to steal Sardinians off the island. No other national flag is quite like it. It is estimated that one third of the Sardinian population was kidnapped off the island by African slave traders so their memory and obsession with such goings on can be better understood. At one point their were more European slaves captured and hauled off to Africa than the other way around. I rather doubt that African-American history classes throw in that fun fact. Sardinians had reason to greet visitors with bad intentions thanks to the many raids by slavers looking to take away their loved ones to a life of slavery. I see the wikipedia reference to the flag is somewhat inaccurate leaving out the fact that these severed heads belonged to slave raiders, compromises to political correctness are everywhere. Every Sardinian knows full well why those heads were hacked off and put on their national flag.

      • dearieme says:

        Why does the flag represent Moors as being Negroes?

        Anyway, your point is rather weak, dave. North Africans happily slaved against both Negroes and Europeans.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        You read the wikipedia file which I already explained is wrong. Go to Sardinia with an Italian speaker and talk to the locals and then you will then find out how weak my point is. Beautiful place, especially the highlands away from the rich Europeans where there is a wealth of amazing ruins. The flag represents the captured slavers whom the Sardinans would decapitate and leave their heads on stakes warning others not to come back. Do you think people put severed heads on a national flag for no reason? Of course the slavers came in all colors but that is the stereotype the Sardinians placed on their flag. I don’t really care what you believe but I would like Cochran to understand that their is another reason for the genetic isolation of Sardinia. The Sardinians moved away from the coast into the remote highlands for two reasons, 1) Falciparium Malaria and 2) the north African slavers whom came in their ships and hauled away anyone they could from the coast.

        • DataExplorer says:

          Why would you assume that historians that have actually gone back to the earliest written sources would know less about the origins of the flag than local Sardinians, most likely using oral traditions passed on through many generations?

  9. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Is Greg going all environmental on us? “It was the environment that enabled the Sardinians to maintain their genetic heritage.”

    I wonder how much introgression there has been from other populations. It would seem that there has been little selection for intelligence so I would expect a lower average (than 100) and possibly a larger SD. I wonder if any measurements have been made?

    Also, I wonder if a detailed examination of their genetics would reveal the nature of selection 3,000, 4,000, etc years ago?

    • gcochran9 says:

      The Sardinians resisted foreign conquest and control, but they weren’t strong enough to beat Carthage or Rome. Mostly it boiled down to the outsiders not wanting the uplands, and to farming populations in the lowlands dwindling away without ongoing reinforcements. Geography matters: ask the Swiss, or the Poles.

      • Flinders Petrie says:

        This study has some useful information on how aboriginal Sardinians got pushed into the highlands by invaders, and how the highlands have served as refugia up to present day:

        “But the Carthaginians were not satisfied with strongholds on the sea- coast. About the middle of the sixth century we hear of a disastrouse expedition against the inland, which was repelled by the bravery of the Iolaoi and the Balares. Eventually, however, the leadership of the great generals Hasdrubal and Hamilcar, sons of Mago, together with the pitiless methods of repression used by the Carthaginians, succeeded in crushing the resistance of the islanders, who abandoned to the conquerors all the fertile lands of the Campidano and the hinterland of the west coast and withdrew to their inaccessible mountains in the heart of the island.”

        When Rome took over, the highland Sardinians continued their surliness:

        “The Sardinians, however, did not submissively accept the transaction. From 240 B.C. on we hear of an uninterrupted series of rebellions, climaxed, during the Second Punic War and after Cannae, by the great uprising of 215 B.C., centered about the town of Cornus. Thereafter, local uprisings continued down to the beginning of the Empire, especially among the fierce highland tribes (called by the Romans barbarae or barbaracina, whence the modern name of Barbagia).”

      • Flinders Petrie says:

        There’s also this interesting tidbit from the same article, regarding malaria along the coastal areas:

        “The ever rampant malaria-it is attested on the island as early as the Second Punic War-made Sardinia dreaded land of exile. Tiberius sent four thousand Jews there in terrible punishment, and later, destined for the mines, came Christian exiles-among them the future pope Callistus -thanks to whom Christianity slowly made its way among the conservative tribesmen.”

  10. Flinders Petrie says:

    Ah, that makes much more sense, thanks for posting this.

    Which piqued my interest about what kept highlander Sardinians so isolated? Maybe powerful taboos against exogamy to keep out the genes of the coastal dwellers?

    There’s this ethnography, which (despite a lot of bloviating) helped me understand highland Sards a lot better.

    Regarding Steve Sailer’s question about good Sardinian stereotypes, mainland Italians view Sardinians pastoralists as insular, prudish, and backward. Importantly, they are very clannish: village pride trumps allegiance to the wider category of Sardinian highlander.

    The article cited above deals with the highland village of Orgosolo, whose inhabitants have a reputation for being violent shepherd-bandits. It is also known for being the ‘real’ Sardinia, home to the aboriginal Sardinian race.

    In Orgosolo, there is strong social pressure to conform to the traditional lifestyle and resist urbanization and westernization. Masculinity is praised, and men who are too influence by western society are mocked:

    “Gonario…an unmarried shepherd in his mid-thirties, spent most of his free time in the bars with his mates, standing in doorways and scrutinizing passers-by. One Sunday afternoon, while standing outside his favourite establishment, he indicated tome with a nod of his chin a fashionably dressed young man with longish hair walking by with a young woman. Neither was of my acquaintance, but they were apparently Orgolesi. ‘That one spends so much of his time with girls, he is starting to look like one’, he said offhandedly. Such spontaneous commentary directed towards passers-by is constant, and the casualness with which judgements are made towards outsiders and cosmopolitans alike expresses an attitude of ‘endosociality’.”

    Locals who become more cosmopolitan are ostracized from traditional Sardinian society. There is a perception that urbanism and city life involve indulgence and moral degeneracy. One informant spoke of a Orgolesi woman who had become a successful professional:

    “One woman I know, and maybe you even know her too …This woman, she’s always travelling! She says she travels for work, always in Milan and Rome and who knows where else. If you want to know what I think, she knows men in all these places. She visits them for a few days, and then when she’s satisfied she comes back. And of course she’s not married! I don’t know anyone who would ever marry her!”

    This sounds similar to the Amish in that there is a steady genetic outflow from defectors of the traditional society, selecting for more conservatism in the folks who stay.

    Importantly, with respect to why Sardinian highlanders have not been genetically mixed:

    “Many Orgolesi…believe that they are the real Sardinians, unmixed with other historical populations who conquered the island in centuries past.”
    “The position of Orgosolo in this respect stands, according to one localist notion, in stark opposition to that of Mamoiada, less than ten kilometres distant and the village closest to Orgosolo. Mamoiadini, they say, are not Sardinians at all, but descendants of ancient Roman soldiers.”
    “According to one folk theory, ancient Roman legions established a headquarters near Mamoiada, and the generals let their soldiers help themselves to the local women. As my friend Angelino put it, ‘Mamoiada was the whorehouse of the Roman Empire (bordello dell’Impero Romano). The Romans took all the local women, mixed them up with the prostitutes they had brought with them, and used them all to satisfy their appetites’.”
    “The historical failure of Mamoiada to defend the honour of its women is reflected in the related myth about the ‘looseness’ of women in Mamoiada and an apparent prevalence of cuckolds there today.”

    So highlander Sardinians seem to have kept their gene pool isolated by being an all-around unruly, stubborn lot whose more liberal-minded members that are attracted to cosmopolitanism leave the homeland, become ostracized, and are erased from the gene pool.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Thanks. That’s hilarious.

      Here’s Wikipedia’s list of famous Sardinians:

      I mostly recognized leftwing politicians: Berlinguer, Marat, Gramsci (from Albania, though, I think), Juan Peron (on his father’s side).

      • Flinders Petrie says:

        That’s an interesting list of folks. Who would’ve figured that the cathode ray tube and television were invented by a Sardinian from a small mountain shepherd town?

        It seems that a lot of the intellectuals on the list are from the highland interior areas. Archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu, inventor Bissiri, and philosopher Pigliaru were all from small mountain peasant towns. Marxist theoretician Gramsci was born in Ales, which also seems to be a rural mountain town (?) I’d like to read more about Pigliaru, who had at least some level of involvement with fascism, and also had some things to say about Gramsci’s Marxism later in his career.

        All-in-all, that’s a fairly impressive list of achievers for such a small, inbred population.

        This study also had some things to say about the interaction of Sardinian intellectuals and the traditionalists:

        “Sardinian intellectuals and the white-collar elite ‘exhibit the material culture and lifestyle which can be associated with urbanity’, leaving them profoundly severed from the lifestyle of the rural pastoralist as they fill the role of ‘mediators of urbane civility’. The irony…is that while Sardinian intellectuals live lives that set them radically apart from the shepherd or worker, they persist in the romantic representation of Sardinians as the inheritors of a subaltern culture, which should be protected from the corrupting forces of Italian consumer.”

  11. ryan says:

    What’s more important: A girl’s face or her body?

  12. georgesdelatour says:

    Any thoughts on Sardinian longevity?

  13. Peter Connor says:

    It seems likely that any kind of intensive agriculture in the Carthaginian-Roman period would have caused serious erosion and decline in soil fertility (as happened in North Africa)–which ultimately would have reduced the population of farmers, but did little damage to the sheep herders.

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  15. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    This seems relevant here:

    I suspect that they do not understand. Any male mosquitoes that issue more female producing sperm has a reproductive success advantage, and any female mosquito that can select males that produce more female offspring also has a reproductive success advantage.

  16. chrisdavies09 says:

    Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) Haplotypes
    Sardinia Population 3 [N=100]
    1. A30-Cw5-B18 12.50% – Source: North Africa
    2. A2-Cw7-B58 4.90% – Source: North Africa
    3. A11-Cw4-B35 3.50% – Source: Eastern Med
    4. A24-Cw4-B35 3.40% – Source: Eastern Med
    5. A2-Cw5-B18 3.00% – Source: Recombinant, or N.Africa
    6. A33-Cw8-B14 3.00% – Source: Likely Eastern Med
    7. A2-Cw4-B35 2.00% – Source: Likely Eastern Med
    8. A1-Cw7-B8 1.00% – Source: Most likely Europe

  17. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Geography matters”

    speaking of which



    along with lactose tolerance might mean (or might have meant) unusually high iodine intake among children growing up in non mountainous* coastal areas with a lot of rain coming off the ocean.

    (*because of runoff)

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