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PLoS One. 2019 Mar 20;14(3):e0209125. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0209125. eCollection 2019.

Mitogenomes illuminate the origin and migration patterns of the indigenous people of the Canary Islands.

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Department of Genetics, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.
Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology, Cell Biology and Genetics, Universidad de La Laguna, San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Spain.
Department of Prehistory, Anthropology and Ancient History, Universidad de La Laguna, San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Spain.
Department of Archaeology, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom.
Department of Historical Sciences, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.
Tibicena Arqueología y Patrimonio, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.
Museo Canario, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.
Museo Arqueológico de La Gomera, San Sebastián de La Gomera, Spain.
Museo Arqueológico Benahoarita, Los Llanos de Aridane, Spain.
Genomics Division, Instituto Tecnológico y de Energías Renovables, Granadilla, Spain.
Research Unit, Hospital Universitario N. S. de Candelaria, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.
CIBER de Enfermedades Respiratorias, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid, Spain.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, United States of America.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, United States of America.


The Canary Islands' indigenous people have been the subject of substantial archaeological, anthropological, linguistic and genetic research pointing to a most probable North African Berber source. However, neither agreement about the exact point of origin nor a model for the indigenous colonization of the islands has been established. To shed light on these questions, we analyzed 48 ancient mitogenomes from 25 archaeological sites from the seven main islands. Most lineages observed in the ancient samples have a Mediterranean distribution, and belong to lineages associated with the Neolithic expansion in the Near East and Europe (T2c, J2a, X3a…). This phylogeographic analysis of Canarian ancient mitogenomes, the first of its kind, shows that some lineages are restricted to Central North Africa (H1cf, J2a2d and T2c1d3), while others have a wider distribution, including both West and Central North Africa, and, in some cases, Europe and the Near East (U6a1a1, U6a7a1, U6b, X3a, U6c1). In addition, we identify four new Canarian-specific lineages (H1e1a9, H4a1e, J2a2d1a and L3b1a12) whose coalescence dates correlate with the estimated time for the colonization of the islands (1st millennia CE). Additionally, we observe an asymmetrical distribution of mtDNA haplogroups in the ancient population, with certain haplogroups appearing more frequently in the islands closer to the continent. This reinforces results based on modern mtDNA and Y-chromosome data, and archaeological evidence suggesting the existence of two distinct migrations. Comparisons between insular populations show that some populations had high genetic diversity, while others were probably affected by genetic drift and/or bottlenecks. In spite of observing interinsular differences in the survival of indigenous lineages, modern populations, with the sole exception of La Gomera, are homogenous across the islands, supporting the theory of extensive human mobility after the European conquest.

Conflict of interest statement

Tibicena Arqueología y Patrimonio provided support in the form of salaries for authors V.A. and M.A.M.B and radiocarbon dating of four archaeological samples. This does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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