The gypsies of England, thought to have come from Egypt, trace their lineage to the present day scheduled caste and scheduled tribes of north-western India, particularly Punjab, a group of researchers have found.
Scientists at the CSIR's Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) conducted genetic studies of more than 10,000 global samples to understand a more precise ancestral source of the European Romani population, commonly called as gypsies.
They concluded that the early Romanis migrated from India to Europe around 1,405 years ago.
The study found that the aboriginal scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population of north-western India, traditionally referred to as Doma and also Dalits, are the most likely ancestral population of the modern European Roma.
"In the absence of archaeological records and with only scanty historical documentation of the Roma, comparative linguistic studies were the first to identify their Indian origin," the team of global scientists led by Kumarasamy Thangaraj of CCMB said in an article published in PLoS One.
A 'phylogeographical' study conducted by them indicates that the Romanis migrated to Europe by a northerly route.
According to the researchers, the gypsies began their trek around Gilgit in the northernmost Hindukush, then along the southern Caspian littoral, the southern flank of the Caucasus, the southern shoreline of the Black Sea, across the Bosporus, and subsequently spreading across Europe since 13th century.
The presence of Indian-specific Y-chromosome among Roma has corroborated their South Asian origins and later admixture with Near Eastern and European populations, they said.
In human populations, the Y chromosome is passed on from father to son. Therefore, all the males of a family or a population evolved from a single founder male will possess the same Y chromosome.
The study, by matching the haplogroups of the Roma and the India tribes, found similarity and contiguity that led to the conclusion that the Domas or Dalits are the ancestral population, the scientists said.
"The geographical distribution of haplogroup H1a1a-M82 is largely restricted to South Asia, and its significant occurrence among European Roma populations strongly links the Roma to the Indian subcontinent," they said.
The high frequency of H1a1a-M82 among all the Roma groups and their reduced genetic diversity relative to South Asian populations can most likely be attributed to their recent migration from India, they said.
"In the network analysis, the Roma Y-STR haplotypes cluster predominantly close to the northwestern Indian haplotypes. In addition, the northwestern Indian haplotypes, while diverse, generally radiate from the core of the network while the Roma haplotypes being distributed further away," the scientists said.
These patterns point to northwestern India as the source of the Roma H1a1a-M82 chromosomes, they said.