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Ancient DNA Reveals Crusaders Married Local Women And Had Families In Newly Christianized Lands

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From 1095 to 1291, Christian invaders fought against Muslim armies to claim the Near East in a series of religious wars that is now known as the Crusades.

The armies of the Crusades were led by nobility, but the soldiers who took part in these historic invasions were ordinary men.

Crusaders Buried In Pit

A new study, however, now offers a glimpse of the lives of these Crusaders soldiers and how they mixed with the locals.

Chris Tyler-Smith, a genetics researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and colleagues extracted DNA from the 13th-century remains of nine medieval crusaders. The remains were found in a mass burial pit near a crusader castle in Sidon, Lebanon.

All nine men were killed violently, possibly in battle as suggested by the blunt force injuries found on their skulls and bones. The shoe buckles and a coin found with the remains helped researchers date the skeletons back to the time of the Crusades.

DNA Analysis Sheds Light On Lives Of Crusaders

Smith and colleagues then compared the newly extracted DNA from those of modern-day people and ancient individuals by analyzing mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomes.

They found that only three of the individuals from the pit were from western Europe.

Four of the remains were also found to be genetically very similar to modern-day Lebanese people, which suggests these men were from the area.

Two of the men have a mix of European and near-east ancestry, which suggests they may have been the offspring of earlier crusaders or other Europeans who traveled and then settled to the region.

"We show that all of the Crusaders' pit individuals were males; some were Western Europeans from diverse origins, some were locals (genetically indistinguishable from present-day Lebanese), and two individuals were a mixture of European and Near Eastern ancestries, providing direct evidence that the Crusaders admixed with the local population," the researchers wrote in their study.

Settling In Newly Established Christian States

The findings suggest that some of the soldiers who traveled from Europe to fight stayed in the newly established Christian states where they married local women and had families. Genetically diverse armies intermixed with the local population, had families, and even recruited them to their cause.

"Genomics gives an unprecedented view of the past and shows the Crusaders originated from western Europe and recruited local people of the near East to join them in battle. The Crusaders and near Easterners lived, fought and died side by side," Smith said.

The findings were published in the journal American Journal of Human Genetics on April 18.

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