Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Theodore G. Schurr


This study investigates the genetic diversity and ethnohistory of Svaneti and its neighboring highland Georgian and breakaway regions in order to better understand the complex population history of the South Caucasus. The objectives of this project are to (1) document the biological diversity in contemporary settlements in the region of Svaneti; (2) compare patterns of gene diversity with Svaneti’s western and eastern neighbors, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively; and (3) determine whether gene frequencies in Svaneti are evently distributed across geographic space by characterizing any village-level structuring. We will contextualize the findings within broader studies that address major regional population settlement events during the Upper Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Metal Ages, as well as the putative ‘Alan migration’ in the 4th century AD. To accomplish these goals, biological samples were collected from participants in Svaneti for genetic analysis, providing a more thorough coverage of village districts in Svaneti than has been achieved in previous studies. In addition, local-level ethnohistorical interviews were conducted in an effort to distinguish patterns of diversity resulting from long-term inhabitation versus those arising from recent immigration into the region. These DNA samples were characterized for mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome variation, and the resulting data analyzed with statistical and phylogenetic methods to define the biological affinities of highland Georgian populations, and reconstruct the migration and settlement history of the region. Data from published and unpublished sources on the genetic diversity of the greater Near East and Caucasus, specifically Abkhaz and Ossete populations, were used for phylogeographic and statistical comparison. The results revealed reduced Y-chromosome haplogroup diversity in Svans, with a predominance of G2a, although their paternal lineages occurred at frequencies comparable to those of neighboring highland populations. By contrast, mtDNA haplogroup diversity in Svans was both very high and reasonably similar in terms of frequency to other regional populations, with W6 and X2 occurring at unusually high frequencies. Interestingly, there was no geographic patterning of Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA diversity within Svaneti at the village level. Nevertheless, strong Y-chromosome affinities with eastern and western populations (i.e., Ossete and Abkhaz, respectively) living adjacent to the Svans indicated a common gene pool for these three ethno-linguistic groups in spite of linguistic differences at the language family level, and minimal contribution to the Ossete gene pool from Indo-European-speaking Alans.

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