How We Solved The 1,000-Year-Old Mystery Of The Druze People’s Origin – With A Genetic Sat Nav

There are more than a million Druze worldwide, with the vast majority residing in the Middle East. shutterstoc

Danielle Andrew 16 Nov 2016, 16:24

The ConversationFor 1,000 years, the mysterious origin of the Druze people – who live almost exclusively in the mountains of Syria, Lebanon and Israel – has captivated linguists, historians, and sociologists. There has been much dispute over whether the Druze are of Arabian, Turkish, Caucasus or Persian origin. But thanks to our new research that mystery may now have been solved, with the use of a genetic GPS system – that works in a similar way to the sat nav in your car.

The Druze are an Arabic-speaking minority who live throughout the Middle East. shutterstock

There are thought to be around 1m Druze people in the world today, whose secretive religion was developed in 986 AD as a movement within Islam. While the spiritual elements of their religion are highly guarded and known only to the elders, the known practices are made up of various religions which include Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. This variety is most likely based on historical gatherings that are typical of nomadic tribes.

Previous research has always placed the origins of the Druze in the the Near East region. And by zooming in on the area, our genetic GPS traced most Druze to the region that overlaps northeast Turkey, southwest Armenia and northern Iraq. This area borders the Zagros and the Ararat mountains and is the tallest region in Turkey.

This was discovered by applying our GPS tool to the genomes of over 150 Druze, along with Palestinians, Bedouins, Syrians and Lebanese to compare their ancestral origins.

Mountain dwelling warriors

Throughout history, the Caucasus region – which borders Europe and Asia – was subjected to political, military, religious and cultural conflict, which prompted many tribes to seek refuge in remote regions. The Druze were no different.

It is thought that the first Druze worshippers probably lived in Cairo, where Druzism was adopted by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah who ruled in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean – known as the Levant – between 996 and 1021. But after his sudden disappearance, his successor prosecuted the Druze ruthlessly and abolished the faith in Egypt. By that time, however, the faith had already spread outside Egypt and become accepted among several Levantine groups.

Divers recently found gold coins from this period at an ancient port in Caesarea, that were produced in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa. Most of the coins carry the name of Al-Hakim. Carla Amit, Israel Antiques Authority

The Druze were first recorded by the 12th century Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela who described them as fearless, mountain-dwelling warriors who favoured the Jews. And by that time, because of earlier persecutions, their faith was closed to new followers and they opposed marriage outside of the Druze faith.

The remote mountainous regions provided the Druze with protection and allowed them to maintain the close societal structure that is integral to their religious practices. Like other Caucasus populations, the Druze may even be genetically adapted to cope with the thinner mountain air allowing them to live comfortably in these remote parts.

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