In our “Berber” project (E.C. Sixth Framework Programme, EUROCORES project of the European Science Foundation: « Origin of Man, Language and Languages », J.-M Dugoujon coordinator), the objectives are to correlate linguistic and historical characters to genetic data studies. We are in a uniquely favourable position to describe the linguistic and genetic diversities of many North African Berber populations because the precise language affiliation of the donors is controlled, enhancing the reliability of the genetic results. So, through the study of various polymorphic markers, we can provide a detailed view of the Berber genetic pool and examine the relationships between Berber-speaking populations, but also between Berbers and Arabic-speakers.
To describe the present-day genetic diversity of Berber populations and to relate it to the multiple past migrations which took place in North Africa, we sampled four populations (514 samples): three of them are Berber speakers from Morocco (Asni, Bouhria and Figuig oasis), the fourth is the Berber population from Egypt (the Siwa oasis). The inclusion in the study of a sample of Berbers from North-Eastern Africa (Siwa Berbers) is particularly relevant, since only Berbers from north-west Africa have been genetically studied so far. Asni is located in the Tacheddirt valley in the High Atlas Mountains (47 km from Marrakech). The Berbers from Asni speak Tashelhiyt Berber and belong to the Rhiraya tribe. Sidi Bouhria is located in North-Eastern Morocco (Oujda wilaya). Its population belongs to the Beni Moussi Roua fraction of the Beni Iznasen tribe. Figuig is located in the extreme east of Morocco, at the Algerian border, at the juncture of the High Plateaus and the North-Western edge of the Sahara. It is a pre-Saharan oasis constituted of seven villages, one in the lower part of the oasis, Zenaga, the other six in the higher part (also called High Figuig). Linguistically, there is a major break between the oasis dwellers, who are predominantly Berber speakers, and the nomads roaming the mountains and the steppes surrounding the oasis, who are all speakers of Arabic. In addition, there are a few groups who are reported to speak Arabic inside the Figuig oasis, who mainly live in some of the villages in High Figuig. We have also sampled about 100 individuals of these speakers of Arabic. The Berber population we collected lives in the largest Figuig village, Zenaga. The Siwa oasis is located in the western Egyptian desert, at 300 km from the Mediterranean coast and 25 km from the Libyan border. Finally, in 2009, we had the opportunity to sample 105 individuals of Tuareg tribes in the area of Abalak (Tahoua), Niger.