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Mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomal diversity in ancient populations of domestic sheep (Ovis aries) in Finland: comparison with contemporary sheep breeds

Marianna Niemi1, Auli Bläuer12, Terhi Iso-Touru1, Veronica Nyström35, Janne Harjula12, Jussi-Pekka Taavitsainen2, Jan Storå4, Kerstin Lidén4 and Juha Kantanen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Biotechnology and Food Research, MTT Agrifood Research Finland, FI-31600, Jokioinen, Finland

2 Department of Archaeology, University of Turku, FI-20014, Turku, Finland

3 Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, SE-106-91, Stockholm, Sweden

4 Archaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University, SE-106-91, Stockholm, Sweden

5 Current address: Molecular Systematics Laboratory, Swedish Museum of Natural History, SE-10405, Stockholm, Sweden

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Genetics Selection Evolution 2013, 45:2  doi:10.1186/1297-9686-45-2

Published: 22 January 2013



Several molecular and population genetic studies have focused on the native sheep breeds of Finland. In this work, we investigated their ancestral sheep populations from Iron Age, Medieval and Post-Medieval periods by sequencing a partial mitochondrial DNA D-loop and the 5’-promoter region of the SRY gene. We compared the maternal (mitochondrial DNA haplotypes) and paternal (SNP oY1) genetic diversity of ancient sheep in Finland with modern domestic sheep populations in Europe and Asia to study temporal changes in genetic variation and affinities between ancient and modern populations.


A 523-bp mitochondrial DNA sequence was successfully amplified for 26 of 36 sheep ancient samples i.e. five, seven and 14 samples representative of Iron Age, Medieval and Post-Medieval sheep, respectively. Genetic diversity was analyzed within the cohorts. This ancient dataset was compared with present-day data consisting of 94 animals from 10 contemporary European breeds and with GenBank DNA sequence data to carry out a haplotype sharing analysis. Among the 18 ancient mitochondrial DNA haplotypes identified, 14 were present in the modern breeds. Ancient haplotypes were assigned to the highly divergent ovine haplogroups A and B, haplogroup B being the major lineage within the cohorts. Only two haplotypes were detected in the Iron Age samples, while the genetic diversity of the Medieval and Post-Medieval cohorts was higher. For three of the ancient DNA samples, Y-chromosome SRY gene sequences were amplified indicating that they originated from rams. The SRY gene of these three ancient ram samples contained SNP G-oY1, which is frequent in modern north-European sheep breeds.


Our study did not reveal any sign of major population replacement of native sheep in Finland since the Iron Age. Variations in the availability of archaeological remains may explain differences in genetic diversity estimates and patterns within the cohorts rather than demographic events that occurred in the past. Our ancient DNA results fit well with the genetic context of domestic sheep as determined by analyses of modern north-European sheep breeds.