Cultural diversity can disappear in a few generations, but genetic diversity -barring major genocides or disasters- usually persists.

The East Tyrol region in Austria has been Germanic-speaking since the Middle Ages, but historical evidence documents the presence of Romance, Germanic, and Slavic groups in its territory. How can we untangle the origin of the different groups when they are all jumbled up together now, and all Germanic-speaking? Previous research has shown that patrilineal groups can be isolated on the basis of surnames, but in the case of East Tyrol, the wide adoption of surnames happened after the region had become linguistically Germanic.

The authors of the new paper exploited the structure of local toponyms, in particular pasture names. The figure on the left shows the concentrations of Slavic (panel A), Romance (panel B), and Germanic (panel C) pasture names. While Germanic pasture names are evenly distributed, there is a contrast between those of Slavic and Romance origin. From the paper:

From the 853 analyzed pasture names in East Tyrol 71% were derived from Germanic (Bavarian) etymons, 17% from Slavic etymons, and 12% from Romance etymons. While pasture names with Germanic etymons were evenly distributed in high density within the whole study area the names with Slavic etymons were spatially focused in the east and north of East Tyrol (Fig. 2). Geographically, these are the lower Drau, Isel, Kals, Virgen and the Defereggen valleys (Fig. 1). No names with Slavic etymons were found in the southwestern Puster valley (Fig. 2). The pasture names with Romance etymons focus mainly in the southern part of East Tyrol (Gail, Puster, and Villgraten valley, Fig. 2). The slight northeastward trend observed in the distribution of Romance etymons is solely caused by the Kals valley, a medieval Romance linguistic enclave, which was separated from the Romance main territory in the 10th century [36]. On the basis of these results, East Tyrol was divided into two regions of former Romance (Puster, Gail, and Villgraten valley; region A) and Slavic (Isel, lower Drau, Defereggen, Virgen, and Kals valley; region B) main settlement (Fig. 2).

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