Modern science has dealt a cruel blow to the pride and self-esteem of the Tuscans, who for centuries have tormented other Italians by claiming that they not only spoke the purest form of the Italian language but that they were the direct descendants of the Etruscans.
Etruscan civilisation flourished in central Italy between the 8th and 3rd centuries BC, before being destroyed by the Romans.
A comparative DNA study of the remains of ancient Etruscans and modern-day Tuscans carried out by the University of Ferrara, in northern Italy, and Stanford University, California, reveals that they are in fact unrelated.
The team was led by Guido Barbujani, professor of biology at Ferrara. "We had to reject 50 out of 80 of the samples because the bones had been too heavily handled by archaeologists," he said.
The question remains as to what happened to the Etruscans, believed to have migrated to central Italy from the eastern Mediterranean.
"We have three hypotheses," Professor Barbujani said. "The descendants are hidden in some locality where we did not take samples, but this seems unlikely. Or they were exterminated by Romans or biologically assimilated in a very short time."
The third possibility is that DNA samples, taken from finely decorated tombs, are of aristocrats who were a "race apart" from the Etruscan on the street. But "this is the least likely hypothesis", the professor said.