Previous Y chromosome studies have shown that the Cohanim, a paternally inherited Jewish priestly caste, predominantly share a recent common ancestry irrespective of the geographically defined post-Diaspora community to which they belong, a finding consistent with common Jewish origins in the Near East. In contrast, the Levites, another paternally inherited Jewish caste, display evidence for multiple recent origins, with Ashkenazi Levites having a high frequency of a distinctive, non-Near Eastern haplogroup. Here, we show that the Ashkenazi Levite microsatellite haplotypes within this haplogroup are extremely tightly clustered, with an inferred common ancestor within the past 2,000 years. Comparisons with other Jewish and non-Jewish groups suggest that a founding event, probably involving one or very few European men occurring at a time close to the initial formation and settlement of the Ashkenazi community, is the most likely explanation for the presence of this distinctive haplogroup found today in >50% of Ashkenazi Levites.
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