Identification of the 18 World War II Executed Citizens of Adele, Rethymnon, Crete Using an Ancient DNA Approach and Low Coverage Genomes
41 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2023
In the Battle of Crete during the World War II occupation of Greece, the German forces faced substantial civilian resistance. To retribute the numerous German losses, a series of mass executions took place in numerous places in Crete; a common practice reported from Greece and elsewhere. In Adele, a village in the regional unit of Rethymnon, 18 male civilians were executed and buried in a burial pit at the Sarakina site. In this study, the first one conducted for a conflict that occurred in Greece, we identified for humanitarian purposes the 18 skulls of the Sarakina victims, following a request from the local community of Adele. The molecular identification of historical human remains via ancient DNA approaches and low coverage whole genome sequencing has only recently been introduced. Here, we performed genome skimming on the living relatives of the victims, as well as high throughput historical DNA analysis on the skulls to infer the kinship degrees among the victims via genetic relatedness analyses. We also conducted targeted anthropological analysis to successfully complete the identification of all Sarakina victims. We demonstrate that our methodological approach constitutes a potentially highly informative forensic tool to identify war victims. It can hence be applied to analogous studies on degraded DNA, thus, paving the path for systematic war victim identification in Greece and beyond.
Keywords: Historical DNA, Kinship Relationships, Genome Skimming, Next Generation Sequencing, Relatedness Analysis
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