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

See all articles by Nikolaos Psonis

Nikolaos Psonis

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB)

Despoina Vassou

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB)

Argyro Nafplioti

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB)

Eugenia Tabakaki

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB)

Pavlos Pavlidis

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Computer Science (ICS); University of Crete

Alexandros Stamatakis

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Computer Science (ICS); Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) gGmbH; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Nikos Poulakakis

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB); University of Crete

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Psonis, Nikolaos and Vassou, Despoina and Nafplioti, Argyro and Tabakaki, Eugenia and Pavlidis, Pavlos and Stamatakis, Alexandros and Poulakakis, Nikos, Identification of the 18 World War II Executed Citizens of Adele, Rethymnon, Crete Using an Ancient DNA Approach and Low Coverage Genomes. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4647981 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4647981

Nikolaos Psonis (Contact Author)

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) ( email )

Despoina Vassou

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) ( email )

Argyro Nafplioti

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) ( email )

Eugenia Tabakaki

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) ( email )

Pavlos Pavlidis

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Computer Science (ICS) ( email )

University of Crete ( email )

Alexandros Stamatakis

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Computer Science (ICS) ( email )

Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) gGmbH ( email )

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology ( email )

Nikos Poulakakis

Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH) - Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) ( email )

University of Crete ( email )

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