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the Children of Charlemagne
August 27, 2013 12:44 AM   Subscribe

The work of the statistician Joseph Chang in 1999 showed that it was almost certain that all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne. Now, a new genomic analysis of European populations titled The Geography of Recent Genetic Ancestry across Europe, shows that Chang was essentially right.
As the paper concludes "...so long as populations have mixed sufficiently, by 1,000 years ago everyone (who left descendants) would be an ancestor of every present-day European. Our results are therefore one of the first genomic demonstrations of the counterintuitive but necessary fact that all Europeans are genealogically related over very short time periods, and lends substantial support to models predicting close and ubiquitous common ancestry of all modern humans"
The paper is quite accessible and includes much more data about the interrelatedness of different European populations. But for those who have more questions, the authors have prepared a FAQ.
posted by vacapinta (54 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
If your family tree doesn't branch... you might be European.
posted by XMLicious at 1:28 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


And remember, if you're descended from Charlemagne, and you accept his own claimed genealogy from the kings of Troy, then you're a distant descendant of the Greek gods. By that reckoning, Zeus is my own 120th-great grandfather. Which makes for some interesting perspective when reading about the old myths.
posted by DataPacRat at 1:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


And remember, if you're descended from Charlemagne, and you accept his own claimed genealogy from the kings of Troy, then you're a distant descendant of the Greek gods.

I assume Charlemagne was descended from 100% of all people 1000 years before him who had living descendents.
posted by empath at 2:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Um, yeah, empath. That's ZEUS. All running around in swan form impregnating people, yo.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


1 in 200 men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan or, as Sarah Silverman wryly observed, a European with high cheekbones is the "product of a Mongolian rapist!"
posted by three blind mice at 2:27 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Enjoy your Charlemagne; I'm the love child of Socrates, Cassandra, Cicero and Cleopatra.

Had any of them left descendants.
posted by ersatz at 2:40 AM on August 27, 2013


so long as populations have mixed sufficiently

That might be quite a large assumption given the tendency of the ruling class to breed with each other and the relative immobility of the peasants.
posted by Segundus at 2:45 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


the ruling classes marry each other and breed with everybody
posted by compound eye at 3:07 AM on August 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


the ruling classes marry each other and breed with everybody

No kidding. I'm a descendant of an out-of-wedlock daughter of a deposed Danish king. She escaped to Sweden and the family later went to Norway, where they met up with more established Norwegian ancestors in my tree. Thanks to the link to Danish kings, my heritage can be traced all the way back to Odin. In a way it's cool because along the line there was a guy called Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and it so happens that on the Norwegian side of the family, we all have heterochromia that manifests as a gold ring in the "true" color of our green-blue eyes. But I mean, yeah, Odin? I studied comparative literature with a focus on mythology, more specifically, creation myths. Basically every known society on earth traces its roots to a deity.

As for "peasants", they weren't all that immobile. There are a good deal of them on my Danish-Swedish-Norwegian side, and in addition to a lot of inter-European mobility throughout the generations (we're talking all the way from Germany to Lithuania to northern Norway), they're the ones who immigrated. To Australia and the US. Going from the Lofoten Islands to southern Australia is about as far from immobile as you can get without leaving planet Earth. It's practically pole-to-pole. And this was in wooden ships. There's a lot of diversity within societal classes.
posted by fraula at 3:28 AM on August 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Frankly, we're all related to Charlemagne.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:46 AM on August 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


MuffinMan, you have some gaul making a pun like that.
posted by sy at 3:47 AM on August 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


From now on, you can all call me Prince.

And I am funky.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charlemagne got caught up in some complicated things.
posted by Flashman at 4:13 AM on August 27, 2013


Which begs the question, how many degrees of ancestoral separation are there between Charlemange and Kevin Bacon?
posted by Wordshore at 4:14 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


My dad was really into genealogy, and when he explained about our ancestors, I was really surprised at how much peasants and generally poor people moved around. One expects them to be too poor to move and held in serfdom, but apparently, there were ways around this. An element in this was that teens got sent quite far away as servants/apprentices/farmhands. Which seems like a very good idea, actually
posted by mumimor at 4:24 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


mumimor: "I was really surprised at how much peasants and generally poor people moved around."
YMMV (and since we're both Danish IIRC, it can obviously vary a lot even in a quite small population). My wife's uncle did some genealogy research as well, and it turned out that he and his brother were the first from the family to move away from a 10 km circle in 200 years.
posted by brokkr at 4:31 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Louis the Pious happened to be riding through Aachen one day when a sharp-eyed paladin pointed out a man in the crowds lining the road who bore a startling resemblance to the Emperor. They called him over and it turned out he was apparently of humble stock. Louis smiled and said he thought he understood.

"My man," he asked, "Did your mother happen to work at the palace here back in my father Charlemagne's day, by any chance?"

"No, your Majesty. But my father did."
posted by Segundus at 4:54 AM on August 27, 2013 [23 favorites]


Charlemange couldn't have done it all on his own.
He only had 4 wives but with them and his six concubines had eighteen known children.
posted by adamvasco at 4:57 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family.
posted by bricksNmortar at 5:05 AM on August 27, 2013


it turned out that he and his brother were the first from the family to move away from a 10 km circle in 200 years.

Yeah. There are always exceptions, but I saw some data a few years ago about the geography of last names in the Netherlands and one thing that stood out was that for any given "van [village]" name, the heaviest concentration of that name would be within a small circle around the place in question.

A while ago, I put my own surname into this UK census mashup, and sure enough, the name still clustered in the West Country, which is where the folks I inherited it from originated. There's some mobility by 1998, but at the dawn of the modern era in 1881 it was pretty contained. If you want to follow my example, use "Rockett".

When I entered my grandmother's genealogical research into a database, I was struck by how this trend appeared to hold in the New England colonial era-- the merchants and professionals tended to show up in new locations every generation. The farmers tended to stay put or move one town away-- some neighboring town in a random direction for women who married, a town west or north (away from the established population) for the sons who wouldn't get the farm.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:07 AM on August 27, 2013


DO IT FOR CHARLEMAGNE!
posted by srboisvert at 5:15 AM on August 27, 2013


So when I was clumsily attempting to flirt with the cute guy who told me about this story recently, and I completely misunderstood and thought he meant that just his family was descended from Charlemagne, and made jokes about his royal ancestry he didn't laugh at, maybe, just maybe it all took the five o' clock train to Awkwardsville because he thought I was just an idiot with poor listening comprehension? I FEEL SO PRETTY NOW!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Charlemagne's positively chaste compared to King Saud, who ruled Saudi Arabia in the fifties and early sixties and had 115 children.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:37 AM on August 27, 2013


Also worth reading: What DNA Testing Reveals About India’s Caste System
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:49 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The title role of Charlemagne in Charlemagne (1993) was played by Christian Brendel. Brendel was in Signes extérieurs de richesse (1983) with Jean Reno, who was in Margaret (2011) with Matthew Broderick, who was in Skum Rocks! (2013) with Kevin Bacon.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:50 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Every European is descended from Charlemagne, yes, but that's hardly the story. Every European is descended from every European contemporary of Charlemagne's (except from those who have no living descendants at all).
If your family tree doesn't branch... you might be European.
Everyone is this way. It has nothing to do with Europe. You've got relatively recent, I don't know, east Asian ancestry? You're descended from every east Asian contemporary of Charlemagne's (except from those who have no living descendants at all).
That might be quite a large assumption given the tendency of the ruling class to breed with each other and the relative immobility of the peasants.
Chang's work takes this into account. If you don't take it into account, you get an earlier date than Charlemagne's time. It takes only a low but nonzero level of social and geographical interbreeding to move it back to Charlemagne.

Something along these lines is described in the linked FAQ:
Many people object to this, arguing that modern-day isolated populations must be an exception. But it doesn’t take very much migration: just one “outsider” who bore a child into an isolated group sometime in the last few thousand years would suffice. Another example from Rohde, Olsen, and Chang’s paper: their simulation assumes 10 migrants across the Bering strait every generation; but decreasing this to one migrant every 10 generations (300 years!) only increases their estimate by a few hundred years.
posted by Flunkie at 6:00 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


1 in 200 men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan
This is very different than the Charlemagne thing. The claim here is that Genghis Khan (or any of his close male relatives) is not merely your ancestor, but that he is your father's father's father's father's father's ... father's father.
posted by Flunkie at 6:07 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gosh, someone has been a very busy boy.
(More like Charlemagne Out Of Sweatpants, am I right?)
posted by Mezentian at 6:40 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


As has been said on one of the other threads, statistical likelihood assuming social and physical mobility is highly flawed. Even the data on the FAQ says that people on the Italian and Iberian peninsulas are less related than other branches.
posted by corb at 6:42 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


while most common ancestors that Italians share with other populations lived longer than 2,500 years ago

From the paper itself. Another really important point is:

We excluded from our analyses individuals who reported grandparents originating from non-European countries or more than one distinct country (and refer to the remainder as “Europeans”) After removing obvious outlier individuals...

So, yes, if you define Europeans to only be, for example, people who have been Europeans for at least four generations, and whose grandparents all come from the same country, then maybe? That seems like an extremely weird way to select out. You're also removing "obvious outliers", which means that some people in fact will not fit this schema that is supposed to apply to everyone.
posted by corb at 6:46 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


And remember, if you're descended from Charlemagne, and you accept his own claimed genealogy from the kings of Troy, then you're a distant descendant of the Greek gods. By that reckoning, Zeus is my own 120th-great grandfather. Which makes for some interesting perspective when reading about the old myths.

So that explains why I've got these crazy, wrathful eyebrows. I'm almost pure European stock.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:54 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


So that explains why I've got these crazy, wrathful eyebrows.

It also explains why I keep releasing the Kraken.
And wrathing Titans.
posted by Mezentian at 7:04 AM on August 27, 2013


Then I am almost certainly a descendant of Roger the Shrubber? Cool!
posted by Danf at 7:12 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, yes, if you define Europeans to only be, for example, people who have been Europeans for at least four generations, and whose grandparents all come from the same country, then maybe? That seems like an extremely weird way to select out.

Yes, the purpose of the paper is to show inter-relatedness among Europeans. So, if somebody's grandparents are Chinese their genomes probably wouldn't be useful to the study. It wouldn't corrupt the data but it would just add noise, I presume. The purpose of the study is to show that different European populations - such as Dutch and Spanish - have enough of their genome in common to be able to establish recent common ancestry. The length of the genome allows one to make inferences about how recent those common ancestors were.

In the case of Iberian and Italian populations all they are saying is that the genomes are more unique. So they have common ancestors not shared as much by the other populations. But they still have common ancestors with all other populations. This has no bearing on the most recent common genealogical ancestor (one person) of all Europeans which can still be in the last 1000 years.
posted by vacapinta at 7:16 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Apparently Kid Charlemagne could live forever.
posted by emelenjr at 7:27 AM on August 27, 2013


As has been said on one of the other threads, statistical likelihood assuming social and physical mobility is highly flawed. Even the data on the FAQ says that people on the Italian and Iberian peninsulas are less related than other branches.
You seem to be confusing two entirely different things. The very next FAQ past the one that you seem to believe is making the point that you're making:
If all Europeans share the same set of common ancestors 1000 years ago (and likely many shared ancestors more recently), how can there be variation in the number of shared ancestors?

You can be related to the same ancestor multiple times. For instance, someone could be your great, great, great, great, great grandfather on your mother’s side and also on your father’s side. Because of this, you and I can share the same ancestral individual as a common ancestor many times over. People who share more common ancestors have more overlap this degree of relatedness. We can measure this difference through degree of shared genome, since even when everyone is a common genealogical ancestor, not everyone is a common genetic ancestor.
Basically they're saying that if you count up all the great-great-...-grandparents of an Italian as slots rather than as people, then (I'm totally making these numbers up) 80% of those slots are European, 10% north African, 5% Middle Eastern, 5% other, whereas if you do the same thing for a Danish guy, you'll get 90% European.

This does not change the fact that that 80% or 90% both include all European contemporaries of Charlemagne (excluding those who have no living descendants).

Many of those slots are occupied by any one particular person. So it's saying something like (again I'm making up these numbers) "Charlemagne himself takes up 10,000 of those slots for the typical Italian, but 12,000 for the typical Dane".
posted by Flunkie at 7:28 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


If all Europeans share the same set of common ancestors 1000 years ago (and likely many shared ancestors more recently), how can there be variation in the number of shared ancestors?

Your extended family tree could, when drawn, more accurately resemble a bush.
posted by Wordshore at 7:32 AM on August 27, 2013


So, if somebody's grandparents are Chinese their genomes probably wouldn't be useful to the study. It wouldn't corrupt the data but it would just add noise, I presume.

Except that it would be extremely useful - if you're talking about people today, who are often mixtures from many different countries. Or what about someone with one Chinese grandparent and three European grandparents? One Chinese, one Russian, two Europeans? At which point do you declare someone "not sufficiently European enough to share this heritage"?
posted by corb at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2013


corb, the answer is you don't. Someone with one Chinese grandparent and three European grandparents is descended from every European and Chinese contemporary of Charlemagne's.

They're not making some sort of value judgment about immigrants to Europe somehow being non-European.
posted by Flunkie at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


OK, so Auntie Monster’s told all you kids about Chuck the King Tomcat, right? A couple of you weren’t here that day? Well, grab a cookie – a BROKEN one, the good ones are for the Grange. The feral cat colony was in the woods behind Great-Grandma Monster’s place since at least the 1950’s, and probably before then. Dawn of time, most like, but that’s when the photographic evidence starts. Mostly black and white, although you’d see some calico kittens and a tabby or two a couple of months after a journeyman tom rolled through the hills, and a corresponding number of notches on the King Tomcat’s ears.

Well, the King Tom in my days on the hill was a big, black-spotted white bull of a beast called Chuck. One of the girl cousins had him named and half tamed as a kitten, but they didn’t get to The Necessary Procedure in time and practically overnight he tommed up like nobody’s business – big round head, big burly shoulders, tree-trunk legs, fangs like the Hound of the Baskervilles, the whole nine yards. He was off like a light back up to the woods and ascended to the throne.

I saw him chase a deer off his territory once, and roll around in battle with a rival marmie until it gave new meaning to the “black and white and red all over” joke, but he was sweet as a muffin if he decided you were one of his clan. He’d hear you coming home, there’d be a mighty rumbling up in the woods, and then King Chuck would come thundering down the hill looking for all the world like the Devil’s own soccer ball, demanding his afternoon cuddles.

We eventually were able to get him and his sister wives into a TNR program, but not before he’d sired a number not worth considering of generations of the most inbred kittens the world has ever known. There were always kittens coming out of the woods and being adopted. Some of them were sick or injured, but some were just born with a streak of tame. The colony has faded to a memory, one more kingdom come and gone.

My current cat is of the spawn, looks exactly like Chuck the Great as if she were sprung fully formed from his head like Athena, and if circumstances add up the way I think they do, is probably his direct granddaughter. And daughter. I like to sing her an occasional chorus of “You’re Your Own Grandma,” with an added refrain of, “And you are your sisters and your cousins and your aunts, especially your cousins, whom you reckon up by dozens, and your aunts.” We used to call the old beast Charlemagne, because of the Charles thing, and because he was one of Nature’s royalty, but now I know it was fitting because every black and white cat in the state is probably descended from him in some way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:41 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have you all know that I am descended not only from Charlemagne but also from Alfred the Great and from the Rurik dynasty of Russian Tsars. That means I'm a descendant of BOTH the greek gods AND the norse gods!

Now get off my lawn!

And by lawn I mean all of Europe and most of Asia.



Also, does this mean all MeFites are descendants of charlemagne? Or maybe Charlemagne in Sweatpants? Certainly not of Kid Charlemagne because, well, he's still a kid.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:28 AM on August 27, 2013


regarding peasants and immobility.... a great deal of rape of peasantry occurred during most wars back in the day, eh? most soldiers were from other gene pools far away?
posted by spicynuts at 9:40 AM on August 27, 2013


And here I was feeling all special because my genealogy research turned up a relation to an old dutch family (Van Horn) reputedly descended directly from Clovis I (Charlemagne's ancestor). Now I'm just a commoner again.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:52 AM on August 27, 2013


Anecdata: I come from a even more inbred European population, Ashkenaz/northern European Jews. My parents are 1st generation Americans, 4th/5th cousins, and didn't know it until they were writing out the wedding invitations, and there were duplicates!

It's estimated the average size of a Jewish community 1200 CE to the general European population explosion ca. 1750 CE or so, was 24 families (even large cities had merely 1500-3500 Jewish inhabitants, based on communal tax records).

So not sure who most northern European Jews (excluding Italian and Spanish Jews and their progeny across northern Africa and the Levant) are descended from, but timewise, it was probably some woman taken captive after the 1st century Roman conquest of Judea.
posted by Dreidl at 10:44 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Had any of them left descendants.

I'm pretty sure Cleopatra's line lives on.
posted by 256 at 11:42 AM on August 27, 2013


Mayor Curley, when you say your surname is clustered, you are missing something big: you aren't seeing the women. Which is true of a lot of things, but especially of genealogy. I have, by extremely careful mapping, been able to trace some of the women of my own family in the 17th and 18th centuries, and they often in their teens and twenties went considerable distances away to becomes houseservants, and not infrequently stayed and married. Or they just married out.

And from a grimmer point of view, it is also women who get raped by whatever gentry or army passes through. Both the math and the genemapping make it very clear: if there is *any* geneflow, it takes a remarkably short time before that inflow reaches every single person in a population.
posted by tavella at 12:46 PM on August 27, 2013


mumimor: "I was really surprised at how much peasants and generally poor people moved around."

YMMV (and since we're both Danish IIRC, it can obviously vary a lot even in a quite small population). My wife's uncle did some genealogy research as well, and it turned out that he and his brother were the first from the family to move away from a 10 km circle in 200 years.


Well this makes me think of Bruce Chatwin, and his theory that some people are nomadic by nature and some not. Oftentimes, even though people are my close neighbors or good colleagues, I feel we are in different worlds, mainly because they focus a lot on national and even regional issues that I haven't even noticed. Maybe my family has been nomadic (within the Nordic countries and parts of Germany and the Baltics) for so long, we see it as a normal state of being.
(My mother's family is officially nomadic, to boot)
posted by mumimor at 2:32 PM on August 27, 2013


Social and genetic mobility looks pretty slow over the course of a few generations, but over 1000 years of war, slavery, famine, intermarital diddling, conquests and exploring? I bet their numbers are more correct than not. Heck, Barack Obama and Dick Cheney are 8th cousins, and that's only 8 generations back. 1000 years is 400 generations, I think.

As someone alluded to earlier, it's like the Kevin Bacon game. Everyone can trace a path of acquaintances to Kevin Bacon in an astonishingly short chain. But the truth is, you can do that with almost anyone. It's just easier with Kevin Bacon because of IMDB.

It's the same thing, but through time. For every generation you go back, we double the number of genetic "acquaintances". Go back 100 years (4 generations), and we have 32 great-great-grandparents. By the time you get to 1000 years (400 generations), we all have 2,199,020,000,000 ancestors. Since that's more people than have ever lived, and many, many of the people alive in 1013 have no living descendents, there must be a tremendous amount of overlap.

The most recent common ancestor of all of humanity was probably only from 5000 years ago. Meaning, everyone on Earth can trace some kind of ancestry back to that one person. (Or, if my math is correct, we are all at most 200th cousins of each other.) Knowing that, it becomes much easier to imagine that the mrce of smaller populations is going to be from a more recent time.

In other, other words, we are probably all our own grandfathers.
posted by gjc at 5:39 PM on August 27, 2013


I come from a even more inbred European population, Ashkenaz/northern European Jews. My parents are 1st generation Americans, 4th/5th cousins, and didn't know it until they were writing out the wedding invitations, and there were duplicates!

My grandmothers grew up in a small Midwestern town (after being hustled out of Poland one jump ahead of the Nazis when they were toddlers - geneology is fucking depressing for modern Jews) and they married a pair of first cousins, presumably because the two boys were the sum total of the Nice Jewish Boy population of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. So my cousin Elon is my second cousin and also my third cousin.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:41 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most Recent Common Ancestor
posted by storybored at 5:59 PM on August 27, 2013


Restless_nomad wrote: So my cousin Elon is my second cousin and also my third cousin.

Things like this are why I wonder whether the descent-from-Charlemagne thing necessarily works for Ashkenazi Jews. It's not logically certain that all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne, and when you consider the high rate of endogamous marriage among some groups you have to wonder whether it's even mathematically certain.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:58 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's close to the obligatory Mitchell and Webb, as David Mitchell is involved, but Obligatory QI segment on Charlemagne and his descendants.

this is also one of the best full episodes of QI out there, and I highly recommend watching the whole thing. Worth it for Mitchell's laugh during the tortoise bit alone.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:29 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Things like this are why I wonder whether the descent-from-Charlemagne thing necessarily works for Ashkenazi Jews. It's not logically certain that all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne, and when you consider the high rate of endogamous marriage among some groups you have to wonder whether it's even mathematically certain.
How far back do you think you have to go before all Ashkenazis alive at that time are ancestors of all or none of the Ashkenazis alive today? With such a relatively small and, as you note, endogamous group, I doubt it's all that far. Five hundred years? If that?

So basically, for every Ashkenazi today to be descended from Charlemagne, there had to be only a single solitary Ashkenazi alive 500 years ago who had Charlemagne as only one of his or her 2 billion or so great-great-great-...-grandparents from 750 years earlier than that.
posted by Flunkie at 8:33 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


1000 years is 400 generations

Off by an order of magnitude there, unless humans become fertile at the age of 2½.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:48 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


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