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Who were your first ancestors
April 13, 2005 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Who were your first ancestors? Tracking ancient ancestors and the migration of ancient peoples through DNA. Progressive maps from 200,000 years to 10,0000 years ago show the movement of our "tribes" since Adam.
posted by adamvasco (39 comments total)

 
For more information, see of course Luigi Cavalli-Sforza's many books, both popular and technical, and, in opposition to Cavalli-Sforza's genetically-based theory of European agriculture spreading through replacement of indigenous peoples by agriculturists, Bryan Sykes's genetically-based theory that agriculturalconcepts, not the agriculturists themselves, moved through Europe.

Whichever theory is right (and both might be, given that Sykes only looked at mitochondrial DNA, DNA inherited only from mothers, not fathers), it's fascinating to see how great migrations we thought lost in the mists of antiquity are still visible literally in every cell of our bodies -- and almost as fascinating, how the migrations came wave after wave.
posted by orthogonality at 9:13 AM on April 13, 2005


You can particpate in the study (by giving them US$100) and find out the migration of your ancestors.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:22 AM on April 13, 2005


This is sooooo cool. It's really going to shake up a lot of people's conception of "races", and that's a good thing, because maybe there will finally be a widespread realization of how that's nothing but a social construct.

Basic little article from The Globe and Mail on this.
posted by orange swan at 9:32 AM on April 13, 2005


Highly recommend The Journey of Man by Spencer Wells.
posted by stbalbach at 9:49 AM on April 13, 2005


Reading about the possibility that I could know where my ancestors moved around has perhaps just given me the strangest emotional experience of my life.

I'm somewhere on the edge of tears of happiness, confused, elated and just generally mixed up...
posted by Captaintripps at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2005


totally fascinating-thanks!
posted by amberglow at 10:25 AM on April 13, 2005


Very cool!
posted by OmieWise at 10:42 AM on April 13, 2005


very good link. i was so excited after i came back to the map and found the orange circle had turned black to denote that i'd been there already. thank you natlgeo!
posted by Satapher at 10:51 AM on April 13, 2005


Bryan Sykes' Oxford Ancestors company has been offering this service (DNA testing to determine 'ancestry') to individuals at least since his book The Seven Daughters of Eve came out several years ago.

(There are also various DNA testing labs providing this service; several of their ads show up on the Amazon page for Seven Daughters of Eve.)

I've always been intending to do it, just out of sheer curiosity, but never had enough spare cash for learning something so wonderfully useless. But it's interesting that the National Geographic project now undercuts Oxford Ancestors' prices.

Thanks for the post.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:56 AM on April 13, 2005


This is sooooo cool. It's really going to shake up a lot of people's conception of "races", and that's a good thing, because maybe there will finally be a widespread realization of how that's nothing but a social construct.

I don't see what that has to do with anything.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:14 AM on April 13, 2005


Britain has only been an island since 6500BC? Wow! That's not really very long ago in even a human scale. I had no idea. Its more than a little scary to think that geography can change that fast.

Very cool link.
posted by octothorpe at 11:24 AM on April 13, 2005


Jsavimbi, it'll shake up some racists to find out that they have black ancestors.
posted by orange swan at 11:38 AM on April 13, 2005



I have just emerged from losing my entire lunchbreak at this wonderful site, thank you, adamvasco!
posted by infini at 11:42 AM on April 13, 2005


Orange Swan, no offense, but if you think some tongue scrapers are going to shake up centuries-old beliefs, think again.

I don't expect the Rev. Ian Paisley to start sending me any Xmas cards anytime soon, even though we are racially equal and come from the same island.

Albeit interesting, this study amounts to nothing more than good Sunday afternoon TV, and material for the local told-you-so's.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:56 AM on April 13, 2005


What great links!

Does anyone know the difference between the Geographic Society's "haplogroup" and Oxford's matriline and patriline? Are they more or less the same?
posted by kanewai at 12:03 PM on April 13, 2005


Wow. That was great. Definite bookmark material.
posted by tkchrist at 12:14 PM on April 13, 2005


savimbi, it'll shake up some racists to find out that they have black ancestors.
No offense, but I don't see anything like that happening. People aren't racists because of facts. They're racists because they're assholes and facts don't change the assholery.
(or, on preview, what jsavaimbi said)
posted by jmd82 at 12:24 PM on April 13, 2005


kanewai writes "Does anyone know the difference between the Geographic Society's 'haplogroup' and Oxford's matriline and patriline? Are they more or less the same?"

More or less. A haplogroup is just a set of (statistically correlated) DNA base-pairs. You can loosely think of it as a gene*.

The matriline and patriline that Oxford uses are also haplogroups: the matriline compares certain base-pairs on the myDNA control ring, and the partriline compares certain base-pairs on the Y chromosome.

*It's not a gene because a gene means a run of base-pairs that produce a protein. A haplogroup is looser, it's just any set of single nucleotide polymorphisms, whether or not it produces a protein.

In fact, it's more useful for comparison if it's a set that doesn't produce a protein (or regulate a protein production, for that matter), because you want base-pairs that do nothing. If they do nothing, they don't contribute positively or negatively to fitness, so they don't get selected for or against. That means that any changes to them occur at a steady average rate -- so you can determine the length of time of divergence --, and no changes to them cause changes in frequency of that particular haplogroup in the population.

Double check all this with a real biologist of course.

orange swan writes " This is sooooo cool. It's really going to shake up a lot of people's conception of 'races', and that's a good thing, because maybe there will finally be a widespread realization of how that's nothing but a social construct."

Er, maybe. Some of the (ideological, not scientific) opposition to Cavalli-Sforza's replacement theory is that it opens the door to racism, by postulating more advanced farming "races" exterminating less advanced hunter-gatherers. One thing that makes the Sykes revision popular is that it's more peaceful and egalitarian: the farmers' methods are adopted by the hunter-gatherers, "showing" they're just as smart and able to be "civilized".
posted by orthogonality at 12:24 PM on April 13, 2005


I'm not saying it's going to cause a revolutionary change. I do think that some of the people who find out that they have a differently complected ancestor will re-examine their attitudes.
posted by orange swan at 12:41 PM on April 13, 2005


I'm not saying it's going to cause a revolutionary change. I do think that some of the people who find out that they have a differently complected ancestor will re-examine their attitudes.

Nope, I think you were just glomming onto something as cool and geeky as tracing our ancestors migrating patterns through DNA and trying to turn it into some geo-socio-political rallying point. Ease up, cowboy, there isn't a bogeyman in every closet.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:52 PM on April 13, 2005


orange swan writes "I do think that some of the people who find out that they have a differently complected ancestor will re-examine their attitudes."

Well, then, everybody but Africans -- because 60,000 ago all our ancestors were Africans.

(Unless you believe in Multi-regionalism, in which case, if you're Asian, only some of your ancestors 60,000 years ago were black, and the rest were Homo erectus.)
posted by orthogonality at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2005


I think you were just glomming onto something as cool and geeky as tracing our ancestors migrating patterns through DNA and trying to turn it into some geo-socio-political rallying point. Ease up, cowboy, there isn't a bogeyman in every closet.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:52 PM EST on April 13


Let's look again at what orange swan actually said:

This is sooooo cool. It's really going to shake up a lot of people's conception of "races", and that's a good thing, because maybe there will finally be a widespread realization of how that's nothing but a social construct.

I don't think orange swan is up on the battlements waving a massive banner to make a 'geo-socio-political rallying point.'

I interpret orange swan's statement this way: "Maybe this DNA study will cause some people to re-evaluate their concept of 'race."

I don't see the bogeyman.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:37 PM on April 13, 2005


I can't quite figure out what exactly is being promised here. Will my white male DNA reveal anything more enlightening or detailed than the likelihood that my ancestors were roaming around northern Europe 10,000 years ago? What more is it likely to tell me?
posted by TBoneMcCool at 1:52 PM on April 13, 2005


Sorry, Fuzzy Monster, but aside from deconstructing just what exactly orange swan said, and trying to interpret it into something more palatable, can I just ask: who mentioned race at all, and why is it a part of a discussion on a scientific study?

Screw it, I'm competing in the Special Olympics here. From now on, every single post is directly tied into Irish Nationalism, The Good Friday Agreement and Bobby Sands.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:01 PM on April 13, 2005


jsavimibi, you & I obviously read different things into what orange swan wrote. You're seeing a pointed political attack, I am not. I imagine somewhere in between lies the truth.

Here's why race is part of this discussion about this scientific study:
(from the link)"The Genographic Project is an exciting exploration of your personal genetic background."

Some people believe your 'personal genetic background' constitutes your 'race.' Perhaps this project will show that our 'personal genetic background' cannot be extrapolated into 'races' at all.

Personally, I prefer the phrasing adamvasco used in the FPP: "tribes." We all belong to various tribes, some related to our 'personal genetic background,' some not. I'd say Metafilter is a tribe.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:29 PM on April 13, 2005


Thanks for the science, orthogonality!

I'm completely fascinated by all the new work coming out on early human migrations. Jared Diamond must deserve a link here ... Germs, Guns, and Steel traces the spread of agricultural societies after the last ice age.

TBoneMcCool: Will my white male DNA reveal anything more enlightening or detailed than the likelihood that my ancestors were roaming around northern Europe 10,000 years ago? What more is it likely to tell me?

I think the study is most valuable for the aggregate data that will be collected. For the individual, I guess it depends on your level of curiousity. Personally, I'm looking forward to participating. I know my matrilineal ancestors back a couple centuries, and I can infer back a few more. Hell if I know where they were 10,000 [or even 100,000] years ago. This type of study can only tell you two of the thousands of possible ancestors you have from that time.

Rationally, that won't mean much. Emotionally, I find something powerful in the thought that we can discover an individual connection to our deepest ancestors.
posted by kanewai at 2:30 PM on April 13, 2005


TBoneMcCool writes "
I can't quite figure out what exactly is being promised here. Will my white male DNA reveal anything more enlightening or detailed than the likelihood that my ancestors were roaming around northern Europe 10,000 years ago? What more is it likely to tell me?"


Well, like some black Africans and some (subcontinental) Indians, it might turn out you're -- a Jew! Or an Arab, as their Y DNA can look pretty much the same.

It can give you an idea of what your father's father's father's .... father was doing in Europe, and when his people became agriculturists (earlier in the East toward what is now Turkey, later in the West in the British Isles.)

Or it may turn out your great-grand-mom was more recently African. If you're Argentinean, it might even turn out your "parents" kidnapped you after your real mother was "disappeared" by the military dictatorship.

Understand that the matriline is passed down from mother to child in the mitochondrial DNA, and is only passed on by women, and that the patriline only by fathers to sons.

Imagine an inverted triangle, with you, the point of the triangle at the bottom. The next level above you has your mom on the left and your dad on the right. Above them are your grandparents: your mom's mom on the far left, then your mom;s dad, then your dad's mom and finally your dad's father on the far right. And above that another level, this one of eight people, starting with your maternal grandmother's mom on the far left, and ending with your
paternal grandfather's dad on the far right. Now extend the triangle back another fifty generations, with moms always to the left and dads to the right.

Your matrilineal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) came through those left-most women, and only those left-most women -- it never "mixed" with any of your other ancestors' mtDNA. Your patrilineal Y chromosome came through those right-most men, and only those right-most men -- it never "mixed" with any of your other ancestors' nuclear ("regular") DNA.

Because those two forms of DNA come exclusively from one parent and never mix, they're easier to track, and that's why most haplotype matching uses either mtDNA or Y-Chromosome DNA. (mtDNA is a bit more useful, since both women and women have it -- only men have Y chromosomes)

But the other thing to understand is that mtDNA only tells you about that left-most woman in each generation. It tells you all about mom, as your mom is your only direct female ancestor. But once we get back to your eight great-grandparents, mtDNA is only about one of them, your mom's mom's mom. If that woman was, for example, Chinese, and all your other great-grandparents were African, you've got 100% Chinese mtDNA.

The Y-chromosome story is the same, only about the right-most man in your "family triangle" -- if your Y-chromosome haplotype matches that of, say, Indonesians, it doesn't mean you're Indonesian or even mostly Indonesian -- just that your father's father's father's father's father's.... father was Indonesian.

From each your parents, you get exactly half of your DNA. But from each of your grandparents, while you get on average one-quarter of their DNA, your DNA might be comprised of anywhere from none to one-half of theirs.

So you might have that Indonesian Y-Chromosome and no other Indonesian DNA. And indeed, since you have only about 30,000 genes but over one million ancestors twenty generations back, at twenty generations, most of your ancestors probably contributed little or none of your DNA.

And indeed, mathematical models show that if you go back far enough (far enough depends on a number of factors, so it's hard to say exactly what generation that is for you), 80% of the ancestral population in that generation is an ancestor of yours --and the remaining 20% have no living descendents at all.

So: Y-Chromosome and mtDNA tell you a whole lot about two of your ancestors, a female ancestor "all the way back" through the female line, and a male ancestor "all the way back" through the male line -- and it tells you nothing (except what statistical assumptions you can make) about all the rest of your ancestors.
posted by orthogonality at 2:36 PM on April 13, 2005


I orginally got interested in the movement of peoples through the writings of Robert Ardrey - Hunting Hypothesis and African Genesis. It is interesting, at least to me, as to how the "Europeans" and Brits arrived.Some come directly from the South over the African Land bridge of Gibraltar, others from the Near East , present day Israel and Lebanon and yet others from Central Asia - the barbarian hordes. Genealogy through written records is definitely dodgy pre C17th. However each individual has this genetic map of their ancestral tribes embedded in them as was shown by Stephen Harding's Viking Ancestry project.
posted by adamvasco at 2:45 PM on April 13, 2005


On preview "Thank You" orthogonality.
posted by adamvasco at 2:47 PM on April 13, 2005


adamvasco writes "I originally got interested in the movement of peoples through the writings of Robert Ardrey - Hunting Hypothesis and African Genesis."

Very old and quite distinctly loathed in some quarters for ideological reasons. Strongly distrusted in all quarters for scientific reasons. But still said to have been inspirational to some when it originally came out.

I really should stop now. Before (?) I convince everyone I'm autistic.
posted by orthogonality at 2:53 PM on April 13, 2005


Until a certain point in the past (the "identical ancestors point" or "all common ancestors point"), perhaps as recent as 2000 BC, any given human was either the ancestor of all humans now living, or of no humans now living. In other words, if a person in, say, 10000 BC, could be shown to have one descendant alive today, that ancient person would also be the ancestor of every other person now alive. After the identical ancestors point, for some period of time, there were three kinds of people: ancestors of all people alive now, ancestors of some people now alive, and ancestors of no people now alive. The first category got smaller until eventually there was only one person, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all people alive today, the last person everyone has in their family tree. That person may have lived as recently as 100 BC. More here.
posted by gubo at 3:19 PM on April 13, 2005


orthogonality: that was very insightful explanation. thanks.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 4:07 PM on April 13, 2005


Since who?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:11 PM on April 13, 2005


jsavimbi, I cannot understand why you are interpreting my words the way you are. Fuzzy Monster is exactly right in his interpretation. (Thanks for the able defense, Fuzz!)
posted by orange swan at 5:19 PM on April 13, 2005


Gubo - I read your link on MRCA [most common recent ancestor]. The math looks elegant, but the results make absolutely no sense Populations are much too spread out. Someone from Australia, circa 2000 bc, might very well have ancestors alive today. Based on the logic of MRCA, every living person today - Chinese, Amerind, Irish, and the rest - would share that aborigine as an ancestor.

It simply is not plausible.

The earlier dates [10,000 BCE] for a common ancestor sound more plausible, but even then humans had spread across most of the globe.
posted by kanewai at 5:27 PM on April 13, 2005


Hah, all us L33t genealogy geeks got into DNA testing a while ago. :-) If anyone's interested in seeing the maps and migration patterns that have already developed from people who have already had their yDNA and mtDNA tested, may I suggest checking out the maps at ysearch.org (use the dropdowns on that page to shuffle through the various haplogroups) and ybase.org for male-lines, and mitosearch.org (PDF file) for female-lines. (Alas, they often only show maps of Europe, which sucks for people like my husband, yDNA haplogroup E3b, whose group predominates in North Africa.)

Their databases contain very low-resolution genetic signatures for thousands of men and women who have already tested with Oxford Ancestors or FamilyTreeDNA or African Ancestry or one of the other testing companies. The actual signatures (haplotypes) can then be sorted into overall larger haplogroups, and then mapped to show point of (known) origin--basically the same exact thing that the National Geographic study will be doing.

The databases are very heavily weighted towards people with UK ancestry at the moment, because people with British ancestry are more likely to be involved with genealogy (heraldic societies, Irish clan groups, and the like), or perhaps because they have more disposable income to throw at DNA tests. The databases will hopefully diversify as more people look into geneatology as an adjunct to regular paper-trail genealogical digging.

If you want to know more about getting tested for genealogical purposes, I recommend Megan Smolenyak's book about genealogical DNA as a primer. And if you want to get tested either out of curiosity or for specific genealogical purposes, I highly recommend using FamilyTreeDNA to do it. E-mail's in the profile, if anyone wants to hear me yap on more about this subject, which I could do all day.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:24 PM on April 13, 2005


Wow this is cool.

Ease up, cowboy, there isn't a bogeyman in every closet.

jsavimbi: I don't think a Orange Swan was suggesting that a member of the Klu Klux Klan was going to take the test, then announce at a local cross burning jamboree while chewing chitlins and swigging back some moonshine that his great great great grandaddy was a nigra from Africa because he took this test and was leaving the KKK because he now sees the error of his racist ways, racism and ignorance is usually far more subtle than that.

Oh and what Fuzzy Monster said.
posted by squeak at 7:53 PM on April 13, 2005


Actually, Orange Swan was exactly right. This goal comes from their own site.

4. What will the end result be?
The Genographic Project will result in the creation of a global database of human genetic variation and associated anthropological data (language, social customs, etc.). This database will serve as an invaluable scientific resource for the research community. Many indigenous populations around the world are facing strong challenges to their cultural identities. The Genographic Project will provide a 'snapshot' of human genetic variation before we lose the cultural context necessary to make sense of the genetic data. Among other things, we hope that the findings from the project will underscore how closely related we are to one another as part of the extended human family.
posted by travis vocino at 8:02 PM on April 13, 2005


Oh, if you're interested in haplotype diagrams, you can find a bunch, for both humans and other animals, in my earlier FPP.

To see the best of them, you have to load pdfs and scroll down, but the diagrams are pretty and give a picture of how haplotypes diverged.
posted by orthogonality at 11:35 PM on April 13, 2005


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