My ancestors’ great journey

For my last birthday I asked for as present – and received 🙂 – a genetic testing kit sold as part of the Genographic Project, a research project of National Geographic and IBM. Finally, the results were posted over the last weekend – so here’s the story of my ancestors.

I chose to have the Y-chromosome test, which would indicate my father lineage. Before going to the results, here’s a short intro to how testing is done and what the concepts of haplogroups and markers really mean. Quote from my report:

Each of us carries DNA that is a combination of genes passed from both our mother and father, giving us traits that range from eye color and height to athleticism and disease susceptibility. One exception is the Y chromosome, which is passed directly from father to son, unchanged, from generation to generation.

Unchanged, that is unless a mutation—a random, naturally occurring, usually harmless change—occurs. The mutation, known as a marker, acts as a beacon; it can be mapped through generations because it will be passed down from the man in whom it occurred to his sons, their sons, and every male in his family for thousands of years.

In some instances there may be more than one mutational event that defines a particular branch on the tree. This means that any of these markers can be used to determine your particular haplogroup, since every individual who has one of these markers also has the others.

When geneticists identify such a marker, they try to figure out when it first occurred, and in which geographic region of the world. Each marker is essentially the beginning of a new lineage on the family tree of the human race. Tracking the lineages provides a picture of how small tribes of modern humans in Africa tens of thousands of years ago diversified and spread to populate the world.

A haplogroup is defined by a series of markers that are shared by other men who carry the same random mutations. The markers trace the path your ancestors took as they moved out of Africa.

My haplogroup is R1b and it includes the markers M168, M89, M9, M45, M207, 173, M343 – in case you want to know the scientific version 😉 . The narrated one goes like this:

My earlieast identifiable forefather lived  roughly 50000 years ago in Eastern Africa – and he is the common ancestor of all non-African man living today. At about 45000 years ago, one of his grand-grand-…-sons moved to Middle East as part of the second exodus out of Africa and some of his descendants continued to Iran and Central Asia. 90-95% of all non-Africans are his descendants.

The next significant event happened about 40000 years ago when one of my forefathers, living in Iran or southern Central Asia spawned a lineage that over the next 30000 years populated much of the planet (except Africa and Australia).  Two clans formed in Tajikistan: some moved into Central Asia, some moved to Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent. My next forefather travelled with the first group and one of his descendants – about 35000 years ago – is at the origins of most Europeans and nearly all Native American men.

At about 30000 years ago, there was another split in the family, with one sub-clan turning south and making it all the way to India, while the other turning towards Europe – my direct forefather being one of them. They became the first Homo Sapiens to reach Europe, giving rise to the Aurignacian culture. Cooling climate forced my ancestors to move south – so 90% of all men in Spain belong to the same large family; the last big identifiable turn of genetic fortune happened at about this time, giving rise to my last known genetic forefather – the ancestor of those who formed the Cro-Magnon group during the last ice age and created the famous cave paintings, including the ones in the Altamira cave.

This is where my genetic story ends. It makes me proud knowing that I’m the direct descendants of the first colonizers of Europe – but it also tells me that, at least on the father line, I cannot be a ‘biological’ Hungarian: my male ancestors have lived in Europe since they first arrived here, 30000 years ago, most probably in Southern Europe – and did not arrive 1100 years ago with the rest of the Hungarians.

Which makes the prospect of checking my mother’s linage all the more interesting 😉 .

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