My DNA (ep. 2)

10 years ago I published my paternal DNA history. Today’s time for my maternal one.

Branch: L3

Age: 67,000 Years Ago

Location of Origin: East Africa

This woman’s descendants would eventually account for both out-of-Africa maternal lineages, significant population migrations in Africa, and even take part in the Atlantic Slave Trade related dispersals from Africa.

The common direct maternal ancestor to all women alive today was born in East Africa around 180,000 years ago. Dubbed “Mitochondrial Eve” by the popular press, she represents the root of the human family tree. Eve gave rise to two descendant lineages known as L0 and L1’2’3’4’5’6, characterized by a different set of genetic mutations their members carry.

Current genetic data indicates that indigenous people belonging to these groups are found exclusively in Africa. This means that, because all humans have a common female ancestor, and because the genetic data shows that Africans are the oldest groups on the planet, we know our species originated there.

Eventually, L1’2’3’4’5’6 gave rise to L3 in East Africa. It is a similar story: an individual underwent a mutation to her mitochondrial DNA, which was passed onto her children. The children were successful, and their descendants ultimately broke away from L1’2’3’4’5’6, eventually separating into a new group called L3.

While L3 individuals are found all over Africa, L3 is important for its movements north. Your L3 ancestors were significant because they are the first modern humans to have left Africa, representing the deepest branches of the tree found outside of that continent.

From there, members of this group went in a few different directions. Many stayed on in Africa, dispersing to the west and south.  Some L3 lineages are predominant in many Bantu-speaking groups who originated in west-central Africa, later dispersing throughout the continent and spreading this L3 lineage from Mali to South Africa.  Today, L3 is also found in many African-Americans.

Other L3 individuals, your ancestors, kept moving northward, eventually leaving the African continent completely. These people gave rise to two important macro-haplogroups (M and N) that went on to populate the rest of the world.

Why would humans have first ventured out of the familiar African hunting grounds and into unexplored lands? It is likely that a fluctuation in climate may have provided the impetus for your ancestors’ exodus out of Africa.

Point of Interest

The L branch is shared by all women alive today, both in Africa and around the world. The L3 branch is the major maternal branch from which all mitochondrial DNA lineages outside of Africa arose.

The African Ice Age was characterized by drought rather than by cold. Around 50,000 years ago the ice sheets of northern Europe began to melt, introducing a period of warmer temperatures and moister climate in Africa. Parts of the inhospitable Sahara briefly became habitable. As the drought-ridden desert changed to savanna, the animals your ancestors hunted expanded their range and began moving through the newly emerging green corridor of grasslands. Your nomadic ancestors followed the good weather and plentiful game northward across this Saharan Gateway, although the exact route they followed remains to be determined.

 

Branch: N

Age: About 60,000 Years Ago

Location of Origin: East Africa or Asia

Your next ancestor is the woman whose descendants formed haplogroup N. Haplogroup N comprises one of two groups that were created by the descendants of L3.

One of these two groups of individuals moved north rather than east and left the African continent across the Sinai Peninsula, in present-day Egypt. Also faced with the harsh desert conditions of the Sahara, these people likely followed the Nile basin, which would have proved a reliable water and food supply in spite of the surrounding desert and its frequent sandstorms.

Descendants of these migrants eventually formed haplogroup N. Early members of this group lived in the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia, where they likely coexisted for a time with other hominids such as Neanderthals. Excavations in Israel’s Kebara Cave (Mount Carmel) have unearthed Neanderthal skeletons as recent as 60,000 years old, indicating that there was both geographic and temporal overlap of these two hominids.  This likely accounts for the presence of Neanderthal DNA in people living outside of Africa.

Some members bearing mutations specific to haplogroup N formed many groups of their own which went on to populate much of the rest of the globe. These descendants are found throughout Asia, Europe, India, and the Americas. However, because almost all of the mitochondrial lineages found in the Near East and Europe descend from N, it is considered a western Eurasian haplogroup.

After several thousand years in the Near East, members of your group began moving into unexplored nearby territories, following large herds of migrating game across vast plains. These groups broke into several directions and made their way into territories surrounding the Near East.

Point of Interest

This line and its sister lineage are the only two founding lineages to expand out of Africa.

Today, haplogroup N individuals who headed west are prevalent in Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean, they are found further east in parts of Central Asia and the Indus Valley of Pakistan and India. And members of your haplogroup who headed north out of the Levant across the Caucasus Mountains have remained in southeastern Europe and the Balkans. Importantly, descendants of these people eventually went on to populate the rest of Europe, and today comprise the most frequent mitochondrial lineages found there.

Branch: N1

Age: About 52,000 Years Ago

Location of Origin: West Asia

This point in your ancestors’ journey began around 52,000 years ago in West Asia. This lineage and its descendant branches remain most common in its homeland.

Today, it is widespread in the Levant region and much of the Arabian Peninsula.

Branch: N1b

Age: 21,100 ± 9,500 Years Ago

Location of Origin: West Asia

This woman’s journey began in the Paleolithic period but the events of the Neolithic Revolution shaped the path of her descendants. They have migrated through West Asia and across the Levant region to East Africa, Anatolia, and the Caucasus Mountains, and finally to Europe.

Note: This branch is not accompanied by a major movement on the map, and research on this branch is continuing.

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