The results may be surprising for some of the Bulgarian historians and scientists. I am copying some of them below, plus a map of the movement of my grand-grand-grand…parents to the Balkans.
My Y-chromosome results identify me as a member of haplogroup I1b.
The genetic markers that define my ancestral history reach back roughly 60,000 years to the first common marker of all non-African men, M168, and follow my lineage to present day, ending with P37.2, the defining marker of haplogroup I1, and also with the marker M26 (I1b2).
If you look at the map highlighting my ancestors’ route (see below), you will see that members of haplogroup I1b carry the following Y-chromosome markers:
M168 > M89 > M170 > P37.2
What’s a haplogroup, and why do geneticists concentrate on the Y chromosome in their search for markers? For that matter, what’s a marker?
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 is the case for my haplogroup I, since this branch can be defined by two markers, either M170 or P19. This means that either of these markers can be used to determine my particular haplogroup, since every individual who has one of these markers also has the other. Therefore, either marker can be used as a genetic signpost leading us back to the origin of my group, guiding the understanding of what was happening at that early time.
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 my ancestors took as they moved out of Africa. It’s difficult to know how many men worldwide belong to any particular haplogroup, or even how many haplogroups there are, because scientists simply don’t have enough data yet.
One of the goals of the five-year Genographic Project is to build a large enough database of anthropological genetic data to answer some of these questions. To achieve this, project team members are traveling to all corners of the world to collect more than 100,000 DNA samples from indigenous populations.
My Ancestral Journey: What Is Known Now
M168: My Earliest Ancestor
Time of Emergence: Roughly 50,000 years ago
Place of Origin: Africa
Climate: Temporary retreat of Ice Age; Africa moves from drought to warmer temperatures and moister conditions
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 10,000
Tools and Skills: Stone tools; earliest evidence of art and advanced conceptual skills
Skeletal and archaeological evidence suggest that anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and began moving out of Africa to colonize the rest of the world around 60,000 years ago.
The man who gave rise to the first genetic marker in my lineage probably lived in northeast Africa in the region of the Rift Valley, perhaps in present-day Ethiopia , Kenya, or Tanzania, some 31,000 to 79,000 years ago. Scientists put the most likely date for when he lived at around 50,000 years ago. His descendants became the only lineage to survive outside of Africa, making him the common ancestor of every non-African man living today.
But why would man 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 my ancestors’ exodus out of Africa.
The African ice age was characterized by drought rather than by cold. It was around 50,000 years ago that 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 a savanna, the animals hunted by your ancestors expanded their range and began moving through the newly emerging green corridor of grasslands. My nomadic ancestors followed the good weather and the animals they hunted, although the exact route they followed remains to be determined.
In addition to a favorable change in climate, around this same time there was a great leap forward in modern humans’ intellectual capacity. Many scientists believe that the emergence of language gave us a huge advantage over other early human species. Improved tools and weapons, the ability to plan ahead and cooperate with one another, and an increased capacity to exploit resources in ways we hadn’t been able to earlier, all allowed modern humans to rapidly migrate to new territories, exploit new resources, and replace other hominids.
M89: Moving Through the Middle East
Time of Emergence: 45,000 years ago
Place: Northern Africa or the Middle East
Climate: Middle East: Semiarid grass plains
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Tens of thousands
Tools and Skills: Stone, ivory, wood tools
The next male ancestor in my ancestral lineage is the man who gave rise to M89, a marker found in 90 to 95 percent of all non-Africans. This man was born around 45,000 years ago in northern Africa or the Middle East.
The first people to leave Africa likely followed a coastal route that eventually ended in Australia. My ancestors followed the expanding grasslands and plentiful game to the Middle East and beyond, and were part of the second great wave of migration out of Africa.
Beginning about 40,000 years ago, the climate shifted once again and became colder and more arid. Drought hit Africa and the grasslands reverted to desert, and for the next 20,000 years, the Saharan Gateway was effectively closed. With the desert impassable, my ancestors had two options: remain in the Middle East, or move on. Retreat back to the home continent was not an option.
While many of the descendants of M89 remained in the Middle East, others continued to follow the great herds of buffalo, antelope, woolly mammoths, and other game through what is now modern-day Iran to the vast steppes of Central Asia.
These semiarid grass-covered plains formed an ancient “superhighway” stretching from eastern France to Korea. My ancestors, having migrated north out of Africa into the Middle East, then traveled both east and west along this Central Asian superhighway. A smaller group continued moving north from the Middle East to Anatolia and the Balkans*, trading familiar grasslands for forests and high country.
M170: Occupying the Balkans
Time of Emergence: 20,000 years ago
Place of Origin: Southeastern Europe
Climate: Height of the Ice Age
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Hundreds of thousands
Tools and Skills: Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic
My ancestors were part of the M89 Middle Eastern Clan that continued to migrate northwest into the Balkans and eventually spread into central Europe. These people may have been responsible for the expansion of the prosperous Gravettian culture, which spread through northern Europe from about 21,000 to 28,000 years ago.
The Gravettian culture represents the second technological phase to sweep through prehistoric Western Europe. It is named after a site in La Gravette, France, where a set of tools different from the preceding era (Aurignacian culture) was found. The Gravettian stone tool kit included a distinctive small pointed blade used for hunting big game.
The Gravettian culture is also known for their voluptuous carvings of big-bellied females often dubbed “Venus” figures. The small, frequently hand-sized sculptures appear to be of pregnant women—obesity not being a problem for hunter-gatherers—and may have served as fertility icons or as emblems conferring protection of some sort. Alternatively, they may have represented goddesses.
These early European ancestors of yours used communal hunting techniques, created shell jewelry, and used mammoth bones to build their homes. Recent findings suggest that the Gravettians may have discovered how to weave clothing using natural fibers as early as 25,000 years ago. Earlier estimates had placed weaving at about the same time as the emergence of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago.
The man who gave rise to marker M170, was born about 20,000 years ago and was heir to this heritage. He was probably born in one of the isolated refuge areas people were forced to occupy during the last blast of the Ice Age, possibly in the Balkans. As the ice sheets covering much of Europe began to retreat around 15,000 years ago, his descendants likely played a central role in repopulating northern Europe.
It’s possible that the Vikings descended from this line. The Viking raids on the British Isles might explain why the lineage can be found in populations in southern France and among some Celtic populations.
P37.2: Recolonizing Eastern Europe
Time of Emergence: 15,000 years ago
Place of Origin: Balkans
Climate: Ice Age Refugia
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: One Million
Tools and Skills: Late Upper Paleolithic
My haplogroup, I1b, is further defined by a marker known as P37.2. This marker appeared in the Balkans about 15,000 years ago—and is still most commonly found there today.
The P37.2 marker likely distinguishes ancient human populations who migrated to Balkan refugia during the glacial maximum at the peak of the last ice age. With much of Europe locked up under frigid sheets of ice humans sought survival in isolated southern European regions that remained habitable.
During the ten thousand years that the ice sheets were at their maximum, individuals living outside of the warmer refugia would have been unable to survive and were thus effectively eliminated from the gene pool. This reduced the genetic diversity of the surviving human populations and helped those lucky lineages to become fixed at higher frequencies in subsequent generations.
When the glaciers finally began to recede, the I1b lineage expanded northward and eastward to repopulate Europe—and carried the marker P37.2 along for the ride. Evidence of these journeys can be seen by the marker’s significant presence in western Eurasia. Yet today Haplogroup I1b remains primarily a central and southeastern European lineage and is found in highest frequency in those regions.
This is what is know as of today.
I am checking regularly the National Geographic project page, and will keep this blog entry updated, as soon as there is new information.
Many Bulgarian historians claim that the Bulgarians came from Central Asia (see Bulgars, and Old Great Bulgaria, where they have had their state thousands of years ago. The known DNA so far doesn’t prove that there is a relation between the people who lived on the Balkans for tens of thousands of years, but shows there is link between the Central Asian and the Europeans. I guess we’ll know more as soon as there’s more data.
Publishing these results, I am sure that the Macedonians will use them to claim that they are something different from the Bulgarians (I am born in Skopie, the historians there in the last 60 years have claimed that the Macedonians are not related to the Bulgarians).
I think that the DNA can not be used to claim one’s nationality, but just to see where the tribes have been moving through the years, and I believe it is good for as many of my fellow Bulgarians to make the National Geographic test, and publish the results.
The test costs about $ 100, and the results can be checked online.
It takes about two months to get them.
At this point, I am not sure how the DNA probes are being sent overseas, but there are plenty of Bulgarians in the USA and Canada, who can do that experiment. If you are a Bulgarian, and have done the test, please, publish your results somewhere, and link them to my blog entry. If you have not done the test, please, consider doing it.
* This shows that there is a link between the tribes that went to Central Asia, and the ones that moved to the Balkans. The link, though, is 45000 years ago.