May 21, 2006 By Will Hart In recent years, genetic research has produced unexpected results that have opened the doors to many historical mysteries. The surprising outcomes have also provoked unintended controversy.
The reasons that these DNA investigations have sparked intense debates in the fields of anthropology, history and even cultural evolution will become clear as our story unfolds. The genetic probes began innocently enough with geneticists wanting to see what secrets human genes might reveal about our complex, mysterious and often disputed history.
Anthropologists and historians had long thought that the America’s had been populated by Asians crossing a land bridge that connected Asia and North America during the last Ice Age. This was referred to as the ‘Bering Strait Crossing’ theory and was believed to have occurred about 12,000 years ago. Genetic analysis on Native American DNA samples began in the 1980s. However, the research effort greatly accelerated in the 1990s due to rapid technological progress in the field.
In fact, the early results confirmed the generally accepted theory showing a clear link between Native Americans and DNA samples collected from native peoples in Siberian-Asia. Nevertheless as the studies both deepened and broadened to include Asians across the continent, the increasing data revealed that the migration pattern had been more complex than anthropologist’s had envisioned.
The early results showed that Native American tribes were comprised of four distinct mtDNA haplogroups, A, B, C, and D. The haplogroup designations represent four different (maternal) lineages. These four lineages are found throughout North, Central and South America. However, only three of them A, C, and D were discovered in the Siberian-Asian populations. The B haplogroup was traced to aboriginal population groups in Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Melanesia, and Polynesia. Before proceeding we should briefly clarify what mtDNA is.
There are two types of genetic material used for analysis, cellular and mtDNA, the latter is found in human mitochondia outside the nucleus of cells and is only transferred down generations through females, hence mtDNA stands for maternal DNA.
This type is simpler than the cellular DNA and it evolves faster,so it is used to distinguish human groups that evolved in separate geographic areas. In historical terms, what the genetic evidence obtained from mtDNA samples translated into was a much more diverse and complex migration pattern that included people arriving to the America’s in boats. Thor Heyerdahl had hypothesized that this was the case by showing that it was possible during his Kon Tiki expeditions across the Pacific Ocean to Peru.
While orthodox anthropologists embraced the results of the earliest DNA findings, the later results caused consternation and controversy. They not only showed that the Americas were settled by many different racial groups coming from many different parts of Asia, the genetic findings also demonstrated that the migration events took place much earlier than previously thought. Anthropologists, archaeologists and historians had postulated that the migrations had taken place less than 20,000 years ago.
DNA analysis placed the initial wave of migration at between 38-50,000 years before present. This finding too raised eyebrows in the orthodox community. However, in recent years radiocarbon dated materials from South America, California and the Southwestern United States has come to light and the dates agree with the conclusions of the DNA research. Clearly, the genetic investigations had produced a mixed bag of outcomes for orthodox anthropologists and historians. In general, their long held theories about a north Asian origin for Native American populations were proven correct. Nevertheless, their narrow focus on Siberia, the single land-bridge migration route and their chronology had been in error. Some of the Asian immigrants did come from Siberia along that route but other groups came from Japan, Polynesia, etc., in boats and their journeys began in remote antiquity.
Genetic researchers determined that 96% of Native Americans fell into one of the four A-D haplogroups and while these mtDNA types were also found in Asia they are not present in Europe or Africa. This too indicates that Asia was the ancestral region of most Native American tribes. Then in 1997 another lineage was discovered, which geneticists dubbed X. This discovery ignited a storm of controversy that has not died down to this day. The X haplogroup needs careful,thoughtful, and deep historical analysis because this group may well hold one of the most important keys to unlocking the secrets of our collective past.
Obviously about 4 percent of Native Americans, from Alaska to the tip of South America, do not fall into one of the four major haplogroups.
Scientists assumed that these minority lineages came from interactions with European and African groups since the time of Columbus. This proved to be true for about 1.5% of Native Americans however 2.5% were found to belong to the X lineage.
Once this small mtDNA group was identified as a distinct genetic type, the race was on to ascertain their place of origin. This is where the mystery really gets complicated and interesting. In spite of the fact that the previous genetic data was forcing the orthodoxy to make some alterations in their migration scheme and chronology, as we saw their basic paradigm had been confirmed.
But the discovery of the X haplogroup changed that situation dramatically. It was known to exist in Europe in about 5% of the population and unknown in Asia and Africa at the time. The X lineage was ascertained to have arrived in the Americas from about 38,000 to 10,000 years ago. What could this mean?
At first anthropologists argued that since Europeans had not traveled across the Atlantic at such a remote point in time the X group had to be the outcome of post Columbus contact and intermarriage. However when researchers analyzed ancient DNA samples, found in the Great Lakes (Mound Builder) region, which dated back long before Columbus they identified some of the samples as belonging to the X group.
This proved they were not the outcome of any post-Columbus contact and were not of recent origin. When investigators compiled the genetic data on the distribution of the X haplogroup in the America’s what they discovered sent shock waves through the conventional and alternative history camps.
The X lineage was only found in a handful of tribes scattered across the country, the Yakima and Sioux in the northwest and the Navajo in the southwest, in about 5% of their populations. However, the greatest concentrations by far occurred in the Ojibway, Oneota and Nuu-Chah-Nulth tribes where almost 25% of the tribal members fell into the X lineage.
Moreover, the vast majority of tribes contained no X members. In fact, it was not found in any native tribes in Central or South America. Again, what did these patterns mean? Independent researchers associated with the Edgar Cayce Association (A.R.E.) quickly pointed out that the data supported some of the material found in the Atlantis readings that the ‘sleeping prophet’ had given in the 1930s. Cayce noted that some Atlantis refugees had immigrated to the northeastern region of the United States and later formed the Iroquois nation. It was in those tribes that the highest concentration of the X haplogroup was found.
The Cayce readings also claimed that some of these refugees went to the American southwest and others migrated to the Mound Builder region and formed that civilization. Odd that his psychic information would so closely parallel the distribution pattern of the X lineage. Cayce had also given the dates that these migrations had occurred and they too agreed with the DNA findings.
The plot was surely thickening in a most fascinating way. If the story stopped here it would be enough to hold interest and provoke thought however it goes farther, much farther. The apparent widespread presence of the X lineage across what is now known as the United States appears to show a wide initial dispersal. One could postulate a west-east migration of this haplogroup from Siberian Asia. But that scenario poses two serious obstacles:1) the greatest concentration of this group is found in the northeastern region of the United States and 2) X is virtually absent in Asia. Like a good detective novel, all of the clues had not been uncovered in the late 1990s when the X group had been identified and was being hotly debated. Geneticists pressed forward and launched a probe into the Altai tribe located in the Gobi desert and found the X lineage in small numbers.
This is the only population in Asia that exhibits this haplogroup and as such they comprise a tiny, isolated genetic island. Orthodox anthropologists were elated when the news reached their ears. They seized on this finding as smoking gun proof that the X group in North America had its ancestral roots in Siberian Asia, end of story. To say that this was an unscientific rush to a final conclusion that just happened to agree with their long held beliefs is an understatement. Let us pause and use logic and commonsense and try to walk through what we are being asked to accept. The Gobi Desert is about 8,000 miles from the northeastern section of the United States.
We are being told that this tribe trekked that distance and transferred their genes from their ancestral homeland to the Great Lakes without depositing the X group genes in any other part of Asia, Alaska, Canada, and the region between Washington and the Northeast America. Everyone agrees that any such migration would have taken place during the harshest of conditions since the Ice Age still held this entire region in its frigid grip. Furthermore, we are being asked to suspend our disbelief raised by the notion that a tiny tribe trekked these vast distances across a frozen landscape for unknown reasons. Why would any small tribe risk everything and wander half way around the globe during an ice age when they did not know what lay beyond the next horizon? In fact, anthropologists and historians know that this is not the way human tribes have operated since the dawn of time. On February 16, 1932 Cayce related some information during a reading that is extraordinarily cogent to this unfolding genetic mystery story. When asked about the position of the continent of Atlantis he replied:
“The position the continent Atlantis occupied, is that as between the Gulf of Mexico on the one hand – and the Mediterranean upon the other. Evidences of this lost civilization are to be found in the Pyrenees and Morocco on the one hand, British Honduras, Yucatan and America upon the other.”
Now, we must pick up the trail of clues on the other side of the Atlantic. Let us keep in mind that when Cayce gave this reading DNA had not yet been discovered and there was no such thing as mtDNA analysis. Nevertheless, he mentioned “evidences” in two specific locales, the Pyrenees, a mountain range sandwiched in between France and Spain where the Basques live, and Morocco where another ancient group, the Berbers resides. Astonishingly, these two populations contain the highest frequencies of the X lineage found in Europe and North Africa.
The Basques have long puzzled anthropologists, linguists and historians because, although they are Caucasian they do not fit in with the rest of the European populations. Their language is not related to any other tongue in the world. Prior to the advent of genetic research tools investigators used the ABO blood groups to study the relationships between human populations as well as their migration patterns. The Basques turned out to be unique in terms of blood types as well.
As a population they contain the highest levels of Rh- ‘O’ negative blood in the world and among the lowest type B. Now, what Cayce was suggesting is that some of the people that fled the sinking continent went west and settled and became the Iroquois. Others went east to the Iberian Peninsula then the Pyrenees (Basques), and the West Coast of North Africa then the Atlas Mountains (Berbers). Turning to the Berbers we find yet another group that contains the highest frequency of haplogroup X in the world. Is it a coincidence that these disparate peoples share a very rare mtDNA lineage? It is unfortunate that the Berbers have never received much attention from science over the years.
Here we have a Caucasian race living in North Africa of all places. Anthropologists dismissed them because they did not fit well into the ‘Out of Africa’ scenario and it was assumed that they had back immigrated southward from somewhere in Europe. However, that theory has been abandoned and scientists now accept the fact that they are an indigenous people, which they believe go back to the Stone Age. But how can this be we must ask since the rest of the continent below the Sahara is black African?