“The most recent DNA evidence that I’ve seen, in terms of peopling of the Americas, shows this Middle Eastern haplotype at greatest frequencies in the Mayan people; so if that’s your perception of where Lehi and company set up shop then the DNA evidence would be consistent with that.”– Keith Crandall, 2008
Later in the DVD Crandall tells us a little more about this amazing discovery.
The Book of Mormon and New World DNA Part 3: 2.11 – 2.39 min.
"…there is an interesting bit of data that probably only an LDS scientist would pick up…[chuckle]…which shows for the Mayan people and maybe one or two other cultures close geographically to the Yucatan area…there’s actually a nice infusion of Middle Eastern…what they call Middle Eastern genotypes in those populations."– Keith Crandall, 2008
“The real issue is that these guys don’t actually look at the population genetic literature, they don’t understand the population genetic literature because they’re not population geneticists…so they couldn’t interpret these kinds of data. It's a very tricky kind of literature and a tricky kind of data to wrap your brain around. But it’s pretty patently obvious when you look at their data in this one figure in particular. If that's what you’re looking for its there.”
– Keith Crandall, 2008
If you look closely at the data for the Mayan population, you will notice that their ancestry includes DNA likely to have originated in Asia (orange) and Europe (green). This is the DNA Crandall claims came from the Middle East. By far the most likely origin for this DNA is post-Columbus admixture, a common problem scientists encounter when studying the ancestry of Native Americans. Males introduced most of this admixed DNA. To avoid this confounding DNA most population geneticists studying Native American ancestry focus on a maternally inherited portion of our DNA known as mitochondrial DNA.
Admixture in mitochondrial DNA lineages can be avoided by ensuring that no European or African females occur in an individuals direct maternal lineage (their mother’s, mother’s, mother etc). Admixture is much more difficult to avoid when studying nuclear (chromosomal) DNA. Nuclear DNA is passed from both parents to their offspring as complex rearrangements of their ancestors DNA. To avoid admixed nuclear DNA you would need to ensure that none of the ancestors in a Native Americans family tree were European or African.
The figure shown below is from Wang's study. The first thing that you will notice is that the level of admixture in the Maya is similar to the levels seen in many other Native American populations. There is also no evidence of any specific connection between the Maya and Middle Eastern groups. If you look closely at the Maya data in the expanded section you will see that the admixture includes Siberian (red) and Asian (pink) DNA (due to their ancient connection to these regions) and European (blue) and African (orange) DNA. The latter DNA almost certainly arrived after Columbus as we can see it cropping up in numerous North, Central and South American populations.
I have contacted Keith Crandall on several occasions and drawn attention to all of the things I discussed above. He has shown no interest in correcting his claims, unlike John Tvedtnes, the other apologist in the DVD who makes similarly bold claims about DNA links to the Middle East.
FAIR DVD: DNA and the Book of Mormon
John Tvedtnes was kind enough to revisit our interview with him, and made the following clarification. His remarks should be considered with these caveats in mind:
I acknowledge that there are two parts of my interview that are problematic. The first is that, at the beginning, I said that haplogroup X is found in Mesoamerica, which is incorrect. Later on the DVD, I note that it is found in the eastern USA (and Canada, BTW), but "Mesoamerica" was incorrect. Also, the way I worded things made it sound like this was evidence for the Book of Mormon. It is, of course, not direct evidence, though it is true that the "brand" (as I put it) of X found in the New World is closer to that found in Europe and in the Middle East, where X is thought to have originated. Still, as I indicated in my later comments on the DVD, the likelihood is that the X of eastern North America came from Europe.
I also made an inadvertent mistake in assuming that the haplogroup labeled "N" for remains of Great Basin Natives was also found in Europe. As it turns out, the Great Basin studies used "N" to denote samples of mitochondrial DNA that did not fall into the ABCD haplogroups and was intended to mean "none." The real importance of these and X in general is that more haplogroups have been discovered since the original ABC (which expanded to ABCD, then added X, with others unclassified and usually labeled "other"). This suggests that one cannot close the door on more such discoveries, as some of the critics suggest.”
As a BYU professor Keith Crandall is in a position of trust. Many Mormons, including active members in my own family, place considerable confidence in the words of a BYU professor. Many trusting Mormons hearing his comments in the FAIR DVD could be excused for believing that scientists have found a firm genetic connection between the Maya and Middle Eastern peoples. This is simply not true. It would be particularly painful for me to hear that members of my extended family were reassured by Crandall’s words and as a consequence think that I am ignoring crucial evidence.
If any readers share my concerns please feel free to email Keith to see if he still stands by his position. He doesn't seem to be listening to me. You can find his email address by searching for his name at BYU. Please try to be polite if you choose to contact him. I would certainly be interested in hearing if he has revised his thinking since the publication of the FAIR DVD.