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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Meldrum's X lineage Post 1: THE GOOD


LDS scholars defending the historicity of the Book of Mormon have focused most of their energy on shrinking the Book of Mormon footprint and most of their anger on secular critics. The arrival of DNA put even more strain on LGT as it placed severe limits on the scale of the Lehite incursion. Limited geography theory (LGT) apologists, as they are known, now concede that the ancestors of Native Americans largely originated in Asia and that Lehi and his family played a minor role in a small corner of the New World. 

Over the last 6 years Rodney Meldrum has been loudly promoting the Heartland Theory, which argues that the Book of Mormon civilisations were located in the heartland of North America. In his book Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA Meldrum claims that critics of the Book of Mormon were too quick to claim all Native American DNA lineages were derived from Asia (Rediscovering, pages 5-8) and LGT apologists have been misled by the critics. A controversial claim of Heartland apologists is that the mitochondrial X lineage found among a small percentage of North American tribes is derived from Israel and was brought to the Americas by Lehi and his party. The Heartland model has rapidly established itself as arguably the most popular model of where Book of Mormon events occurred. 

These are some of the key claims of Rodney Meldrum.
1. Native American X lineages are derived from Israel 
2. The X lineage is more frequent in Jewish populations 
3. The X lineage is not found in Asian populations
None of these claims are true.

This post is the first of three posts dealing with the X lineage DNA claims of Rodney Meldrum, who leads the Heartland apologetic movement. The first post summarises the science, the second deals with Meldum's interpretation of the science and in the third we'll discuss Meldrum's questionable salesmanship.

Post I. Meldrum's X lineage: THE GOOD
In the first post I introduce some of the key scientist who have researched the X lineage and summarise the X lineage research.

Post II. Meldrum's X lineage: THE BAD
In the second post I review Rodney Meldrum's Creationist agenda, how this impacts his interpretation of the science and his "creative' use of evidence in support of his Heartland movement.

Post III. Meldrum's X lineage: THE UGLY 

In the third post I look at the controversy Rodney Meldrum has sparked in apologetic circles and the questionable way he is selling his ideas.

Mitochondrial DNA

Readers who have chanced upon this article may not be familiar with the use of mitochondrial DNA (abbreviated mtDNA) analysis to study human genetics. Briefly, mtDNA consists of the same strands or “base pairs” or nucleotides that are found in the rest of our DNA which is found in the cell’s chromosomes.   Each nucleotide (base) is designated by the letters A, C, G, and T, with A always “paired” with T, and C always paired with G. These letters represent the molecular structures so famously identified in the work of Watson and Crick.

Mitochondrial DNA does not exist as part of the paired chromosomes we see in the cell nucleus. MtDNA is a circular, single stranded molecular, which compared to autosomal DNA, is considerably shorter. There are only 16, 569 base pairs in human mtDNA, rather than the three billion found in the chromsomes in the nucleus. This makes sequencing and analyzing mtDNA much less daunting. 

We inherit our mtDNA from our mothers. The fertilized ovum that we each arose from, contains mtDNA that exist outside the cell nucleus in small bodies known as “mitochondria.” As a result of cellular replication, those 16,569 pairs are reproduced identically over and over again with very few errors in the copying process. However, while errors (or mutations) are extremely rare, they do happen and are passed on to future descendants of the woman. 

Scientists track mutations in mtDNA lineages in order to classify mtDNA into related lineage families. DNA scientists have categorized mtDNA sequences into haplogroups, and since Native Americans were the first people studied, their haplogroups were labeled A, B, C, and D. As new methods were developed and the sequences were studied and the differences noted, additional letters and numbers were added to reflect those relationships. For example, haplogroup A1 is more closely related to A3 than to B1, as might be expected.

Haplogroup X was a “latecomer” to DNA science, and its discovery in the New World as well as the Old World fuelled speculation about how and when it arrived. We now know that connection occurred more than 20,000 years ago, based on the large number of differences between X lineages found in the Americas and those in the Old World.

The Scientists

There are numerous scientists who have made very important contributions to our understanding of Native American DNA and in particular the origins of the X haplogroup lineage. I think it is important to put a face to some of these people; for the most part they don't have an axe to grind with the Mormon Church. Indeed, some doubtless hold their own religious beliefs. But what all of these scientists have in common is that they have advanced degrees in the science of human genetics and have carried out their own original research, often over several decades. The evidence these scientists deal with on a daily basis has convinced them the earth is billions of years old, evolution is a fact, and humans are related to all livings things on our planet.

Douglas Wallace
Professor of Molecular Genetics
University of California, Irvine
Douglas Wallace is a pioneering genetics researcher now at the University of California, Irvine, whose achievements in mitochondrial medicine are leading to new treatments for chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. Wallace earned a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Genetics at Cornell University, and a Master of Philosophy in Microbiology and Human Genetics and a PhD in Microbiology and Human Genetics at Yale University. Wallace led the research team that discovered the 4 major Native American mitochondrial DNA lineages (A, B, C and D) and the less common X lineage. Wallace has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1995 and was recently elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine.

Richard Villems
President of the Estonian Academy of Science

Richard Villems has a BSc and PhD in medicine from the University of Tartu, Estonia. He has had a long and distinguished career in evolutionary biology and has been President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences since 2004. Villems is the senior author of a major study on the X lineage that revealed the deep branches in the X lineage family tree and how widely the lineage has dispersed across the globe since the last ice age. The research involved 44 scientists from a dozen European countries. 

Bradley Lepper
Curator of Archaeology
Ohio Historical Society

Brad Lepper has a MA and PhD in Anthropology from Ohio State University.  He is a Curator of Archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society and an occasional Visiting Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Denison University. His primary areas of interest include North America’s Ice Age peoples, Ohio’s magnificent mounds and earthworks, and the history of Archaeology. Dr Lepper is an expert on the Newark “Holy Stones," a series of carved and polished stones bearing Hebrew inscriptions, said to have been found in the ancient mounds near Newark, Ohio in the 1860s. They were seized upon by those who believed “savage” Indians could not have built Ohio’s mounds, but have been considered frauds since the late 1800s. However, some enthusiasts, including Rodney Meldrum, have recently claimed they are authentic. Dr. Lepper has recently been working with local American Indian leaders to have the Hopewell sites nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Deborah Bolnick
Assistant Professor
University of Texas at Austin
Dr Deborah Bolnick has a BA in Anthropology from Yale and an MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Davis. Bolnick is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her primary research interest is in patterns of human genetic variation and how they are shaped by culture, language, history, and geography. She uses both ancient and modern DNA to test archaeological, linguistic, and ethnohistorical hypotheses about Native American history and prehistory. She has been interviewed by PBS News Hour, BBC World Radio, and the Wall Street Journal.

Ugo Perego
Ugo Perego, is a native of Milan, Italy, received a BSc and an MSc in Health Sciences at Brigham Young University and a PhD in Human Genetics at the University of Pavia (Pavia, Italy). His PhD dissertation focused on the origin of Native Americans through the analysis of complete mitochondrial DNA genomes. Perego's research on the X2a lineage confirmed that the lineage is about as genetically diverse as the four major founding lineages among Native Americans. Perego is LDS and has written apologetic articles for FAIR in support of limited geography models centred on Mesoamerica. Like all other experts in the field Perego doesn't believe that the X lineage arrived recently in the Americas.

The X lineage Science

Before examining Rodney Meldrum’s Israelite X lineage claims in posts II and III its worth taking a look at what the scientists who did the actual research think about the origin of the X2a lineage. None of the non-LDS scientists involved in the discovery and characterisation of the X2a lineage of Native Americans wishes to cause the Mormon Church any harm. They are merely on a scientific quest for the truth about the origins of Native Americans. This research has led them all to the conclusion that the X lineage arrived in the Americas over 15,000 years ago. The two most important X lineage papers were published in 1998 and 2003 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, one of the leading international human genetics journals.

The discovery of the X lineage was first reported by Brown et al. from Emory University in 1998 in a paper entitled "mtDNA haplogroup X: An ancient link between Europe/Western Asia and North America?" The senior author of this paper is Douglas Wallace who was profiled earlier. It was clear to the authors of this paper that any links between Old and New World X lineages were very old.
“Median network analysis indicated that European and Native American haplogroup X mtDNAs, although distinct, nevertheless are distantly related to each other. Time estimates for the arrival of X in North America are 12,000-36,000 years ago, depending on the number of assumed founders, thus supporting the conclusion that the peoples harboring haplogroup X were among the original founders of Native American populations.”  
 Brown et al., 1998
The other key paper on the X lineage was published in 2003 by Riedla et al. entitled "Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X". The senior author of this paper was Richard Villems (profiled above). The authors of this work concluded the following:
“It is notable that X2 includes the two complete Native American X sequences that constitute the distinctive X2a clade, a clade that lacks close relatives in the entire Old World, including Siberia. The position of X2a in the phylogenetic tree suggests an early split from the other X2 clades, likely at the very beginning of their expansion and spread from the Near East.” 
 Riedla et al., 2003
The X lineage haplogroup, is an ancient and highly divergent mtDNA lineage family. It has recently been divided into two subgroups, X1 and X2, which diverged about 30,000 years ago. Subgroup X1 is rare, and restricted to North and East Africa, and the Near East. Subgroup X2 appears to have expanded its distribution soon after the last glacial maximum (LGM) about 21,000 years ago, reaching far into Eurasia and the New World. It is more common in the Near East, the Caucasus, and Mediterranean Europe; and somewhat less common in the rest of Europe.

Within the X2 sub haplogroup there are distinct subclades that are found in particular populations. Subclades X2a and X2g are found exclusively in North America, and have not been observed in Eurasia, Mesoamerica or South America. Likewise, subclades X2b, X2c, X2d, X2e and X2f are absent in the New World but present in Eurasia. There are even more X2 lineage subclades not shown in the tree below, which is based on a comprehensive database of entire mitochondrial genome sequences which can be accessed at the website.

The circled numbers in the tree denote the number of DNA sequence changes (or mutations) that are found between adjacent lineages on a particular branch. All but one Native American X2 DNA lineage belongs to the X2a subclade, the other belongs to the X2g subclade. All X2a lineages share 6 mutations that distinguish them from all other X2 lineages. It is likely that these 6 mutations were present in the first founders of the Americas. The fact that X2a lineages have not been detected in Asian populations is not particularly surprising. The lineage is rare in the Americas (~2%) but it may have been even more rare in Asia before expanding in the Americas.

The number of differences between any two lineage clades in the trees can be calculated by adding up the numbers on the branches connecting the particular lineages. For example, there are 15 differences between lineages belonging to the X2a1a clade and lineages in the X2e1a clade. For more closely related lineages there are fewer differences. For example there are only 3 differences between the X2a1a clade and the X2a1b clades.

Scientists can use the amount of variation in a family of related DNA lineages to estimate the time to its most recent common ancestor. They are able to do this because at the population level, mutations in mitochondrial DNA tend to occur at a relatively constant rate. By counting the number of mutations in a lineage family scientists can estimate how long the lineage family has existed. This information has helped scientists to gain information about when Native Americans first separated from Asian populations and migrated to the New World. When scientists calculated the age estimates for the X2a lineage and the other 4 major lineage families found among Native Americans, they found that all 5 haplogroups were about the same age, about 17,000 years old. This is compelling evidence that the X2a lineage entered the Americas with the original founders. It is clearly not derived from Israel which didn't exist until about 3,000 years ago.

Ancient DNA lineages

Further evidence that New World X2a lineages are not derived from Israel comes from studies of ancient DNA. Currently, the earliest confirmed discovery of the X lineage in pre-Columbian Native American remains comes from a 1,340-year-old burial site on the Columbia River near Vantage, Washington (Malhi and Smith 2002).

However, there are reports of the presence of the X lineage in much more ancient remains at Windover, Florida (Hauswirth et al. 1994). The site has been carbon-dated to about 7000-8,000 years ago. DNA was isolated from 14 individuals and 166 base pairs of mtDNA sequenced between positions 16151 and 16317. Within this region there are two diagnostic mutations connected to the X lineage. The first mutation at position 16278 is a C to T change (known as C16278T), and is diagnostic of the X lineage. The second mutation is a G to T transition (G16213A) which is diagnostic of X2a lineages. Two of the specimens analyzed carried the lineage X mutation (C16278T), but they both lacked the G16213A (X2a) mutation. It is possible that the lineages identified are ancestral to modern X2a lineages or they may be a distinct branch of the X lineage family which is rare or has gone extinct. It is highly likely that they are X lineages, but because the C16278T mutation has been observed in one other lineage (out of several thousand - see, there is a small chance that it is another lineage. More detailed studies on the Windover site may yet fully confirm this finding.

Isolation of ancient DNA requires considerable care
to avoid contamination with the scientists own DNA

Considerable work is currently being done on ancient remains at many locations and it is inevitable the X lineage will be shown to have been present in America thousands of years before the Book of Mormon period. Dr. Brian M. Kemp recently sequenced and analyzed both the mitochondrial and Y-Chromosome DNA of ancient DNA isolated from an individual known as “On Your Knees Cave Man.” The remains had been Carbon-14 dated to 10,300 years old. The mtDNA was identified as D4h3 which is also found along the west coast of North America and in South America. Dr. Bolnick has also found pre-Columbian remains of an individual with D4h3 in Illinois. Moreover, 5,000-year-old remains of two individuals with mtDNA Haplogroup M have been uncovered in Canada. Haplogroup M is found in East Asia, and the evidence once again points to the ancestors of today’s Native Americans migrating to this hemisphere from Siberia, mostly likely from the Lake Baikal area. 


In summary, this is what is known about Native American X2a lineages:
  • they belong to subclades not found in Eurasia, including the Middle East
  • they are not derived from Israel 
  • they are as highly diverse as the Native American A, B, C and D mtDNA lineages 
  • they arrived in the New World about 15,000 years ago
  • they will inevitably be conclusively identified in ancient DNA pre-dating the Book of Mormon period 


Brown, M. D., Hosseini, S. H. and Torroni, A et al. 1998. MtDNA haplogroup X: an ancient link between Europe/Western Asia and North America? American Journal of Human Genetics 63:1852-61.

Fagundes NJ et al. (2008) “Mitochondrial population genomics supports a single pre-Clovis origin with a coastal route for the peopling of the Americas,” American Journal of Human Genetics 82: 583-592.

Hauswirth et al. (1994) Inter- and Intrapopulation Studies of Ancient Humans. Experientia 50, 585-591.

Malhi, R. S. and Smith, D. G. (2002) Brief Communication: Haplogroup X Confirmed in Prehistoric North America, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 119, 84–86.

Reidla, et al. (2003) "Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X," American Journal of Human Genetics 73, 1178-90.

Shlush, L. I. et al (2008) The Druze: A population genetic refugium of the Near East. PLoS ONE, 3 , p. e2105.

Smith, D. G., Malhi, R. S., Eshleman, J. et al. 1999. Distribution of MtDNA Haplogroup X among Native North Americans, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 110, 271-84.


  1. While the focus of this post is X2a, does the same hold true for X2g (ie originated approximately 15-20 thousand years ago)?

    1. There are not enough X2g lineage to do accurate dating, but it probably originated at roughly the same time as the X2a lineage.

    2. Simon. Do your homework. Why don't you take the time to personally talk to Douglas Wallace, the admitted foremost authority and pioneer of mtDNA genetics research, whose name you site. Ask him if he thinks the X2a came from across the Bering Land Bridge? What are the chances? 100%, 50%? He can easily be located. He is at the the University of Pennsylvania, Children's Hospital. Dennis Stanford, the Head of Archaeology for the Smithsonian, whom I spent 4 hours over lunch and with whom I had a very long discussion, suggested I meet Wallace, So I did. We met in his office, high above the U of P campus. We talked for an hour. I recorded his every word. My friend, you are full of yourself and need to go back to school. Wallace, the expert you site, doubts very much that the unique American X2a Haplogroup came from the Altai region or crossed the Bering Bridge from Siberia. His direct words to me (recorded by the way) was that all these latter day Geneticists that have jumped on the Siberian bandwagon rely far too heavily on Genetic Drift THEORY to prove this thesis. He feels that the X most likely got to Siberia, far to late to have come across the Land Bridge. He feels X was carried away from the Middle East and Europe via Genghis Khan, along with just about every other known European type haplogroup which also found its way into the mix, in the region of the Altai Mtns. That X, which is X2e by the way, can not be proven to have come to the Americas. Wallace certainly doesn't think there are good grounds to make that argument. Zero solid evidence (certainly not archaeological or Genetic) of X2a originating in Siberia or Asia. Evidence which has been assembled, after his paper of 1998, has been based solely on outdated speculations based on outdated models, which began in the 16th century with the Jesuit Priest Jose Acosta. The man who denied that ancient peoples had any access to boats or had seafaring capabilities. Dr Wallace even reminded me of the Australians who obviously crossed large expanses of water, tens of thousands of years ago, to reach their Island. Bering Bridge is falling down under it own weight. You can stand by and watch it fall on top of you or get out of the way.

    3. Hi kjtwist,

      I wish I was able to talk to Douglas Wallace because he is an eminent scientist and his research has certainly help to show that essentially all Native Americans are descended from Asian ancestors. Did you ask him if he had come across evidence of Jews arriving in the Americas prior to Columbus.

      Was Prof. Wallace aware of the very recent discovery of the X2a lineage in the 9,000 year-old skeletal remains of Kennewick man in Washington state? ( Perhaps this discovery was published after you met him. Its interesting that Prof. Wallace doesn't believe the X2a lineage didn't arrive via Beringia, because the vast majority of the scientific community think that, including your Mormon friend Ugo Perego. Do you think Perego is full of himself and needs to go back to school?

    4. I am impressed that you responded. So I have removed my "ad hominem' comments I left to wake the sleeping tiger. I met Prof Wallace in 2009 through an introduction from my brother who is a eminent Orthopedic Surgeon at CHOP. I did not ask him specifically if he thought if Jews came to America, but we did speak about the study by Skorecki, which concludes that "ALL the X Haplogroup, (including X2a) found throughout the world, originated around Israel." That too is a direct quote from Skorecki. The foremost expert on Ancient Jewish DNA. You must know about that study, right? Yes I spoke with Skorecki too. Its amazing how easy it is to track down experts to ask them directly about their studies. They love explaining their research to those who show a deep interest in their work. So I see that your school of discovering new scientific truths is based on "consensus" science. Its called follow the angry mob. Truth is discovered by looking to see what the vast majority believes? Really. Hmm lets take a look at history. Remember a man named Copernicus? The 'vast majority' of his contemporary scientists thought he was nuts. Einstein, Lister, etc.... the list is long. Consensus science is bogus. Truth is seldom uncovered this way. False theories though are held in place by this kind of stubborn thinking. Truth does eventually prevail. Remember when the vast majority of experts thought "Eugenics" was a proven science? I think I will place my bets on the brilliant people who truly blaze new ground, break from the pack and unveil real truths. These are the truly remarkable scientists who are not afraid to stand up to the angry mobs of lemmings

      I did not know about this recent study but thanks. Very cool. Not shocking but I was actually expecting it to be B haplogroup. So exactly how does this somehow prove that X2a arrived across the bridge from Asia? How do you make that leap? Isn't it interesting that morphological Kennewick appears more Euro or Caucasoid in appearance. Why not Asian, if he was from Asia. The Ainu and Polynesians do not appear to look characteristically Asian either. FYI I don't follow Meldrum or Perego. I simply go where the ocean currents flow and don't follow the eurocentric belief that Ancient Americans were afraid of the oceans and boating, nor do I follow the absurdity that ALL Ancient Americans walked "Neanderthal like" dragging their knuckles across the land bridge, spear in hand, chasing Mastodons and horses, which coincidentally were actually headed right towards them, towards Asia and across the bridge from East to West.

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    1. kjtwit
      The X2a lineage has been found in the 9,000 year-old skeletal remains of Kennewick man in Washington state. ( Wallace may not think the X2a lineage came across the Bering Strait but most other scholars do. I'm happy to leave your ad hominems just where they are.

  4. Simon, the part 3 is not linked. Can you please check the link?

  5. I am a Australian woman with Native Irish, Native English and Native German Ancestry, no Native American ancestry. I am of X2g myself.

  6. Thats fascinating. I think there is only a single case to date of the X2g lineage being found in Native Americans. It is very rare. The number of X2a lineages discovered is probably close to 400. It's possible that the X2g lineage was in fact derived from recent admixture. The X lineage is found at roughly 2-4% across European populations.