During the last couple of years I have been asked several times to respond to claims by Mormons that recent human genomics research offers support for the belief that Native Americans have Jewish ancestors. The paper causing the excitement was published in the Jan 2013 issue of Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals. The article in question was written by Raghavan et al. and entitled “Upper Palaeolithic Siberian Genome Reveals Dual Ancestry of Native Americans.” The paper would have gone unnoticed by Mormons had a National Geographic journalist not sensationalised it with the following hyperbole.
"Great Surprise"—Native Americans Have West Eurasian Origins.Oldest human genome reveals less of an East Asian ancestry than thought.
Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.
Not surprisingly some Mormons reading these headlines have seized upon this research as conclusive proof that Native Americans have Middle Eastern, and thus potentially Jewish, DNA (1, 2, 3, 4). Even President Newsroom cited Raghavan's research in the Church's official "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies" essay, claiming it challenges previous conclusions and proves the picture isn't clear. But the conclusions being challenged have nothing to do with recent Hebrew migrations. The Raghaven study is focussed on a 25,000-year-old paleolithic DNA sample which tells us something about major human migration events that took place over 20,000 years ago. There is nothing in the Raghavan research that supports the Book of Mormon or challenges the mainstream scientific views about the colonization of the New World. Native Americans are still all descended from ancient Asian ancestors.
The Context of the Research
|Fig.1. Major routes and timing of human colonisation of the world |
(Wellcome Trust, www.sanger.ac.uk)
|Fig. 2. The extent of human colonization of the world 25,000 years ago |
and the location of Raghavan's Siberian sample.
The major finding of the study is that the Siberian individual (MA-1) is not closely related to other Central and Eastern Asians (dark blue dots) and much more closely related to Native Americans (red dots). In addition, this Siberian appears to be related to people now living in Europe and Western Asia (yellow, light blue-green dots). This suggests that this Siberian individual's ancestors had migrated from Western Eurasia into Siberia, but when they arrived they did not mix very much with Asian populations living further east. Consequently, when some of this Siberian's descendants migrated on to the Americas, they didn't carry many DNA markers found in East Asian populations.
Another way of illustrating the results of the study is shown in Fig. 4 below. All Eurasians and Native Americans descend from people who lived in West Asia (near modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan) about 50,000 years ago (see also Fig. 1.). These people carried with them large numbers of DNA markers that can be defined as West Asian. When the ancestors of the Siberians and Europeans/Middle Easterners migrated away from each other, both groups carried the same set of West Asian (blue) DNA markers with them. This is why the Siberian individual carried DNA markers also found in Europeans and Middle Easterners. They shared common ancestors about 15,000 years earlier (50,000 years ago).
However, once they became separated from each other, each group began to accumulate DNA markers that were unique to each group. This is indicated by the green (Eur/ME) and purple (Siberian) shading on the tree (Fig. 4). Once the Siberian groups encountered East Asians some of their DNA lineages (red) also entered Siberian populations, and some of these DNA markers found their way to the Americas.
|Fig. 4. Origin of DNA markers in Native Americans and some Eurasian populations |
and the approximate timing of their occurrence