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DNA Reveals Unknown Ancient Migration Into India

For ten years, Genographic Project scientists have explored and explained how patterns in our DNA show evidence of migration and expansion routes of our ancient ancestors across the globe. DNA has shown that genetically modern humans arose in Africa some 150,000 years ago, and around 60,000 years ago left Africa and went east into Asia, north into Europe, and south into Australia. But new research from Genographic Project scientists in India shows that eventually some of them also moved back west, and brought their language with them.

Genographic Project scientists Drs. Ramasamy Pitchappan and GaneshPrasad ArunKumar from Tamil Nadu, India, analyzed the Y-chromosome (paternally-inherited) DNA from more than 10,000 men from southern Asia. The findings, published in the Journal of Systematics and Evolution, showed that in the last 8,000 years humans expanded west from Southeast Asia back to India.

Laotian Canoer
A Lao farmer paddles along a golden river at sunset. (Photo by W.E. Garrett)

This previously undetected migration is evident from the frequency and diversity of a specific genetic clan, or haplogroup, in that part of the world. The Genographic scientists found a much higher frequency of haplogroup O2a1 in their research than expected. “Since O2a1 is accepted as the founding lineage of Austro-Asiatic languages (a group of related languages from Southeast Asia), the origin and spread of this lineage gives clues on the history of these speakers and the region. Our study shows a clear decrease in age and diversity of haplogorup O2a1 from Laos to East India, suggesting an east to west spread out of Southeast Asia,” explains Dr. ArunKumar about his findings.

Dr. ArunKumar working in the field
Dr. G. ArunKumar collects samples in the field in eastern India. (Photo courtesy of G. ArunKumar)

But why did they focus on just one haplogroup, when there are hundreds of distinct haplogroups in Asia? “The Y chromosomal haplogroup O2a1 accounts for almost 15 percent of Indian male lineages and 58 percent of male lineages from Southeast Asia, and the distribution of this haplogroup matches the distribution of Austro-Asiatic languages (i.e. Vietnamese, Cambodian, Munda, and Nicobarese), and some of these Austro-Asiatic speaking populations are 100-percent haplogroup O2a1,” adds Dr. ArunKumar. “Thus understanding the distribution of O2a1 sheds light on the origin and movement of people in that part of the world.”

Haplogroup O2a1
Around the darkest red spot in southern Asia in the map above, two small arrows indicate the westward movement of people of haplogroup O2a1 from Laos back into India. (Image courtesy The Genographic Project)

Previous Genographic Project studies have also shown strong correlations between language and frequency of a certain haplogroup. Examples include the relationship between Indo-European languages and paternal haplogroup R1, and Austronesian languages and mitochondrial DNA (maternal) haplogroup B4. In each case, language similarities paralleled genetic similarities.

So, does this mean that the language you speak is ingrained in your DNA? Well no, but even though language is learned (nurture) and DNA is inherited (nature), the two are undoubtedly interconnected and, as we have shown, correlated.

Learn more about this and other Genographic Project research and what haplogroups our scientists are currently studying at genographic.com.

Comments

  1. Ilamadi Manickam
    Orlando
    July 25, 1:20 pm

    I am wondering if
    1. any specific haplo group for Tamil speaking people as the language is the oldest language ever human speak ( i believe)
    2. Have the native people of Kolli Hills (of Tamilnadu state , India) been sampled
    3. In the south most part of India, it is believed that people moved from submerged continent to current landmass. is there any specific findings in this haplo group

  2. Rita Lamb
    England
    May 12, 11:05 am

    My family for the few generations I know of (roughly from the year 1800) were all Irish and English, so when my results were ‘93% GB&I’ it didn’t really surprise me.

    But there was also ‘4% East European’, which did. Is there any way to know how/when the East European got there? Should I be imagining ancient migrations, or a Polish sailor getting lucky with my g-g-granny in a Limerick pub?

  3. Parshu Narayanan
    Gurgaon Haryana India
    May 2, 6:15 am

    It makes intuitive sense – Australoid peoples streaming in from the East and Mediterrnean people ( Caucasoids to use an archaic term) streaming in from the West to give birth to the Indus Valley Civilization, the mix of Ancient North Indians ( Dravidian speakers?) and Ancient South Indian ( Austric speakers?) – and after the flooding and droughts made the Indus Valley decline to vanishing there was an invading creamy layer on top – the Indo-Aryans who gave everyone in the North their language and their genes too, in small percentages
    From what I’ve read this is the story that makes sense – but of course Harappan DNA is still being analysed

  4. Tom
    California, USA
    March 10, 11:14 am

    My paternal line shows about a dozen markers, my maternal only 3. Is this normal?

  5. Wayne ILLES
    Florida
    January 29, 6:14 pm

    There is a region which was in Hungary for over 1000 years and then was split in 1920, the border goes right through the Bodrogkoz. I have been doing my genealogy back to the early 1700s and am finding out that a lot of my ancestors were also related to each other. It turns out that the Bodrog apparently is where the Huns originally settled when they entered the Carpathain Basin. My grandparents were born over there but even my parents who weren’t it turns out were 7th cousins and their ancestors weren’t from the same town since 1802. I have visited the area and everyone I speak with it turns out is somehow related to me. Are there other areas like this in Europe or elsewhere?

  6. Barin Das
    Wellington NZ
    January 12, 8:49 pm

    I am a Bengali Indian, with both parents born in what is now Bangladesh. While my paternal line is H1* common among S Asians, my Mitochondrial DNA is ‘A” as tested by 23andme Lab in USA. This haplogroup is common among certain native Americans who had crossed over from NE Asia during the ice age. I was surprised by my MT DNA which showed an amazing length of distance travelled down South from Siberia down to S Asia.

  7. Ashok
    January 9, 11:55 pm

    Migration from India towards Europe/Mediterranean areas has been explained by Alain Danielou in his book, “A Brief History of India”, in 1971. Having said that, if one is M-130, is it possible that, one could be Pre-Dravidian, in other words could be Adi-Dravida and not Dravidian? And what part does Haplogroup O2a1 play in M-130. May be Drs. Ramasamy Pitchappan and GaneshPrasad ArunKumar could fill in the gaps in lay person’s language Please. Thanks.

  8. Leonel Edgardo Fonseca Herrera
    Chile
    January 9, 8:53 pm

    Miguel:
    Each discovery open us the door to obtain more information about our past, and remember us who all modern humans are closely related.
    The investigations in my country confirm us the real history to the conquest and the Pre Columbian cultures assimilation tending to give us a new vision that permitted the valorization to our native heritage

  9. Evg
    US
    January 9, 5:20 pm

    Does anyone involved in the Genographic Project have correlated the project’s findings through DNA studies and the archeological data gathered in multiple dig-sites in the Mesopotamean area over the last 200 years?

    • Miguel Vilar
      January 11, 11:54 am

      Thanks for your comment. We have collaborated with various people doing Ancient DNA throughout Europe, and to a lesser extent in Mesopotamia. We hope to keep growing those collaborations.

  10. Per A.J. Andersson
    Göteborg Sweden
    January 9, 3:30 pm

    Intresting find! And the idea about Toba and a possible repopulation of India from the east is quite in interesting one. To those of you who thinks the basic form of Genographic testing tells all about your lineage, please rethink. Y-chromosomes are inherited only from male to male, and mitochondie-DNA is inherited only from female to female. So for each successive generation you look back, there could be 50 percent more of you lineage that you cannot trace through basic Genographic testing. Those American Indian genes could be there, allbeit not (as easily) detectable.

  11. Alana Costigan
    Alberta, Canada
    January 9, 12:08 pm

    I was surprised to find that I was mostly Irish as all my maternal family came from the Isle of Lewis in he Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Paternal family from Mainland Scotland. Plus, i was surprised to see so little Scandinavian ancestry. This, because the Western Isles of Scotland were visited by the Norsemen who stayed to farm. On Lewis all of the villages on the shore have Norse names. Can you explainthis please?

    • Miguel Vilar
      January 11, 11:57 am

      Hello Alana,
      Thank you for your comment. We do not have an explanation, but we have seen varying degrees of Scandinavian genetic influence in the British Isles. It is a heavily studied part of the world, I expect we will be learning more about this in the years to come.

  12. Sheila
    United States
    January 9, 12:01 pm

    I took part in the first geno project. I had my brother do the geno 2 test. He is the end of the patriarchal line. He is r-l257 (makes me also) and we are also W5a on the mitochondrial haplogroup. I believe that the haplogroups are a bit rare among those tested 3%and1% . How and where do I find out more about these two groups?

    • Miguel Vilar
      January 11, 12:00 pm

      Hi Sheila,

      Thanks for your comment! To learn more about individual haplogroups, I would direct you to common interest groups managed by our laboratory partners at Family Tree DNA. I know the Y chromosome haplogroup R has been quite heavily studied, and group leaders there can help you learn more about it. MtDNA haplogroup W5a is quite rare, a web search may be helpful in that case.

  13. Theresa McGinniss Galloway
    Jacksonville, FL
    December 30, 2015, 5:01 pm

    My results were tested as 4.2% Denisovan and 2.9% Neanderthal. My entire family is from Ireland, with my war bride mother an immigrant said to be 1/2 Irish and 1/2 Spanish or Portuguese descent. As a first generation American, I would like to see more information from National Geographic considering coastal route migrations using the 3/4 million testings in your first Genome 2.0 study.
    I want to get a kit for my son and daughter but am waiting until the Denisovan DNA markers are included in the test again. I hear new observations on Irish DNA population data National Public Radio but little to none published on this site. You cannot monitor what is not measured. Please provide more current alternate theories based on the data already collected. Thanks.

  14. Patricia Schneider-Zioga
    Irvine, CA
    October 27, 2015, 9:06 pm

    Please consult with linguists in your discussions, Nat. Geographic! By far the majority of linguists are convinced that language per se, as a human capacity, is innate. What you probably mean to report is that a particular language is not encoded in your DNA– however, the human capacity for language almost certainly is.

  15. nathalie
    switzerland / morocco
    October 3, 2015, 6:55 am

    there is a part of the tunisian genom which is south east asian, and nobody knows what it means . does that part of the tunisian genom have anything to do with O2a1 haplogroup? if yes, what is the link?
    if no, what is the haplogroup identified in tunisia as being southeast asian?

    • Miguel Vilar
      January 5, 10:53 am

      Hello Nathalie,

      I have not heard of the Tunisian/Southeast Asian connection. Do you know where you heard about this?

      MV

  16. Mindy Swan
    Minnesota
    August 4, 2015, 12:27 pm

    How well does this DNA testing generate results on Native Americans? I feel like there hasn’t yet been enough study on the Native Americans to be able to determine true lineage.

    • Miguel Vilar
      August 18, 2015, 1:39 pm

      Hello Mindy,
      There have been some studies on Native American groups from Canada and the US, but you are correct to asume that there haven’t been enough work done to be able to distinguish lineages among neighboring nations or tribes. The Genographic Project has been succesful working with some Indigneous American groups, and we continue to be interested in working with groups moving forward. As DNA technology improves, we are able to tell more about specific lineages and populations, but the more participants we have the more we can learn and then convey. Thank you for your interest, and please let us know if you would like more information.

  17. Catherine
    Duluth, MN
    August 4, 2015, 9:54 am

    I am very interested in being a participant in this project. I have been trying to trace my lineage with no success. Keep hitting dead ends. One family member says one thing, another says contradicting info. Others who did know all passed away. Please help?

    • Miguel Vilar
      August 18, 2015, 1:35 pm

      Our project is one that looks at deep ancestry (going back hundreds or thousands or years). If you want to learn more visit us http://www.genographic.com.

  18. Sandy Augusta
    Florida
    July 31, 2015, 11:27 am

    What DNA company is the right one to trust in giving a correct analysis

    • Miguel Vilar
      August 18, 2015, 1:34 pm

      Hello Sandy,
      All of the current companies provide reliable services, but they each have different questions they aim to answer or services they provide.
      Visit us http://www.genographic.com to learn more about our project and what our goals are.

  19. Gunes Takar
    Turket
    July 24, 2015, 11:11 am

    ı want to be a part of

  20. Larry Cole
    Clatskanie, Oregon USA
    July 20, 2015, 8:01 pm

    I can’t find how to access the information from the cheek swabs I sent in months ago from Kit #2. Also I can’t find out how to register. Why doesn’t this web site help me get this information?

    • Miguel Vilar
      August 18, 2015, 1:33 pm

      Visit http://www.genographic.com to check the status of your kit.
      If you can’t find any more information there, please contact customer service and they can help you.

  21. Janice Glenn
    LA, USA
    July 15, 2015, 12:08 am

    2-3 years ago encountered something (???) that showed a very ancient town in Southern India that had its own language and training of male monks from childhood. This village was allegedly isolated from essentially all contact with other human culture. The language bore no ties to any known linguistic tree. I have been trying since to locate information about this alleged historical/contemporary village/people. Alas, I do not recall where I came across this story. Can you help me with this? Thank you VERY much!

  22. Ebrahim Mohamed
    Egypt
    July 14, 2015, 7:21 pm

    please I want to be part of this study (Genographic Project )
    What are the steps to join?

  23. Jacqueline Stonitsch Berghorn
    Georgia USA
    July 11, 2015, 12:49 pm

    I was part of this study with Natl Geo n cant log into to ck my DNA study . Can you advise what site to go on pls
    Thank You

    • Miguel Vilar
      August 18, 2015, 1:31 pm

      Depending on when and how you took the test, you may be able to see your results online at http://www.genographic.com. If you can’t see them, and you worked with one of our scientists in the field, please contact him or her directly and they can guide you on how to access your results. Thank you!

  24. Gaurav Jha
    Hyderabad, India
    June 19, 2015, 3:35 am

    Thanks Miguel Vilar for this information.

    I want to ask a question. Does it mean that Humans (Homo-sapiens) as a specie migrated from Africa to Laos and did not settle anywhere in the middle-east or Migrated to Europe directly from Africa?

    • Miguel Vilar
      August 18, 2015, 1:27 pm

      You are very welcome! No, what this means is that people did settle all along the way in the Middle East and South Asia, and some migrated not from there to Europe and Central Asia. But now we know that at least one population migrated back west from Southeast Asia towards the South Asia.

  25. Peter Buhanist
    Finland
    June 6, 2015, 9:41 pm

    Adrian,

    Having read Mr Oppenheimer’s book, your point came to my mind, too. But since the publication of his book, the consensus for the timing of the exodus seems to have moved to around 60.000 BP. So there is a timing inconsistency in that proposal. I find it strange though that geneticists fail to triangulate their findings with those of geologists. Perhaps their calibration sucks and Oppenheimer is right, after all.

  26. Suraj Shetty
    Mumbai
    June 3, 2015, 2:20 am

    Thanks Miguel for the update.
    I come from family with roots in western coastal city of Mangalore. In the area in around this city, Tulu language is spoken, which is distinctly different from Kannada which spoken in surrounding area . Reading your article I am wondering are we were a group who settled later in the area and carried our language with us. If there is a way to participate in this program ,, let me know.

    • Miguel Vilar
      June 18, 2015, 12:39 pm

      Hello Suraj,

      Thank you for your comment. Your question about settlement and migration is a very interesting one. If you are interested in learning more about these patterns, feel free to reach out to Dr. Pirchappan or Dr. ArunKumar. They continue to carry out great anthropological work in that region. Best wishes to you!

  27. Craig McMullen
    Texas
    May 29, 2015, 11:46 am

    My wife and I submitted DNA to AncestryDNA for fun. We both had stories of Native American ancestry in our lineage. Long story short, we did not. But I discovered something very interesting in mine. 97% European, expected. 41% Irish – most of my ancesters immigrated from Scotland. 38% Europe West- Swiss ancestery a surprise. 9% Scandina-another surprise. 8% Italy/Greece another surprise. 1% Great Britian – expected. But what is the most surprising is the other 3%. 1% Caucasus, Asia West, 1% Asia Central, and 1% Mali. I realize this add up to 101% assuming not a full percentages. Any thoughts, ideas, comments? Find this all very interesting.

  28. Suresh G. Nait
    New Delhi
    May 16, 2015, 11:28 pm

    Where should I give my blood sample.

  29. Peggy Tree
    USA
    May 11, 2015, 6:14 pm

    With the continents having been closer together at this time, isn’t it possible that migrations from the African or European regions could have reached North American? They are finding earlier signs of Native Americans who they think could have reached the North American area by water. This would have been a much less perilous journey at that time than it would at the present time. Could it possibly be an explanation also, for the one White tribe of Cherokee Indians in the eastern portion of the United States?

    I loved the article and really appreciated the map showing the areas and directions early man took out of Africa.

    Another question I have, which I do not want my name associated because it would sound like a racist question, which I do NOT mean it to be with is: For man who did not leave Africa and stayed in tribal communities, did their mental development fall behind that of man who left Africa and had so many travel, climatic, and other different challenges to overcome? I’ve always wondered about this because of the number of Appalachian people I have worked with who have never been out of the state, some not out of the county they live in. They are afraid to go outside the county and tend to have developmental disabilities or lower levels of intelligence. People with lower intelligence levels also seem to be more racist and less tolerant of people of color. That’s why I asked this question.

  30. Jann Fullerton
    Melbourne australia
    May 10, 2015, 5:45 am

    I have a kit and number and password but can’t get in

  31. Tschaka Tonge
    May 7, 2015, 12:39 pm

    Keep it up! All cheers to the efforts of The Genographic Project. Since childhood in the 1960’s I had a pointed interest in the origins of our human species. Starting with Mary and Louis Leakey’s find in Olduvai Gorge in 1959. As an African-American child at the time, this was fantastic to read in “The Weekly Reader.” I felt proud, this when Africa was still called “The dark continent” in children’s cartoons. The science confirms our origins, similarities and regional ethnic differences and culture. Keep up the dutiful work Haplo by Haplo and like the DNA prove and show. Smile.

  32. Tschaka Tonge
    May 7, 2015, 12:38 pm

    eep it up! All cheers to the efforts of The Genographic Project. Since childhood in the 1960’s I had a pointed interest in the origins of our human species. Starting with Mary and Louis Leakey’s find in Olduvai Gorge in 1959. As an African-American child at the time, this was fantastic to read in “The Weekly Reader.” I felt proud; this when Africa was still called “The dark continent” in children’s cartoons. The science confirms our origins, similarities and regional ethnic differences and culture. Keep up the dutiful work Haplo by Haplo and like the DNA prove and show. Smile.

  33. Rex
    May 6, 2015, 11:14 am

    This gives a lot of credence to the flooding events of Sundaland during this same time frame. 3 major pulses of glacial melt caused sea levels to rise about 330 feet, which put most of Sundaland, underwater, and drove the people out. It also gives clues to who made the ancient megalithic ruins at Gunung Padang in Malaysia, off the coasts of Java too. I think underwater archaeological investigations are really needed of this area. It may also neatly explain the connections with native Taiwanese further to the north, and maybe the underwater megalith at Yonaguni as well.

  34. Dr Prasad Magar
    India
    May 4, 2015, 3:57 am

    This is just preliminary findings and not conclusive proof of some group migrating to India, more importantly it should be mitochondrial DNA for studying lineage this study is basically flawed and should be discarded

  35. Joe Tassone
    San Rafael, California
    May 3, 2015, 1:28 am

    Miguel, Interesting article. My paternal family comes from Calabria and yet my DNA is I2b.
    Do you have any information on when I2b entered southern Italy? Thank you.

  36. Ronald Santoro
    burlington ma o803
    May 2, 2015, 12:16 pm

    especially interested use because I lost my mother and her 5 sisters as well as 2 cousins and 40 year daughter has been battling breast cancer for 9 years. The Gene has been isolated to a small Jewish community outside of Germany

  37. Ronald Santoro
    5 'aurie Lane, Burlington Ma.
    May 2, 2015, 12:02 pm

    How did my family go from Afro/Indian to possibly Greek than Sicilian, to Italy with genetic flaws with BRACA gene, Dupruytrenre’s Disease. The former being from Northern Europe and the latter being from the meditation section.

  38. Ashutosh Sabnis
    United States
    April 27, 2015, 8:52 pm

    This is very fascinating. Thanks for sharing. Is there any new research on haplogroup Q-M346?

    • Miguel Vilar
      April 28, 2015, 2:40 pm

      Thank you. I do not know of any study specific to Q-M346 in Asia or the Americas, but our Consortium scientists from North America published an article on new branches of Q found among the Eskimo-Aleut and Athapaskan groups in Alaska and Canada. I would be happy to sent it to you if you would like.

  39. Anon
    April 27, 2015, 6:04 am

    looks like from this map these people didn’t migrate as much as india and africa may have split apart or drifted apart from one another. Were all the continents together at some point?

    • Miguel Vilar
      April 27, 2015, 11:59 am

      Thank you for your questions. The scientific thought is that the continents were closer together tens of millions of years ago, but these migration we have discovered through analyzing our shared DNA are in the order of tens of thousands of years old.

  40. Terry Jackson
    United States
    April 26, 2015, 9:16 am

    Interesting how some in India despise their dark skin brethren when their ancestors were dark skinned. Amazing how some Indians treat Africans and African Americans when their brethren are African. Science reveals all.

    • Miguel Vilar
      April 27, 2015, 12:00 pm

      Thank you for your comments. One of the themes we have learned through these analyses is that we are all closely related and that humans as a species originally came from Africa.

  41. Sarabjeet Singh
    India
    April 23, 2015, 4:08 am

    congratulations Dr. Pitchappan and Dr. ArunKumar for your remarkable work in the context of tracing our Ancestry.

  42. Adrian Edwards
    Sydney, Australia
    April 23, 2015, 2:05 am

    Stephen Oppenheimer, in “Out of Eden”, says that some of the migrants out of Africa had passed Sumatra before the explosion of Mt Toba about 74,000 years ago which covered the Indian subcontinent in volcanic ash and wiped out most of the population. Could these returnees be descendents of these survivors returning to repopulate an empty India?

  43. Pak Karim
    Malaysia
    April 22, 2015, 8:00 pm

    Please spread these findings to the people of the countries where ethenic discrimation abound especially in Myanmar.