Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Refuge (8800-5000 BC)

   The ancient ancestors of the Hjelt family lived in Western Asia at the time of ice age and for long after that. Researchers use the name "refuge" for places of this kind. The present location of their place of residence is shown on the following map: Eastern Anatolia, the south side of the Caucasus mountains, the northern part of Mesopotamia and the southern and eastern coasts of the Caspian Sea. If one describes the area in relation to today's countries, then it would consist of the eastern parts of Turkey, the northern parts of Iraq and Iran, and the western part of Turkmenistan.

   About 8.500 BC somewhere in this area there lived a man whose Y-DNA had a special mutation that is known as R1b today. All the sons and male descendants of this man still carry this mutation today. The descendants have been extremely successful as they now comprise a majority of the male population of Western Europe. This very important ancestor was surely unremarkable and not noticed as being in the least bit significant, but for all of his millions of descendants he was indeed a very important person.

The Aurochs Tamers

   The early population in the refuge can be described as nomadic breeders of cattle. Earlier, the tribes of the area had been hunters of mammoths and aurochs. After the mammoths became extinct, the aurochs (bos primigenus), wild boar (sus scrofa) and goat were tamed. The population no longer lived a life of nomadic hunting but began the shepherding of the domesticated animals. The two oldest known archeologic findings with signs that cattle-breeding was being practiced are located in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq just where the R1b men's population began to enlarge rapidly about 8.500 BC. As an aside it can be mentioned that DNA tests made of ancient bovines' bone findings show a bottleneck of only 80 individuals in the aurochs population.

   The R1b men in the northern region of the refuge belonged to a population which principally bred cattle, but continued to spend at least part of the time leading a nomadic life. These men differed from that population of the southern parts of the area in which people began to practice agriculture and settled down permanently, cultivating the fertile areas of Mesopotamia.


   Those who have read Kalevi Wiik's books on origins of the European (2002-06) are perhaps surprised that the view presented in the books deviates totally from the one that has been presented in this article. Ten years ago a common perception was that R1b men's refuge was on the Iberian Peninsula and that the R1b men would have spread out from there to other parts of Europe. That theory was based mainly on the observation that the haplogroups of the present population in which the R1b men are clearly concentrated are in Spain and Portugal. However, during the years 2009 through 2012 four studies were conducted, and this year (2015) two more studies, all of which have lead researchers to entirely different conclusions. These six studies support the conclusion that the R1b men came to Europe from the east 2.000 to 3.000 years later than was previously believed.

   Furthermore, in recent years human bones from ancient burial sites have been collected from warehouses of museums around Europe in order to study their DNA. Radiocarbon dating and archeologic studies have been made of them earlier, so the dead persons' culture environment is known but not where their origins are. The results of these studies also strengthen the current perception that the R1b men's refuge was located in the region I previously described.


   The R1b population in the refuge was divided in the course of time into three parts:

   The first branch spread out to the south to the Middle East about 500 years after the development of the R1b mutation. This group is identified as subclade R-V88. Their migration continued still until they reached Central Africa. Today the descendants of these men form more than 60% of male population in North-Cameroon and Chad.

   The second branch, R-P297, left for the north by crossing the Caucasus mountains. The warming of the climate to the north of the Caucasus had made the conditions on wide, grassy steppes ideal for cattle breeding. Fairly soon another branch spread out to the east toward the Caspian Sea and into Central Asia (R-M73). An even larger group (R-M269) spread out to the steppes between the Dnepr and the Volga about 5.000 BC. This is the group that I'll follow in my next writings.

   However, all the men did not leave their refuge. One genetic branch stayed in Anatolia (R-M335). For some reason it did not succeed there as had other genetic populations. Nowadays some men belonging to this haplogroup live in the areas occupied by Kurds, but they are very rare.

Eupedia Genetics
Wikipedia: Haplogroup R1b
Did R1b cross the Caucasus with cattle?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How DNA Tells Its Story

   Four years ago I began my DNA tests, hoping to find some new clues about my family´s origins. Since then I have ordered more tests to expand and refine the results. Much new information has come forward, but the work is still by no means complete. Recently I had another DNA test which will doubtless open new and interesting lines of investigations. In recent decades the archives already had been studied thoroughly to discover the history of family Hjelt. But in our DNA we have an archive also, written by Nature, and studying that archive has just barely begun. Genetics, along with archeology, linguistics and demography can reveal more and more detailed stories about the lives of our ancient ancestors and their migrations over the centuries and millennia.

   My first DNA test results applied, of course, to ancient times, but were still really interesting. First of all, it became clear that the ancestors of our family had come to Finland from the west relatively late, probably only after the Swedish settlers of the 1200s. The test showed that the Hjelt family men belong genetically to a group which is fairly rare here in Finland, but more common in Scandinavia and which comprises a majority of Western European men.

Before I describe in detail how I have interpreted my DNA results, here is a short introduction to how Nature writes its stories in the DNA chain.


   There are different kinds of DNA tests which are used to trace the origins of a particular population and to aid in genealogical research. Because this blog applies to tracing the patrilinear line of our family, only one test type has significance--namely, the Y-DNA test, where only the Y chromosome, which is transferred from father to sons, is studied. Geneticists have chosen sections in the DNA thread where the frequency of the mutations is known with some accuracy. There are two types of mutations to be examined, one of which is called SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) or "Snip". In later writings the other type of mutation is discussed.

   A Snip is a mutation in which one nucleotide in the DNA chain changes to another. The scheme (see over) shows an example of how the nucleotide CG changes to TA. The nucleotide sections to be examined have been chosen from the so-called "junk area" of DNA, which is about 95% of the chain, and these nucleotides are not located in the areas of DNA that form genes. This is important because the public comparison of results is essential for getting relevant information.

   The time between mutations in a particular location is very long, by which we mean houndreds or even thousands of years. According to snips the tested men are classified to so-called haplogroups. The geneticists in turn have built of them a so-called haplotree where the mutations (snips) branch out, forming a kind of hierarchical genetic map. With the help of haplogroups, among other genetic genealogy studies, we can begin to uncover the ethnic origins of individual human beings, the migrations of populations and their ancient histories.

Haplogroup R1b

   Haplogroups of Finnish men have been surveyed in a study (Lappalainen et al, 2006). Four of the most general haplogroups and estimates of the places and dates of their origins are:

Proportion of R1b men in Finland

N1c  58,2%  South-Siberia ~12.000 BC
I1a   28,0%  Europe           ~3.000 BC
R1a  18,0%  Eurasia         >16.500 BC
R1b    3,7%  West Asia     <16.500 BC

   The men of the Hjelt family belong to the group R1b. On the enclosed map is shown the proportion of Finnish R1b men in different areas. Accordingly proportions are shown in other parts of Europe as well as in Asia and Africa (below). As one can see, the Hjelt men in Finland represent a fairly rare haplogroup there, however it is the most commonly found in Western Europe.


R1b men on the Old Continents (Eupedia)

   The following diagram is a presentation of the R1b men's haplotree. This part of the haplotree diagram is quite stable, but the full haplotree is considerably more detailed in its root parts and it changes continuously. The complete R1b haplotree alone is divided into about 550 parts. The geneticists' international organization ISOGG checks the structure every year and makes additions to it in accordance with newest researches.
R1b Haplotree (Based on Eupedia)

   The main body of the haplotree consists of a hierarchical structure and branches between the mutations, that is snips. I have marked them with black. The Green color is used to show the timeline that is composed of prehistoric periods and the blue color describes the geographical areas on which it is thought that the mutations have taken place. The Red color shows the names that are generally applied to the haplogroups.

   My haplogroup and the haplogroup of all the men of the Hjelt family is indicated today shortly as R-DF27. This group is commonly known as the Ibero-Atlantic group (more about it later). This designation describes our place in a large-scale haplotree. The label is short, pithy and descriptive. One could even consider printing it on a tee-shirt. To distinguish my haplogroup from that of other men who have had their DNA tested, I must describe my haplogroup more precisely, taking into consideration the subclades under DF27 that are still common to all Hjelt men. The full expression of my haplogroup is 
R-DF27>Z196>Z209>Z220>S21184>S19290. This more complete description has become common only during the last couple of years. It is worth noting that the earlier less complete designation still persists in books and articles. The old type of label was built so that the branches of haplotree are along in the note. In the course of time the use of this kind of a note became unwieldy because its length and changeability. Consequently my haplogroup has been written R1b1a2a1a2a1a1 only four years ago, but after that it has changed again to R1b1a1a1a1a3b1.

   In the following articles I will trace my ancient ancestors' footsteps first from their roots in western Asia, continuing into Eastern Europe and on into Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula (perhaps) and finally toward the coast of the North Sea.

T. Lappalainen et al.: Migration Waves to the Baltic Sea Region, 2007
Eupedia Genetics, Articles written by specialised authors.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

From the Steppe to Central Europe (3600-1600 BC)

Innovative Steppe People

   The first R1b men crossed the Caucasus Mountains by about 5000 BC and spread across the northern steppes. It took over a thousand year before the second wave of R1b men migrated north over the Caucasus about 3700 BC. At the same time the so-called Maykop culture (3700-2500 BC) emerged in the Northern Caucasus region, the first culture which belonged to the Bronze Age.

   The spread of R1b men to the northern steppe regions continued. The steppes were not deserted. During the Neolithic age a sparse population of nomads there already inhabited the region. Among these populations there were R1b men who had come with the first wave of migrants from the refuge. It has remained unclear with which of the waves the ancient ancestors of the Hjelt family crossed the Caucasus Mountains. However, the different genetic groups interbred on the steppes and the classification of the populations into ethnic groups is based on considerations other than genes. After this last migration the steppe people then consisted of three genetic groups: the western areas were dominated by the R1b group and the eastern areas by the R1a group, including an R1b minority consisting of approximately 5-10% of the total population. Furthermore there was also a group of Caucasian men living there which belonged to haplogroup G.

   The way of life on the steppes differed from what it had been on the northern hillsides of the Caucasus. The Yamna culture (3600-2300 BC) developed on the steppes, and it had widespread influence for over two thousand years. The way of life on the steppes was nomadic. The wild horses had been tamed there earlier, and significant inventions such as the wheel and the cart were made within the Maykop culture. Tents and other belongings were loaded onto the carts drawn by the oxen. The men rode and tended the cattle, bovines, pigs, sheep and goats on the move. The craft of working with metals began during the time of Maykop-culture, and the making of bronze objects developed further on the steppes. Among others, the oldest known bronze sword has been found recently on a northern hillside of the Caucasus Mountains. Its form is similar to the swords made by the Celts about 3000 years later. Some other discoveries, such as the productive use of sheep wool, were also made found which indicate that the Celts' ancient origin was on the steppes. The dead were buried in pits, their knees bent, and with their faces turned to the northeast. Mounds typical of the Yamnas were built over the graves.

   According to the common understanding today, somewhere in the area of the Yamna-culture there occurred a certain mutation on one individual R1b man. All his male descendants bear this same mutation and we thus belong to the haplogroup R-M269. This group is found in small numbers in Eurasia but in Western Europe it is the most common. The frequency is 92% in Wales, 82% in Ireland, 70% in Scotland, 68% in Spain, 60% in France (76% in Normandy), and 100% among the family Hjelts men :)

   The Yamnas are considered to be Proto-Indo-European, but they were not of any individual ethnic group. They consisted of different populations that spoke Proto-Indo-European languages.


   On the map I have marked in yellow the directions of migration of those haplogroups to which the ancient ancestors of the Hjelt family belong. The Red color is used to show the directions of other R1b men's migration.



   In February 2015 a scientific news story was published. It referred to a comprehensive study the results of which are also interesting from the point of view of this article. In the study, DNA tests were performed on 94 ancient persons' bones which had once been stored in museums around Europe. In brief, the results showed that the migration of Indo-Europeans to Central Europe happened earlier and were more massive than supposed before. The term "invasion" was used in the study to describe the speed of the influx. In this invasion the above named Yamnas took in central role. They brought with them the Bronze Age, Indo-European languages and their many inventions.

   The effect of the invasion on the population of Europe was quick and radical. Paleo-Europeans here still lived in the Neolithic stage of development and they had no possibility of successively standing against the technologically superior steppe people. In a couple of generations the elite males of local tribes were probably replaced, and gradually other menfolk as well. The newcomers did not bring a significant number of women with them, and thus the population grew with local women. As a consequence the Caucasian and East-Asian appearance of steppe people disappeared and the skin and hair of the new Europeans became lighter. In other words, the European type which looks familiar to us was created during this period. Old Paleo-European languages in Central Europe were replaced by Indo-European languages.

   The invasion was performed mainly in two routes: the northern route was directed toward the areas of the present Czech Republic, Poland and Northern Germany. In the aforementioned study ancient bones were found of people who used this route, and they belong to the same haplogroup as the men of the Hjelt family nowadays. So we are on the right track. The so-called Únětice culture (2300-1600 BC) arose to this area. The name cannot be translated into English because it was derived from the name of a Czech village. Despite the phonetic instruction [ˈuːɲɛcɪt sɛ] I still don't understand how the name should be pronounced. The R1b men who have lived here are identified nowadays by haplogroup R-L11.

Úněticean  house reconstruction, Bohemia

   In the formation of the Bronze Age in Europe the significance of the Únětice-culture is central. Its population was peculiar and dynamic. Its effects reached considerably more widely than the actual area which they inhabited. Únětice ceramics and bronze objects have been found in Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Italy and Balkans


Haak, Wolfgang; Lazaridis, Iosif et al.: "Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe". BioRxiv, February 2015.

Were My Ancestors Iberian? (2300-1300 BC)

   In the previous writing where we followed our ancestors' footprints we arrived in Central Europe. From there Indo-Europeans spread slowly farther to the west and by about the 2300 BC had crossed the Rhine River. After that the R1b men's migration branched off in four different directions. With the arrival of these men the different parts of Europe advanced rapidly to Bronze Era technology and the people began to use Indo-European languages. At the present time the descendants of the men who belonged to each branch can be identified with the help of mutations which are characteristic of each of them.

   The group which moved south is known as Italo-Celtic, the northern group is known as Germanic, and the western as Atlantic-Celtic. Contrary to what one might expect, at this stage the ancestors of the Hjelt family did not take the northern direction, but instead went to the southwest with a population that is called Ibero-Atlantic. But the question is: did our ancestors move with the group into the Iberian Peninsula?


Researchers Were Lost

   I do not know if the ancestors of our family were lost when they did not head directly towards Sweden and Turku in Finland but headed southwest instead. Researchers themselves have also been lost for over ten years in trying to trace the movements of these R1b men. The idea prevailed for a long time that the R1b men's original home had been on the Iberian Peninsula and that they would have spread from there to other areas of Europe in northerly and northeasterly directions. Not until 2009-12 and this year have studies been done which concluded that this idea is wrong. Instead, now the perception prevails that R1b men spread from east to west and that it happened a couple of thousand years later than it had been supposed earlier. In studies and discussion forums, some participants have expressed the idea that R1b men would have moved from the Balkans directly to the Iberian Peninsula as early as the Neolithic time. These perceptions have been gradually marginalized and my conclusions comply with the currently prevailing perceptions. It's a little bit difficult for a layman to form a perception on matters concerning the origin of the population of Europe, as one has to be careful in drawing conclusions only on the basis of mere discussion forums.

The Bell-Beaker Culture

   At the time when the R1b men spread to most of Western Europe, there existed the so-called Bell-Beaker culture (2800-1900 BC). This culture was born on the Iberian Peninsula after the Megalithic Era, and it had spread widely throughout Western Europe. The name "Bell-Beaker" comes from ceramic beakers they made (see the picture above) which have the form of an upside-down bell. On the map below the sphere of influence of the Bell-Beakers is shaded in light brown. The Indo-European newcomers influenced the Bell-Beaker culture so that it gradually adopted Bronze Era technology over a couple of centuries before 1800 BC. The Bell Beakers migrated from southwest to northeast, and the Bronze Age Indo-Europeans vice versa. The R1b men sought regions where tin and copper could be found which were required for making bronze. They were not numerous enough at this time to displace the local men, so the populations lived side-by-side for a time. The Indo-Europeans eventually merged with the local populations, adopted their habits, their Paleo-European languages and took local women. It has not been possible before to form conclusions on the origins of buried persons merely on the basis of archeologic findings. However, in quite recent years with the DNA analyses of bones this has become possible.

The Basques Don't Have the Same Problem as Family Hjelt.

   The Ibero-Atlantic haplogroup DF27 was born fairly soon after the haplogroup P312. The name is based on the fact that nowadays the DF27 men in Spain and Portugal (and also France's most southwestern province, Gascoigne) comprise about 80% of the main population in those countries. This fact seems to be in contradiction with the table below that shows the majority of DF27 men tested to come from the British Isles. The numbers are deceptively biased because nowadays many times more tests are made on the men in the British Isles compared to tests of men currently living on the Continent. Regardless of its name, the Ibero-Atlantic haplogroup is found nowadays only in small numbers in France on the west side of the Alps. Because the men of the Hjelt family belong to this group, it means that at least one of our ancestors has lived in that particular area. But still the question remains: were our ancestors among the majority of the DF27 haplogroup when they crossed the Pyrenees? A sure answer cannot be given here yet. If the genetic studies progress as rapidly as they have so far, I believe we will get the answer to this question in a few years.

   For couple of years some new subclades under the haplogroup DF27 have been identified. Among many other men we in the family Hjelt also belong to the subclade R-Z220. Some of the present-day Basque men belong to the same group, too. To the Basques it's probably unimportant whether R-Z220 was born north or south of the Pyrenees. They once came to Iberia and there they have remained to the present day. However, the birthplace of Z220 is relevant to members of the Hjelt family because it will tell us if our ancestors ever lived on the Iberian Peninsula or not. It is believed that the DF27 men came to Iberia about 1800 BC and the subclade R-Z220 was probably born at the same time or little later. Within these time limits there were perhaps only a few generations time until the birth of R-Z220 on the Iberian Peninsula. It is more probable that both R-DF27 and R-Z220 were both born on the north side of Pyrenees. In that case the answer would be: our family does not descend from Iberians, but nevertheless in a broader perspective we are genetically a kind of cousins to them. As an interesting detail I must add that genetically we are closer to the Basques than to other inhabitants of Iberian Peninsula.

   I have marked the route of our family's ancestors on the enclosed map with green and the different routes of men belonging to other R1b-haplogroups with red. The relative sizes of haplogroups is not clearly shown on the map, hence a few words on that. The four branches that separated from haplogroup R-P312 are significant. From them the majority of the present male population in Europe has grown. About 80% of male population of Spain, Portugal and their male descendants around the world belongs today to the Ibero-Atlantic haplogroup R-DF27. The share of its subclade R-Z220 among the present populations is not known exactly, but it is significant in the British Isles, in France and along the coast of the North Sea. The subclades R-S21184 and R-S19290 under R-220 have been found only this year, so the number of men belonging to these is still unknown. Obviously it can be said that they are rare. The table below shows the geographic frequencies of DNA-tests where the haplogroups mentioned here have been identified as of May 2015.

Language Transitions

   The ancestors of our family have spoken many languages over the course of millennia. As a matter of interest I might mention that they have spoken several languages from three main language families: from the Russian Steppes to the coast of the Atlantic they spoke Proto-Indo-European or Indo-European languages. During the Atlantic Bronze Era they made a change to local Paleo-European languages. It did not take long when they in the Celtic period changed their language back to Indo-European again, this time to some of the Celtic languages. Eventually in the 1800's in Finland some of the men in our family changed their native Indo–European language (Swedish) to a particular language belonging to the Uralic language family (Finnish).

To The North Sea

   This year geneticists have added some new branches to their haplotree. Among them are two such to which also the men of the Hjelt family are classified. During the Atlantic Bronze Age (1300-700 BC) two subclades were born under the haplogroup R-Z220, namely S21184 and S19290. These are so new that only a few tests have yet been made in which they have been identified. However, the feeling is that these newest haplogroups were born on the coast of the North Sea or English Channel, sometime BCE. First of all, the Iberians disappeared from these groups and instead the representation of northern areas increased, at least relatively.

Number of Tests Made in Haplogroup DF27 And Its Subclades.

   The last column in the table is dominated by the men of the Hjelt family and the men genetically close to us. In Finland three of the men are called Hjelt and the fourth is Hannu whose connection to the Hjelt family is very close but not figured out yet. To this same group should be added as a fifth the only man thus far counted who can trace his ancestry to Scandinavia. He is Les, a third-generation Swedish-American who has roots in East-Götaland Sweden but is genetically close to the Hjelt family, too. The three British men in the last column are a distinctly separate group from the other five. The Genetic Distance (defined in the following writings) measured between me and "the gang of five" is 0-4 whereas it is 20-27 between me and the British men.

   The story of haplogroups as told by DNA does not reach far enough yet. If, however, there might come results from studies with the same speed as previously, then I believe I'll be returning to this matter in the near future. But, no worry, DNA can tell its stories in another way also.

So the story continues in the following articles.