The First People      


                                              Our descendants will understand many things which are
                                              hidden from us now.
                —Sir John Lubbock, 1865
                                              Pre-historic Times, as Illustrated by Ancient Remains,
and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages







     Each of us carries, in virtually all of our cells, the substance known as deoxyribonucleic acid, better known as DNA. It contains the combination of the genes we received at the time we were first conceived. The genes from both our mother and our father “recombine” as our first cell forms. This “recombinant” DNA is “autosomal,” that is, it gives us traits which define everything about us, from eye color to susceptibility to disease. But an exception to the recombining process occurs when a baby boy is conceived. The father provides the Y-chromosome, while the mother provides an X-chromosome. The father’s Y-chromosome cannot combine with the much larger X-chromosome from the mother. So this Y-chromosome is passed down from father to son, unchanged, generation after generation.



Genetic Genealogy


     Unchanged, that is, unless a very rare event occurs at the conception: a mutation — a random, naturally occurring, harmless change at some point on the Y-chromosome. When a mutation does occur, the son will carry it in his Y-chromosome, and will pass the mutation down to his sons, who will pass it down to their sons, and so on. To geneticists, these very rare mutations are known as markers, because in the unchanging Y-chromosome they act as signposts. They can be detected through testing in the lab, and they have been studied extensively, as they can be traced in the male line for thousands of years. The first male to have the marker is known as the “founder” of a new line of descendancy.
     Geneticists attempt to reason out when and where the marker first occurred, and in so doing they make it possible for us to clarify human migrations. They operate with the assumption that the founder’s descendants are bunched more densely near the original location of the founder and thin out as they disperse over time. They can then develop a rough idea of a given lineage’s migrations by linking markers in a sort of trail. And tracking these lineages can give them insight into how small tribes of our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, grew into larger tribes, how they diversified and how they spread around the world. Although the science of genetics is still in its infancy, we have now begun to paint the first crude pictures of the journey of mankind.
     This information is also of great value to genealogists, because it allows them to develop an understanding of a given individual’s “deep ancestry.” That is, where his ancestors lived, what groups they belonged to, and the routes they took in their migrations over long periods of time. It’s an answer to the age old question, “Where did I come from?” This is exciting time, much like the time when Darwin was developing his theories on evolution. “How fortunate we are to live at the first time in the history of mankind when we have the ability to know the previously unknowable about ourselves and our forbears.”1 Now individuals can even submit their DNA to labs and get an analysis of, among other things, the markers their chromosomes contain. This information allows a person to reconstruct his deep ancestry. You could call it genetic genealogy.

     I submitted my DNA, in the form of a saliva sample, for an analysis of my own Y-chromosome, and the results2 reveal the interesting path of the migration of my male ancestral line stretching back through perhaps a thousand generations and tens of thousands of years. Migrations traced in this way are still somewhat vague and indefinite, due to the relatively small numbers of donors so far, but the geneticists are rapidly bringing things into sharper focus as testing gains momentum. Here’s what I learned, as of 2009, about my own “deep ancestry.”

Eurasian Adam M168    


     Test results show that my DNA contains a very old Y-chromosome marker. It is known rather prosaically as M168, but this marker can be traced back to a single male individual, the ancestor of all males not of African descent living on our planet today. This African man, our Eurasian Adam, lived very roughly about 86,400 years ago, at a time when the entire human species numbered only about 10,000 but was proving to be quite successful. “Modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) lived alongside other hominids for many generations, but gradually the others disappeared, possibly as a result of human aggression but more likely because new highly mobile, versatile, fast-talking quick-thinking hominids out-competed the old ones.”3

     Eurasian Adam probably lived in the region of the Rift Valley in northeast Africa, perhaps in present-day Ethiopia, Kenya or Tanzania. Over time, a few thousand of his descendants migrated out of Africa, across the Bab el-Mandeb (Gate of Tears) – the outlet of the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean – at a time when the water was low enough to allow safe passage in small boats or even over dry land. His descendants became the only lineage to survive outside of humanity’s home continent of Africa. (Other lineages had made their way out of Africa earlier, but died out as a result of dramatic climate changes. One such change occurred when Mount Toba in Sumatra erupted.)4 Population growth during the Upper Paleolithic (“Late Stone Age”) may have spurred these nomadic people to follow the plains animals which were their food supply. Improved tools and rudimentary art appeared during this epoch, suggesting there were significant mental and behavioral changes in mankind. It has been suggested that these changes were spurred by a genetic mutation that gave Eurasian Adam’s descendants a cognitive advantage over other contemporary, now extinct, lineages. “Thus from a genomic perspective, we are all Africans, either living in Africa or in quite recent exile outside Africa.”5  



The Middle East M89   


     An estimated 90 to 95 percent of all non-African males are descendants of one or another of those great migrations out of Africa. Their DNA, as does mine, contains marker M89. This marker first appeared about 65,500 years ago in northern Africa or the Levant, arising from the original lineage of M168. It defines a large inland migration of nomadic hunters who followed expanding grasslands in the Middle East. Humankind numbered only in the tens of thousands.
     At this time much of the Earth’s water was frozen in massive ice sheets, which had gradually increased in size. Vast grasslands, called steppes, stretched from present-day France to present-day Korea. Many of the grassland hunters of the M89 lineage traveled east along this steppe highway and eventually peopled much of Asia. Others set a different course. They went west, moving into Europe, trading their familiar grasslands for forests and high country. Though their numbers were small, genetic traces of their journey are still found today. Archaelogical data indicates they dispersed on two routes: a northern route along the Danube, and a southern route along the coast of the Mediterranean.6 “In the key period for the emergence of modern humans in Europe (around 45,000 to 30,000 BP) much of the north was under ice and the central areas were tundra or steppe landscapes. Vast herds of bison, horse, reindeer, mammoth and wooly rhino presented an attractive target for human hunters….

     “This period saw modern humans develop a much more sophisticated culture than any of their predecessors: new forms of stone tools, standardization and improved knapping technology, which themselves reflected greater use of animal bone, wood and hides; a huge increase in the use of jewelry and bodily decoration….

     “Across Europe evidence appears of musical instruments…formal burials, portable art, such as the Venus figurines…animal carvings and, above all, the cave art best known from the spectacular animal paintings in northern Spain, southern and central France, in caves such as Altamira, Chauvet and Lascaux…. Most likely the hunter-artist was highly mobile and familiar with both the art and the animals of the south….

     “These new humans seem to have thought differently from the old: in symbols, stories and metaphors, placing great emphasis on art, bodily decoration and the ritual treatment of the dead. For the first time people could speak prose and poetry, convey emotion through music and imagine powers greater than themselves….

     “Humans increased in numbers as their efficiency as hunters improved – with better tools and weapons and increased ability to communicate and co-operate. The climate improved for several thousand years from 43,000 BP at the time when modern humans first colonized western Europe.”7



A Balkan Refuge M170       Haplogroup I   -   42,900 years ago


    Toward the end of this warmer period, roughly about 42,900 years ago, a little baby boy was born with a mutation in his Y-chromosome. No one knew anything about it, least of all the little boy; it didn’t affect his life at all. But geneticists have come to recognize the mutation which took place at the time of this little boy’s conception—marker M170—as the beginning of a new and distinct gene group, called a “Haplogroup,” and lettered as the letter “I.” This gene group was nicknamed Ivan by Stephen Oppenheimer in his landmark book published in 2006, The Origins of the British, A Genetic Detective Story. (Marker M168 is so fundamental it is present in all Haplogroups C through T. Marker M89 is present in a subset: Haplogroups F through K.)

    Haplogroup I is credited with the spread of the Gravettian culture (shown here in purple), which extended into Europe and Asia. The Gravettian “industry,” as it’s called—symbolized by the Gravette point used by its hunters—thrived in the Europe during the Upper Paleolithic Era (Late Stone Age – 27,000 to 21,000 years ago). “Gravettian culture…is characterized by a stone-tool industry with small pointed blades used for big-game hunting (bison, horse, reindeer and mammoth). It is divided into two regional groups: the western Gravettian, mostly known from cave sites in France, and the eastern Gravettian…on the plains of central Europe and Russia.” Another facet attributed to this culture was its famous Venus figures, carved in soft stone, bone or ivory.

     But then long term climatic conditions began to change again, for the worse, and mankind found itself facing another supreme challenge. Early occupation of Europe was arrested then reversed, as another prolonged period of severe cold gripped the continent—this was the Earth’s most recent Ice Age. It continued for thousands of years; it’s most severe stage is called the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM, which encompassed the furthest extent of the ice sheets upon the land. Mankind could do little more than survive, and was forced to retreat south to a few scattered enclaves in Asia and Europe. Iberia was one, Ukraine another. My M170 lineage sought its refuge in the Balkans, likely concentrated in the Southern Carpathian Mountains (present-day Romania), where it survived through the LGM.
     Scientists speculate that human enclaves favored the high ground because it provided commanding views of the territory below and maximized sunlight by avoiding the shadows of the valleys. At this time our species numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but the earth could not support an increase in Homo sapiens sapiens. The emphasis was merely on survival. “During this time, it isn’t possible to venture too far north within Europe as the ice sheets cover much of northern Europe and tundra exists for several miles beneath them. The humans in this part of the world are relatively recent visitors and are not so adapted to the colder climes as are the people of Siberia. Thus, they take refuge below the tree line which at 18,000 years ago, the time of the last glacial maximum, extends across southern Europe. The refugia of Iberia, the Balkans and Ukraine allow people to ‘wait out’ the worst of the ice-age.”8

Serbia S31 (also known as P215 and M438)        Subclade I2   -   27,500 years ago

     Man survived the last Ice Age, proving just how tough and adaptable the human race is. As the climate moderated and the ice sheets receded, he started to abandon his mountain refuges and move to lower ground, following those large game animals which were his food source. He then set out to reclaim Europe. “There are several pieces of evidence to suggest that our hunters were just as hardy as the polar wild flowers and hung on in there, albeit in lower numbers, in all the places they had reoccupied.”9 Oppenheimer suggests that Ivan was one of the haplogroups in the vanguard of this recolonization process, and in fact he “represented Northern Europe’s main internal migrating male Mesolithic-Neolithic component.”10 He proposes a specific area to which this gene group might have migrated, and he identifies it—quite logically—as a locale in southeastern Europe known to have later been populated by ancient civilizations. “The restricted immediate post-LGM Balkans location would place the source and highest frequency of Ivan…at the centre of the oldest European Neolithic cultural zone, including the Starčevo, and allied Balkan Neolithic cultures, Körös, Criş and Karanovo….”11 Simply stated, Ivan came down from the mountains and settled along the Danube River basin. Starčevo is a site located on the north bank of the Danube, opposite Belgrade in Serbia. The location is also indicated by the concentration of the marker among present-day DNA donors. The name of the town means “the place of the old man” in Serbian. This marker is called S31 by EthnoAncestry, P215 by Family Tree DNA and M438 by Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (
      Over the generations, more mutation markers sprang up in the DNA of the Ivan line. Geneticists have decided these markers define “subclades” within the gene group, and over the span of a few thousand years Ivan splintered into a handful of these subclades. Oppenheimer counts four in his book. Over time they became geographically dispersed, but the frequency of Haplogroup I in any location was never very great. One Ivan subclade made its way southwest along the coast of the Mediterranean, one went north to Scandinavia, one moved northeast into Russia. And one—my line—proceeded northwest, following natural features such as river basins, eventually settling in modern-day Germany. Oppenheimer theorizes this particular subclade “had a post-LGM origin near the Black Sea, probably in Moldova.” He calls the line Ingert, which he says “could have come from the Moldavian refuge…up the Dnestr [River] into Poland and then into Germany.”12 But he later (p. 199) speculates that Ingert simply moved north and west along the Danube (taking the same “northern route” used by early man) and eventually made his way into Hungary.


The Danube – L460        Subclade I2a   -   21,300 years ago

     This marker was recognized by Family Tree DNA’s Genomics Research Center in May of 2011. So far, not much is known (or even speculated) about the location of its origination. However, it makes sense for purposes of this narration to place it further up the Danube. (To see how quickly our knowledge of the Y chromosome is increasing, go to the website of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy and review the Haplogroup I Tree []).

Germany – S33 (a.k.a. P214, a.k.a. M436)        Subclade I2a2   -   21,300 years ago

      Ingert’s DNA contains a marker labeled S33 by EthnoAncestry, P214 by Family Tree DNA and M436 by Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. The marker’s relative concentration in Europe is established by the distribution of the present-day DNA donor samples. Although written information about this marker is scarce, much can be inferred from a “descendant” marker labeled M223. According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (, that marker “Occurs at a moderate frequency among populations of Northwest Europe, with a peak frequency in the region of Lower Saxony in central Germany,”13 making it easy to imagine a migration from the Starčevo zone to the north then the west along the Danube. Perhaps each new generation sought better territories further upstream for many hundreds of years, eventually progressing all the way to the Black Forest. Perhaps one day a dramatic discovery was made: a promising new valley stretched off grandly to the north – the Rhine. More new territory to explore and colonize.
     These self-reliant people still sought big game as their food source. But the ice was not done with mankind yet, and they were forced to again become survivors. “Over the centuries leading up to 12,500 years ago, the weather became more and more erratic; it grew colder, and human activity declined. Around 12,300 years ago Europe plunged into another severe glaciation, known as the Younger Dryas – ‘Younger’ because there had been a couple of other chills in the preceding few thousand years, and ‘Dryas’ because the hardy polar wild flower Dryas octopetala flourished during these cold spells, and is detected in deposits by its pollen. The Younger Dryas was extremely cold and arid, and lasted about 1,500 years. Ice caps re-expanded over Scandinavia, with the resulting fall in sea levels, and even reformed on the Scottish Grampians and the Pennines.”14 This vast increase in ice caused the sea levels to drop. Ingert continued to push west, and with the sea level dropping lower, more and more land was becoming available to him.


Doggerland – M223        Subclade I2a2a    -   16,900 years ago                                  


     A new and somewhat rare marker now makes its appearance, further subdividing the Ingert subclade of the Ivan gene group. The founder of this marker lived somewhere in the northwestern regions of the European continent, perhaps even in what seems a very unlikely place: the bed of what is now the North Sea. How could this be possible? “At the time of the great post-LGM European expansion of 15,000 years ago, there was no North Sea. Instead, there was a flat grassy plain stretching all the way from Poland and the southern Baltic, through southern Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Frisia and Holland across the North Sea and in to eastern England. In fact, had they wished, our forebears could have walked in a straight line all the way from Berlin to Belfast, although they seemed to prefer wandering along beaches.”15

     Author David Miles agrees. “At this time of low sea level much of the North Sea basin was dry land, linking Britain and the Continent. Flint tools and animal bones fairly frequently turn up in the nets of trawlers from this drowned world, which the Exeter University archaeologist Bryony Coles has named ‘Doggerland.’…where once herds and hunters moved in annual rituals….

     “…Doggerland would have covered an area about the size of England, a tundra landscape across which vast herds of reindeer and horses plodded, where salmon spawned in its prolific rivers. As the climate warmed, oak woodland colonized the valleys and hills. Red deer, roe deer and wild pig replaced the barren-ground reindeer. It remained an ideal hunting ground….

     “Around the shores there is still plenty of evidence of these coastal changes: waterlogged stumps of prehistoric trees in the Thames estuary, or Cardigan Bay, where the sea has drowned magnificent ancient forests.”16 

England M284             10,600 years ago     

     A small percentage of the Ingert subclade with the M223 marker are further subdivided by an additional rare marker which, according to the website of the International Society of Genetic Genealogists, “occurs almost exclusively in Britain, so it apparently originated there and has probably been present for thousands of years.” ( for 2006) My DNA contains this marker, only recently (2005) identified, which is known as M284. So apparently my ancestors were among those who made their way into Britain from the east during or after the last Ice Age. (It is theorized that Haplogroup R advanced north along the Atlantic coast from Iberia.) 
     “....The drowned North Sea Plain is one of the oldest geographical indicators of the beginning of an eastern British identity, and there is genetic evidence to support this….Britain, gripped by cold, was an uninhabited polar desert and humans lived south of the Loire [River, in France]….Exactly when humans returned to Britain is not certain; but return they certainly did. There is well-preserved evidence of a group of Late Glacial humans in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar (Somerset), dated to the centuries either side of 12,000 BP….”17
    “Ingert had already arrived in Britain during the pre-YD era, and more Ingert males were arriving during the Mesolithic, even as the gene line was diversifying further.”18 Oppenheimer feels that the dispersal and low frequency rate of Ingert is evidence that this subclade was already in the East Anglia portion of Britain far earlier than if it had been carried by Viking invasions. Ingert today makes up only 3% of the British population (Haplogroup R comprising over 90%) and is mainly focused on England and Scotland. Therefore he concludes that “…the chances are that this represents the echo of an ancient intrusion.”19 Ingert, apparently always in the vanguard of Ivan’s persistent northwestward thrust, continued migrating, and eventually settled in what we now call the British Isles, which at that time was simply a great peninsula extending out from the extreme north-west of the Continent.

     Eventually this period of intense cold weather ended, and somewhat abruptly. “The Younger Dryas finished even faster than it started, perhaps over a period of just fifty years. Effectively this was the end of the last ice age; it would not get cold again, except for a minor freeze-up around 8,500 years ago….The...era is also conventionally known as the Holocene epoch (meaning roughly ‘completely new’) to differentiate it from the preceding nearly two million years of the Pleistocene (or Great Ice Age)…..
     “As the crushing weight of ice was lifted from the north, Scotland breathed, and still breathes, a sign of relief that lifted its land beyond the reach of the sea and raised the terraces of ancient beaches high and dry. In contrast, south-eastern England, like the opposite end of a slow-motion see-saw, continues to sink….”20 

     “After the Younger Dryas, most of the Paleolithic hunters’ rich, chilly grasslands disappeared, along with the mammoth’s habitat, to be replaced by woodland. Other herds, of elk and reindeer for example, moved farther north, to be replaced in the south by the wild pig, red and roe deer, aurochs and a variety of smaller mammals.

     “There was much ice left to melt down, apart from the vast sheet remaining over Scandinavia, but it did not melt gradually. Immediately after the Younger Dryas, sea levels rose at an initially dramatic rate…causing the over-topping ‘flood’ of the Black Sea around 7,500 years ago.”21 And at about the same time Britain was also cut off, as “…the North Sea waters poured again through the channel moat separating the British peninsula from the Continent. As a result of global warming the North Sea rose 130 metres in total.”22 Britain, with Ireland still connected via Scotland, became a single large coastal island.


      Humans were still relatively scarce at this time, and were easily outnumbered by other hominid species. “Surprisingly perhaps, for tens of thousands of years our ancestors were a relatively rare species, constantly knocked back by climate change, and making relatively little impact on the planet. The number of people in the world 10,000 years ago was probably in the region of 4 million. Growth rates were extremely slow through most of the Stone Age, perhaps as little as 0.001 per cent, rising to 0.1 in the Mesolithic, on the eve of the expansion of agriculture. Hunter-gatherers live at very low densities, as they are dependent on the natural productivity or carrying capacity, of the land they inhabit….For much of the year large animals such as red deer tend to be very lean – good for protein, but lacking the carbohydrate-rich fat that humans also need.” England contained only 1,100 to 1,200 humans by 9,000 BC; only 1,200 to 2,400 by 8,000 BC; only 2,500 to 5,000 by 7,000 BC, and only 2,750 to 5,500 by about 5,000 BC, “which is low compared with the estimates of 10,000 to 27,000 for the Middle Palaeolithic hominid populations of Britain and Ireland….”23

      But the more intelligent human species was now discovering a fundamentally better way to feed itself. And change, in the form of an agricultural lifestyle, was coming to the relatively remote British Isles from the more advanced Continent. “The relatively simple act of planting marked a turning point for us humans: with it we start to take control of nature and of our habitat. We opened a Pandora’s Box to our future. By controlling energy supply in this way we also greatly increased our potential population density. No longer were we dependent on the natural and limited carrying capacity of the land.”24      

     “At present we can say little about the scale of colonization of Britain by Continental farmers. It seems likely that the indigenous Mesolithic population adopted various aspects of plant and animal domestication quite rapidly about 4,000 BC, possibly stimulated by contacts with the Continent or by the presence of immigrant farmers. The changes were not simply economic: farming brought with it a new cosmology, new ways of looking at the world, at nature, the land and the gods. In the first two millennia of farming in Britain it appears from the archaeological record that as much effort went into cultivating the gods as went into cultivating the land.” 25


     Thus, The First People, those masters of survival and adaptation, now becoming skilled in agriculture, started to retake Britain, and we are beginning to piece together this most recent episode of their great story, one of the Journeys of Man. Author Bryan Sykes recaps: as the last great Ice Age developed, “the year-on-year temperatures began to fall. Snow that covered the mountains in winter no longer melted in the summer and gradually built up into a permanent ice cap. The sea began to recede as more and more water became locked in permanent ice sheets, not just in Europe but also at the Poles and over the mountain ranges of Europe, Asia and America. The Isles became a peninsula as the North Sea receded. Britain and Ireland were joined. Vicious winds howled around the edges of the expanding ice cap as the weather system shifted away from the succession of moisture-bearing Atlantic depressions towards an Artic climate of intense, dry cold. And all the time, the ice moved south. The herds of migrating game — reindeer, bison, wild horse and mammoth — moved their ranges away from the worsening conditions, and the scattered groups of humans who descended on them for food had no choice but to follow them. By the time of the coldest phase of the Ice Age, 18,000 years ago, there were no humans left in Britain, or anywhere else in Europe north of the Alps….All human evidence of human occupation was erased by the ice. Only south of a line from the English Midlands to central Ireland, which marked the edge of the ice, could any trace remain.
     “And then, quite suddenly, the climate began to improve as the planet moved its alignment in the heavens. The warmth of the sun returned to the northern latitudes and the ice began to melt. Our ancestors followed the herds north from the huddled refuges as the frozen land began to thaw.”26 The First People, as represented by “Cheddar Man,” began to re-colonize the Isles. “He arrived in a landscape scrubbed clean of human occupation by the effects of the Ice Age, even though the ice itself never reached as far south as his home in Cheddar….
     “When he arrived, 12,000 years or so ago, the Isles were connected to the rest of continental Europe. The sea was 100 feet lower than it is now and large tracts of land that are now under water were well above sea level. Ireland was connected to mainland Britain through a broad plain that joined it to the west coast of Scotland and took in what is now the whisky isle of Islay. The Irish Sea, which now entirely separated Ireland from the rest of the Isles, was then a narrow sea inlet between flat plains, blocked at its northern end by the isthmus that joined Scotland to the north of Ireland. The Western Isles off the northwest coast of Scotland were similarly joined to the mainland with a narrow strip of dry land….
     “Most important of all, there was dry land connecting Britain to continental Europe. This was no narrow causeway, but a wide rolling plain joining eastern Britain to the rest of Europe from the Tyne in the north to Beachy Head near Eastbourne in the south. The entire southern section of what is now the North Sea was dry land intersected with wide rivers. The Thames was then a tributary of the Rhine, their joined waters emptying into the sea 100 miles east of Newcastle upon Tyne. What is now Britain and Ireland, separated by shallow seas, was then a great peninsula protruding into the Atlantic Ocean. The Irish Sea was open only at its southern end and the North Sea was dry land. The sea level was rising as global temperatures climbed back up after the last Ice Age. The great ice sheets that covered the northern hemisphere were melting, as their remnants in the polar north continue to do today.”27


Scotland/Ireland L126, L137 (=S165, S166)         5,900 years ago

     As stated, my DNA has the marker M284, making it probable that my ancestors lived in Britain for “thousands of years.” In May of 2009, research experts, quite knowledgeable about Haplogroup I, but who simply call themselves “hobbyists,” concluded that two newly discovered SNP’s constitute a subclade of M284. The ISOGG officially recognized this and included it in its Haplogroup tree for 2009. The two new markers were labeled S165 and S166 by EthnoAncestry (L126 and L137 by Family Tree DNA). The presence of the markers in a donor’s DNA, therefore, demonstrates membership in a new subclade of M284.
     Dr. Kenneth Nordtvedt, a leading genetic genealogy “hobbyist,” is a member of Haplogroup I, and has studied it extensively. He calculates mathematically that this new subclade is younger than its parent, M284. He estimates that S165/S166 began to expand only about 5,000 years ago. (See We also know that, based on the locations of the ancestors of the donors who have tested positive for S165/S166, the founder of this subclade probably lived somewhere in southwestern Scotland. (For up-to-the-minute discussions on these matters, see
     This sort of information begins to transform cold statistical data into something much more personal. We can begin to picture living, breathing human beings who are proven to be our direct—and fairly recent—ancestors. Consider the Dál Riata overkingdom, which flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. It is commonly believed to have been an Irish Gaelic colony located in southwest Scotland and northwest Ireland. We can imagine that some members of the S165/S166 subclade might have been members of this overkingdom. Of course, this is all pure speculation. But even so, these are exciting times for everyone involved in this enlightening hobby. We find ourselves on the cutting edge of discovery in a very avant-garde field of science.
     These are stunning developments. And there will surely be more to come. Genetic genealogy may soon be able to deliver us right to the dawn of recorded history. Sir John Lubbock was right. What has been hidden for all of human history is now suddenly being revealed. And everyone who is now involved in genetic genealogy is in a rare and spectacular place. Charles Darwin would be envious.

     In 2013, several different companies began offering very comprehensive tests of the Y chromosome. These tests reveal thousands of Short Tandem Repeat’s and Single Non-repeating Polymorphism’s in the DNA of the donor. I ordered The Big Y test from Family Tree’s Genomics Research Center. The results, over 1341 SNP’s and 491 STR’s, give so much information that any sort of interpretation by a layman is almost impossible. So I ordered a computer analysis of the results from YFull, a Y sequence interpretation service ( You can view the tree at My id. is YF01915.
     Those who have ordered the YFull interpretation can join groups administered on its website. In the I-L126 subclade right now, there are several others whose terminal SNP is either L126 or one of a handful of others. As more people join, we will learn more. And the more we learn, the more interesting it gets. We are beginning to get an image of the Haplogroup tree of mankind written in “high definition.”

Ireland Y4751         1,900 years ago

    As of now, April 2015, my “terminal” SNP (the last one currently identified for me) is Y4751. With the current data available, YFull calculates this SNP formed about 1900 years ago, plus or minus 600 years. YFull also calculates that the Most Recent Common Ancestor for those identified as having this SNP is 1650 years ago, plus or minus 300 years. (Others who have had their tests interpreted by YFull are found to have additional SNP’s which were formed even later.)
    It seems likely that all these ancestor formations happened in Ireland. And this is currently where my SNP story ends. However, my story can be extended by way of analysis of my STR’s.

Irish1           750 years ago

    Dr. Nordtvedt recently analyzed the Short Tandem Repeats of the members of the L126 subclade, and he has identified at least a dozen individuals, myself included, who have the same number of Short Tandem Repeats at three different sites in their DNA strand. In other words, their DYS (“DNA Y-chromosome Site”) numbers match in three places. He suggests that this is evidence which places these individuals in a subgroup within the subgroup known as Isles Scotland, and he gives it the name “Irish1,” because most of the donors list Ireland as the country of origin of their most distant known ancestor in their paternal line. He estimates mathematically that the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) of this group of donors lived about 750 years ago. That places the ancestor in Medieval Ireland around the thirteenth century Anno Domini.
     To browse this new subgroup, go to or search the internet for “I-M223 Y-Haplogroup Project.” (It has a Discussion Group: This is a massive project, with about 500 donors. Look for the “IslesIrish” grouping.
     As we move forward and more people test and post their results, still more information will be brought to light. At some point, the “paper trails” of donors (actual paper documentation about their ancestors) will increase our knowledge even more.


     In 2005, Brian McEvoy and Daniel Bradley, of Trinity College Dublin, conducted an Irish surname research project. They sampled 1,125 men bearing 43 different Irish surnames. The study found that about 90% belonged to Haplogroup R, with Haplogroup I making up most of the remainder. After examining the Y-chromosome patterns, they were drawn to the conclusion that there was a high correlation between a certain DNA signature and its particular surname. In some instances it was clear that the surname was founded by a single individual or a limited number of men. The estimated time in these cases that the MRCA lived was roughly 1,000 years ago, or about the time of the adoption of surnames in Ireland. The authors summarize: “Our study demonstrates for the first time that surnames collectively are markers of shared recent patrilineal kinship. The extent of this varies depending on the specific name and the nature of its foundation. Some names have numerous early origins, while others have a defined and focused early genesis. In either case, it is clear that subsequent events of the 1,000 year-long history of Irish surnames have been a substantial force in shaping the genetic diversity of a modern surname population. The frequency today may be influenced by the power and prestige associated with the name in the past, while intra-surname Y-chromosome proved to be a powerful tool in unraveling this history, demonstrating a significant role for a molecular genealogical approach to complement and expand existing historical sources.”28 Although my own surname—today anglicized as Arvin—was not part of this study, my research indicates that it may have originated when a monk was installed as the Bishop of Kildare in the year 1096. He took the Irish form of the name as his “episcopal” name, in keeping with his new status as bishop.

The First People

     Although the story is still far from complete, all the DNA testing by donors and the ingenious genetic detective work by the scientists and hobbyists makes it possible for me to block out the presumed path of my ancestors’ habitats over tens of thousands of years. Fathers have passed on their genetic information to their sons in my line by way of the Y-chromosome in an unbroken chain for more than a thousand generations. I now know that my ancestors in the male line made their way out of Africa, into Eurasia, through the Middle East and far up into Europe. Forced back by the last great Ice Age, they sought refuge in the mountainous regions of the Balkans. Then, as the ice receded and their food supplies moved, they followed, settling and resettling ever westward in the great Danube River basin. Many generations must have lived in Germany, perhaps in the Rhine River basin. Relentlessly they continued to push north and west, living for a time in areas now submerged on the floor of the North Sea. Ultimately they migrated as far as they could go into the northwest corner of Europe, winding up on a great peninsula of that Continent. As global warming caused the seas to rise, flooding transformed their peninsula into an island. Perhaps what is now Britain was home to many more generations. Finally, at the dawn of recorded history, we find that the sea had continued to rise and had divided the island into two isles, both very much inhabited.
     My ancestors are members of a subclade which is part of a relatively small, ancient haplogroup, Haplogroup I. In Ireland, these ancestors were fully integrated with the much more plentiful Haplogroup R, which has has its own long migration story, and some of whose members wound up in the same place. And as the Arvin Ancestry Biographical Sketches begin, we find—in the eleventh century AD, perhaps twenty generations removed from the founder of S165/S166—a hypothetical character named Áed, born near a small settlement in the South of Ireland….


Áed      The Monk from Osraighe



Researched and written by Robert Joseph Arvin, Jr.      © Copyright A.D. 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014









  1.   Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and Ann Turner, Trace Your Roots with DNA (2004), p 235

  2.   Short Tandem Repeats (STR) analysis by DNA Heritage (records now transferred to Family Tree DNA,; Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) analysis by EthnoAncestry
        (now part of Britains DNA, d.b.a. Scotlands See also my entry in ySearch.
        ( D39XD    
  3.   David Miles, The Tribes of Britain (2005), p 47

  4.   See

  5.   Svante Pääbo of Leipzig’s Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, as quoted by David Miles in

        The Tribes of Britain, p 47
  6.   Paul Mellers, “Neanderthals and the modern human colonization of Europe,” Nature, Vol. 432, no. 25
        (November 2004), pp 461-465
  7.   Miles, Tribes, pp 48-50
  8.   Courtesy DNA Heritage
  9.   Stephen Oppenheimer, The Origins of the British, A Genetic Detective Story: The Surprising
        Roots of the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh
(2006), p 134

10.   Oppenheimer, Origins of the British, p 199
11.   Oppenheimer, p 199

12.   Oppenheimer, p 166

13.   See also Oppenheimer, p 166. See also Wikipedia: Haplogroup I (Y-DNA). See also

14.   Oppenheimer, p 134

15.   Oppenheimer, p 129

16.   Miles, Tribes of Britain, p 48-52.
        See also Steven J. Mithen, After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC (2004)
        See also N.C. Fleming, ed., Submarine prehistoric archaelology of the North Sea (2004)
17.   Oppenheimer, p 128, 129;

18.   Oppenheimer, p 170

19.   Oppenheimer, p 129, See also p 121,124

20.   Miles, Tribes of Britain, p 48-52
21.   Oppenheimer 135-136

22.   Miles, Tribes of Britain, p 48-52
23.   Miles, Tribes, p 57
24.   Miles, Tribes, p 65
25.   Miles, p 72
26.   Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings and Celts, The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland (2006),
        pp 14-16
27.   Sykes, Saxons, Vikings and Celts, pp 16-17
28.   Brian McEvoy and Daniel Bradley, Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin:
        “Y-chromosome and the Extent of Patrilineal Ancestry in Irish Surnames,” Human Genetics
        (February 2006), Vol. 119, Nos. 1-2, p 212-219



DNA molecule courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Bab el-Mandeb courtesy of The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
World Haplogroup Map courtesy of J. Douglas McDonald. Used with permission.
Doggerland courtesy Wikipedia Commons
Northern Britain and Ireland by Angus McLellan, modified from NASA image, courtesy Wikipedia
Many images taken at Irish National Heritage Park. See

Arvin Ancestry Biographical Sketches