Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Ancient Cultures

GenePlaza recently released a new admixture calculator called K14 Ancient Cultures. The calculator compares your autosomal DNA to a number (14 in total, hence "K14") of ancient and modern references from around the world. To use the calculator, you must have uploaded your raw data to GenePlaza, and you must pay a fee of 5 euros.

The official description on the GenePlaza website reads as follows:

This calculator is the 1st public ADMIXTURE based calculator to parse your genome and compare it to very recently sequenced ancient cultures from Central and South Asia. These new higher quality genomes greatly added to our understanding of the population demography of Europe, Western, Central, and South Asia. The calculator algorithm used is detailed at the calculator creator’s website; Eurasian DNA. Thus we believe that this is the most accurate ADMIXTURE based calculator to date which is based on ancient populations. The main difference with the creator's Ancient ADMIXTURE calculator is that the latter breaks down ethnogenesis in deeper neolithic ancestral terms than this calculator.

It should be noted that this is a very Eurasia-centric calculator. It is not useful for exploring African ancestry (the only African category is "Sub-Saharan African"), and it does not include any Native American cultures at all.

My results

Mohenjo-daro in modern-day Pakistan was one of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization. According to the K14 Ancient Cultures admixture calculator, some of my ancient ancestors might have seen or even lived in this city at its peak. Photo: Saqib Qayyum (Source; Creative Commons 3.0)

There is a subsection of the genetic genealogy community where "ancient" calculators are taken extremely seriously. They are found in certain internet forums (and some of them have a dodgy tendency to use racialist language and terms like "Caucasoid" or "Mongoloid" when talking about populations mixing in the ancient past). At the other end of the spectrum, you find those who think admixture estimates based on ancient remains are a waste of time, since the timeframe makes them essentially worthless as tools for traditional genealogical research. I stand somewhere in the middle; I think the ancient world is extremely fascinating, and I am very interested in learning more about my own ancestors' place in it from an intellectual point of view. However, my family history thousands of years ago is not tremendously important to my own personal identity, especially since I know that my ancient ancestors are not only my ancestors, but the ancestors of everyone else in the world today.

On to the K14 Ancient Cultures results, then! For the full report, scroll to the bottom.

Third-party calculators like this one seem to have a rather large margin of error. For instance, they tend to give me a higher degree of hunter-gatherer than farmer affinity, which is the opposite of my result at Family Tree DNA (ancientOrigins). I guess it's still early days for these "ancient" calculators, and we should still be taking the figures with a large grain of salt. However, while the figures may be somewhat off, I do believe there is truth in the categories they are reporting, simply because they are comparing your DNA with actual archaeological samples from the areas/cultures in question (and not just modern-day proxies).

I am very intrigued by my 3.6% admixture from the Indus Valley Civilization (also known as the Harappan civilization), an advanced urbanized civilization in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India whose written language has yet to be deciphered.

My 2.9% Kura-Araxes (an early trans-Caucasian culture) is also extremely interesting, especially considering that my mtDNA haplogroup H5 is said to originate in the Caucasus mountains. Perhaps there is a link here between my autosomal and mitochondrial DNA. The Kura-Araxes culture is closely linked to the Maykop culture of northwestern Caucasus, which seems to have been an Indo-European culture. It seems likely, then, that it was the Indo-European migrations that brought my maternal lineage (with its Caucasian* DNA) into Europe and Norway.

It is generally fascinating to see how a lot of the DNA that is read as "European" in a more contemporary perspective (by FTDNA and 23andMe as well as other third-party tools) actually originates with steppe peoples in and around Siberia, such as the Proto-Indo-Europeans. This shows the arbitrary and essientially nonexistent nature of the boundary between Europe and Asia. In this calculator, a whopping 40% of my DNA is read as coming from the Eurasian steppe. This is not surprising, especially considering the fact that Norwegians usually show rather high levels of "Ancestral North Eurasian" (ANE) admixture, which has been linked to the Proto-Indo-Europeans.

My K14 Ancient Cultures report:

* The proper meaning of "Caucasian" is not "white" or European, but "from the Caucasus region". For a history of the term "Caucasian" as a synonym for the "white race", see Painter 2013.

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