Ancient nomadic tribes of the Mongolian steppe dominated by a single paternal lineage

The genome of an ancient Rouran individual reveals an important paternal lineage in the Donghu population, by Li et al. Am J Phys Anthropol (2018), 1–11.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Following the Xiongnu and Xianbei, the Rouran Khaganate (Rouran) was the third great nomadic tribe on the Mongolian Steppe. However, few human remains from this tribe are available for archaeologists and geneticists to study, as traces of the tombs of these nomadic people have rarely been found. In 2014, the IA‐M1 remains (TL1) at the Khermen Tal site from the Rouran period were found by a Sino‐Mongolian joint archaeological team in Mongolia, providing precious material for research into the genetic imprint of the Rouran.

Materials and methods
The mtDNA hypervariable sequence I (HVS‐I) and Y‐chromosome SNPs were analyzed, and capture of the paternal non‐recombining region of the Y chromosome (NRY) and whole‐genome shotgun sequencing of TL1 were performed. The materials from three sites representing the three ancient nationalities (Donghu, Xianbei, and Shiwei) were selected for comparison with the TL1 individual.

The mitochondrial haplotype of the TL1 individual was D4b1a2a1. The Y‐chromosome haplotype was C2b1a1b/F3830 (ISOGG 2015), which was the same as that of the other two ancient male nomadic samples (ZHS5 and GG3) related to the Xianbei and Shiwei, which were also detected as F3889; this haplotype was reported to be downstream of F3830 by Wei et al. (2017).

We conclude that F3889 downstream of F3830 is an important paternal lineage of the ancient Donghu nomads. The Donghu‐Xianbei branch is expected to have made an important paternal genetic contribution to Rouran. This component of gene flow ultimately entered the gene pool of modern Mongolic‐ and Manchu‐speaking populations.

The ancient males (TL1, ZHS5, and GG3) was grouped under C2b1a1b1/F3880 on the Y-DNA haplogroup C lineage using BEAST


These results suggested that TL1 likely presents a close paternal relationship to the Donghu people and may have even descended from a branch of the ancient Donghu-Xianbei people, based on the conclusion that haplogroup C2b1a/F3918 can be considered the paternal branch of the ancient Donghu people (Zhang et al., 2018). The Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree showed that TL1 shared a branch with modern Mongolian-Buryats, Hezhen, Xibo, Yugur, and Kazakh, suggesting that the TL1 individual from the Rouran period should also generally present close paternal genetic relationships with modern Mongolic- and Manchu-speaking peoples.

In general, the Rouran Khaganate originated from an alliance of the ancient Eurasian steppe nomads, which disintegrated and disappeared with the progress of history. This group was complex, and its origin cannot be explained based only on one individual. However, we can trace the genetic imprint of the Rouran people through genome analysis of the TL1 individual. On the basis of the comparison with other ancient nomadic people (Donghu, Xianbei, and Shiwei) and data on modern individuals from published articles (Lippold et al., 2014; Wei et al., 2017) (Supporting Information S5), we found that they all share the same haplotype implying shared paternal ancestry between the Donghu, Xianbei and Rouran populations. Furthermore, this gene flow (mainly haplogroup C2b1a/F3918) did not stop with the disappearance of the Rouran, and a portion was instead passed on in other groups, such as the ancient Shiwei people (later than Rouran), eventually reaching the gene pool of modern Mongolic- and Manchu-speaking populations (Mongolian-Buryats, Hezhen, Xibo, et al).

Interesting to see now confirmed with ancient DNA the proposal of a C3*-DYS448del cluster as the paternal lineage defining ancient Mongolian tribes, a theory based on ancient and modern samples – since it is found in low frequency in almost all Mongolic- and Turkic-speaking populations.

This is yet another proof of how prehistoric ethnolinguistic expansions are usually accompanied by haplogroup expansion and reduction in variability.

I wonder what other ancient chiefdom-type steppe-based nomadic groups were also dominated by a single paternal lineage


Genetic structure, divergence and admixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations


Open access Genetic structure, divergence and admixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations, by Wang, Lu, Chung, and Xu, Hereditas (2018) 155:19.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the three major ethnic groups of East Asia, share many similarities in appearance, language and culture etc., but their genetic relationships, divergence times and subsequent genetic exchanges have not been well studied.

We conducted a genome-wide study and evaluated the population structure of 182 Han Chinese, 90 Japanese and 100 Korean individuals, together with the data of 630 individuals representing 8 populations wordwide. Our analyses revealed that Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations have distinct genetic makeup and can be well distinguished based on either the genome wide data or a panel of ancestry informative markers (AIMs). Their genetic structure corresponds well to their geographical distributions, indicating geographical isolation played a critical role in driving population differentiation in East Asia. The most recent common ancestor of the three populations was dated back to 3000 ~ 3600 years ago. Our analyses also revealed substantial admixture within the three populations which occurred subsequent to initial splits, and distinct gene introgression from surrounding populations, of which northern ancestral component is dominant.

These estimations and findings facilitate to understanding population history and mechanism of human genetic diversity in East Asia, and have implications for both evolutionary and medical studies.

Population level phylogenetic Tree and Principal component analysis (PCA). (A) The maximum likelihood tree was constructed based on pair-wise FST matrix. And the marked number are bootstrap value; (B) The top two PCs of individuals representing six East Asian populations, mapped to their corresponding geographic locations (generated by R 2.15.2 and Microsoft Excel 2010)

Interesting excerpts:

It is obvious that the genetic difference among the three East Asian groups initially resulted from population divergence due to pre-historical or historical migrations. Subsequently, different geographical locations where the three populations are located, mainland of China, Korean Peninsular and Japanese archipelago, respectively, apparently facilitated population differentiation due to physical isolation and independent genetic drift. Our estimations of population divergence time among the three groups, 1.2~ 3.6 KYA, are largely consistent with known history of the three populations and those related. However, considering that recent admixture could have reduced genetic difference between populations, it is likely the divergence time was underestimated.

We detected substantial gene flow among the three populations and also from the surrounding populations. For example, based on our analysis with the F3 test, Korean received gene flow from Han Chinese and Japanese, and gene flow also happened between Han Chinese and Japanese (Additional file 12: Table S3). These gene flows are expected to have reduced the genetic differentiation between the three ethnic groups. On the other hand, we also detected considerable gene flow from surrounding populations to the three populations studied. For instance, an ancestral population represented by Ryukyuan have contributed greater to Japanese than to Han Chinese, while southern ethnic group like Dai have contributed more to continent populations than to island and peninsula populations. Contrary to the gene flow among the three populations, these gene flows from surrounding populations are expected to have increased genetic difference among the three populations if they occurred independently and from different source populations. According to our results, the major source of gene flow to the three ethnic groups were substantially different, for example, the major source of gene flow to Han Chinese was from southern ethnic groups, the major source of gene flow to Japanese was from southern islands, and the major source of gene flow to Korean were from both mainland and islands. Therefore, those gene flows might have significantly contributed to further genetic differentiation of the three populations.

The three populations have similar but not identical demographical history; they all experience a strong population expansion in the last 20,000 years. However, according to different geographic distribution, their effective population size and population expansion are different.

Although based on modern populations, the study is interesting in light of the potential implications for a Macro-Altaic proposal.


Model for the spread of Transeurasian (Macro-Altaic) communities with farming


Austronesian influence and Transeurasian ancestry in Japanese: A case of farming/language dispersal, by Martine Robbeets, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.


In this paper, I propose a hypothesis reconciling Austronesian influence and Transeurasian ancestry in the Japanese language, explaining the spread of the Japanic languages through farming dispersal. To this end, I identify the original speech community of the Transeurasian language family as the Neolithic Xinglongwa culture situated in the West Liao River Basin in the sixth millennium bc. I argue that the separation of the Japanic branch from the other Transeurasian languages and its spread to the Japanese Islands can be understood as occurring in connection with the dispersal of millet agriculture and its subsequent integration with rice agriculture. I further suggest that a prehistorical layer of borrowings related to rice agriculture entered Japanic from a sister language of proto-Austronesian, at a time when both language families were still situated in the Shandong-Liaodong interaction sphere.

Classification of the Transeurasian languages according to Robbeets ( forthcoming)

Another interesting anthropological model to validate with future genomic analyses, although I was never convinced about a grouping (let alone reconstructible proto-language) beyond Micro-Altaic languages.

NOTE. The Max Planck Institute may be a great source of scientific advancement, but in Linguistics you can see from the projects Indo-European languages originate in Anatolia (2012) and A massive migration from the steppe brought Indo-European languages to Europe (2015) (the last one referring to the Corded Ware culture, associated with the study by Haak et al. 2015) that they have not got it quite right with Proto-Indo-European… I like the traditional approach of this paper, though, including a thorough assessment of archaeological and linguistic details.

Featured images: Left. The eastward spread of millet agriculture in association with ancestral speech communities. Right: The spread of agriculture and language to Japan.

See also:

Y chromosome C2*-star cluster traces back to ordinary Mongols, rather than Genghis Khan


Article behind paywall, Whole-sequence analysis indicates that the Y chromosome C2*-Star Cluster traces back to ordinary Mongols, rather than Genghis Khan, by Wei, Yan, Lu, et al. Eur J Hum Genet (2018); 26:230–237


The Y-chromosome haplogroup C3*-Star Cluster (revised to C2*-ST in this study) was proposed to be the Y-profile of Genghis Khan. Here, we re-examined the origin of C2*-ST and its associations with Genghis Khan and Mongol populations. We analyzed 34 Y-chromosome sequences of haplogroup C2*-ST and its most closely related lineage. We redefined this paternal lineage as C2b1a3a1-F3796 and generated a highly revised phylogenetic tree of the haplogroup, including 36 sub-lineages and 265 non-private Y-chromosome variants. We performed a comprehensive analysis and age estimation of this lineage in eastern Eurasia, including 18,210 individuals from 292 populations. We discovered that the origin of populations with high frequencies of C2*-ST can be traced to either an ancient Niru’un Mongol clan or ordinary Mongol tribes. Importantly, the age of the most recent common ancestor of C2*-ST (2576 years, 95% CI = 1975–3178) and its sub-lineages, and their expansion patterns, are consistent with the diffusion of all Mongolic-speaking populations, rather than Genghis Khan himself or his close male relatives. We concluded that haplogroup C2*-ST is one of the founder paternal lineages of all Mongolic-speaking populations, and direct evidence of an association between C2*-ST and Genghis Khan has yet to be discovered.

This is a great example of the potential mistake that one can make in assessing leading clans of population expansions from the perspective of the renown case of the Uí Néill clan’s expansion in Ireland.

Just some days ago I wrote about the first Hungarian dynasty’s haplogroup R1a, and the potential association of other Ugric-speaking clans with R1a subclades, so let’s wait and see if future papers on other ancient Hungarian clans and Hungarian settlers bring surprises…