Does mtDNA Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas?

+7 votes

A robust answer to this question is inherently crucially important to an understand of North America ethnicity issues related to post-1492 contact with Europeans 

Refer for example to Raff & Bolnick^ who recently conclude that: " . . . the Beringian migration model remains the best interpretation of the genetic, archaeological, and paleoclimate data to date."

Raff, Jennifer A.; Bolnick Deborah A. (2015). "Does Mitochondrial Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas? A Critical Re-Evaluation", PaleoAmerica, 1:4, 297-304. 

in The Tree House by Living Lambert G2G6 Mach 1 (12.6k points)
retagged by Living Lambert
Wikipedia depends of consensus - to great advantage I might add. There are millions of academic papers that are subject to peer review, which is inherently a form of consensus.
Claude unless you haven't actually read the article, you must know that it doesn't support the idea of a trans-Atlantic migration at all? You only have to look at their concluding statements to realise that.

So cherry-picking sections that seem to support your view without then discussing the rest of the article really makes me query why we are having this discussion in the first place.

If you want to query the findings of Raff and Bolnick, then the appropriate action would be to find other academic articles published since 2015 that disagree with their viewpoint.
I am fully aware of Raff and  Bolnick's paper and there is no suggestion that Raff and Bolnick don't conclude against Trans-Atlantic migration.

My question is: Does mtDNA Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas?

It is up to others to say if they are for or against this question.

Although I tend to agree with Raff and  Bolnick's conclusion in their paper, I am consciously striving to be neutral one way or the other about the two sides of the question.
Actually you are throwing out a meme, hoping that it catches on.

It may help place in perspective this G2G question's discussion by detailing Raff & Bolnick's credentials.

Raff's research interests include genetics and genomics, ancient DNA, human genetic variation, population genetics, evolution, molecular biology, migration, prehistory of the Americas and Native American genetic diversity.

Bolnick's curriculum vitae, sets out her areas of specialization to include anthropological genetics and genomics, ancient DNA, Native American population history, human population genetics, human biological variation, race, paleoepigenetics, genetic ancestry testing, ethical/legal/social implications of genetic research.

Re: Lots of people are interested in the genetics of Native Americans, but I believe that’s because they are looking for a Native American ancestor, not because they are Native Americans themselves.

Using this logic, how does one explain the interest in European genetic history as expressed in the Wikipedia article? Are they mostly people looking for European ancestors not because they are European themselves. Like Canadians such as me looking for ancestors born in France starting with a peek a Wikipedia article on genetic history of Europe but not because they are France/Europeans themselves.

This logic does not seem very convincing.

Edit: peak -> peek

I stand by my earlier comment. Most people have only a passing interest in DNA studies and know nothing of the science.  They think from TV ads or the Internet that DNA will tell them whether to buy a kilt or caftan. They miss completely that studies of ancient DNA and haplogroups have nothing to do with genealogy, and that current individual autosomal DNA tests cannot connect you reliably to anyone more than a few generations back.  Far too many people of European descent sieze on studies to somehow validate their claim that their all-European, all-white ancestors were really Native American.
And at the risk of being flagged, people who insist their white ancestors were Native or that early Europeans somehow settled North America are rewriting history. Replacing the actual history and culture of Native Americans with the history of white Europeans is called cultural genocide and it is not harmless.  It’s one thing to say “My family has always had a story of a Indian ancestor, but I’ve carefully researched it and can’t find a connection. I hope someday to find proof, but for now it will stay a story.”  and another to say “My family has always had a story of an Indian ancestor.  I’ve found a great story on the Internet (and it was in a lot of Ancestry trees, too) so I’m going to take it as proof.”
I've already posted so I can't uprate, but I would if I could

I stand corrected about my a previous comment regarding Clovis culture, as this latest Wikipedia article link reads:

  • "The only human burial that has been directly associated with tools from the Clovis culture included the remains of an infant boy named Anzick-1.Researchers from the United States and Europe conducted paleogenetic research on Anzick-1's ancient nuclear, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosome DNA. The results of these analyses reveal that Anzick-1 is closely related to modern Native American populations, which lends support to the Beringia hypothesis for the settlement of the Americas."

Now that both Kennewick man and Anzick-1 infant both seem to support a Beringia migration hypothesis, I am more convinced of Raff & Bolnick's assertion that Trans-Atlantic migration likely did not occur.

3 Answers

+12 votes
Best answer
The New World mtDNA X2a is believed to have branched off the other X lineages shortly after forming. As the nearest lineages in the Old World are found in the Altai region of Siberia, the simplest explanation is that the lineage arrived in the New World via the same route as A, B, C and D haplogroups.

But there's people here on Wikitree who've convinced themselves the reason their "Cherokee princess" ancestor doesn't show up in their auDNA tests is that the Cherokees are the lost tribe of Israel. Why their AuDNA reveals no Jewish ancestry is a question mercifully left unexplored.
selected by Kathie Forbes
This choice for best answer is of course pre-mature because there is so far only one answer.
+4 votes
You might find of interest this news about some surprising test results that just came out in 2018

I suspect as more and more of these studies come out, since the story indicates 10 tribes are currently being studied, some of the current thinking may shift or solidify.   Science does not care about what people want or believe it reports back on what is consistent in terms of results over and over again.  So it does not matter what pop culture or emotional theories of relatedness hold near and dear.  

The Lakota Sioux have a saying:  in my opinion that pretty much sums up the thinking of many American indigenous people to the world around us all...  and as many intermarriages have taken place between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in more modern time the DNA studies of living members has dilution factors that will also affect how we think of modern day tribal members.  

Indigenous people have as varied DNA as non-indigenous people.  The idea of one type is just not what is being proved by science right now.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (853k points)

As Bruce Durie said in a January 10, 2017 paper:

  • "Nothing can really be “known”. What genealogy shares with the natural sciences, but not the social sciences or humanities, is that it is not some struggle towards an ultimate “truth”, but a process of diminishing deception. There is no “right”, only less “wrong”."
I don't think our Honor Code agrees with that.  It asks for accuracy not best guess or less wrong.  If what we are researching is not indeed proof of our families then this is all wasted effort.  

Genealogy like any good research needs to be based on sound principles where the same result can be obtained by multiple researchers looking for the same person.  Anything less makes this site and our work pretty useless.

What Durie has to say has nothing to do with Honour Code. Everybody of course strives to be as accurate as possible but in genealogy as in science there is  no such a thing as certainty. 

For many centuries, people thought that the earth was flat.  

For 50 years, reputable genealogists led many to believe that our family ancestor was from Normandy until research revealed that our family ancestor was actually from Perche.

Many people today still believe that the Bible is 100% true, which belief of course disadvantages many other people.

I encourage you to read  Durie paper "What Is Genealogy? Philosophy, Education, Motivations and Future Prospects"

+5 votes
Kennewick man's haplotype was X2a and his remains were concluded to be about 9000 y/o, so the answer to your question is that haplogroup X has been in the Americas way before Columbus "discovered" America.

His Y-DNA haplogroup is Q-M3 and his mitochondrial DNA is X2a, both uniparental genetic markers found almost exclusively in Native Americans.
by Living St Amand G2G2 (2.1k points)
edited by Living St Amand
Well, that is true as far as the "x" haplotype. Kennewick was Native American, and so was Clovis Anzik.                                                             Except of course, we know now that Columbus did not "discover" America first as far as European's go.

The Vikings around 1000 AD, led by Leif Eriksson,  are credited being  the first visitors to the America's and the Chinese,and a theory is out there  possibly the Irish were also here before Columbus.

Yes and with respect of the original Anzick sample, all of these haplotypes matched 

  • X
  • X2
  • X2a1a
  • X2a1b1a
  • X2b-T226C
  • X2c2
  • X2d
  • X2e1
  • X2e2

Therefore since the Anzick child can in no way be considered European, all of these haplotypes must be also considered Native American. These results don't fit in with any of the hypothetical scenarios so they altered the sample. This is not science!!

Anonymous:  I guess we can say.... it is all really still a work in progress and agree on that

Sigh. Somehow, I thought we had beat this poor horse senseless already. It is physically impossible for the mtDNA X haplogroups listed above to even match each other, and none of them match the mtDNA of the Anzick Child.

On the X haplogroup: Reidla, Kivisild, Metspalu, et. al. "Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X," American Journal of Human Genetics (Nov 2003) 73(5): 1178–1190; doi: 10.1086/379380.

An X2a sample cannot match X2b or X2c samples, even at the low-resolution HVR1/HVR2 testing levels. They are distinct branches of the X haplogroup phylogenetic tree (click here to view image of tree), and are defined by mutations that don't coexist with each other.

Haplogroup X is not Native American. It bifurcated from Haplogroup N roughly 30,000ybp. It's found in a broad geographical area, including Europe, the Near East, Central Asia, North Africa, and North America. Haplogroup X2a does seem to be a uniquely American First Peoples subclade, and may have migrated to the Americas roughly 15,000 or so years ago.

What data exists so far regarding X2a seems to break down like this (showing the mutational variances in the last three columns):

Haplo Concentration HVR1 HVR2 Coding Region
X2a Native American/First Peoples X2+16213A X2+200G 8913G, 12397G, 14502C
X2a1 North American Great Lakes/Plains X2a+16093C X2a+143A 3552C
X2a1a Sioux X2a1+16357 Same as X2a1 6113G
X2a1b Ojibwa Same as X2a1 Same as X2a1 8422G
X2a2 Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Na-Dene-Navaho, Yakima X2a+16254C X2a+225C

I've never seen any credible evidence that the data from Anzick-1's sample was ever tampered with or modified. And the Anzick Child isn't even of the X haplogroup; Anzick-1's mtDNA is D4h3a (Rasmussen, Anzick, Morten, et al. "The Genome of a Late Pleistocene Human from a Clovis Burial Site in Western Montana," Nature (Feb 2014) 506: 225–229; doi: 10.1038/nature13025; PMC 4878442., and you can view the D4h tree here. The D4h3a designation was confirmed by two different types of tests: traditional Sanger sequencing as well as whole-genome shotgun sequencing.

Haplogroup D bifurcated from haplogroup M sometime around  40,800ybp, probably in Asia. "The subclade D4 is the most frequently occurring mtDNA haplogroup among modern populations of northern East Asia, such as Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans, and Mongolic- or Tungusic-speaking populations of northern China." (Wikipedia) The subclade D4h3 is found most commonly in the area of Thailand and Laos; D4h3a in Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, and the US.

All mtDNA haplogroups considered indigenous outside of Africa descend from either N (the parent of haplo X) or M (the parent of haplo D). M is believed to have split from L3 over 60,000ybp, and N split from L3 over 71,000ybp. So the X2a clade found among American First Peoples is in no way related to the D4h Anzick Child. The two wouldn't have shared a matrilineal ancestor not just back to the Neolithic or even Upper Paleolithic; it would have been at the end of the Middle Paleolithic. Maybe around or somewhat after the Toba supereruption that's been hypothesized to have created a huge human population bottleneck.

The Kennewick Man is, as Loretta noted, fact, his remains represent the most basal X2a lineage yet discovered. Speaking of, the article that started this particular thread is by Jennifer Raff and Deborah Bolnick (you can read it here). A final note is that Jennifer is a great follow on Twitter, if you're so inclined. Not just genetics and anthropology; she's a pretty eclectic Tweet-maestro. Find her at

Thank you Edison Williams !  (Yes, think I have seen that article back in 2014. )  My point was not that the sample was tampered with.... I totally agree with the science of everything you have stated.   My point was the much earlier immigration ,or at least visits by, various cultures bringing their DNA into the picture much earlier than Columbus, which at least most scholars nowadays agree were not the first European's here.  Think we are seeing a "work in progress" of discoveries on that front.  Problem being that the politics of it all may end up smashing up against the science.
It’s possible that some random Vikings left their DNA in Newfoundland 1000 years ago, and that a few European fishermen did the same in what are now New England and maritime Canada in the 1500’s, but that’s not trans-Atlantic migration.  The first people to live in the Americas arrived somewhere between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago and they didn’t come from Europe or the Middle East, they came from Asia. Europeans did not arrive in any appreciable numbers until  after 1492.

Well more probable than not that Vikings left DNA in what became North America.  And theory for some Irish, of course Chinese which were most likely just ahead of Columbus.   I think what is missing is the" appreciable number" and accounting  for the possible exponential growth of what even say 25 men would have contributed to the gene pool.  (or we don't know if even some women weren't with some of these groups passing mtDNA.)  . Given the years between 1000 A.D. and 1492 a fair span of time.  So, if we are looking at Native DNA and considering all DNA that was in the the New World on that date was of a Native Y and-or mtDNA  haplotype, or even say 99.9% of it.   That figure of  may be off and way more European and Chinese DNA may have been in the mix in America's  than most have fathomed.  What if just 3 Viking stayed and were the Genghis Khan of Vikings ? !  (https://people.howstuffw   In late 90's estimated to be the direct ancestor of 16 million men, .05% of the male population.  Just food for thought! That was what I was meaning was a work in progress, pure discovery of our human past is always.  Fun discussion ! Sorry, I didn't look at the original date on the thread when restarting it :)

well, what I would really like to see is data on South American native populations, North America has too many traces of Europeans coming here before the known colonization period, which makes for uncertainty as to who may have fathered (or mothered) succeeding generations.  South America appears to have escaped that particular conundrum.

Also, genetics is very much still in its infancy, so all the various journal articles report on state-of-the-art data up to then, so we can't make definitive conclusions from them, just most likely ones.
The fact of the matter is that no one really knows for certain. Yes, the data indicates that the Anzick child was of Asian descent, however it is not impossible for Asians and Europeans to have cohabitated prior to the migration.

The results of the 2014 study done by Roberta Estes indicate that this must have been the case as the haplotypes listed above by anonymous are from that study and like it or not, those were the results. Arguing about it does not change the facts. Changing the results to support the argument renders the science useless!

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