Y-DNA haplogroups, which link son-to-father back to common male-line ancestors, have been determined for many notable figures – either from the direct testing of their DNA (whether they are dead or alive), or inferred from the testing of their male relatives and descendants. The results are not necessarily foolproof and are open to improvement by further research, but they show some fascinating and unexpected linkages.
Haplogroup E1b1 likely originated in the highlands of Ethiopia in East Africa, and diverged into two subclades, E1b1a and E1b1b, around 26,000 years ago.
It is thought that some E1b1a populations later migrated to West Africa across a Sahara that was moist savannah/grassland. The drying out of the Sahara from around 6,000 years ago and the associated ‘Bantu expansion’, one of the largest migrations in human history, saw E1b1a’s dispersal to Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa and, to a lesser extent, North Africa. Outside of Africa, E1b1a has only been found at low frequencies in West Asia and Southern Europe. It has also been found in African American men in the United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America as a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The various sub branches of E1b1b have been found today in highest numbers in the Horn of Africa and North Africa; but also in lower numbers in the Near East and Europe. It most likely found its way into Europe with the spread of agriculture via Spain and the Balkans around 10,000 years ago. Although E1b1b represented the last major migration out of Africa, E1b1b individuals arriving in Europe may have been among the first people to have acquired the alleles for fair skin.
Various estimated dates and locations have been proposed for the origin of Haplogroup G, but it may have appeared in Southwest Asia up to 30,000 years ago.
It experienced a severe bottleneck before splitting into haplogroups G1 and G2. Members of haplogroup G2 appear to have been linked to the development of early agriculture in the Levant, from around 12,000 years ago. The G2a branch then expanded to Anatolia, the Caucasus and southern Europe.
Today, G2a is found mostly in mountainous regions of Europe, in particular the Caucasus region, central and southern Italy and Sardinia.
Haplogroup I is the oldest major haplogroup in Europe, originating around 25,000 years ago. It is considered the only native European haplogroup, yet today represents less than one-fifth of the male population of Europe.
The I1 branch is thought to have split away at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) around 22,000 years ago and evolved in isolation in Scandinavia during the Mesolithic. It later experienced a serious population bottleneck and all men belonging to this haplogroup are believed to descend from a single ancestor who lived between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago. I1 later became associated with the Norse ethnicity, and is now found in all places invaded by ancient Germanic tribes and the Vikings. It is found in its highest concentrations in Scandinavia and Finland, where it typically represents over 35% of the male Y-chromosomes.
The I2 branch also originated around the time of the LGM. When the ice sheets started receding, I2 hunter-gatherers probably emerged from their LGM refuges and re-colonised vast parts of Europe. The relative success of specific branches of I2 was probably linked to how well each were absorbed by the spread of agriculture. Central, northern and western European I2 lineages only survive at low frequencies, possibly because I2 hunter-gatherers adopted agriculture in too few numbers and were overtaken by the Bronze Age Indo-European invasion (characterised by the spread of haplogroup R1b). I2 distribution seems to correlate with the distribution of R1b, and later Celtic and Germanic migrations. Today, I2 is most commonly found in the Balkans, and in lower frequencies in Germanic countries.
Haplogroup J2 is thought to have appeared in the Middle East between 15,000 and 22,000 years ago. Quite a few ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilisations flourished in territories where J2 lineages were prevalent, such as the Etruscans, Minoans, Ancient Greeks, Phoenicians and Israelites. Its initial spread into Europe may have been through Neolithic farmers from the Near East, with later waves through seafaring Greeks and Phoenicians, and Jewish migration.
Haplogroup R originated in Central Asia around 30,000 years ago, with Haplogroup R1a appearing during or soon after the Last Glacial Maximum. Its dramatic expansion throughout Eurasia occurred through the early adoption of bronze weapons and the domestication of the horse in the Eurasian steppes around 4,000 years ago. Today, it is present at high frequency from the Czech Republic across to the Altai Mountains in Siberia and south throughout Central Asia. Its presence in the British Isles is thought to indicate Viking origins.
Haplogroup R1b appeared in West Asia around 18,000 years ago, with its main sub-branches appearing later in the Middle East.
It is thought that R1b people were descended from mammoth and auroch hunters who became among the first to domesticate cattle in northern Mesopotamia around 12,000 years ago. It is from this Anatolian homeland that R1b lineages started expanding – some migrating south in search of new lands in Africa, many crossing the Caucasus back towards Western Asia. It was these ‘Indo-Europeans’ who later formed a strongly patriarchal, war-like society and which into Europe equipped with bronze weapons, domesticated horses and drawn wagons, to eventually overwhelm its native inhabitants. R1b would spread still further across Western Europe with the Germanic migrations that took place between the 3rd and the 10th century AD, and, later still, European emigration would take it in high frequencies to the Americas and Australia.
Today, its frequency is highest in Western Europe where it accounts for around 80% of all male lineages.