Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Genetic DNA and Ancient Seafarers - Argonauts?

Genetic DNA and Ancient Seafarers - Argonauts?

I finally got around to reading The Seven Daughters of Eve (Bantam
Press, Corgi Books, ISBN 0-552-14876-8) by Bryan Sykes, showing how
all the peoples of Europe can be traced back by DNA genetics to
seven specific and geographically identifiable ancient mitochondrial
DNA "mothers" as it were - and also indicating that all the peoples
of the world can be traced back to about only 36 such mothers not too far
back in prehistorical days.

95% of European mitochondrial DNA traces back to "the seven
daughters of eve". Many departures from the norm are explainable -
some are more difficult.

Sykes has several examples of mitochondrial DNA sequences which are
quite unusual - pointing - in my opinion - to ancient connections of
peoples by way of the sea:

1. an Edinburgh schoolteacher with clear Scottish ancestry traceable
back 200 years nevertheless has Polynesian mitochondrial DNA...as
Sykes writes "is she perhaps the descendant of a Tahitian princess
who fell in love with a handsome ship's captain...?"

2. Sykes writes: "There are many other equally mysterious journeys recorded in our DNA: the Korean sequence that turns up regularly
[note that word "regularly"] in fishermen from Norway and northern
Scotland; the unmistakably African DNA in a dairy farmer from
Somerset...; the [mitochondrial] sequence of a book salesman from
Manchester that is so unusual that his closest match is found among
the native Australians of Queensland...."

3. Sykes refers to two fishermen on a small island off the west
coast of Scotland who show quite unusual mitochondrial sequences,
which Sykes describes as follows: (p. 358)

"One outstanding genetic journey involves a complete
circumnavigation of the world.
Two fishermen on a small island off
the west coast of Scotland have unusual mitochondrial sequences...we
[found] matches ... one in Portugal and one in Finland. These were
still unusual sequences to find in Europe, not part of the seven
original [European] clans. The Portuguese sequence matched several
from South America, and the Finnish DNA was close to sequences found
in Siberia, where we also found the ancestral sequence of the South
Americans. So the two fishermen were indeed related - but only
through a common ancestor from Siberia. One line of maternal
ancestors had travelled from Siberia along the coast of the Arctic
Ocean to Scandinavia, then on to the west of Scotland, perhaps
aboard a Viking ship. The other had crossed into America over the
Bering Straits, then down to Brazil. At some time, presumably after
Brazil became a Portuguese colony, a woman carrying this piece of
DNA crossed the Atlantic to Portugal, from where, somehow, it had
found its way up the Atlantic coast to the west of Scotland. The two
journeys had ended on the same small island after travelling in
opposite directions from the other side of the world."

As you can see, Sykes has to presume a whole series of unusual and
unconvincing ancient events to explain the factual data. Of course,
the Scottish sequences are much more easily explained by presuming
only one event - that some of the ancient Argonauts brought some
women from abroad (Siberia, Korea, South America, Polynesia) with
them upon returning to their point of origin ca. 3000 BC. Note how
the unusual DNA sequences concentrate on Norway and northern
Scotland particularly and seem to concentrate on fishermen, many of
whom trace their ancestry back to generations of ancient seafarers.

I think as more DNA research worldwide is done, we will in fact be
able to trace the ancient voyage of the legendary Argonauts quite accurately
through the traces of DNA they left behind - also in distant lands.

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