The history and progression of living things are usually presented in trees. Family trees, species classification trees, migration trees … it’s all about one entity branching different ways, and researchers following those different ways simultaneously.
It’s usually an upside-down tree of course. We tend to represent our trees with the trunk at the top, or lying on their sides. Somewhere in the back of my mind that seems wrong, just a little. But as a diagram it works nicely. Genetics is no different; it’s full of trees.
One such tree is the Mitochondrial Phylotree. I couldn’t find an image which is clearly labelled for reuse so I don’t have one, but it can be found here http://www.phylotree.org/tree/main.htm . Anyone who gets their MtDNA full sequence results will probably find their way to this tree at some point, hoping to make sense of their new data.
Looking at this tree, I can see which Haplogroup mutated into the next and exactly where on the genome the mutation occurred.
You can see from the phylotree that this is a complicated field, and new complications emerge with new research all the time. As a general citizen and consumer with no education in this field, it is something of a huge learning curve. Being such a new field, most scientists are too busy assimilating their new discoveries and testing new theories to help the uneducated make sense of it all. The forums are pretty well full of people saying “I have my results – but what does it all mean?”. Those questions are often answered by people saying “Me too. I haven’t figured it out yet.” Luckily, there are a few very helpful souls out there with a clue who take the time to assist.
About 20,000 years ago, my direct maternal line appears to have been Haplogroup H2a which apparently developed near Turkey or the Caucasus mountains. The ice age was still going on. After the ice age – about 15,000 years ago – H2a populations could be found in or near the Caspian Sea so my direct maternal ancestor was likely living here. As the ice receded, some members of this subclade headed along the Volga River and into the Ural Mountains while others stayed put. I’ve listened to enough Turisas songs to appreciate this! They have an album titled ‘The Varangian Way’ which is the story of a group travelling in Medieval Russia. Is it inadvertently the story of my ancestress? Oh, I’d like that!
At some point in my maternal line, a daughter was born who was H2a2. According to the 23andMe Blog, “the history of H2a2 has not yet been written”. Not enough samples and the discovery is quite recent. A Genographic Project case study refers to H2a2 as ‘typically European’. I take the crumbs I can find and it almost but not quite gives a picture. The subclade H2a1 is believed to have developed about 14,000 years ago and is the most common, but mine is H2a2. H2a5 is found only among the Basques – once again, it’s a sister group but not mine.
My own multi great grandma was somewhere there in Europe, about 14,000 years ago.
Since my own line branched again and became H2a2a, I decided to research this subclade to see if I could gain any clues about time. I found myself back at the Genographic Project website where they state:
AGE: TO BE DETERMINED
LOCATION OF ORIGIN: CENTRAL ASIA
I guess that’s all that we know. My many times great grandmother was in Central Asia probably about 10,000 years ago. Their H2a2a1 Facebook page further adds of H2a2a that they spread west of Central Asia and moved into both West Asia and Europe. This makes sense, given my admixture results at FtDNA with my 2% Central Asian and a larger precentage of European.
Coming closer to the present, H2a2a1 is a more recent maternal subclade. In one forum, someone calls it “A very Northern European haplogroup”. Amongst other nearby populations, it can be found in Scandinavia among the Vikings. Across the internet, there are a smattering of other references to Vikings and H2a2a1. They are vague at best, but it certainly fits the family as I know it. When and how the haplogroup reached Scandinavia is up for debate. Did they simply migrate across the millenia? Were they woman slaves captured from Arabia by Vikings in the employment of the Ottomans? Were they the families of traders?
We are certainly looking within the last 5,000 years now, and perhaps within the last 2,000.
The final refined haplogroup for my maternal ancestors is H2a2a1c. I’m not finding any details at all. If I google this, I get my own blog, a single forum post by someone else, and a brief report on the women of Sri Lanka. It is on the phylotree but with no details at all. Now it is time to look at all existing identifications of this haplogroup to see if I can relate it to my own specific family.
I went looking for a picture of a Viking woman to conclude my blog post and found a whole lot of images of young woman in metal bikinis or white dresses. I don’t think either portrayal are quite accurate. I think this might be the only realistic image to be found on the web under a license to share.
Image 1 “Haeckel arbol bn” by Ernst Haeckel – Escaneado por L. Fdez. 2005-12-28. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haeckel_arbol_bn.png#mediaviewer/File:Haeckel_arbol_bn.png
Image 2 “Venus of Brassempouy” by Photograph : Jean-Gilles Berizzi. Upload : Elapied (talk · contribs). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Venus_of_Brassempouy.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Venus_of_Brassempouy.jpg
Image 3 “Ural mountains 448118784 97386d9aac b” by ugraland  – http://flickr.com/photos/ugra/448118784/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ural_mountains_448118784_97386d9aac_b.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ural_mountains_448118784_97386d9aac_b.jpg