I was intrigued by a report by geneticists at Oxford University, University College London and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Their report, "A Genetic Atlas of Human Admixture History," is an analysis of the blending of people in human populations around the world. They noted historical events in our own and our ancestors' DNA. They used DNA to characterize significant historical blending events, and identified 100 historical events of human contact over the last 4,000 years.
In the first paragraph of their report, they said, among the events encrypted in our genetic mutations are the "genetic impacts of the Mongol empire, Arab slave trade, Bantu expansion, first millennium CE migrations in Eastern Europe, and European colonialism, as well as unrecorded events." Interestingly, four of the six events identified in these introductory sentences of their report have a direct bearing on my ancestors. They say historians can now research ancestral mixtures using the genetic information about how different people interblended with each other.
I wish they had also said genealogists can also use this DNA information and the interactive chart in the report, because genealogists have been using it. I used this research to identify the various groups, large and small, powerful and powerless, aggressors and defenders, on my ancestral tree.
As an amateur genealogist, I researched and wrote about the ancestral historical events and blending of my African and European ancestors, revealing the specific story of the colonizing of my African ancestors in medieval Africa, in colonial America and in the Caribbean in trans-Atlantic slavery Trade. I found records of the nobles related to the kings and queens of Scotland and England who participated in the trade and had children with the people they enslaved. I knew the stories of the European nobles on my tree, and the African farmers in villages in Akuapem, Ghana. In mountain villages, on the coasts and on slave ships, the farmers and village soldiers in Akan Fante asafo military groups rebelled and resisted. They were rebels. I researched the origin and the thousands of years of migration of the African ancestors revealed in my DNA. I researched the contact of my African and Middle Eastern ancestors during the Arab slave trade, and other historical events the geneticists term, "unrecorded events."
My historical research uncovered hidden details because my African American ancestors were Maroons who organized and rebelled against slavery in Jamaica in the Caribbean. They left records of their African names, folklore and cultural artifacts. I traced them to a Stone Age ancestor in Africa by following the trails of a nickname that survived in my ancient West African ancestors' language and culture. The name pointed to places and historical events from thousands of years ago.
Because my ancestors blended on three continents, and because my DNA map revealed numerous groups and genetic mutations over a 60,000-year period, there are several other previously unknown historical events I cover in researching the blending of my ancestors. But one event was so mysterious, I had to ask the geneticists for more research.
In 1999, when I traced my family's Caribbean nicknames to African surnames in Ghana, population research geneticists Dr. Michael Hammer and Elizabeth Wood in the Division of Biotechnology and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Anthropology at the University of Arizona compared my father's DNA to Ghanaians and identified the matches. In 2000, when I traced my maternal DNA with Roots for Real, a London DNA company that uses Cambridge University's database, I found my main ancestors, Ghana's Akan's Ashanti and Fante in Akuapem villages, and dozens of additional matches: one in Europe, dozens in Africa and one in the Middle East. My Middle Eastern ancestors were the most mysterious, so I asked the geneticists if they can pinpoint the timeline of the contact between the Middle Eastern Mozabite in my DNA with my various African ancestors from West, East, Central and Southern Africa.
My maternal DNA showed Mozabite matches. The Mozabites trace their ancestry to the Moabites, descendants of one of Lot's daughters, and to Lot on the ancestral tree of Lot's uncle, Abram. They are relatives of Abrams' descendants' Ruth, David, Moses, Solomon and Jesus. In my previous research, I used nicknames, history, genealogy and folklore to trace the contact between my European and African ancestors in Africa, in the Caribbean and in America, so I had dates and timelines, but I did not have a date for the contact of my African ancestors with slave traders in the Middle East.
Were they ancient from Biblical days, and are my genetic markers from the days of the black people noted in the Old Testament? Were they from a later ancient period, thousands of years ago in Africa, or from medieval times, a millennium ago? Were they ancient like my Akan ancestors I traced to the hills and villages of Ghana? I asked my father, a Baptist minister and he started naming the Biblical people who begat whom, and the black people who were at the cross, so I asked him to send me the information. He sent a list of the ancestral tree from the Old Testament's Abraham (Abram) to his nephew Lot to Ruth to David, Solomon and on to the New Testament to Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
I wrote and asked the geneticists, when did the Mozabite in Damascus, Syria, Israeli Palestine and Algeria, a reclusive group of Middle Eastern traders who show in my DNA, blend with my other ancestors? I knew who the other Africans were; they were noted in my DNA as the West African Akans of Ghana; Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba of Nigeria; Cabinda of Angola; Papel, Manjaco, Djola, Felupes of Guniea-Bisseau; Wolof of Senegal, or the East African Kikuyu of Kenya; Yao, Chopi, Shangaan of Mozambique, or the Central African Bamileke, Ewondo, Chadic-speaking Masa of Cameroon, or the Southern African Khoi, Vasikela !Kung San people of Botswana-Namibia, all of whom show in my maternal DNA.
The recent research that geneticist revealed in the interactive map, "A Genetic Atlas of Human Admixture History," gave me an answer. When I clicked on the interactive map, I saw that a small percentage of Yorubans (7.3) blended with Morocans (86.2) and Tunisians (5.5) around 1334, between 1250 to 1418. This is a timeline for contact between my ancient African mothers and Middle Eastern traders. Tunisians have a percentage of Africans, Yoruba (5.3), Mandenka (1.0) and Mbuti Pygmy (0.6) in their DNA.
We know from geneticists, anthropologists and historians that the Yoruba on my ancestral tree is ancient as is Mandenka (Mandingo), and Mbuti Pygmy is most ancient, the second most ancient human group behind the 60,000 to 100,000 year-old southern African Khoi and San people. So when did they blend with the Middle Easterners whose DNA trace to a few thousand years ago? The Yorubas of Nigeria are in my maternal DNA, but they did not appear in my father's DNA, so it is the women, my ancient mothers who were traded in the Arab slave trade, according to these findings. Dr. Hammer has done research, which shows that the earliest ancient slaves were women of all backgrounds.
In their report, the geneticists float a theory that because the two groups, the Morocan and the Tunisian traders, who created the Mozabites had settled in North Africa more than 1,000 years before the Mozabite group was formed, the group's DNA marker, showing black African women, is from the Arab slave trade. They said seventeen Mediterranean groups show African mixtures, and the mixtures are from the Arab slave trade, which started in the seventh century. But they said their results also imply an "earlier sub-Saharan gene flow" and mixing of these groups. I like the story of Abraham (Abram) and the lady of color, Hagar, and their black child Ishmael. I like the story of how Abraham's various descendants separated, blended, fought, reconciled, but knew they were related. I continue to ask the geneticist to check the timeline on my Mozabite DNA matches, which show Yorubans of Nigeria, Mandenka of West Africa and Mbuti Pgymy of Central Africa mixing with Middle Eastern traders in my DNA. This is a mystery I hope geneticists can solve.
Another mystery in my DNA is, my most ancient ancestral group, my haplogroup, traces not to the traditional maternal haplogroups of the majority of Africans, L1 and L2, but to a small group of humans, L3, who migrated in-and-out of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago.
About the author - Pearl Duncan
Pearl Duncan is completing a book about her African American DNA, ancestry and genealogy from three continents from modern times to the Stone Age. She traced an ancient name which survived.