A painting depicting the nomadic Xiongnu people of Mongolia.

The Prolific Legacies of Ancient Conquerors, 11 Men Shaped Asian Genetics

(Read the article on one page)

Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan was renowned for his domination of ancient Asia, and genetic studies have indicated that his powerful reach extends into modern times, as his DNA is thought to be present in approximately 16 million men living today. Born with the name “Temujin”, the title “Genghis Khan” was later bestowed upon him by tribal leaders after battle victories. It meant “universal ruler,” and such a title remains fitting, considering his suspected prolific genetic contribution to descendants centuries later.

A study published in the European Journal of Human Genetics has found that 11 dynastic leaders, Genghis Khan among them, contributed to the genetic legacy of Asia.

Past Horizons reports, “Two common male lineages have been discovered before, and have been ascribed to one well-known 12-13th century historical figure, Genghis Khan, and another less-known 16th century one, Giocangga. The Leicester team found genetic links via a chain of male ancestors to both Genghis Khan and Giocangga, in addition to nine other dynastic leaders who originated from throughout Asia and date back to between 2100 BC and 700 AD.”

Giocangga was a ruler who lived during the 16 th century. He is said to be the forefather of some 1.5 million men in northern China and Mongolia.

Scientific journal Nature writes, “The male descendants of Giocangga, like Khan's sons and grandsons, ruled over vast swathes of land, living a lavish existence with many wives and concubines. The study published in this month’s American Journal of Human Genetics suggests it was a good strategy for reproductive success.”

Giocangga’s grandson Nurhaci began the Manchu campaign into China in 1644, after his father and grandfather were killed. He established the Qing dynasty, and his descendants ruled China until as recently as 1912.

An imperial portrait of Nurhaci, grandson of Giocangga.

An imperial portrait of Nurhaci, grandson of Giocangga. Public Domain


This handful of men ensured genetic continuation through consolidation of male, hierarchical power.  A social system comprised of powerful men fathering children with many women ensured the continuation of dominant male lineage in both nomadic cultures and sedentary agricultural communities.

Co-author of the European study and geneticist at the University of Leicester, UK, Mark Jobling explains, saying “The youngest lineages, originating in the last 1700 years, are found in pastoral nomadic populations, who were highly mobile horse-riders and could spread their Y chromosomes far and wide. For these lineages to become so common, their powerful founders needed to have many sons by many women, and to pass their status – as well as their Y chromosomes – on to them. The sons, in turn, could then have many sons, too. It’s a kind of trans-generation amplification effect.”

Colossal statue of mounted Genghis Khan, Ulan Bator.

Colossal statue of mounted Genghis Khan, Ulan Bator. Michel Heiniger/Flickr

Most of those fathers’ identities still elude researchers, however. Though there is strong evidence to pointing to Genghis Khan and Giocangga, absolute proof of ancient paternity cannot be established.

Past Horizons quotes Patricia Balaresque, first author of the genetics paper. She says “Identifying the ancestors responsible for these lineages will be difficult or impossible, as it would rely on finding their remains and extracting and analyzing ancient DNA. This hasn’t yet been done for Genghis Khan, for example, so the evidence remains circumstantial, if pretty convincing.”

Archaeologists and historians continue to search for the final resting place and elusive tomb of the infamous Khan who united and conquered nomadic tribes across Eurasia into what became the largest contiguous empire in history. Finding the tomb has proven to be a difficult task, and not surprisingly, as Genghis Khan was said to have ensured his grave had no markings, and those who buried him were to have killed themselves so the secret location would never be known.

As researchers continue their work into the history and genetics of Asia, perhaps one day ancient lineages can be established with certainty, and descendants will be able to trace their heritage back and reconnect with the past.

Portrait of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan). Yuan Dynasty.

Portrait of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan). Yuan Dynasty. Public Domain

Featured Image: A painting depicting the nomadic Xiongnu people of Mongolia. ( Henan Museum )

By Liz Leafloor  

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Map of sites and postulated migratory pathways associated with modern humans dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene.
Most people are now familiar with the traditional "Out of Africa" model: modern humans evolved in Africa and then dispersed across Asia and reached Australia in a single wave about 60,000 years ago. However, technological advances in DNA analysis and other fossil identification techniques, as well as an emphasis on multidisciplinary research

Ancient Places

Illustration of the "Emmons mask", a Mississippian culture carved cedarwood human face shaped object once covered in copper and painted with galena and used as part of a headdress
The City of Moundsville is located along the Ohio River in Marshall County, West Virginia. From the time of European settlement in the 1770s, Moundsville was regarded by antiquarians as one of the most significant ancient sites in North America. For it was here that the Adena mound builders and their descendants constructed the largest ceremonial center in the Upper Ohio Valley

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article