Genghis Khan Not the Only Genes in Town - Genetic Founding Fathers of Asia were Mystery Men
Genghis Khan was not just an infamously ruthless warrior, and founder of the largest contiguous empire in history, but was also a prolific father as well, siring so many children that now 0.5 percent of the male population around the world are reportedly directly descendant from him.
However, Genghis Khan wasn’t the only one at the time creating vast lineages. New research shows that other strong paternal lines were established 1,000 years ago which are now visible through genetic testing, although the identities of these ancient Asian genetic forefathers is still largely unknown.
A pioneering historical genetics study in 2003, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, reported that millions of men around the world (and around 16 million individuals residing in the former Mongol empire) are descendants, carrying the Y chromosome that originated with the Mongolian Khan. Y chromosomes are only passed down from father to son, and these indicators are used to establish a record of male lineage.
The study went on to suggest that this consistent, successful spread of patrilineage from father to son was a result of selection, not chance, writing "we therefore propose that it has spread by a novel form of social selection resulting from their behavior."
According to the science journal Nature, this situation only works in certain circumstances, reporting “Establishment of such successful lineages often depends on social systems that allow powerful men to father children with multitudes of women.” The consolidation of male, hierarchical power in these societies ensured the continuation of dominant male lineage in both nomadic cultures and sedentary agricultural communities.
Mark Jobling, a geneticist at the University of Leicester, UK, co-authored a recent study published in the European Journal of Human Genetics, on ten other recognized ancient men who have left a strong genetic stamp on modern day populations. Most of those men’s identities still elude researchers, however.
Jobling told Nature, "Lots of men have lots of sons, by chance. But what normally doesn’t happen is the sons have a high probability of having lots of sons themselves. You have to have a reinforcing effect."
Colossal statue of mounted Genghis Khan, Ulan Bator. Michel Heiniger/Flickr
Since the findings in 2003, other lineages have been observed, such as the Manchu line of northeastern China, reports DiscoverMagazine. The more recent study as reported by Nature lists other known "highly successful" lines, such as "one that began in China with Giocangga, a Qinq Dynasty ruler who died in 1582, and another belonging to the medieval Uí Néill dynasty in Ireland." Other identified strong lines originated from between Southeast Asia and the Middle East, dating between 2,100 BC and 70 AD.
Portrait of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan). Yuan Dynasty. Public Domain
Genetic researchers, archaeologists and anthropologists will continue to search for remains and DNA from long-dead ancestors to compare with modern populations. If the still-missing tomb and body of Genghis Khan himself could be discovered, that would provide the ultimate proof, firmly connecting links between our modern selves, and the ancient men and women to whom we owe our existence.
Featured Image: Statue of Genghis Khan, warrior and founder of the Mongol empire. The Field Museum
By Liz Leafloor