Was our Y ancestor a Druze?

From an image published by Ashley Van Haeften and copied here under Creative Commons Licence Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Within hours of publishing my most recent hypothesis: Was our ancestor a Baloch Lascar, I receive news of an incredible rare event.  Someone else on the FTDNA Big Y tested to Y Haplogroup L L-SK1414 (L1b2c).  The sample belonged to a Druze genetics project, and was taken from a man from the Druze town of Zaroun (Matn District) in Lebanon.  The project administrator told me "his ancestors -at least for the past 1000 years- should have been either residents in Mount Lebanon or migrated as many other Druze families from the Idlib region in NW Syria (Jabal el Summaq Mountain)".

The Druze

The Druze are a Levant community, dispersed primarily through Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.  They consider themselves an Arabic culture, but they follow their own faith system, which according to Wikipedia: "The Druze faith is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion based on the teachings of Hamza ibn-'Ali, al-Hakim, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and Akhenaten.".

What makes the Druze particularly interesting to population geneticists, is that they stopped accepting converts one thousand years ago.  They marry within their community only.  Therefore they potentially represent a snapshot of the medieval Levant population, without more recent admixture.  A recent genetic study of the Druze confirms this history:

"The researchers also found that there is no evidence of new genes entering the Druze gene pool over the last 1,000 years. In other words, no additional groups from the outside joined this community. In addition, the researchers found evidence of genetic differences between Druze populations from different regions: Lebanon, the Golan Hights, the Upper Galilee and the Carmel Mountain. This strengthens the evidence that marriages take place only within each clan.

When they went further back in time, the researchers discovered another interesting finding. It came to light that, 500 years prior to the beginning of the Druze religion, around the 6th century AD and at the time of the birth of Islam, a genetic group began to take shape that formed the basis of the Druze community’s ancestors.

According to this study, the Druze genome is largely similar to the genome of other Arab populations in the Middle East. They also found a few genetic elements in the Druze genome that originated from Europe, Central and South Asia (the Iran region) and Africa.".


Studies have found that although a variety of both Y and mt haplogroups can be found in the Druze community, they appear to have been isolated for that time period.  So a haplotype found within the Druze, would have been in the region of North-West Syria and Lebanon, during the 11th Century AD.

Druze Clerics During the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate era (late 19th Century AD). See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

How does this change my perspective on my Y origins into Europe?

L-SK1414 now looks more dispersed across Western Asia, from the Levant, to Pakistan.  That might mean that my medieval Y migrant from Asia to England didn't take a Lascar route from the Persian Gulf / Arabian Sea after all.  It could be that they traveled from the Levant along the Mediterranean, or even across Europe?  They may not have a Balochi connection - they could have been of many Asian ethnicities.  It's a good example of how easy it is to develop a hypothesis based on too little evidence.

As for the origins of L-SK1414, I'm now looking a little more south, and a little more central.  Favourite suggestion now is Tigris and Euphrates Valleys, and the Zagros Mountains, in Iraq and Iran.  L-SK1414 could have dispersed westwards to the Levant, and eastwards to Makran, SW Pakistan.

Here is the distribution of recorded Y haplotype L-SK1414 so far in Western Asia:

Note the centralised nature of the Iran / Iraq "Cradle of Civilisation" to L-SK1414.  Could our Y ancestors have passed through Ancient Mesopotamia?  Now there's an interesting thought!

Was our Y ancestor a Baloch Lascar?

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  "A Portrait of an Indian Gentleman," by A. Smith, 1841.  No.  This portrait was not one of my ancestors.  It is believed to have been painted in England.  However, my Asian Y ancestor must have been here previous to 1700.  This relates to my Y line, inherited down my father's, father's father line and so on.  Descendants for example of Reginald J Brooker, should share this heritage.  My Y-DNA research indicates that I had an Asian ancestor, that most likely moved to Southern England sometime between 1,800 and 500 years ago.  I did find this portrait however, on Wikimedia Commons, whilst searching the subject of who my Y ancestors in Asia were, and why one may have travelled to England.

Let's start a little further back.  My Y-DNA is West Asian in origin.  I share my current terminal Y-DNA SNP (L-SK1414) with a guy that is a Balochi speaker from Makran in SW Pakistan, close to the border with Iran.  I also match fairly well (on STR tests) with a guy who's paternal line hailed from the town of Birjand, South Khorasan, Iran.

Now, although my Australian Y cousin with ancestry in South Khorasan didn't know of any family Balochi link - it's possible.  Balochi, have lived in that region of Eastern Iran.  It may, just may, be a link.  Who are and were the Baloch?

Origins of the Baloch People

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  Iranian Baloch khans in Qajar era, c. 1902.  The Baloch people today are spread across Western and Central Asia, mainly found in SW Pakistan, SE Iran, and Afghanistan.  

The pink areas display the main Balochi areas today.  The red outline suggesting likely homelands for my Y-DNA.  Also marked by red spots, are the homes of the two recorded L-SK1414 in that area.  It is estimated that there are 15 million Baloch people across the World today.  The Balochi language is Iranic.  It has been ascribed by linguists as belonging to the North-West Iranic family, close to Kurdish.  Yet the Balochi today, are in the South-East of the Region.  The traditional origin story told by the Baloch people, is that they were Arabic, and originated in Syria.

However, linguists and historians today usually suggest that they were in fact, refugees from Arabic expansion, that migrated mainly east and south east, over several centuries (starting circa 7th Century AD) from an area close to the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran.  This puts Birjand incidentally, on the route of that migration.  It also leads from what I consider to be the homelands of the mother clade - Y hg L1b (L-M317), between the Caspian and Black seas.  Today, the majority of the Baloch are Sunni Muslim (some are Shia).  However, many early migrants from the North West may have ascribed to other religions including Zoroastrianism.  An attack on Persia by the Seljuk Turks from Central Asia during the 11th Century AD, may have accelerated Baloch migration to present day Balochistan. Today, the Baloch of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are divided into an estimated 130 tribes.

As for Balochistan itself, when Alexander of Macedonia, passed through it, during the 4th Century BC, it was known as the Kingdom of Gedrosia.  Balochistan has long been sandwiched and pulled between the great empires of Persia, and India.  Even today, it is divided between these two political boundaries.  A large region with a sparse population, but a firmly stamped ethnic identity.

According to Akhilesh Pillalamarri "In the 1500s, Balochistan like Afghanistan to its north, became divided into zones of control between the Safavid Persian Empire to its west and the Mughal Empire to its east. This approximately reflects the Iran-Pakistan border today."

Could this friction even have lead my Y ancestor to move?  When did European ships appear on the coastline?

That's the Baloch hypothesis.  Now for the next, the Lascar hypothesis.

The Asian Lascar

By National Maritime Museum from Greenwich, United Kingdom [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons. Three lascars on the Viceroy of India.

Our Y ancestor may have moved to Southern England for all sorts of reasons:  merchant, diplomat, adventurer, slave, hostage, prisoner of war, trader, mercenary, servant, religious convert, refugee, etc.  Genetic genealogists tend all too often to cling to known historical events such as battles.  I'd be very wary of that. 

With that in mind... here is one new possibility (as opposed to a probability), that I am presently considering.  

The Lascar.

Lascar derives from al-askar, the Arabic word for a guard or soldier.  When European ships first started to sail the trade routes to India and the Middle East, they often suffered losses of life on the way.  Subsequently, they would recruit new sailors at their ports of call.  Arab traders had scattered seamanship and sailing skills along the coast line around the Persian Gulf, and the practice of Lascars may have already been established before the first Portuguese ships picked them up.  The European practice of taking on Lascars is believed to have started as early as the 16th Century.  It continued through to the 20th Century.  Just about in time, to account for my Y-DNA in Southern England, that turns up during the early 18th Century in two surname families.  It's possible.

Apparently, the Lascars received even poorer food and water than even the late British sailors that they replaced.  Therefore, many jumped ship when they reached England.  Their intentions may not have been immigration, but they couldn't risk the return voyage.  This, it is said, was the very first root of the present day Asian settlement of Britain. It has been speculated that the portrait at the top of the post, may have been of a former Lascar, or ... servant!  Why not though, a traveller that has succeeded?

Why would a 16th or 17th Century European trading ship visit Balochistan?  Did it?  Our ancestor may have already moved either westwards or down to an Indian port.  He may have been a professional sailor!

It's one possibilty.

By National Maritime Museum from Greenwich, United Kingdom [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons. Lascars at the Royal Albert Dock in LondonThree lascars on the Viceroy of India. 1936.