Story of L. My Big Y Test Results

The above Photograph of the Sumela Monastery, Trabzon Mountains, former Pontus, by reibai of Flickr under Creative Commons Licence.  Close to the home of my nearest recorded Big Y cousins today.

The Big Y Test

The FTDNA results came back.  As with the Y111 test results, they were three weeks earlier than scheduled.  So what has this test told me, about the story of my Y-DNA, and it's exotic L-M20 genetic marker? It was not a disappointment.


Remember, I am only telling the story of one single line of descent.  Y-DNA merely provides a convenient genetic marker of mutation, that can be compared and traced with others.  It does not define anyone.  From an anthropological perspective, haplogroups are of value in a collective sense - to a population.  I no doubt share the story of my Y with many more people alive today.  I may be a carrier of it, but it is also your story, just as the haplogroups that you carry, are also my story - through our mothers and shared descent.  Y-DNA passes strictly on only one line of descent - from father to son.  It is not inherited nor passed down by women.  Only on that one strict paternal line of descent. The Y haplogroup is only a convenient marker of one line.

The Y Haplogroup L

Y Haplogroup K formed in a paternal lineage of hunter-gatherer fathers and sons, that share a MRCA (most recent common ancestor) during the Upper Palaeolithic, circa 45,400 years ago.  Where did my Y ancestors live at that time?  We think that they lived in Western or Southern Asia.  Iran is a favourite proposal. My earlier Y ancestors had most likely exited Africa 20,000 years earlier, and were well established in Asia.  They had most likely met and confronted another archaic human species, The Neanderthal. This was however, a time of great expansion by humans.  The first anatomically modern humans had recently entered Europe, while other moderns u were arriving in Australia.  The Ice Age was in a flux, but glaciation was advancing.

Our most recent common Y ancestor to carry Y Haplogroup LT lived circa 42,600 years ago.  Then a mutation in the Y-DNA lead to the formation of Y Haplogroup L, with a most recent common ancestor 23,200 years ago, close to the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, when ice sheets were reaching their maximum positions.  K, LT, and early L, most likely all originated in Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer populations living during the last Ice Age, in the area of modern day Iran and Iraq.  It was a time of increased stress on human populations, that were having to adapt to some severe environmental challenges, and may have at times faced isolation into a number of Ice Age Refuges.

Around 18,400 years ago, M317 appeared on their Y-DNA, then circa 14,000 years ago, my line (L-SK1214), diverged away from L-M349.  L1b today, occurs mainly in Western Asia, from Anatolia to Afghanistan.  L1a occurs mainly in India, Sri Lanka, and in Pakistan.  Where did all of this occur?  We don't know yet.  There is so little data.  Some other divergences popped up in Southern and Central Asia.  Some of these sub clades in India and Pakistan, are the most numerous of L today.  However, the finger keeps pointing at Western Asia, as the source of much of L divergence, particularly in L1b sub clades such as M317, and M349.  But we don't yet know what part Europe played if any.  Both M317 and M349 crops at low frequencies across Europe, particularly along the south coast, and in Italy.  L2 (L595) crops at at low frequency almost exclusively in Europe.  Altogether, L forms only around 0.3% across Europe as a whole, yet, this diversity sits at low frequencies scattered across the continent.

Iran may equally be a key.  We believe that it could have been home to L for a very long time, but we have very little data from that part of the world.  L is also missing from ancient DNA.  A hypothesis has been proposed that some early Neolithic farmers from Anatolia, may have carried L, and may have carried it into Europe for example.  All speculation, but it could explain some of these old divisions of L that we are starting to see across Europe and Western Asia.  Some of the earliest Eurasian L Y-DNA extracted so far has only very recently been reported - in populations of Iron Age Huns, that had migrated westwards into Europe.

My Big Y Results

So what did the test tell me about my line?  Was I descended from a recent immigrant from India or Pakistan?  An Iron Age Hun?  An Italian?  How about a Pontic Greek, or a Persian?  Where do I fit in?

The answers provided by the Big Y were a bit of a shock.  I had 90 novel SNPs in my Y-DNA, that have not been seen before in any other Big Y Test, not even in any of the other 23 Big Y test results within the FTDNA Y Haplogroup L project.  The last SNP to terminate, that has already been reported, was SK1414.  The administrator has not yet found it's non-FTDNA origin, but believes that it came from a test in Iran.  Therefore, my sub clade can now be declared as L-SK1214.

My nearest FTDNA Big Y matches were two from Pontic Greek ancestry.  However, here is the crunch.  The project administrator calculates that even these testers, my closest known Y cousins that have so far tested to Big Y level, last shared a common Y ancestor with me 13,000 years ago.

When I have my BAM file, and submit it to the Yfull tree, it should make a significant alteration to the branches, as my lineage of SK1414, appears to branch off from L1b, perhaps only 1000 years after L1b appeared, and before the PH8 lineage associated with my Pontic Greek cousins formed.

L-SK1414 (L1b2c)

So my new terminal SNP SK1414 separated from the Pontic Greek PH8 lineage around 13,000 years ago.  What was happening in Western Asia then?  This was towards the end of the last Cold Stage.  There were some cold fluctuations in the Ice Age climate, with some advances in glaciation, before they finally started to melt back for the present interglacial period.  Perhaps some of these climatic stresses were involved?  a severe freeze took place around 12,700 years ago. 

My most recent common ancestors to any other Big Y testers - the Pontic Greek samples, lived somewhere in Western Asia around 13,000 years ago.  They most likely were Western Asian ibex hunter-gatherers.  The earliest sign of agriculture in the region, the Pre Pottery Neolithic A doesn't take off until around 10,300 years ago.

Where have my Y ancestors been over the past 13,000 years?  That is the big question that I am probably unlikely to answer within my lifetime.  More testing, by more L testers in the future may reveal more, as would the results of more ancient DNA from excavations.  If I had to bank money on it, I'd say that my Y ancestors were most likely to provenance to the Fertile Crescent of the Neolithic Revolution.  Perhaps in the river valleys of Iraq / Iran.  They may have gone on to take part in the Pre Pottery Neolithic A Culture there.  That might account for their existence over the next few thousands of years.  However, when did my lineage enter Europe?  Did it arrive with Anatolian Early Neolithic farmers?  Or did it arrive later?  Perhaps even, much later?  I just cannot answer that.  Suggestions are most welcome.

The above photograph taken of the excavation of Jarmo, an Early Neolithic village in Iraqi Kurdistan, dated to 9,100 years before present.  From Wikimedia Commons by user Emrad284.

The STR testing, and the matching with the Chandler family might suggest that my Y line arrived in Southern England quite recently, perhaps during the Medieval.  However, I am acutely aware of how very few English have yet tested - that more L could turn up, that rewrite that arrival date.
Unofficial proposed tree by Gökhan Zuzigo


It seems that I have 12,700 years of unwritten or detected family history to research on my paternal line.  The Big Y test told me that I have a hunter-gatherer ancestor, somewhere in Western Asia, most likely Iraq / Iran, perhaps 13,000 years ago.  Then a rather long gap, until the Brooker surname appears on parish registers in the Thames Valley of Southern England, leading down to myself, and onto my son.

The Chandler family, judging by the comparative STR evidence, are Y cousins, with a shared Y ancestry until circa 330 - 700 years ago.

That's it.  We were missing for a long time.  I'm looking forward to trying to work out where my missing ancestors were for thousands of years.  I'm looking forward to seeing more L1b tests appear on Yfull and on the Y haplogroup L Project.  Please test.

The above photograph on Rock Art in Iran, taken by dynamosquito on Flickr linked here under a Creative Commons Licence.  The Ibex seems to feature frequently in prehistoric rock art in the region, and perhaps was a primary prey of our ancestors.

Autosomal DNA Tests for Genealogy

First a disclaimer.  I'm very new to the whole world of genetic genealogy.  I'm not new however, to traditional genealogy, and I do have a pretty good amateur understanding of relative archaeological and anthropological discussions over the past fifty years.  The following is not meant as a critique of genetic genealogy, so much as a review, or my experience, of ancestry composition based on autosomal DNA analysis.

Let's start with my paper trail.

Traditional Genealogy

I am English by ethnicity, British by nationality, and a subject of Queen Elizabeth II (often now referred to as a UK Citizen).

My paper recorded ancestry consists of the genealogical records of:

  • Generation 1 has 1 individual. (100.00%)
  • Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 5 has 16 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 6 has 29 individuals. (90.62%)
  • Generation 7 has 49 individuals. (76.56%)
  • Generation 8 has 35 individuals. (27.34%)
  • Generation 9 has 24 individuals. (10.16%)
  • Generation 10 has 10 individuals. (2.34%)
  • Generation 11 has 4 individuals. (0.39%)
  • Total ancestors in generations 2 to 11 is 181. (9.04%)

All 181 ancestors, reaching back to the 1690's, appear to be English born, of English ethnicity, with English surnames.  The majority of them (100% on my mother's side, and 81% on my father's side) were East Anglian, with the vast majority of that percentage being born in the county of Norfolk.  Religions recorded or indicated were CofE Anglican or non-conformist Christian.  No sign of any Catholicism, Islam, or Judaism.

Therefore it would look pretty likely, that I can claim English heritage, wouldn't you agree?

Genetic Genealogy and Ancestry Prediction

There are three aspects or avenues of inquiry, available for genetic genealogy.  First of all, the two sex haplogroups; the y-DNA, and the mt-DNA. These two "signals" are referred to as haplogroups.

  1. The y-DNA.  This follows the Y chromosome.  It is only carried by men.  It is passed along the paternal line, and only by that line, from grandfather, down to father, down to son, until the line is broken.  What a lot of people do often misunderstand, is that it does not represent 50% of your ancestry.  It does not represent all of your biological father's ancestry.  For example, his mother's father, and her brothers, although on your father's side, would most likely carry a different y-DNA haplogroup.  It only comes down an uninterrupted strictly paternal line.  Even at Generation 7 (g.g.g.g grandparents) above, it would have been carried by one out of my sixty four biological ancestors at that generation.  The other thirty one g.g.g.g grandfathers for that generation may have carried different Y haplogroups.
  2. The mt-DNA.  Although a very different type of DNA, this one works as the opposite sex haplogroup.  It is a signal that is passed down the strictly maternal line, from grandmother, to mother, to her children.  Yes, we men do inherit our mother's mt_DNA, but we can't pass it down.  Only our sisters can.
  3. The au-DNA, better known as Autosomal DNA.  Whereas the former two sex haplogroups are handy, because we can measure their mutations, and track their formation and movement across thousands of years, au-DNA really is the stuff that we are made of - all of the SNPs on our chromosomes that personalise us within the human genome.  We inherit our au-DNA from all of our recent ancestors.  Roughly 50% from our biological mother, and 50% from our biological father.  Equally, we could say on average, 25% from each grandparent, or 12.5% from each great grandparent.  However, it is messy.  At every reproduction (meiosis), it gets messed up by recombination.  Not only that, but go back much more than six generations, and it becomes more and more likely that you can lose entire lineages.  You can have no surviving trace of any DNA from for example, a particular g.g.g.g.g grandparent.

Autosomal DNA is what makes us individuals, gives us our hereditary traits.  It is passed down from many ancestors, via our parents.  However, the sex haplogroups are of interest because they can be traced across the globe, and the millennia.  As we gain more and more data - both from living populations, and ancient DNA from archaeological finds, so we will be able to track the STR and SNP mutation data more precisely.

However, what about poor old messed up autosomal DNA?  It represents our entire biological heritage over many generations. It is what we are. However, making sense of it is less easy, less precise.  Genetic genealogists are making progress, but it is far less of a precise science than either of the haplogroups.  They use calculators, that measure the segments of DNA cross the chromosomes, looking for patterns that they recognise from a number of known reference populations.  From that, these calculators predict an ancestry.  Exactly what and when that ancestry refers to, does seem to vary from one calculator to another.  There is an argument that the precision can be improved if you also test close known relatives including at least one parent.  The results can then be phased.  I'm actually waiting for the results for my mother, so that I can see my own au-DNA ancestry results phased and corrected.

So lets have a bit of fun, and see what some of the calculators suggest for my autosomal DNA, at least before any phasing with my mother's DNA.  What do they make of my 100% English paper ancestry? Ancestry Composition Standard Mode

99.9% European.

Broken into:

83% NW European

17% Broadly (unassigned) European

I think that's pretty cool.  As I'm getting to know au-DNA predictions, so as I'm learning to appreciate it when they get the right continent, and the right corner of that continent.  That is more than they could do a decade or two ago.  The prediction is correct, I am a NW European.  I'm not a West African, a South Asian, or a East Siberian. Ancestry Composition Speculative Mode

100% European

Broken into:

94% NW European

3% S European

3% Broadly (unassigned) European.

Whoa, where did that South European come from?  It could just be a stray incorrectly identified signal, or it could be telling me that one of my ancestors, maybe around Generation 6, were from down south!  Lets break down the prediction further.  First, the NW European:

32% British & Irish

27% French & German

7% Scandinavian

But surely I should be 100% British & Irish?  Not only 32%.  I have my own ideas about this.  I think that although 23andMe claims that Ancestry Composition only represents the ancestry of the past 300 to 500 years (the so-called migration period, as sold to USA customers), that it gets confused by earlier migrations across their reference populations, including those during the early medieval period, and perhaps even some of those during late prehistory.  I've noticed that across Ireland and Britain, the further to the east, the more diluted the 23andMe British & Irish assignment.  People of solid Irish ancestry get between 85% and 98% British & Irish.  My East Anglian results, mixed between British & Irish, French & German, and Scandinavian, are actually rather more like those received by Dutch customers of 23andMe.

As for that Southern European prediction, how does that break down?

0.5% Iberian

2.4% Broadly (unassigned) South European.

Which if taken seriously, might suggest that I have an unknown Spanish or Portuguese ancestor around Generation 6.  If I did take it seriously that is.  I wonder what my mother's test will reveal? Ancestry Composition

This is a third party site, that you can upload your 23andMe V4 raw data to, and see what their calculators predict for your ancestry.  It has recently had it's ancestry composition revised.  What did that make of my 100% English au-DNA?

West Eurasian 100%.

I like that designation, the amateur anthropologist in me prefers that broad designation over "European".  Broken down:

77% North/Central European

19% South European

2.4% Finnish

1.3% unassigned.

What?  Why not 100% North/Central European?  Finnish?  Did some early medieval Scandinavian settlers of East Anglia bring it?  Or is it a false signal?  Misidentified au-DNA?

That darned South European kicked in again.  I'm here looking at a biological cuckoo NPE (non-parental event) at around Generation 5 or even more recent!  Did a great grandmother secretly have a South European lover?  But this South European breaks down further:

13% Balkan

6% Italian.

Oh my goodness, whereas 23andMe speculative mode suggested SW Europe - this one suggests SE Europe!  Do I have a secret Albanian great grandfather?  Or is it all nonsense?

This is a cracking new third party DNA analyser.  It is based in China, and it's predictors appear to calculate mainly for a Chinese market.  It not only predicts your ancestry composition, but also your two sex haplogroups, and lots of traits and health predictions to compliment those of 23andMe.  It even tries to predict your genetic disposition to sexuality!

It will allow you to send your 23andMe V4 raw data direct to it's own calculators.  However, at the moment the website is almost entirely in Chinese (Mandarin?).  There are two options.  1) At the bottom of the webpages is a hyperlink to English, which gives, in English, a basic ancestry composition, and your haplogroups.  It does not include English versions of the health and trait results.  2) use an online translator, such as the one built into the Google Chrome browser.  It actually serves pretty well.

On sex haplogroups they give my Y-DNA as

L1.  Not bad, but they didn't make it to L1b or L-M317.

My mtDNA?

H6a1a8.  Very good.  Better than 23andMe's H6a1, and the same as the mthap program.

But this is about au-DNA, how did they do, what did they make of my 100% English ancestry?

81% French

19% English/Briton

Now, that sounds pretty awful, but on closer inspection, I'm impressed.  No South European great grandfather.  Okay, so most of my DNA has been placed on the wrong side of the Channel.  However, I know that French and English DNA is actually very close.  Recent surveys even suggest that the English have inherited a lot of common ancestry with the French during unknown migration late in prehistory.  So again - they very much got the right corner of the right Continent.  Well done WeGene. Eurogenes K13

GEDmatch is a website that you can upload raw data not only from 23andMe, but from a range of testers, and from V3 chips as well as V4.  It hosts a number of tools and predictors - some Open Source.  Some of these predictors are for Admixture or ancestry composition.  They measure your ancestry in terms of distance from known reference populations.  The lower the number, the closer you are to their reference.  They use calculators known as oracles to predict ancestry, including mixed ancestry or admixture.

The oracles on the Eurogenes K13 and K15 calculator models have a good reputation at working with West Eurasian ancestry.  So how does K13 first, score my 100% English ancestry?

On Single Population Sharing, it rates my DNA against the closest references.  In order of closest to not so close, the top five are:

1 South_Dutch 3.89
2 Southeast_English 4.35
3 West_German 5.22
4 Southwest_English 6.24
5 Orcadian 6.97

I think that's a cracking result.  Okay, it thinks that I'm closer to South Dutch, than I am to SE English, but so close - and my East Anglian ancestry most likely does include a lot of admixture from the Low Countries from the early medieval period.  I really like Eurogenes K13.

Okay, let's now use the Oracle 4 option, to suggest admixture.  First on three populations admixing to create my DNA, what comes closest?

50% Southeast_English +25% Spanish_Valencia +25% Swedish @ 2.087456

Well that's interesting!  The SE English hit the net.  The Swedish?  Could be ancient Scandinavian admixture - but the Iberian prediction has reemerged!

On four populations admixing?

1 Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Valencia + Swedish @ 2.087456
2 Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Murcia + Swedish @ 2.147237
3 Norwegian + Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English @ 2.216714
4 Danish + Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English @ 2.225334
5 Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Swedish @ 2.230991

Oh my goodness.  K13 agrees with 23andMe AC, that I have an Iberian link.  I'm now really starting to wonder.

Let's finish off by trying K15 on my 100% English ancestry: Eurogenes EU test V2 K15

Using Oracle for single population first, the top five closest:

1 Southwest_English 2.7
2 South_Dutch 3.98
3 Southeast_English 4.33
4 Irish 6.23
5 West_German 6.25

Okay, I'm SE English, not SW English, but pretty impressive again.

Using the oracle 4 for three population admixture, what mix comes closest to my auDNA?

50% Southwest_English +25% Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon +25% West_Norwegian @ 1.080952

That Iberian back again!

Top five mix ups of populations closest to me?

1 Southwest_English + Southwest_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon + West_Norwegian @ 1.080952
2 Irish + North_Dutch + Southwest_English + Spanish_Galicia @ 1.111268
3 North_Dutch + Southwest_English + Spanish_Galicia + West_Scottish @ 1.282744
4 Southeast_English + Southwest_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon + West_Norwegian @ 1.295819
5 North_Dutch + North_Dutch + Southwest_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon @ 1.304939

I can't help preferring the K13 results to the EU test V2 K15 - simply because it recognises me better as SE English, rather than to their SW English reference.


If anyone ever bothers reading this far too lengthy post, I hope that I have imparted the following lessons:

  • Don't expect DNA Ancestry tests to pin point an actual country of ancestry.  They're not no where near that good yet.  The populations of West Eurasia, and elsewhere, are actually all mixed up, or share a lot of recent admixture.  In addition, many European nation-states are quite recent inventions.  I've seen the borders of Europe change in my short lifetime.
  • Don't expect precision.  If for example, you are an American, and a 23andMe AC test suggests only 32% British & Irish, then you could actually have 100% English ancestry over the past 300 years!  We're so mixed up, that these tests are struggling to part and identify us by nationality.
  • If you are willing to share your raw data (there are privacy issues), then have fun trying out all of these third party calculators.  It's a lot of fun as you can see.  They rarely agree.  There are other tools on GEDmatch for example, where you can compare DNA along with .gedcom genealogical files with other users - and look for shared segments on the chromosomes.  You can also compare your DNA to that of ancient populations.
  • Treat au-DNA differently to haplogroup results.  au-DNA is very interesting, and represents so much of our ancestry, if we could just sort some of the mess out.  You can partially do this by phasing your results with those of close relatives.  It is worthwhile phasing with at least one biological parent, if you can.  However, haplogroup results, provide by their mutations incredible stories over much longer periods - thousands of years.  A different kind of genealogy.  As we gather more data, and reference it also to ancient-DNA, so it will tell us more and more about two lines of descent.  Perhaps even into historical times.