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Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Cherokee

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Original Post:  

Egyptian, Greek, Phoenician and Hebrew Origins of Cherokee?

Donald N. Yates

submitted August 31, 2009

ABSTRACT. A sample of 52 individuals who purchased mitochondrial DNA testing to determine their female lineage was assembled after the fact from the customer files of DNA Consultants. All claim matrilineal descent from a Native American woman, usually named as Cherokee. The main criterion for inclusion in the study is that test subjects must have obtained results not placing them in the standard Native American haplogroups A, B, C or D. Hence the use of the word "anomalous" in the title of a paper prepared by chief investigator Donald N. Yates, "Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Cherokee."

Most subjects reveal haplotypes that are unmatched anywhere else except among other participants, and there proves to be a high degree of interrelatedness and common ancestral lines. Haplogroup T emerges as the largest lineage, followed by U, X, J and H. Similar proportions of these haplogroups are noted in the populations of Egypt, Israel and other parts of the East Mediterranean (see below).

The Cherokee and Admixture. According to a 2007 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Cherokee are the largest tribal group today, with a population of 331,000 or 15% of all American Indians. Despite their numbers, though, the Cherokee have had few DNA studies conducted on them. I know of only three reports on Cherokee mitochondrial DNA. A total of 60 subjects are involved, all from Oklahoma. Possibly the reason the Cherokee are not recruited for more studies, I would suggest, stems from their being perceived as admixed in comparison with other Indians. Accordingly, they are deemed less worthy of study.

In the past, whenever a geneticist or anthropologist conducting a study of Native Americans has encountered an anomalous haplogroup, that is, a lineage that does not belong to one of the five generally accepted American Indian mitochondrial DNA haplogroups A, B, C, D and X, it has been rejected as an example of admixture and not included in the survey results. This is true of the two examples of H and one of J reported by Cherokee descendants by Schurr (2000:253). Schurr takes these exceptions to prove the rule and regards them as instances of European admixture. The governing logic of population geneticists seems to go as follows:

Lineage A, B, C, D and X are American Indian.
Therefore, all American Indians are lineage A, B, C, D and X.

The fallacy in such reasoning is apparent. It could be restated as: "All men are two-legged creatures; therefore since the skeleton we dug up has two legs, it is human." It might be a kangaroo.

"The geneticists always seem to cry 'post-Columbian admixture,'" says Stephen C. Jett, a geographer at the University of California at Davis, "but fail to take into account that there are no plausible post-Columbian sources for the particular genetic mix encountered."

"Anomalous Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Cherokee" concentrates on the "kangaroos"- documented or self-identifying Cherokee descendants whose haplotypes do not fit the current orthodoxy in American Indian population genetics. Here are some highlights, organized by haplogroup.

Haplogroup H. Although this quintessentially European haplogroup would seem to be the most likely suspect if admixture were responsible for the anomalous haplogroups, there are but four cases of it.

Haplogroup X. Haplogroup X is a latecomer to the "pantheon" of Native American haplogroups. Its relative absence in Mongolia and Siberia and a recently proven center of diffusion in Lebanon and Israel (Brown et al. 1998, Malhi and Smith 2002; Smith et al. 1999; Reidla 2003; Shlush et al. 2009) pose problems for the standard account of the peopling of the Americas. DNA Consultants Cherokee-descended customers include seven instances of haplogroup X. David E. Lewis (whose Cherokee name is Wayauwetsi) traces his unmatched X haplotype back to Seyinus, a Cherokee woman of the Wolf Clan born on or near the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina in 1862. Two cases represent descendants (unknown to each other, incidentally) of the Cherokee woman called Polly who was the namesake for the Qualla reservation (the sound p lacking in the Cherokee language and being rendered with qu).

Haplogroup J. Two other cases, both J's, are related to Polly, tracing their lines back to Betsy Walker, a Cherokee woman born about 1720 in Soco (One-Town). A descendant was the wife or paramour of Col. Will Thomas, the first chief and founder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located today on the Qualla Boundary. Views about J are still evolving, but it seems to have originated in present-day Lebanon approximately 10,000 years before present. It is a major Jewish female lineage (Thomas 2002).

Haplogroup U has never been reported in American Indians to my knowledge. In our sample it covers 13 cases or 25% of the total, second in frequency only to haplogroup T. One of the U's is Mary M. Garrabrant-Brower. She belongs to U5a1a* (all U5a1a not matched or assigned) but has no close matches anywhere. Her great-grandmother was Clarissa Green of the Cherokee Wolf Clan, born 1846. Mary's mother Mary M. Lounsbury maintained the Cherokee language and rituals. One of the cases of U2e* is my own. This line evidently arose from a Jewish Indian trader and a Cherokee woman. My fifth-great-grandmother was born about 1790 on the northern Georgia and southwestern North Carolina frontier and had a relationship with a trader named Enoch Jordan. The trader's male line descendants from his white family in North Carolina possess Y chromosomal J, a common Jewish type. Some Jordans, in fact, bear the Cohen Modal Haplotype that has been suggested to be the genetic signature of Old Testament priests (Thomas et al. 1998). Enoch Jordan was born about 1768 in Scotland of forbears from Russia or the Ukraine. My mother, Bessie Cooper, was a double descendant of Cherokee chief Black Fox and was born on Sand Mountain in northeastern Alabama near Black Fox's former seat at Creek Path (and who was Paint Clan). All U2e* cases appear to have in common the fact that there are underlying Melungeon, Cherokee and Jewish connections.

Haplogroup T. "Tara," as she was named by Brian Sykes, is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago and to have moved northwards through the Caucasus and westwards from Anatolia into Europe. The closer one goes to its origin in the Fertile Crescent the more likely T is to be found in higher frequencies. The haplogroup includes slightly fewer than 10% of modern Europeans, but accounts for 28% of people in the DNA Consultants study. The great-great-grandmother of Linda Burckhalter was Sully Firebush, the daughter of a Cherokee chief who married Solomon Sutton, the stowaway son of a London merchant, in what would seem to be another variation of the "Jewish trader marries chief's daughter" pattern. Three T1*'s are perfectly matching individuals completely unknown to one another before testing who are clearly descended from the same woman. Two of them claim Melungeon ancestry.

The many interrelationships noted above reinforce the conclusion that this is a faithful cross-section of a population. No such mix could have resulted from post-1492 European gene flow into the Cherokee Nation. So where do our non-European, non-Indian-appearing elements come from? The level of haplogroup T in the Cherokee (26.9%) approximates the percentage for Egypt (25%), one of the only lands where T attains a major position among the various mitochondrial lineages. In Egypt, T is three times what it is in Europe. Haplogroup U in our sample is about the same as the Middle East in general. Its frequency is similar to that of Turkey and Greece. J has a frequency not unlike Europe (a little less than 10%). The only other place on earth where X is found at an elevated level apart from other American Indian groups like the Ojibwe is among the Druze in the Hills of Galilee in northern Israel and Lebanon. The work of Shlush et al. (2009) demonstrates that this region was in fact the center of the worldwide diffusion of haplogroup X.

Phoenicians. On the Y chromosome side of Shlush et al.'s study, male haplogroup K was found to have a relatively high frequency of 11% in the Galilee region (2008:2). K (renamed T in the revised YCC nomenclature) has long been suspected to be the genetic signature of the Phoenicians. A TV show by National Geographic appeared about a year ago titled Who Were the Phoenicians?, in which Spencer Wells of the National Genographic Project, unveiled this theory. Without a doubt it was the Phoenicians, whose name among themselves was Cana'ni or KHNAI 'Canaanites', not Phoenikoi 'red paint people' (Aubet 2001:9-12; cf. Oxford Classical Dictionary s.v. "Phoenicians" ), who are referenced by James Adair when he observes that "several old American towns are called Kan?ai," and suggests that the Conoy Indians of Pennsylvania and Maryland were Canaanites and their tribal name a corruption of the word Canaan. The Conoy Indians are the same Indians William Penn around 1700 described as resembling Italians, Jews and Greeks. By about 1735 they had dwindled to a "remnant of a nation, or subdivided tribe, of Indians," according to Adair (1930:56, 67, 68). One of the oldest Cherokee clans is called Red Paint Clan (Ani-wodi).

So do the two subclades of X and other haplogroups represent Old World and New World branches diverging from each other as long ago as 30,000 years, or do the Native American "anomalous" haplotypes come more recently (but not as late as Columbus) from the same source in the East Mediterranean? The answer probably depends on how open one is to new evidence and revisionary thinking. According to Jett, "The splits may have taken place well before transfer, with one only or both being transferred to a new place and then one dying out in the home area (and the other in the new area, if both were transferred)." The distinction, at any rate, is irrelevant to the Cherokee who exhibit these not-so-rare haplogroups, although to those denied authenticity on the basis of anthropologists' hardened ideas about the genetic composition of American Indians it is welcome vindication either way.

1. Adair, James (1930). Adair's History of the American Indians, ed. by Samuel Cole Williams, originally published London, 1775. Johnson City: Watauga.
2. Richards, Martin et al. (2000). "Tracing European Founder Lineages in the Near Eastern mtDNA Pool." American Journal of Human Genetics 67:1251-76. Supplementary Data. URL: http://www.stats.gla.ac.uk/~vincent/founder2000/index.html.
3. Schurr, Theodore G. (2000). "Mitochondrial DNA and the Peopling of the New World," American Scientist 88:246-53. 
4. Shlush, L. I. et al. (2009) "The Druze: A Population Genetic Refugium of the Near East." PLoS ONE 3(5): e2105. URL: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2324201

When Objects Become Subjects 
(and Talk Back to Researchers)

Paul Brodwin, "'Bioethics in Action' and Human Population Genetics Research"

Population genetics experts who lecture in the groves of academe or trudge through the jungles of the Amazon are not immune to racist bombshells and political dynamite. In 1991, Stanford geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza announced a project to study human genetic diversity. The ponderous monograph that issued forth in 1994 became as revered as it was unreadable. His History and Geography of Human Genes posited two main limbs in the human DNA tree, the African and non-African, with the latter branching off into Europeans (Caucasians) and Northeast Asians. Included in Northeast Asians were the so-called Amerindians. Amerinds were closest in genetic distance to Northern Turkic, Chukchi and other Arctic and Mongolian peoples.

Little did Cavalli-Sforza and his team expect to encounter any opposition to their benign project, much less withdrawal of funding by the U.S. government and United Nations, but this is exactly what happened. The genial professor was surprised one day by a letter from a Canadian human rights group called the Rural Advancement Foundation International. The group demanded he stop his work immediately. It accused the Human Genome Diversity Project of biopiracy, stealing DNA from unsuspecting indigenous people and mining it for valuable information pharmaceutical companies could use to make drugs Third World people could not afford.

Paul Brodwin's article published in 2005 in the journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry (29:145-78) reviewed this controversy, which had some positive repercussions in forcing researchers to rethink colonialist attitudes toward their subjects. But in the second case of "bioethics in action," Brodwin painted a much more ambiguous picture. It concerned the use of genetics by the ethnic group called Melungeons of Tennessee and Virginia to prove identity claims and press their ideas of special entitlements.

In the section of the article titled "The Reinvention of Melungeon Ethnicity," Brodwin chronicles the conflict between scientific genetics and the Melungeons' demand for collective recognition. Complicating this issue is that the academics were by no means certain among themselves about who or what Melungeons were from an anthropological perspective. A rancorous standoff between Virginia DeMarce and N. Brent Kennedy was matched by the tendentious nature of the Melungeons' own theories and assertions about themselves. Was there even such a thing as Melungeons or were they simply genealogical ghosts and lurid creations of popular journalism? Did they truly have some black and American Indian ancestry? Was the title only to apply to people in and around Newmans Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee, or be extended to a wide range of persons of mixed ancestry like the Carolina Turks and Lumbee Indians? If the Melungeons went back before the arrival of Europeans, could they seek legal recognition as an indigenous American Indian tribe?

Questions abounded and it seemed all of them were murky, emotionally charged and political. Unlike the Human Genome Diversity battle, neither party seemed to gain any advantages in the free-for-all. There were apparently no lessons to be learned on either side. At the end of the day, everyone just gave up and went home, exhausted.

Brodwin obviously sympathizes with the forces of the Academy in all this. He throws his lot in with the geneticist Kevin Jones, who found "he did not control the goals of research or the interpretation of findings." The Melungeon fracas illustrated "the political and conceptual vulnerabilities of human population genetics." In my opinion, however, Brodwin missed the point. Whom do university professors and academic researchers serve, if not the public? They should rejoice that so many of the great unwashed (even in the hills and hollers of Tennessee) are engaged by and even interested in their research. And if they cannot achieve a satisfactory dialogue with their lay critics, whose fault is that? The debate should continue, not be swept under the rug of philosophical reflection. Whatever else they might be, Melungeons are people. As such, they should not be dismissed when they become intractable.

Introducing the DNA Fingerprint Plus

Since the disappearance of DNAPrint and AncestryByDNA from the market in February the demand for an autosomal test that would tell you whether you had Native American or other admixture and estimate what mix you had, has been unmet. While it is doubtful, for many reasons, there will ever be a test that can assign percentages to ethnicities, DNA Consultants has developed a panel of 18 markers potentially evident in a person's CODIS profile that have high probabilities for signaling different ethnic contributions. The Ethnic Panel has been added to the company's DNA Fingerprint Test in the DNA Fingerprint Plus.

As with all genetic markers, the fact that you do not have a marker does not mean that you lack that type of heredity, but its presence is a strong indicator of likelihood that you do possess certain genes. Because we receive one allele or unit of variation from one parent and one from another, and each parent possesses two themselves, one person can fail to inherit, say, a Native American marker but a sibling can have it.

DNA Consultants' chief investigator Dr. Donald Yates made the discoveries in July that laid the foundation for the new product, which was rolled out in early September. Like the CODIS test it is based on, the DNA Fingerprint Plus reflects your total ancestry, not just a male or female line. The 18 Marker Ethnic Panel costs $50.00 and there is no need to repeat any testing. It uses the results of your DNA Fingerprint Test.

The markers include checks for Native American, Ashkenazi Jewish, Northern European, Mediterranean, Sub-Saharan African, Asian and other types of probable contributions to your overall genetic legacy. They do not tell you how much of a given ancestry you may have or what line in your genealogy it might come from.

The way the Panel works is this: Depending on your ethnic mix, your score on a certain allele may fall near one end or the other on a probability scale. All these polarizations in the data correspond to major forks in the road of prehistoric human migrations. They support the conclusions of Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer and others that early humans left Africa in one or two migrations that gave birth to all the ethnic types in the rest of the world, from Australian Aborigines to Europeans. Native Americans and Europeans are closer, genetically speaking, than Native Americans are to Asians. One of the markers apparently reflects a divide between Asian ancestry on the one hand and European/Native American on the other. It is useful in distinguishing between Asian and Native American, two ethnicities that have a high degree of shared deep ancestry and are often otherwise mistaken for each other. Some ethnic markers can be shown by certain control measures to be a "false positive" and not indicative of that ancestry at all. They are also listed in the DNA Fingerprint Plus report.

Question or comment? Would you like to read the full version? Email me.


Anonymous commented on 23-Oct-2009 12:07 AM

This is most curious. After the Trail of Tears and the dispersal of the Cherokee, did not some live (and intermarry) with other Native American tribes? Then do some other Native American tribes have similar haplogroups? Or did not enough do this to make any difference? Or is this known?

Anonymous commented on 03-Dec-2009 04:59 AM

We must also remember many people of European ancestry claimed Cherokee or Native Ancestry to gain land or lived amongst the Cherokee or Aboriginal peoples and were included in some instances of false documentation. Sometimes we cannot tell who intermarried with or lived amongst Native people long ago. I don't buy it. This is a piece of the puzzle that just do not fit no matter how you turn it. You can't make it fit. I think some people need to accept the fact that they are not Native American, Never have and never will be. Unless the Top Experts in this field agree on this I just don't buy it.

Anonymous commented on 03-Dec-2009 02:31 PM

A valid point, but this reasoning overlooks the fact that there is no credible source for a disproportionate number of women of East Mediterranean ancestry in Indian lands during Spanish, French and English occupation. T, J and X are rare lineages among the Spanish, French and English. For the few T, J and X females in colonial European populations to throng together and seek out and marry Indian males doesn't make sense. Population frequency distribution of the anomalous types suggests a different time frame and geographical source for the influx.

dianne commented on 10-Nov-2010 07:04 PM

So I was studying genetic markers and to my surprise the Cherokee Indians are and have been excluded from the American Indian dna test as being Indian, they are the largest tribe of American Indians making up 15% of the Indian tribes and they come from Israeli and Egyptian ancestors 10,000 years ago read on, is this your finding? So what was this following based on, did they too exclude the Cherokee Tribe? http://www.smithsonian.org/encyclopedia_si/nmnh/origin.htm It looks like the Cherokee tribe does indeed share egyptian heritgage. http://www.cohen-levi.org/jewish_genes_and_genealogy/the_dna_chain_of_tradition.htm

Kathy Crabtree commented on 30-Nov-2010 10:46 AM

How interesting! I just had my FGS done at FTDNA and came back a U5a1 with a rare deletion at 249. My maternal GG grandmother was a member of the Red Paint Clan and precticed medicine, so I was shocked to be a U5al. Glad to know I'm not the only one with well documented Cherokee heritage that belongs to a haplo other than the A,B,C,D,X. I think we still have a lot to learn and keep up the great work!

Page Lambert commented on 17-Dec-2010 12:54 PM

I took the 4-day Cherokee History Course taught by the tribe about a month ago and it was fascinating. My haplo group is J and my lineage goes back to Aaron Brock/Redbird (Tsisquaya) and Jesse Brock on my paternal maternal side. Also, Rebecca Howard and Mary Polly Prock (Ulunitaguledisgonihi).

Kate Ackelson commented on 07-Aug-2011 09:23 AM

Delighted to find this discussion. My mtDNA group is T. I had been told my 3rd greatgrandmother was Cherokee, and couldn't understand my DNA results until I read these articles. Thanks for shedding light on an increasingly interesting phenomenon.

David Harden commented on 27-Oct-2011 07:34 AM

I also had my mDNA done at FTDNA and it came out U5a1 with an insertion C at 315.1. My maternal line goes back to Hanging Maws mother who was born about 1745. Her maternal line is known back to Wetsiagehya (Shining Daughter b. 1607) who married Turtle's
Son and was mother of Amatoya Moytoy of Chota (b abt. 1635 and d. 1741). Her maternal line is the Sacred Sun Children line and all the matriarchs were considered Corn Girls (daughters of Selu). This line goes back to the Maya in 250 BC. The split with the
British line seems to have occurred between 30,000 and 3000 years ago.

warren young commented on 09-Dec-2011 05:59 PM

Is it really true that cherokee indians do indeed share egyptian heritage

Anonymous commented on 16-Jan-2012 10:52 AM

I am an African-American whose great grandmother was Native American, adopted into our family at age 1 month, along with her brother who was 1 year old 1880, when her parents died. My mtdna states that I am of the haplo group x. just wanted to state that
Native American ancestry lives on in those of us of of African-American culture....even though we do not claim Native American culture as our own.

Aubri commented on 02-Apr-2012 02:41 AM

Seems like an obvious explanation is being overlooked. Why couldn't the middle eastern connection in some cherokees come from the spanish who raped and pillaged the cherokee? Spain was colonized by north africans.

Anonymous commented on 08-Jul-2012 11:44 PM

Dr. Barry Fell's book, "America B.C." claims that in ancient times, the Phoenicians brought Spanish Celts to America to mine metals. Can this be the connection?

GDI commented on 05-Jun-2013 08:15 AM

I believe one of the founding fathers believed the Cherokee to be a lost tribe of Israel.

Craig Harlan Hullinger commented on 13-Aug-2013 07:38 PM

My grandmothers MtDNA is T. Our paper lineage takes her ggg grandmother back to a Native American woman, Ianahanna Poe. When we got our results back I decided the paper trail must be wrong, and was missing an adoption or that a European woman had Ben incorporates into the tribe. But now it appears the T MtDna may have been per Columbian.

our DNA and genealogical info at. Http://harlandna.blogspot.com

L R commented on 06-Oct-2013 10:07 AM

Things I have learned while exploring my family's roots and the bit of NA DNA I carry in my genome. The Cherokee began contact with Europeans early. Some of my relations are on the VA Indian Trader list in SC in the early 1700's, but trading commenced earlier than that. Long and short term male-female relationships between Cherokee and European immigrants to America was part of the "trading" experience. There were times that a "white" trader brought some of his children with him into the tribe. Some mixed heritage offspring had contact with both sides of their heritage and/or were part of a so-called "meti" population in upcountry South Carolina. Individuals including young women of European heritage were taken captive and integrated into tribe. There were white women who had Cherokee or mixed Cherokee men as husbands in places like Georgia before the removal. That European mtDNA would be found in modern Cherokee is not surprising. Bryon Sykes in his recent book on American DNA writes that modern Cherokee in the Carolinas and in Oklahoma are generally very mixed with an admixture that does not feature high amounts of NA DNA: Y-chromosome, mtDNA, or somal. More than one historian has suggested that the truly 100 % Cherokee "princess" is much further back in a family's heritage than generally believed.

Marti Robey Fox commented on 12-Mar-2014 08:21 AM

My father and I recently took the DNA test through Ancestry.com. Since his maternal grandfather was known to be half Cherokee, we were very surprised to have results that said we were each a percentage "Caucasus" with "0" Native American reflected in the results. After reading this, I would assume we are part of the "Haplogroup T". Very interesting. I look forward to reading further research on this topic.

R.T. commented on 02-Jul-2014 10:34 PM

Spain and Portugal were in the Southeast before the English. Spain and Portugal were ruled by the Moors of North Africa for 400 years. Both had Berber crews in their ships as well. In addition, a little known fact about early Colonial America is there were Eastern Indians (from India) and middle easterners, Persians, etc both free and as slaves. You can read in some of the adds of the time for runaway slaves "Jim, a runaway Eastern Indian...", etc. This is the most likely reason the Cherokee DNA shows these markers. The real history of the US is so clouded by headlines and heros...remember the Spanish and Portuguese and their Moorish DNA when you hear this kind of thing.

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