Prehistoric Human Migrations
Studied Using Genetic Analyses

Introduction to Genetic Genealogy

Every man has a Y-chromosome that he inherited solely from his father, much as surnames are passed on in Western Culture. The Y-chromosome represents a man’s unbroken paternal lineage. Women do not have a Y-chromosome. Usually, a son receives an exact copy of his father’s Y-chromosome. However, very rarely (once in dozens or hundreds of generations) a minor change occurs on the Y-chromosome so that a father passes on a slightly different chromosome to his son. This change, called a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP), is then passed on to all of the son’s male descendants. My Y-chromosome is virtually identical to the Y-chromosome possessed by my ancestor, Peter Gysi (born abt 1565). By analyzing the composition of the SNPs on a man’s Y-chromosome and comparing them with other men, we can measure the degree of relatedness between different men.

Similarly, women pass along their mitochondrial DNA to all their children. A child’s mitochondrial DNA comes solely from his/her mother so that the DNA composition of a person’s mitochondrial DNA represents an unbroken maternal lineage. SNPs also occur in mitochondrial DNA, and by identifying and comparing these SNPs the degree of relatedness can be measured. I have not had my mitochondrial DNA tested so the remainder of this discussion focuses solely on Y-chromosome DNA and paternal lineages.

Our Y-chromosome DNA Identity (Haplogroup)

The set of SNPs that a person has is used to determine his Haplogroup. My Y-chromosome was tested for several SNPs and I was found to be positive for the SNP designated as U106. Subsets of people testing positive for U106 are also positive for 1 of a few other SNPs: U198, P107, L1, or L48. I have tested negative for all of these except for L48. This places me in the Haplogroup designated as R1b1a2a1a1a5b2, aka R1b-L48. Because the SNP U106 originated about 3500 years ago, any man who can trace a paternal lineage back to my ancestor, Peter Gysi, is a member of the same Haplogroup. A couple years ago I believed that all men with the surname Gysi (Geesey, Giesey, Keesey, etc.) who are descendants of the Swiss Gysi/Gysin are members of this same haplogroup. However, with the results from another Swiss Gysi having come in we have learned that this supposition is false. His results most closely resemble the group R1a1a, not the R1b1a group that I am a member of.

A man whose traces his ancestry back to a Johann Casper Giesse of Switzerland (and probably from Germany before that) was tested and was found to be negative for U106 and positive for another SNP (P312) that occurred about the same time. This places him in a closely related Haplogroup (R1b1b2a1b - aka R1b-P312). Although we share a similar sounding surname, our lineages diverged some time before 3500 years ago.

Knowing our haplogroup we can then learn about the migrations of our paternal lineage over the past 50,000 years. Being positive for the SNP U106, it is assumed that I am also positive for a certain string of SNPs that occurred prior to the origin of U106. All times in this discussion are approximate and are subject to modification as new information arises. This research is still in its infancy with much of our understanding of human migrations having been discerned within only the past year (2008-09).

Sites Detailing Prehistoric Human Migrations Based on Genetic Information:

The Genographic Project Atlas of the Human Journey
The Peopling of the World by Stephen Oppenheimer and the Bradshaw Foundation

200,000 – 130,000 years ago – East Africa

The first modern humans, genetically as well as physically, appeared in East Africa.

120,000 – 90,000 years ago

This warm, moist period of Earth’s history saw the first migration of humans from Africa, through the Saharan Gateway, and into the Levant, the region of the Middle East along the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. By the end of this period the Earth’s climate again shifted and the Saharan Gateway and Levant became desert. This group of humans did not survive and they left no modern descendants.

60,000 years ago – Northeast Africa

The common male ancestor of every modern man lived about this time in East Africa, possibly in modern Sudan, Kenya, or Ethiopia. “Adam” was not the only man living at the time and he was not the first anatomically modern human, but all men on the planet are his descendants. He was a member of Haplogroup A and had the SNP M91. Men from Haplogroup A can be found in scattered populations across Africa, but most frequently in Ethiopia and Sudan.

55,000 years ago – Northeast Africa

Haplogroup B (defined by SNP M60) split off from Haplogroup A. Like Haplogroup A, Haplogroup B is found scattered across Africa with highest frequencies in Ethiopia and Sudan. We are descendants of the first member of Haplogroup B.

55,000-50,000 years ago – Northeast Africa

Haplogroup C,F (defined by the SNP M168) was the common ancestor of all people who migrated outside of Africa until recent times. The defining mutation occurred in North East Africa and is still most common in Africa today in Ethiopia and Sudan. The descendants of this “Eurasian Adam” were the next to migrate out of Africa. He was the common male ancestor of nearly all people living today who trace their ancestry to non-African roots. A couple initial waves of migrations out of Africa occurred about 50,000 years ago taking people along the "Coastal Route" as far as East Asia and Australia. A dramatic warming of the climate during this period meant that groups were finally able to move north up the Fertile Crescent returning to the Levant after an absence of 40,000 years.

52,000-45,000 years ago – Mini Ice Age, Europe

From the Levant the first wave of people moved into Europe via the Bosporus about 50,000 years ago. Our ancestors were not among this initial wave of migrants into Europe. This Aurignacian, Upper Palaeolithic culture moved from Anatolia into Bulgaria, Europe. The new style of stone tools moved up the Danube into Hungary then Austria.

45,000 years ago – Middle East

One of Eurasian Adam’s descendants possessed a new marker known as M89 (Haplogroup F). This man was born in either Northern Africa or the Middle East. His descendants marked the second modern wave of peoples migrating out of Africa. This marker is found in 90-95% of all non-Africans. Beginning about 40,000 years ago the Earth’s climate shifted and became colder and more arid. Drought hit Africa reverting the grasslands of Northern Africa to desert. For the next 20,000 years the Saharan Gateway between Africa and the Middle East was effectively closed.

With the impassable desert behind them, his descendants remained in the Middle East or spread across Eurasia. Several lineages followed the great herds of buffalo, antelope, wooly mammoths, and other game from the Fertile Crescent region through what is now modern-day Iran to the vast Eurasian Steppes of Central Asia (see figure above). Another possible route follows the Indus River through modern-day Pakistan, to Afghanistan, and then across the Hindu Kush Mountains to the Eurasian Steppe.

These semi-arid grass-covered plains formed an ancient “superhighway” stretching from eastern France to Korea. Having migrated north out of Africa into the Middle East, these people then traveled both east and west along this Central Asian route. Others traveled westward into Europe. These Upper Paleolithic people, the Cro-Magnon, dominated the human expansion into Europe that eventually lead to the demise of the native Neanderthal people about 29,000 years ago. Better communication skills, weapons, and resourcefulness probably enabled these humans to out-compete Neanderthals for scarce resources.

Our direct ancestors remained in Southwest Asia during this time.

40,000 years ago – Iran or Central Asia

A man born at this time in Iran or Central Asia possessed a new SNP, M9 (Haplogroup K). His lineage, the Eurasian Clan, spread across much of the planet. A couple branches of this lineage spread into East Asia and the Indian subcontinent where nearly all people are descendants of this individual.

35,000 years ago – Central Asia

A man carrying a new SNP, M45 (Haplotype P), was born in the game-rich lands of the Central Asian steppes north of the Hindu Kush mountains. Siberia was in the grip of an Ice Age at the time so survival in this harsh environment was difficult. Two main lineages diverge from this clan. Our lineage, Haplogroup R (SNP M207) arose about 27,000 years ago and remained in Central Asia. Another lineage, Haplogroup Q (SNP M242), arose about 20-15,000 years ago and lead to the first wave of peoples to cross the Bering Straits into the Americas about 15,000 years ago.

22,000 – 18,000 years ago – Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum

The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) covered much of Europe in thick ice sheets. Much of Europe south of the ice sheets was permafrost and unsuitable for human occupation. Remnant populations of the former European inhabitants found refuges for survival in Iberia, Italy, and the Balkans. The Upper Paleolithic Solutrean and Gravettian Cultures existed in Europe at the time of the LGM. The harsh conditions of the LGM reduced their numbers greatly, but their descendants still survive to modern times. Our ancestors (Haplogroup R) were still in Southwest (Anatolia) or Central Asia during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Haplogroup R1 (SNP M173) is estimated to have arisen about 18,500 years ago during the height of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), most likely in southwestern Asia. The two most common descendant clades of Haplogroup R1 are R1a (SNP L62) and R1b (SNP M343). Haplogroup R1a is believed to have arisen on the Eurasian Steppe, and today is most frequently observed in eastern Europe and in western and central Asia. Our Haplogroup (R1b) is believed to have arisen in southwest Asia near the Black Sea (Anatolia or the Caucasus Mountains).

15,000 - 5,000 years ago - Europe

The Anatolian Hypothesis by Colin Renfrew states that the Pre-Proto-Indo-European Culture arose in Anatolia and spread through the Balkans and into Europe beginning about 8500 years ago. Members of Haplogroup R1b were a part of the next large wave of humans to reach Europe where today this haplogroup is the most frequently observed, especially in western Europe, largely in the form of Haplogroup R1b1a2 (SNP M269), which originated about 7000 years ago.

Three routes that our ancestors could have traveled from the Black Sea area into Central Europe have been proposed. A southern route from Anatolia along the Mediterranean Coast presents difficulty for the migrants to reach Central Europe due to the mountain ranges bordering the Coast, especially the Alps along northern Italy. A middle route from the Black Sea going up the Danube River is much more likely. A northern route through Ukraine and Poland, north of the Carpathian Mountains is also a likely route.

A series SNPs (L23, P310, P311), as of yet not placed as far as origin in time or location, have been identified and used to define further divisions in Haplogroup R1b1b2. Notably, the SNP P310 defines the Haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1. P310 originated during the European Bronze Age roughly 5000 years ago.

3500 - 1000 years ago - North-Central Europe

Haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1 has been divided roughly in half by the presence of 2 SNPs: U106 (aka S21) and P312, defining Haplogroups R1b1a2a1a1a (aka R1b-U106) and R1b1a2a1a1b (aka R1b-P312). I have tested positive for U106. R1b-U106 is often referred to as the "Germanic" group, while R1b-P312 is the "Celtic" group. The current distribution of U106 in Europe shows 2 places of higher frequencies: The Netherlands and Bulgaria.

From: David Weston posted on 06/09/2008 at
The age estimates [for the origination of U106] range from around 3000 yrs to 9000 yrs old, or ~1000 BCE-7000 BCE. I am personally in favour of the younger age estimates. The older estimates were based on short haplotypes of 6 to 12 markers and less knowledge of mutation rates than we have today. The younger estimates come from extended haplotypes of over 50 markers and more reliable mutation rate estimates.
Regardless, U106 was almost certainly in place and spreading within its native community by the start of the European Bronze Age, circa 1800 BCE. If U106 originated in the Germanic tribes of southern Scandinavia, it makes sense then intuitively that the distribution of U106 would follow the movement of these tribes south, south-east and south-west.
I learned recently that Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from about 1200-1800 A.D. The U106 we are seeing in Finland then could well be attributed to settlement by Swedes in Finland during this period. The Baltics and Russia were settled by the Varangians (Vikings, Norsemen, Swedes) from southern Scandinavia, the "Rus", in the 9th and 10th centuries. Thus the U106 we are seeing there again can be traced back to southern Scandinavia. The settlement of north western Europe by northern Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, Danes, etc.), who trace their roots to southern Scandinavia is well known.
I know of no migration out of central Europe or north western Europe into the regions where we are finding U106, particularly Scandinavia, in the numbers we are seeing that would account for its presence there. Thus I am quite inclined at this point to believe in a southern Scandinavia origin for U106.

I have tested negative for 3 of the 4 SNPs that can occur in men who are positive for U106: U198, P107, and L1, but I have tested positive for L48. Futher testing of SNPs known to be "downstream" of L48 have all been negative. The latest estimates for the origin of L48 place it at about 2000-3000 years ago.

Additional Y-chromosome analyses

Several members of the Geesey family have been tested for Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) at 37 locations on their Y-chromosome. These changes (mutations) in the Y-chromosome occur more frequently than SNPs. Within a few generations male descendants from a common ancestor would expect to have minor differences. Using established mutation rates (typically ~0.5% per generation per locus) we can make estimates for the number of generations separating two men who have been tested. I would encourage any men with the surname of Geesey/Giesey/Keesey etc. to get tested so that we can build up a body of results. For more information see the Gysi Project Home page at FamilyTree DNA, the testing company..


International Society of Genetic Genealogy Haplogroup Tree

Wikipedia Haplogroup R1b

Questions?    Comments!   Write to Mark Geesey: geesey.mmkc93(at)

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