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Janssen/Phelan Family History

Our Cro-Magnon Heritage
Covering the results of a DNA test by the National Geographic Society

The Test
I participated in the Genographic Project conducted by the National Geographic Society (https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/). For this project, NGS collects DNA samples from all over the world and compares them to each other, in order to find the similarities and differences between different human populations. I received a testing kit, swabbed my cheek, and sent my DNA sample to their lab. They tested my sample for certain genetic markers which identify points in human history where populations split off from one another. These populations are called haplogroups. Like most people of western European descent, I belong to haplogroup R1B (M343). The results, taken from the Y chromosome, only pertain to one line of ancestry—my father’s father’s father’s father’s father, etc. (Female DNA samples undergo a different test for the mother’s mother’s mother, etc.). That said, anyone who takes one look at me can see that I’m descended from all the whitest countries in Western Europe, and my research agrees, so I doubt there’s much genetic difference between my various lines of ancestry.

In the Beginning . . .
It all started about 60,000 years ago, with an individual known as “Adam”. Unlike the story in the bible, this Adam is not the first human being on Earth. He and/or his descendants, however, were the first human beings to migrate out of Africa and survive. Therefore he is the common ancestor of all non-African people. He probably lived in the region of present-day Ethiopia or Sudan.

About 45,000 years ago, my ancestors migrated northward across the Arabian peninsula and eastward through Iran. At this time they were most likely grassland hunters, killing mammoths, buffalo, and other large game for food. They continued to move east, chasing prey, until they came to the Himalayas, which certainly would be enough to make anyone stop and reconsider their route. Here the human population split up into several groups, some heading east to Asia, some south to India, or, in the case of my ancestors, heading north to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and southern Siberia.

At this point, around 35,000 years ago, the planet was going through an ice age. While the cold weather didn’t have much effect on them when they were chasing dinner across the southern plains, the migrating hunters required some new skills in order to adapt to the cold in the north. They learned to sew and began to wear animal skins. My branch of ancestors took a left turn at this point, and headed towards Europe. They were not the first people to settle that continent; the land was already inhabited by Neanderthals. The newcomers were smarter and better hunters than the Neanderthals, and outcompeted them for food. By about 28,000 years ago all the Neanderthals had died out. Recent scientific research has uncovered solid genetic evidence that there was some interbreeding between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals, so we all carry a little bit of them in our DNA.

Myself and other members of haplogroup R1B (M343) are the direct descendants of those Cro-Magnon hunters who moved into Europe 35,000 years ago. Evidence of their existence remains in the tools they carved out of stone and bone, and the cave paintings that survive from the Paleolithic era. Eventually, at some point in the next 35,000 years, my father’s father’s father’s father ended up in the Netherlands, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Karl Janssen • www.karljanssen.com • kjanssen@ku.edu
Last updated 3 Oct 2012