Who are you?

I recommend a fascinating article published in The New Yorker August 15 & 22 pp. 64-75 by Elizabeth Kolbert entitled “Sleeping with the Enemy.”  She describes in great detail the work of Svante Paabo who heads the department of evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.  He has been working for years trying to untangle the genetic details of 50 thousand year old bones by extracting DNA from them.  He is attempting to discover what happened genetically speaking which allowed our genes to prevail and those of the Neanderthal’s to die out.  You can read the details for yourself but what I found interesting in light of my genealogic research is that he believes that our team intermarried with the Neanderthals and we, thus, carry some of their DNA around with us.

A year or two ago my brother and I submitted our buccal cells to a DNA lab for analysis under the aegis of ancestry.com.   After six weeks or so the reports came back.  Since that time more sophisticated DNA testing has come on-line but the reports we received were interesting.  Our paternal line goes back to “The Artisans–R1b” an ancient haplogroup which came to Europe from west Asia about 35,000 – 40-000 years ago at the dawning of the Aurignacian culture.  A culture known for its subtle technological progress and its decorative beads and jewelry.  Some anthropologists believe that the Aurignacian culture was responsible for the cave paintings in France, Spain and Portugal.

My DNA produced information about our maternal line  The results placed the women in my tree in “The European Travelers”–haplogroup J.  These folks emerged around 50,000 years ago in the Near East around the time the first modern humans left Africa.  About 10% of today’s European population belongs to this group even though they did not arrive until the end of the last major ice age, about 10,000 years ago.  The “European Travelers” ushered in the rise of advanced farming and herding techniques.

Aside from all this providing scintillating dinner table conversation, why did we do it?  Our father fervently believed that he was part Cherokee.  We grew up believing that we were Cherokee–or part Cherokee–even though there was not a scrap of evidence to validate Dad‘s unwavering belief.   We have never met a soul who was a relative of Dad’s except for one moment 58 years ago when we were passing through Vinita, Oklahoma from Kansas City on our way to visit family in California.   My brother and I remember Dad introducing us to a middle-aged woman he called “Aunt May.”  We remember her as someone who fit our idea of an “Indian”–dark hair, dark complexion, dark eyes.  Aunt May said little; we drove away never to hear another word about this remarkable occurence.  How I wish I could have a “do over” and ask her “Who are you?”  I would really like to know.

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