Does DNA evidence refute the Book of Mormon?
Appendix 3: Further Scientific Issues

This page serves as Appendix 3 to my main Mormon Answers page on DNA Evidence and the Book of Mormon. Appendix 1, "What the Book of Mormon Actually Says," deals with understanding the text in order to consider scientific implications. Appendix 2, "Understanding the Scientific Evidence," discusses details of DNA studies and their implications for the Book of Mormon. This page deals with "Further Scientific Issues" related to Native American origis. This work is my responsibility and does not necessarily reflect official views of the Church. Copyright © 2002-2012 by Jeff Lindsay.

Table of Contents

Mormanity Blog

Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. DNA issues have been discussed frequently there.

Also consider my "Book of Mormon Evidences" page.

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The Success of DNA Analysis in Tracking Jewish Ancestry:
More Questions for the Book of Mormon
To the index at the top

In spite of the points made above, the value of DNA analysis cannot be dismissed. In fact, we must recognize that DNA analysis has successfully linked people of Jewish descent, even when mixing with local populations is likely. This raises questions about the apparent absence of genetic markers for Hebraic descent that we might expect or hope to find occasionally among the DNA of modern Native Americans.

Torroni et al. (1993a) used RFLP analysis of Y-chromosomes to compare two Jewish groups, the Sephardim and Ashkenazim, with each other as well as Czechoslovaks and Lebanese. They found both groups of Jews to be similar to each other and quite different from the Czechoslovaks. But both Jewish groups were also closely related to Lebanese. Related conclusions came from Hammer et al. (2000), who found that a common pool of Y-chromosome haplotypes exist in Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations, and that Jewish communities show relatively little evidence of paternal admixture. Their abstract follows:

Haplotypes constructed from Y-chromosome markers were used to trace the paternal origins of the Jewish Diaspora. A set of 18 biallelic polymorphisms was genotyped in 1,371 males from 29 populations, including 7 Jewish (Ashkenazi, Roman, North African, Kurdish, Near Eastern, Yemenite, and Ethiopian) and 16 non-Jewish groups from similar geographic locations. The Jewish populations were characterized by a diverse set of 13 haplotypes that were also present in non-Jewish populations from Africa, Asia, and Europe. A series of analyses was performed to address whether modern Jewish Y-chromosome diversity derives mainly from a common Middle Eastern source population or from admixture with neighboring non-Jewish populations during and after the Diaspora. Despite their long-term residence in different countries and isolation from one another, most Jewish populations were not significantly different from one another at the genetic level. Admixture estimates suggested low levels of European Y-chromosome gene flow into Ashkenazi and Roman Jewish communities. A multidimensional scaling plot placed six of the seven Jewish populations in a relatively tight cluster that was interspersed with Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations, including Palestinians and Syrians. Pairwise differentiation tests further indicated that these Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations were not statistically different. The results support the hypothesis that the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population, and suggest that most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora.

Dr. Michael Whiting on the DNA Controversy

Dr. Michael F. Whiting, a prominent geneticist whose work has received widespread attention (it was featured as the cover story in cover article in Nature in mid-January 2003), recently gave a lecture at BYU entitled, "Does DNA Evidence Refute the Authenticity of the Book of Mormon?: Responding to the Critics (Youtube link)." He offers a good example of sound scientific thinking on a complex topic. Also see his "DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective" in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Nov. 2003.)

Thus, DNA analysis shows various groups of Jews having a common set of haplogroups for their Y-chromosomes--an indication of the power of DNA analysis. Interestingly, the pool of Jewish Y-chromosome haplogroups are not significantly different from non-Jewish Y-chromosomes. For the Book of Mormon, that might suggest that we should be looking for generic Middle Eastern/Mediterranean DNA as opposed to distinctively "Jewish DNA" (and remember that Lehi's DNA was not necessarily related to that of modern Jews or to that of members of the tribe of Judah in his day).

However, some Y-chromosomes in Jewish DNA, especially those associated with Jewish priests, do stand out and have proven useful in better understanding an enigmatic people in southern Africa, the Lemba tribe, who claim to be Jews. Their oral history claims that they are descended from Jewish men who fled to Africa in the 7th century B.C. Though they are black, they have practices that resemble some aspects of ancient Judaism. Y-chromosome analysis has proven to be a useful tool in validating the oral history of a black group called the Lemba, showing that a portion of the Lemba men do carry Y-chromosome markers found in Jews (Spurdle and Jenkins, 1996). Interestingly, (Spurdle and Jenkins (1996) found that a portion of the Lemba Y-chromosomes belonging to a haplotype called Ht18 possessed an allele that is not typical of Negroid groups but that has been found in Italians and Amerindians. Could this suggest another possibly Hebraic element for further study in Amerindians? (I'm just speculating.)

Thomas et al. (2000) found that a group of 12 polymorphisms forming the "Cohen modal haplotype" characteristic of Jewish priests (occurring about 50% of the time in priests, apparently, but only 12% of the time in lay Jews) was also found in some Lemba men. This haplotype was found in 8.8% of the Lemba men studied, strong indication of a Jewish ancestry. It must be noted that Thomas et al. report that significant differences in y-Chromosomes exist between the three main groups of Jewish males, the Cohanim (paternally inherited priesthood), the Leviim (non-Cohen members apparently of the priestly tribe of Levi), and Israelites (all non-Cohen and non-Levite Jews).

If traces of Jewish DNA could be found in the Lemba, why not in Native Americans, if the Book of Mormon is true?

As discussed here and in Appendix 3, several typical Jewish or Middle Eastern haplogroups are found in Native Americans, including two Y-chromosome haplogroups and the mtDNA haplogroup X, though it may not be actually related to Book of Mormon peoples (e.g., too old a line, or other problems). Further evidence may be there, but can readily be overlooked, or may be obscured by the extensive intermingling of peoples that may have occurred in the New World. Still, we don't really know what genetic markers Lehi and his group had, so it's hard to know what to look for. Perhaps further analysis of Ht18, or the haplogroups X and H in the Americas will provide more answers.

One point to remember is that the long-term survival of founding haplotypes in small groups surrounded by other haplotypes requires specific types of marital behavior. If members of a population tend to marry within the group, mtDNA and Y-chromosomes from the group may be preserved. If the men regularly marry outsiders, mtDNA may be lost. If women in the group marry men from outside groups, Y-chromosomes can be lost. The apparent persistence of Jewish DNA markers in some Jewish groups is a reflection of historical marriage patterns, but these patterns do not necessarily hold for all ancient peoples with Hebrew roots. The Lemba lost their original Jewish mtDNA, but some Jewish Y-chromosomes survived. There may have been many isolated groups that lost both mtDNA and Y-Chromosome markers. The alleged lack of "Jewish DNA" in the Americas cannot rule out the possibility that Hebrew peoples came to one part of the Americas anciently.

There are other cases where DNA evidence appears to contradict possible information about different racial features among Native Americans. Certainly the wide variety of racial features preserved in ancient figurines from Native Americans and in the reports of early Spaniards suggest the presence of non-Asian genes in the ancient Americas. Another interesting though still speculative case involves the Inuit Indians (Eskimos). The news story, "DNA tests debunk blond Inuit legend," reports DNA results that provided no support for the idea of blond Nordic stock among the Inuits (URL: Further background is provided in the story, "DNA Study To Settle Ancient Mystery About Mingling Of Inuit, Vikings." While it seems possible that Viking genes may have mingled with the Inuits, and it may be that early explorers who reported seeing some fair-skinned Inuits among the others were not lying, it is not necessarily surprising that typical DNA studies will find no trace of such genes today.

What is "Jewish DNA" anyway? Is It Really Absent in Native Americans? To the index at the top

Let's get back to the big question: is there Jewish or Hebrew DNA among Native Americans? First, what is Hebrew or Jewish DNA? Dr. Robert Pollack, a professor of biological sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Columbia University, makes the following important observation in his online article, "The Fallacy of Biological Judaism" (Pollack, 2003):

Unlike asking "Are Jews a family?", as historians have traditionally done, geneticists seeking to advise Ashkenazic families are also, in passing, asking, "Do Jews all share the same versions of one or more genes?" -- a question with a testable, precise answer. As no two people except pairs of identical twins have exactly the same version of the human genomic text, this claim could be confirmed or rejected by a search for versions of the human genome shared by all Jews and no other people.

Given the historical context of the Nazi "experiment," it is all the more remarkable that Jews all over the world have been flocking to the new technology of DNA-based diagnosis, eager to lend their individual genomes -- each a surviving data point from the terrible experiment in negative selection -- to a revisiting of this issue of biological Judaism.

At a recent meeting of the Association of Orthodox Jewish scientists and the Columbia Center for the Study of Science and Religion, it became clear that Jewish curiosity has provided sufficient genetic material to give a perfectly clear negative answer: There is no support in the genomes of today's Jews for the calumnious and calamitous model of biological Judaism. Though there are many deleterious versions of genes shared within the Ashkenazic community, there are no DNA sequences common to all Jews and absent from all non-Jews. There is nothing in the human genome that makes or diagnoses a person as a Jew.

If there is no genetic marker that can identify a person as a Jew, I would ask Thomas Murphy and other critics of the Book of Mormon exactly what DNA evidence we should be looking for to test the hypothesis that a tiny handful of Hebrew people entered the Americas in 600 B.C.?

Murphy has said much about the Cohanim marker among the Jews. Yes, there is a Y-chromosome haplotype that is often found among the Cohanim line of the Jews. Dr. David Stewart (2003) quotes Dr. Ken Jacobs, an author of studies on Jewish genetics, as saying that:

The only Jewish subgroup that does show some homogeneity -- descendants of the Cohanim, or priestly class -- makes up only about 2 percent of the Jewish population. Even within the Cohanim, and certainly within the rest of the Jewish people, there's a vast amount of genetic variation that simply contradicts MacDonald's most basic assertion that Jewish genetic sameness is a sign that Judaism is an evolutionary group strategy.

The fact that there is some genetic homegeneity among one minute group of modern Jews derived from the tribe of Levi does not tell us what DNA markers we should expect if the Book of Mormon record is true. The Cohen Modal Haplotype is not expected to be among Lehi's group, and other Jewish groups don't show such persistent markers that allow Jews to be readily determined genetically. Remember the message of Dr. Robert Pollack (2003) quoted above: it is a fallacy to think of Jews as a biological group with distinct DNA.

Several studies have shown that the Jews do have several common genetic features, many of which are shared with other groups in the Middle East and Europe. Such studies include those of Bonne-Tamir et al. (1986), Spurdle and Jenkins (1996), Thomas (2000), Hammer et al. (1997), Skorecki et al. (1997), and Hammer et al. (2000). See also Elias (2000). These studies indicate that there is considerable variability among modern Jews and even among the narrower group of Jewish priests, where the priesthood is passed from father to son, along with Y chromosomes, though some genetic features are much more common among priests than among lay Jews (e.g., see Skorecki et al., 1997).

In the work of Hammer et al. (2000), their Table 1 lists Y-chromosome haplogroups (they use the term "haplotype") found in multiple Jewish populations and other Middle Easterners, as well as some Europeans and Africans. The haplogroups listed are 4S, 1R, Med, 1Ha, 1U, 1C, 1D, IL, and "Other." The Med haplogroup and haplogroup 4 are most common in Jewish populations. However, 1C was significant as well. In Hammer et al.'s sample of Near Eastern Jews, 1C was found in 31% of the subjects, compared to 28% for Med and 13% for 4S. 1C was rare in samples of Europeans and Africans.

Haplogroup 1C also exists in Asians--and in Native Americans, according to Karafet et al. (1999). Karafet's Table 1 shows that haplogroups 4 and 1C are found among Native Americans (1U was found only in an Eskimo), with 1C being so common that it is proposed as a major New World founder haplogroup. For example, it was the dominant haplogroup (found in at least half of the subjects) in Pima, Pueblos, and Cheyenne, and in 20% of the Zapotecs (3 of 15 reported). It is also found in almost half of Eskimos. It could certainly derive from Asia, where it is dominant among the Selkups and Kets of Siberia, and common in Siberian Eskimos. While an Asian origin is likely for at least some of the 1C and 1U haplotypes in the Americas, it does not rule out the possibility of "Jewish" DNA in the New World.

In fact, it's fair to ask what all the complaints of LDS critics are about. mtDNA studies show that haplogroup X is found in the Middle East and in some Native Americans, and based on empirically measured mutation rates, the timing of the entry of haplogroup X may be consistent with a the timing of Lehi's journey to the New World. Further, Y-chromosome studies show that two of the most common characteristic haplogroups for Jewish communities, 1C and 4, are also found in Native Americans, and the 1C is considered a founder haplogroup. The Eskimos probably got it from Asia, but couldn't the source in Zapotecs or other groups be from an ancient Jewish entry into the New World?

The fact is, "Jewish" DNA includes haplogroups found in the New World, and there are legitimate questions to be asked about the assumptions behind dating of DNA entry. Not only is it impossible to exclude the Book of Mormon based on the DNA evidence, evidence consistent with the Book of Mormon may be staring us in the face.

As we consider this evidence, it is critical that we avoid over-simplifying. There is no single "Jewish DNA" marker that all Jews share--there is a distribution of genes. Same for Native Americans. We don't expect ALL Jews and ALL Native Americans to have the same DNA--even if the primary settlers of the New World had been Jews. Rather, we would expect overlapping distributions of haplogroups--and that's what we see with haplogroups 1C and 4.

Not only do the Jews show a mix of haplogroups, but the mix in the New World--and the other anthropological evidence--suggest that the New World was an ancient melting pot that cannot be explained by just one or two migrations from Siberia.

Update: The complexity of "Jewish" DNA is further underscored by the recent work of Behar et al. (2003), who found an unexpected presence of possibly Central Asian DNA in some Levites. I briefly discuss their findings in my article, "Why Should We Expect to Find Jewish DNA in Native Americans?"

An Ancient Melting Pot To the index at the top

While some geneticists have argued that the DNA evidence points to only one or two migrations from Siberia, other evidence suggests that the New World has long been a genetic melting pot, filled with groups deriving from multiple sources. Multiple migrations may have occurred, including migrations by boat. This is indicated, for example, in Blake Edwards' article, "Who Was First? Untangling America's Ancient Roots," published in Discovery News, Oct. 21, 1999. Here is a quote:

"I just think it's going to be much more complex than we've thought in the past," says Smithsonian Institution archaeologist Dennis Stanford. He believes that early Americans arrived at different times, from different places, and by different means--on foot, in boats, maybe even by dogsled.

The views of Dr. Stanford from the Smithsonian Institution are further elaborated in the Academy Press Daily InScight on July 30, 2001, by Josh Gewolb, entitled "Skulls Suggest Two New World Migrations." This article refers to Stanford's controversial theory "that at least some immigrants may have come from Ice Age Europe." An article of Hubbe et al. is also discussed that concludes that there were two waves of Native Americans over the land bridge. Gewolb writes:

"The environment in Europe was so harsh that land mammals were very rare," Stanford said, "so they went to the beach." If these ancient people had boats, it was natural that they should go to sea to look for food, and edging further north and west, they would eventually reach the fish-rich Grand Banks. "From there they move right down the east coast" of North America, he said.

Stanford bases his theory on the presence of Clovis-like artifacts on the Iberian Peninsula around 20,000 years ago, and that there are more Clovis points in the eastern United States than in the West.

Also, he notes that genetic evidence links eastern Native American populations with ancient Europeans, but not with Asians.

He suggests the migrants moved on Ice Age land bridges from Iberia to Wales and eventually to Ireland, then set sail to hunt the seals and fish on the rim of the polar ice pack. They edged further and further west, and when they reached North America "they probably didn't even know they were there."

Clovis refers to the prehistoric Native American culture with a characteristic style of arrowheads found near Clovis, New Mexico. There artifacts appear in the archaeological record around 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Similar artifacts have been found across the US, Mexico and Central America. The Clovis people were long thought to be the first human inhabitants of the New World and the primary ancestors of all the ancient peoples of North and South America. But recently, a variety of finds predating the Clovis Culture have shown that there were others even earlier (Waters and Stafford, 2007).

Recent examination of ancient skulls also suggests more Old World contact than implied by DNA evidence alone. Karen Write's article, "First Americans" from the Feb. 1999 issue of Discover summarizes some of this research by Richard Jantz of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Doug Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.:

Owsley and Jantz have spent 20 years compiling a database of craniometric profiles of modern Native American tribes in the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Southwest regions of the United States. By comparing the dimensions of a given skull--some 90 measurements per skull--with these profiles, they can often tell which people the departed most resembles, whom, in effect, he is ancestor to.

But when Owsley and Jantz examined some of the oldest North American remains, the skulls didn't provide the kinship clues they expected. Measurements from Spirit Cave Man and two Minnesota skulls--one 7,900 and the other 8,700 years old--were off the charts. "We were impressed with how different the older skulls are from any of the modern-day groups," says Owsley. "They do not have the broad faces, they do not have the big, prominent cheekbones that you think of as the more traditional features of the Chinese and American Indians." Instead they looked more like the inhabitants of, say, Indonesia, or even Europe.

Owsley and Jantz weren't the first to notice this discrepancy. In the early 1990s anthropologists Gentry Steele of Texas A&M University and Joseph Powell of the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque had collected craniometric data from four North American skulls between 8,000 and 9,700 years old. They found the same puzzling differences between those subjects and modern Native Americans, the same puzzling affinities with southern Asians rather than northern Asians. A survey of prehistoric South Americans by anthropologist Walter Neves of the University of Sao Paolo yielded similar findings. Then Kennewick Man appeared in an eroded bank of the Columbia River. Based on his facial features, he was identified as a nineteenth-century European trapper until a CT scan revealed an ancient spearpoint embedded in his hip.

"I began to feel that what we were seeing was definitely not just sampling error," says Steele. And last year Neves reported that the oldest American, an 11,500-year-old skeleton from central Brazil, also shares the appearance of southern Asians and Australians.

But the fact is, most prehistoric Americans don't really look like anyone alive today, and they don't all look like each other, either. According to Owsley, Spirit Cave Man's closest match might be found among the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan. But Kennewick Man has been likened to the ultra-Caucasoid British actor Patrick Stewart. And there are a couple of prehistoric Americans whose features actually do resemble those of modern Native Americans. One is Buhl Woman, a 10,700-year-old Idaho skeleton that was reburied in 1992. Another is 9,200-year-old Wizards Beach Man, whose remains were found in Nevada less than 100 miles to the northwest of Spirit Cave Man's rock-shelter. It seems that thousands of years before the arrival of Columbus, America was already something of a melting pot. (emphasis mine)

The analysis of pre-Columbian skulls from the Americas has now been published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Jantz and Owsley, 2001). They performed detailed measurements on eleven archaic skulls from around the Americas, all believed to date from 2500 B.C. or earlier. Only one of the fossils showed "any particular affinity to recent Native Americans; their greatest similarities are with Europe, Polynesia, or East Asia. Several crania would be atypical in any recent population for which we have data. . . . They provide evidence for the presence of an early population that bears no similarity to the morphometric pattern of recent Indians or even to crania of comparable date in other regions of the continent." They also state that:

Recent analyses of North American (Steele and Powell, 1992, 1994; Powell and Rose, 1999) and South American crania (Neeves and Pucciarelli, 1991; Neves et al., 1996) consistently show that early American crania are differentiated from recent Native Americans, although these studies have not indicated the distinct nature of the Minnesota crania. Like Steele and Powell (1992), we could argue that there is a southern Pacific or European similarity to some of these crania. . . .

High variability among early American fossil crania may not by itself provide evidence of multiple migrations, but it is consistent with an emerging consensus that differentiated populations were involved in the early peopling of the North America. MtDNA evidence, often seen as supporting a single migration (e.g., Merriwether et al., 1995; Stone and Stoneking, 1998), may also be interpreted as supporting multiple migrations (Schurr et al., 1999); Schurr and Wallace, 1999). MtDNA haplogroup X, now recognized as one of the founding New World haplotypes, suggests ancient connections with Europe (Brown et al., 1998; Schurr and Wallace, 1999; Smith et al., 1999), as does lithic point technology (Stanford and Bradley, 2000).

The studies of ancient crania pointing to high genetic diversity and non-Asian features in ancient Native Americans corresponds with the diversity of ancient ceramic figurines of humans in Mesoamerica, showing that many non-Asian racial types were present before the Conquest. John L. Sorenson (1998, p. 18) states:

These ceramic figurines [shown on pages 18-22 of Sorenson, 1998] are mainly in private artifact collections in Mexico. The late Alexander von Wuthenau and other investigators have been struck with the variety of human types revealed by these objects and have drawn attention to this variety by photographic documentation [see especially Alexander von Wuthenau (1975) and Calderón (1977)]. They maintain that this is all the evidence needed to demonstrate that a wide variety of ethnic or racial types were present in Mexico and Central America.

This passage has a footnote given on page 228 of Sorenson:

Certain noted academic physical anthropologists concur. See, for instance, Eusebio Dávalos Hurtado, "El hombre en Mesoamerica hasta la llegada de los Españoles," Memorias y Revista de la Academica Nacional de Ciencias 49 (1964): 411, where that distinguished expert says that the "falsehood" of the claim of a single northeast Asian ancestry for American Indians has been exposed by the figurines shown in von Wuthenau's Unexpected Faces in Ancient America. Moreover, William W. Howells, a noted U.S. physical anthropologist, in "The Origins of American Indian Race Types," in The Maya and Their Neighbors, ed. Clarence L. Hay et al. (New York: Dover Publications, 1977), 3-9, stated that there is probably greater variety among Amerindians "than there may be found in the White racial stock" (p. 5). An extensive literature on both sides of the question is summarized in John L. Sorenson and Martin Raish, Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1996).

Sorenson points to figurines with Semitic and Mediterranean features on page 20, for example. The evidence for pre-Columbian contact with Africans in ancient figurines is also hard to ignore, yet again is utterly inconsistent with the Siberia-only paradigm for Native American origins.

The findings of von Wuthenau have fascinated some non-Mormons who see possible evidence for ancient Hebrews in the Americas. One example is Hope of Israel Ministries, whose page, "The Saga of Ancient Hebrew Explorers: Who Really Discovered America?" argues that ancient Hebrews were in the Americas, possibly from Solomon's navies. The author actually interviewed von Wuthenau and made these comments:

Were Hebrews in the Americas long before Columbus? More evidence comes from the investigations of Dr. Alexander von Wuthenau, whom I interviewed at his home in Mexico City. His living room was filled to overflowing with terra cotta pottery figures and objects d' art. In his book The Art of Terra Cotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian Central and South America, Dr. Von Wuthenau published scores of photographs of these art objects. He tells of his astonishment, when he first noted that in the earliest, lower levels of each excavation he encountered -- not typical Indian heads -- but heads of Mongolians, Chinese, Japanese, Tartars, Negroes, and "all kinds of white people, especially Semitic Types with and without beards" (p. 49).

At Acapulco, von Wuthenau found that early Semitic peoples lived in considerable numbers. "The curious points about these essentially primitive figures are that, first, there is an emphasis on markedly Semitic-Hebrew features," he declared (p. 86). Female figures found in the region are also markedly Caucasian, with delicate eyebrows, small mouths and opulent coiffures.

Cyrus Gordon, who has studied the collection, points out: "In the private collection of Alexander von Wuthenau is a Mayan head, larger than life-size, portraying a pensive, bearded Semite. The dolichosephalic ("long-headed") type fits the Near East well. He resembles certain European Jews, but he is more like many Yemenite Jews."

The cranial evidence for other racial types among the ancient Americans suggests that not all ancient genes have been thoroughly preserved among modern Native Americans, and that DNA testing may not be telling the full story of ancient genetic diversity. And the presence of many Semitic features in depictions of ancient peoples may provide evidence that Old World peoples, including Semites, were represented in the ancient Americas. The view that all ancient Native Americans came from Siberia simply does not agree with all the data and cannot be used to rule out other ancient migrations of European or Semitic peoples to the Americas.

Neel et al. (1994) found that many Amerindians are endemically infected with the human T-cell lymphotrophic virus type II (HTLV-II), which is also present in Mongolian but not Siberian natives. Neel et al. proposed that the first migrants to the New World were not from north or central Siberia but from Mongolia, Manchuria, or the extreme southeastern border of Siberia. Other Siberians would have come later.

Japanese Roots?

Though most genetic studies point toward Siberia as at least a dominant source of the Native Americans, new evidence also requires that Japanese genes be considered as well in the New World melting pot.

Below is an article from Reuters, Aug. 1, 2001 (see the online story at Discovery News):

Aug. 1--People closely resembling the prehistoric Jomon of Japan crossed a land bridge from Asia into the Americas as the last Ice Age waned 15,000 years ago to become the first human inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, according to a study published on Tuesday.

An international team of researchers led by C. Loring Brace of the University of Michigan's Museum of Anthropology said those people gave rise to the native inhabitants south of what is now the border between Canada and the United States.

The findings, published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represent the latest theory advanced by anthropologists as they seek to understand human origins in the New World. Other researchers argue that people arrived much earlier--perhaps more than 10,000 years earlier.

Analyzing 21 craniofacial measurements of prehistoric and recent samples of human skulls, the researchers said the earliest immigrants into the Americas showed no close association with any known mainland Asian population.

Instead, they showed close ties to the modern-day Ainu of Hokkaido and their Jomon predecessors in prehistoric Japan, and to the Polynesians of Oceania, according to the study.

Their route of entry in the New World was the Arctic land bridge connecting northern Asia to North America. The New World that they entered was a vastly different place from what it is now, with many large mammal species roaming around--including elephant cousins such as mammoths and mastodons--and saber-toothed cats on the prowl.

Those animals are now extinct, with other researchers blaming overkill by those early human hunters.

In contrast, Eskimos, Aleuts, and Na-Dene-speaking people who appeared in the American Southwest as recently as 1,000 years ago possess more craniofacial traits characteristic of Mongolian, Chinese and Southeast Asian populations, the researchers said.

For the analysis, Brace and colleagues compared a battery of measurements made on each skull to generate a "dendrogram," a tree-like figure in which the distance between the twigs reflects the closeness or distance between any given group of people and the others.

The researchers came from the University of Michigan, University of Wyoming, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, the Chengdu College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Sichuan province, and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences in Ulaanbaatar.

The possibility of a link between the Japanese and the Zuni tribe of Native Americans merits further attention as well. Significant evidence exists for ancient transoceanic contact with Japan. Their blood type and other genetic features make them surprisingly different from other Native Americans but similar to some Japanese, and a host of cultural traits show Japanese influence. A book on this topic is The Zuni Enigma by Nancy Yaw Davis (2000), who has a Ph.D. in anthropology. Also see a short article in Science Frontiers Online, No. 87: May-Jun 1993, as well as "Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts: The Present State of the Evidence" (Jett, 2002).

The DNA evidence has often been interpreted to mean from one to four ancient migrations occurred, but there are still genetic hints of more diversity that could be due to additional influxes or, as is more commonly assumed, a large amount of variation in the initial founding populations (Balliet et al., 1994; Santos et al., 1996). For example, according to Monsalve et al. (1994):

We found additional (mtDNA) diversity in South American aboriginals in three ways. First, an Asian-specific marker not previously reported in South American aboriginals was identified by a sequencing analysis in both the contemporary Andean and Amazonian aboriginal peoples. Second, two new haplotypes so far unique to South American aboriginals were found. Additionally, we show that South American aboriginals fall into discrete populations. These results suggest that the prehistoric colonization of South America is the outcome of multiple migrations; the data do not support a bottlenecking effect at the Isthmus of Panama.

While the Altaians may have the five most common haplogroups in the Americas, other Asian groups have been noted to be genetically close to some haplotypes found within those haplogroups. Torroni et al. (1992), for example, points out that one haplotype within mtDNA haplogroup A is common to some of the Maya, the Nadene, and the Taiwanese Han. Another haplotype in 7.4% of the Maya and 8.8% of the Nadene is one mutation away from haplotypes found in 7.7% of Koreans, 7.1% of Han Chinese and 5.0% of Taiwanese Han. One haplotype in haplogroup C is not found in the Nadene but was present in Amerindians (e.g., 14.8% of the Maya) and is also found among Japanese and Orientals.

2004 Update: Australian Origins, Too!
Here is a breaking news story about DNA and the Book of Mormon that I posted on my Mormanity blog (now Arise From the Dust) on Sept. 11, 2004:

In the heated controversy about DNA and the Book of Mormon, critics have insisted that science has "proven" that the origins of ancient Americans were exclusively from northern Asia via the Bering Strait. Part of the typical LDS response has been to point out that a scientific understanding of the origin of ancient Americans is still in its infancy and far from complete. We have also pointed out that genes from ancient immigrant groups can vanish from the collective gene pool or be overlooked, and that some ancient groups may have come from other places even if the majority of ancient Americans came from Asia. The accuracy of such statements has just been underscored by news about an important discovery: a portion of ancient Americans may have come from Australia, southern Asia, and the Pacific rather than from northern Asia. This is reported in a BBC news story, "Tribe Challenges American Origins" by Paul Rincon on Sept. 7, 2004 (also see First Americans May Have Been Aussies from Reuters and Study: Native Americans Weren't the First archived from, 2004). This does not directly relate to Book of Mormon issues, but does underscore the inconclusive state of studies on ancient origins of the Americans, and shows how inaccurate our critics have been in their interpretation of science.

The article discusses evidence for the theory that some of the first inhabitants of this continent came "from Australia via Japan and Polynesia and down the Pacific coast of America." (Say, doesn't that imply boats were used?) A portion of these ancient Americans survived as the Pericues tribe of Baja California, but they died out in the 17th century.

If the claims about Australian origins for the earliest Americans are correct, it would seem that a significant source of genes in the ancient Americas has been missed by DNA analysis. Studies of mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes among Native Americans and in remains of ancient Americans have highlighted Australia as a source of origin for ancient inhabitants. How could the Australian connection have been missed in previous studies? It could easily happen. The genes of a minority group may be spread all over a continent without any of the mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome surviving. These two types of DNA are passed along purely maternal or paternal lines, and can easily be lost due to intermixing, even though other genes from the minority group persist. If you go back 10 generations in your own ancestry, your genealogy tree will have 1024 slots for all the ancestors who contributed to your genetic makeup, but your mitochondrial DNA came from only one woman out of that group, and your Y chromosome (if you are male) came from one man. Testing your mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome only tells you something about 2 people out of 1024. The others have essentially "vanished" from the test results.

Stayed tuned: there is so much that we have yet to learn about the origins of ancient Americans. One thing is for sure: the fact that many modern Native Americans may have genes pointing to north Asian origins says nothing about the possibility of a man named Lehi bringing a small group of people to this continent around 600 B.C. Book of Mormon critics are making far too much out of the molehill they are dancing on.

HLA Genes: Possible Evidence for Transoceanic Migrations to the Americas To the index at the top

James L. Guthrie (2000/2001) examined extensive data for human lymphocyte antigens (HLAs) compiled by Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994) and others. Guthrie found evidence pointing to possible pre-Columbian migrations of peoples from Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere to the New World. Though "foreign" HLA genes represent a minority in the Americas, they may still provide important evidence for ancient contact between the hemispheres, in addition to the gene flow that occurred over the Bering Strait.

HLA genes are related to the human immune system and code for histocompatibility antigens on the surfaces of most cells. HLA type is used to match individuals for organ donation (e.g., bone marrow transplants). Unlike mtDNA and Y chromosomes, HLA genes are not passed on only along purely maternal or paternal lines, possibly making it easier for minority genes to persist. There are many varieties of HLAs, and most people have a number of different types in their body and a given population group may have a large set of HLA types represented (many groups have all 29 types of HLA identified by Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994)). In contrast to most Old World groups, Native American groups show low levels of diversity in HLA types. This may be due to low population density, allowing some gene types from the original group to die out completely.

Of the HLA types found in Native Americans, 94% of the American type-A HLAs belong to four dominant varieties and 93% of the type-B HLAs belong to six dominant varieties. These ten varieties are termed "American" alleles by Guthrie. These ten alleles may represent early founding groups and may be consistent with Asian origins. However, the 18 "non-Indian" alleles--representing 6% of Native American type-A HLA and 7% of the type-B HLA--may point to other genetic sources. They were not discussed in any detail by Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994), who were primarily interested in main effects. While Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994) sought to exclude groups with significant Old World admixture, admixture remains a possible explanation for the "non-Indian" alleles. However, Guthrie argues that admixture cannot account for the observed genetic patterns in the "non-Indian" HLA genes:

Some anomalies may be explainable as recent admixtures, but I think that most are not. The apparently foreign HLA alleles are usually less characteristic of Spain, Portugal, or West Africa than of places alleged to have had earlier contact, such as Pacific Oceania, North Africa, or Southwest Asia, and in many instances "marker" genes of modern European and West African populations are absent. (p. 96)

While the HLA data discussed by Guthrie do not contradict the possibility that Native American genes overwhelmingly came from Asia, there are small amounts of genes that appear to provide evidence for the pre-Columbian entry of other groups in ways that I suggest are consistent with Book of Mormon claims. He states, for example, that:

Distribution of these ten HLAs in other parts of the world are not what would be expected from the premise that Americans stem mainly from Northeast Asians. Instead, the basic American populations seem most like those of western Asia and Southeast Asia, paralleling the findings of Steele and Powell (1992) regarding Paleo-Indian skulls. . . . I am struck by the fact that apparent patterns in HLA data seem to reflect hypothetical early interhemispheric contacts proposed independently by many others on the basis of other kinds of data, and I am skeptical that this result could be entirely accidental. (p. 115)

For example, the B*21 HLA allele found in the Americas appears to have Arabian or North African origins. Though generally praising Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994) for their masterful work, Guthrie notes an inadequate treatment of the B*21 allele and the A*33 allele (p. 96):

The apparently Arabian or North African B*21 reaches frequencies of about 10% in three samples of Uto-Aztecan speakers, yet CS [Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994)] say only that it peaks in the Caucasian-occupied regions of Africa (p. 187), that it averages 1.5% in America with a "maximum above 10% in the extreme southwest of the United States" (p. 334), and that it is absent from South America (p. 369)--the last despite their data showing traces in the Mapuche, Araucano, and Yupa samples.

A*33 seems to trace movement of a Near-Eastern population to Southeast Asia and South America, but CS do not mention this. . . . Yet, the key to the synthetic maps summarizing the statistical treatment (p. 338) shows A*33 contributing 70-80% to the second principal component, with is strongest effect in eastern North America and Panama. Like B*21, A*33 is said to be absent in South America, despite a 5% level in the Quechua sample and a 3% level in the Aymara sample.

Guthrie later states that the B*21 allele is found in frequencies greater than 15% in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia (Tigre), and Jordan-Palestine, and that it has presence in four Uto-Aztecan populations, including a Central Amerind composite (p. 103). The B*21 allele is found at lower frequencies (5-6%) in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. One of the Uto-Aztecan groups, the Papago tribe, has the fourth-highest frequency of B*21 in the world (at least as measured so far), at 12.5%. Guthrie states that B*21, A*33, and also B*7 are the three most important "non-Indian" alleles, each contributing about 10% to the total frequency of atypical HLA. He writes (p. 116):

Their presence seems to reflect an early Near Eastern influence on the American west coast (A*33), European input to eastern Eskimos (B*7), and an Afro-Asiatic influence in southwestern North America (B*21). These interpretations are supported by findings of atypical genes from other systems, especially immunoglobin, transferrin, Kell, and Rhesus.

Other alleles may point to Mediterranean and European migrations. For example, the distribution of the A*32 allele suggests to Guthrie "a Mediterranean or specifically Aegean impact in the Caribbean region (including on the Cherokee) as well as on Tupians of the lower Amazon (Oyampi and Parakana). It seems to connect this set and the Central Amerind composite with northern Indian, Sardinia, the Tuareg of Algeria, and with populations around the Adriatic Sea in Greece, Yugoslavia, and Italy" (p. 104). He also notes that B*18 "appears to be an ancient Caucasoid antigen" that "suggests involvement of Mediterranean seafarers" (p. 106). It rises above a 1% level "only among the Nahua, Quechua, and eastern Maya" (p. 106).

The B*14 allele is said to link the western Mediterranean with the Quechua and other tribes. Since it is found in Spain, one might assume it came with the Spaniards to the New World. But if so, one might expect to find it throughout South America, but it is only found there in the Andes and in a Caingang sample near the Rio de la Plata. Guthrie states, "It seems likely to me that B*14 was carried to its present locations by a more ancient population, with roots in the Near East. It appears also in eastern Maya, Nahua, and Cherokee populations. . ." (p. 105).

Further, the A*1 antigen, said to be "typically European" by Cavalli-Sforza et al., is also found in Palestine and other places, and reaches significant levels in the Andes, but not elsewhere in South America--possibly indicative of ancient introduction and not part of the European genes introduced after Columbus. Guthrie suspects that its presence in the Andes is due to "an older, unrecognized contact with the Near East" (pp. 105-106). The B*18 allele also "appears to be an ancient Caucasoid antigen" that is found above the 1% level only among the Nahua, Quechua, and eastern Maya (p. 106).

This work remains tentative, but should show that anti-Mormon critics are simply wrong when they say that there is no genetic evidence consistent with the Book of Mormon. Taken in light of other evidence, such as that compiled by Jett (2002) in "Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts: The Present State of the Evidence," the idea of ancient contact between the Old World and the New has become entirely plausible.

If anything, the HLA evidence shows that different tools may give different results when it comes to deducing the origins of ancient Native Americans. Salzano (2002) surveys a wide variety of tools for tracking genetic origins (Y chromosomes, mtDNA, HLA, and others) and notes that they frequently do not agree. He concludes that:

1. The original homeland of the first Amerindians remains elusive, different results having been obtained using mtDNA, autosomal, sex-chromosome, or viral parasitic information.

2. Different waves of migration had been postulated on the basis of mtDNA, Y chromosome, and types of genetic and non-genetic (for instance, linguistic) evidences. The suggested dates of their occurrence are also variable.

HLA genes are just one of several genetic factors that remind us that multiple migrations to the Americas may have occurred. Ugo A. Perego mentions them briefly as he discusses the possibilities of other migrations in his essay, "The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint" (Perego, 2010):

Of greater relevance to the debate about possible subsequent migrations to the Western Hemisphere, besides those that occurred after the last ice age, is a recent study published in the prestigious journal Nature. The authors reported autosomal DNA data that were successfully sequenced from hair belonging to a well-preserved 4,000-year-old Saqqaq individual discovered in Greenland. [Rasmussen et al., 2010] This research has contributed greatly to the current understanding of events that led to the peopling of the Americas. The authors concluded that the genetic makeup of the ancient Saqqaq individual was very different from that of Inuit or other Native American populations. Instead, he was closely related to Old World Arctic populations of the Siberian Far East, being separated from them by approximately two hundred generations (roughly 5,500 years). These data suggest a distinctive and more recent migration across Beringia by a group of people that were not related to the ancestors of modern-day Native Americans, who arrived on the American continent nearly 10,000 years earlier. As the senior author emphasized, the lack of genetic continuity between the ancient Saqqaq individual and the modern population of the New World Arctic stands as a witness that other migrations could have taken place that left no contemporary descendants. [Brooks, 2010] In commenting about the findings of this project, population geneticist Marcus Feldman from Stanford University said that "the models that suggest a single one-time migration are generally regarded as idealized systems, like an idealized gas in physics. But there may have been small amounts of migrations going on for millennia." He went to explain that "just because researchers put a date on when ancient humans crossed the Bering Bridge, that doesn't mean it happened only once and then stopped."[Brooks, 2010. The second quotation is Brooks's paraphrase of Feldman. See Michael H. Crawford, The Origins of Native Americans, 1998, p. 4. In his lengthy review of data supporting the Asian origins of the Amerindians, he stated that "this evidence does not preclude the possibility of some small-scale cultural contacts between specific Amerindian societies and Asian or Oceanic seafarers."] Moreover, a multiple population source/migration model for the peopling of the Americas--which may have included additional routes besides the Bering Strait crossing--was recently reproposed through the analysis of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes. [Arnaiz-Villena, 2010]

Science is always tentative. Ties to Asia may be strong for Native Americans, but without knowing what Lehi's genes were, it's improper to allege that science has ruled out the existence of Nephites, or in any way decisively settled the origins of all Native Americans.

The Mathematics of Ancestry: Lehi as a Common Ancestor To the index at the top

Given the fact that there were other people in the hemisphere when Lehi came to the Americas, very few modern Native Americans will be directly descended from Lehi along an unbroken paternal line, or directly descended from Sariah along an unbroken maternal line, thus ensuring that very few Y chromosomes or very little mtDNA came from Lehi or Sariah, respectively. But on the other hand, if Lehi and Sariah were real people whose posterity did not all die out, then it is very likely that many modern Native Americans are their descendents. This conclusion is based on the mathematics of ancestry, as explained by genealogist Steve Olson in "The Royal We," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 289, No. 5, May 2002, pp. 62-64 (Olson 2002b). He discusses the recent realization, supported by extensive research, that "virtually anyone with a European ancestor descends from English royalty"--a conclusion that initially seems surprising, but which

accords perfectly with research done by Joseph Chang, a statistician at Yale University. The mathematics of our ancestry is exceedingly complex, because the number of our ancestors increases exponentially, not linearly. These numbers are manageable in the first few generations--two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents--but they quickly spiral out of control. Go back forty generations, or about a thousand years, and each of us theoretically has more than a trillion direct ancestors--a figure that far exceeds the total number of human beings who have ever lived.

In a 1999 paper titled "Recent Common Ancestors of All Present-Day Individuals," Chang showed how to reconcile the potentially huge number of our ancestors with the quantities of people who actually lived in the past. His model is a mathematical proof that relies on such abstractions as Poisson distributions and Markov chains, but it can readily be applied to the real world. Under the conditions laid out in his paper, the most recent common ancestor of every European today (except for recent immigrants to the Continent) was someone who lived in Europe in the surprisingly recent past--only about 600 years ago. In other words, all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400. Before that date, according to Chang's model, the number of ancestors common to all Europeans today increased, until, about a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today.

Joseph Chang's work was published as "Recent Common Ancestors of All Present-Day Individuals," Advances in Applied Probability, 31: 1002-1026 (1999). An article by Kenneth Wachter (1980) anticipated some of Chang's results, according to Olson (2002a, p. 246).

A serious limitation in Chang's model is the assumption of random mating between Europeans, regardless of their birthplace. But based on actual genealogical data collected by Mark Humphrys, a computer scientist at Dublin City University, who has made use of the World Wide Web to bring together information from many people with European ancestry, the conclusion of Chang's model appear to be basically correct. Actual mating patterns will push back the date at which all those with any European ancestry will share a common ancestor. But there is a "constant churning" of people due to migrations, revolutions, wars, etc., which make the assumption of random mating more acceptable when Chang's model is applied over long periods of time. Thus, Olson contends (2002b):

This constant churning of people makes it possible to apply Chang's analysis to the world as a whole. For example, almost everyone in the New World must be descended from English royalty--even people of predominantly African or Native American ancestry, because of the long history of intermarriage in the Americas. Similarly, everyone of European ancestry must descend from Muhammad. The line of descent for which records exist is through the daughter of the Emir of Seville, who is reported to have converted from Islam to Catholicism in about 1200. But many other, unrecorded descents must also exist.

Chang's model has even more dramatic implications. Because people are always migrating from continent to continent, networks of descent quickly interconnect. This means that the most recent common ancestor of all six billion people on earth today probably lived just a couple of thousand years ago. And not long before that the majority of the people on the planet were the direct ancestors of everyone alive today. Confucius, Nefertiti, and just about any other ancient historical figure who was even moderately prolific must today be counted among everyone's ancestors.

In his highly acclaimed book, Mapping Human History Olson (2002a, p. 114) also states:

The forces of genetic mixing are so powerful that everyone in the world has Jewish ancestors, though the amount of DNA from those ancestors in a given individual may be small. In fact, everyone on earth is by now a descendant of Abraham, Moses, and Aaron--if indeed they existed.

The work of Chang has been refined and strengthened in a new 2004 publication with Steve Olson and Douglas Rohde (Rohde et al., 2004). The improved model better considers some of the limitations to gene flow that were not in Chang's original model. The improved model points to a common ancestor for all humans only a few thousand years ago, rather than the widely mentioned figure of 200,000 years ago for "mitchondrial Eve." Of course, a purely maternal common ancestor is expected to take much longer than any common ancestor per se. But if we can expect to have a common ancestor of any kind dating back to, say, 3,000 years ago or so, then we are all more closely related than we have previously thought.

The implications of Chang's work and Rohde et al.'s work for Native Americans are clear: assuming the Book of Mormon to be true, then even if Lehi's group represented a tiny drop in a vast bucket of genetic matter in the Western hemisphere of their day, it is nevertheless very likely that the vast majority of Native Americans are genuine descendants of Lehi and his son, Laman, in spite of the details of pure paternal or maternal lines. So where is the DNA of Lehi in the Americas? It could be about everywhere--but not necessarily in Y chromosomes or mtDNA. So is it wrong to refer to Native Americans as "children of Lehi"? Absolutely not. Does this make all Native Americans "Lamanites" after all? It depends on the definition one uses--but if genetic descent from Laman is the criterion, then yes, it is possible that typical Native Americans are genetic "Lamanites," as well as some Anglos like myself (being one part in 512 Native American, thanks to a Mohawk woman in my ancestry).

Further, don't forget that the term "Lamanite" in the Book of Mormon is not necessarily a genetic term, and can simply describe those who aren't Nephites. (In fact, the Book of Mormon also says that the non-Hebrew Gentiles in the Americas who would believe in Christ would be "numbered among the seed" of Lehi (1 Nephi 14:1-2)--presumably making them "children of Lehi" also, regardless of their DNA.) We must be careful about the genetic assumptions we import to the Book of Mormon text.

A Galileo Moment for the Church? To the index at the top

Critics of the Church have been shown an amazing zeal in painting the DNA issue as a death blow to the LDS faith. Many have tried to spin this as "Galileo moment" in which science is rocking the foundations of a Church that must use oppression in a vain attempt to hold back the floodgates of truth. The analogy actually has some merit, as we will see below, though not as intended by our critics. The DNA issue is not rocking the Church or overturning any key doctrines. The Church is not threatened and has not responded by censoring science. DNA science and evolutionary science can be freely taught and studied at Brigham Young University and other Church schools.

Ironically, our evangelical critics who gleefully proclaim that the science of genetics and DNA analysis has disproven the basis of the LDS faith are consistently and strangely silent about what this same field of science has to say about Genesis and the Bible. There are many questions being raised about Genesis, and "young earth" model that many of our critics teach has been done far more harm by the science they misunderstand than Daniel C. Peterson in his editor's comments for an issue of the FARMS Review in 2003 ("Of 'Galileo Events,' Hype, and Suppression: Or, Abusing Science and its History," FARMS Review, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. ix-lxii). Here is a relevant excerpt:

We need to understand the original "Galileo event" accurately. Propagandistic accounts of the Inquisition and of other events along the interface of religion and science--accounts carefully crafted, in many cases, to gain advantage for enemies of religious faith in a tacit cultural war--should not be accepted at face value. Galileo's scientific achievements did not challenge the Christian faith. Nothing in his discovery of the moons of Jupiter or sunspots, nothing in the Copernican model of the solar system that he championed, conflicted with belief in a loving, personal God, in a resurrected and saving Christ, or in the hope of salvation conferred by Christian faith. Galileo's science conflicted, instead, with older scientific theories--pagan Greek, not Christian, in origin--that had become so established in the minds of many influential thinkers in his day that they could not distinguish between the gospel of Jesus Christ and popular scientific assumptions. Evangelical authors Jimmy Davis and Harry Poe are entirely correct when they observe that "Galileo ran afoul of academic authorities, not because his science contradicted the Bible but because it contradicted Aristotle!" The existence of sunspots did not conflict with belief in the atonement; sunspots conflicted with the Greek notion that all coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be--all decay, corruption, and imperfection--were restricted to the sublunary world and that the cosmos beyond the orbit of the moon was perfect in every way. Stripping away such gospel-foreign presumptions was good. It was an example of the power of science to sharpen and make more accurate our understanding of the world around us.

If DNA research demonstrates that the hemispheric or global theory of the Book of Mormon--according to which every pre-Columbian Amerindian from the Bering Strait to Patagonia and from Hudson's Bay to the Amazon was a pure descendant of the Lehites and the Lehites alone--is untenable, that too is good. It will serve to illustrate the power of science to assist solid earlier scholarship in sharpening and making more accurate our understanding of the world around us, in somewhat the same way that continuing revelation helps to clarify our understanding of the truths of the gospel. Such a demonstration will conflict with no essential doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It will not only be consistent with but will be supportive of careful readings of the Book of Mormon that have been available for many decades. It will merely eliminate popular assumptions--sincerely held, well-intended, but external and foreign to the scriptural text--that had attached themselves to the Book of Mormon in much the same parasitical and distorting way that Aristotelian and Ptolemaic cosmology had earlier attached itself to the Bible. Serious scholarship on the Book of Mormon had already long been arguing for a limited geographical view of Jaredite and Nephite history and for regarding the migrations described in the record as limited and quite modest incursions of small numbers of people into larger, preexisting populations. DNA research does not negate the conclusions of such scholars; it strengthens them.

It would be a foolish mistake, in this case, for those who discover that the global or hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography and peoples is incorrect, to reject the entire volume of scripture rather than to conclude that the hemispheric model rests on a hasty and incorrect interpretation of the text. When throwing out error, we should be careful to retain the truth.

Thus, the analogy to Galileo has some merit when we understand that Galileo and the science of his time was not attacking the foundation of Christian faith, but improper interpretations and viewpoints that required updating. These viewpoints were not based on revealed truth, but on traditions of men imported from the Greeks, not the scriptures. Galileo felt that the findings of science were compatible with scripture, just as prominent LDS scientists have observed regarding the DNA data. Science in Galileo's day helped men update their understanding of nature with more correct viewpoints that did not require abandoning God and the Bible, though some teachings of Aristotle and the philosophers had to go. We're in a similar position with DNA data and the Book of Mormon. There is no need to lose faith or fly to pieces over the issue.

Squaring All the Evidence To the index at the top

DNA is not the only factor to consider in unraveling the history of this continent. In fact, for some purposes, it can give puzzling or even misleading results. Conclusions previously reported may prove to be incorrect upon further study.

Based on a misinterpretation of DNA data, a few critics are charging that the case for Hebrew contact with the ancient Americas has been utterly demolished. Some say that there is absolutely no evidence of ancient Old World migrations to the New World other than Asian migrations across the Bering Strait. Recognizable evidence may not have cropped up yet in DNA studies (again, such work is clearly still in its infancy, so arguments based on what hasn't been found must be treated with some caution). But there is abundant evidence for ancient transoceanic contact between the New and Old Worlds.

Dr. Cyrus Gordon of Brandeis University has been one of the most significant voices pointing to evidence for transoceanic contact, including evidence that ancient Semites came to America. His views were discussed recently in "Against the Tide: An Interview with Maverick Scholar Cyrus Gordon," Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2000. See also McCulloch (1993).

Interesting discussions of evidence for Old World contact, including Hebrew contact, with the Americas can be found in the following sources:

David H. Kelly has also found serious evidence of several pre-Columbian inscriptions of European origin: "We need to ask . . . where we have gone wrong as archaeologists in not recognizing such an extensive European presence in the New World" (Kelly, 1990, p. 10). More evidence for scholarly acceptance of Old World scripts in the ancient Americas can be found in W.R. McGlone et al., Ancient American Inscriptions: Plow Marks or History? (Long Hill, Mass.: Early Sites Research Society, 1993, as cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 21) and Jacques de Mahieu, "Corpus des inscriptions ruiniques d'Amerique du Sud," Kadath 68, Brussels, 1988, pp. 11-42 (cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 21). More relevant research has tentatively identified hundreds of possible links between Uto-Aztecan languages (in Book of Mormon territory) with the ancient Hebrew language (work by Brian D. Stubbs, including "A Curious Element in Uto-Aztecan," The Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, Vol. 23, 1998 [according to second-hand sources; I have not yet read this article]; "Elements of Hebrew in Uto-Aztecan: A Summary of the Data," F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1988; "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-49).

I've encountered a few noteworthy items in my own casual reading suggesting that some Mesoamerican elements show unusual correlations to cultures in other parts of the world. For example, while describing a scene a Palenque, Michael D. Coe, one of the most widely recognized experts on Mesoamerica, notes the similarity between a Mesoamerican practice and a Chinese practice involving the dead: "A large jade was held in each hand and another was placed in the mouth, a practice documented for the late Yucatec Maya, for the Aztec, and for the Chinese" (Michael D. Coe, The Maya, London: Thames and Hudson, 4th ed., 1987, pp. 108-109). Also at Palenque, Coe observes that the Temple of the Sun has two crossed spears, while two other temples have a branching world tree that "bears an astonishing resemblance to the Christian cross" with a quetzal bird above it (Coe. p. 108). The Funerary Crypt in one of the Palenque temples, where jade was abundantly used, was apparently built by a mighty ruler to house his remains in a manner very similar to Egyptian practice, with a "temple-pyramid" built above the crypt. "Thus it seems that the Temple of the Inscriptions was a funerary monument with exactly the same primary function as the Egyptian pyramids" (Coe, p. 109). This proves nothing on its own, but certainly raises the possibility of some relationship.

In fact, Michael Coe goes further in explicitly discussing the still controversial issue of transoceanic contact with the Old World (The Maya, op. cit., pp.45-46):

The possibility of some trans-Pacific influence on Mesoamerican cultures cannot, however, be so easily dismissed. Its most consistent proponent has been Professor David Kelley of the University of Calgary, who has long pointed out that within the twenty named days of the 260-day calendar so fundamental to Mesoamericans ... is a sequence of animals that can be matched in similar sequence to the lunar zodiacs of many East and Southeast-Asian civilizations. To Kelly, this resemblance is far too close to be merely coincidental. Furthermore, Asian and Mesoamerican cosmological systems, which emphasize a quadripartite universe of four cardinal points associated with specific colors, plants, animals, and even gods, are amazingly similar. Both Asian and Mesoamerican religions see a rabbit on the face of the full moon (whereas we see a "Man in the Moon"), and they also associate this luminary with a woman weaving at a loom.

Even more extraordinary, as the historian of science Dr. Joseph Needham reminds us, Chinese astronomers of the Han Dynasty as well as the ancient Maya used exactly the same complex calculations to give warning about the likelihood of lunar and solar eclipses. These data would suggest that there was direct contact across the Pacific. As oriental seafaring was always on a far higher plane than anything known in the prehispanic New World, it is possible that Asian intellectuals may have established some sort of contact with their Mesoamerican counterparts by the end of the Preclassic.

Lest this be thought to be idle speculation along the lines of the lunatic fringe books so common in the field, let me point out one further piece of evidence. Dr. Paul Tolstoy of the University of Montreal has made a meticulous study of the occurrence of the techniques and tools utilized in the manufacture of bark paper around the Pacific basin. It is his well-founded conclusion that this technology, known in ancient China, Southeast Asia and Indonesia, as well as in Mesoamerica, was diffused from eastern Indonesia to Mesoamerica at a very early date. The main use of such paper in Mesoamerica was in the production of screenfold books to record ritual, calendrical, and astronomical information. It is not unreasonable to suppose that it was through the medium of such books, which are still in use by Indonesian people like the Batak, that an intellectual exchange took place.

This by no means implies that the Maya--or any other Mesoamerican civilization--were merely derivative from Old World prototypes. What it does suggest is that at a few times in their history, the Maya may have been receptive to some important ideas originating in the Eastern Hemisphere.

I also encountered interesting evidence for ancient contact with Egypt while watching a fascinating documentary on the Discovery Channel called " Curse of the Cocaine Mummies," broadcast on Jan. 13, 1997 (9 p.m. Eastern time). Several years ago, Dr. Svetla Balabanova discovered cocaine and nicotine in ancient Egyptian mummies (a published source is S. Balabanova, F. Parsche, and W. Pirsig, "First Identification of Drugs in Egyptian Mummies," Natur Wissenschaften, Vol. 79, No. 8, 1992, p. 358 ff.). The scholarly community was disturbed with her findings, for it would suggest that the Egyptians had imported coca and tobacco from the New World. Since they "knew" that there was no ancient contact between the two continents, the chemical analysis of the mummies must be faulty, they assumed, or the samples must have been contaminated by substances from modern people. Additional controlled tests clearly established that the mummies really did have cocaine and tobacco in them that could not be explained by contamination (present inside hair shafts, present deep in the intestines, etc.). Much of the program featured various experts speculating on possible trade between Egypt and the Americas, with several stuffy experts denying the possibility of such contact since it contradicted what they were so sure they "knew." (So much for the scientific method!) In spite of clear evidence that the ancient Egyptians were using a product that comes only from the New World, several experts chose to laugh off the evidence on the basis of their paradigm of no ancient contact between the two continents. One expert said that the findings had to be discounted because we all know there is no evidence of ancient contact. In other words, evidence that does not fit the paradigm cannot be considered as evidence, ensuring that the dogmatic paradigm stays in place. (Kuhn's Science and Revolution is worth reading on this phenomenon, which I have witnessed many times in science.)

"Curse of the Cocaine Mummies" will be replayed periodically on the Discovery Channel. It's a well-done program, featuring comments from a number of scholars, including Dr. Alice Kehoe of Marquette University, discussing other evidence for transoceanic crossings, especially trans-Atlantic crossings, to the Americas before the time of Columbus. (Therefore, there are at least some serious scholars who would take issue with the sweeping claims of the Smithsonian Statement.) One interesting point made in the program is that the possibility of Viking journeys to the Americas was scoffed at by the experts until 1965, when an indisputable Norse site was found in Newfoundland. Now everyone accepts what was deemed ludicrous only a few years ago.

Not only was tobacco and cocaine from the Americas present in the Old World, but there is now evidence that maize ("corn") and sunflowers from the Americas were known in India prior to the time of Columbus, again suggestive of transoceanic contact. Dr. Carl L. Johannessen, emeritus professor of geography at the University of Oregon, recently prepared a paper entitled "Pre-Columbian American Sunflower and Maize Images in Indian Temples: Evidence of Contact Between Civilizations in India and America," printed in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World, ed. Davis Bitton, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998, pp. 351-389. Some of the evidence for maize can be seen at the Archaeological Outliers site, but Dr. Johannessen's article is strongly recommended. He carefully explores many of the issues and questions relating to these finds. For example, he notes that sunflower seeds cannot float (not a viable explanation) and that transport by birds also fails as an explanation. He also carefully identifies many examples of these plants in Indian art to eliminate other possibilities. The bulk of the evidence is from Indian art, but some relevant findings from linguistics and DNA analysis are discussed as well. As a bonus, he discusses stone construction techniques which shows surprising parallels between ancient India and ancient Peru, suggestive of ancient cultural contact.

Not only was maize known in ancient India, but based on newly published evidence, it was known in ancient Libya as well. British archeologist David Mattingly found a late medieval [from about A.D. 1100 to 1492] "maize horizon" in a dig at an oasis in the Sahara desert, 700 miles south of Tripoli, Libya. The "maize horizon," indicative of the arrival of plants from the Americas (or, perhaps, from India?), was one of several botanical horizons from the people of that region who flourished agriculturally by exploiting underground water supplies in the area. The work is reported in David Mattingly, "Making the Desert Bloom: The Garamantian Capital and Its Underground Water System," Archaeology Odyssey, 3/2, March-April 2000, pp. 31-37, as cited in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2000, p. 69.

Transoceanic contact with Polynesians also has probably occurred, based on genetic evidence, in the opinion of Dr. Rebecca Cann at the University of Hawaii. A brief summary of the issue is presented in a FARMS news item, "Genetics Indicates That Polynesians Were Connected to Ancient America."

On a different note, Thomas Murphy has claimed that a linguistic analysis of Amerindian languages generally shows a link with Asia (DNA vs. The Book of Mormon videocassette from Licing Hope Ministries, Brigham City, Utah, 2003). As LDS linguist Brian Stubbs explains (Stubbs, 2003, p. 180), "That is 2 percent true and 98 percent false." Of over 100 language groups in the New World, one (Eskimo-Aleut) still spans the Bering Strait and another, the Na-Dene group, "shows promise for demonstrable language origins from Asia." But the vast majority of language families do not have any clear ties to Asia. many linguists assume they derived from Asian roots long ago, but that's an assumption.

Summary To the index at the top

DNA analysis has proven to be a useful tool, but one must understand that it has many limitations. Many inferences made from DNA studies about population origins or demographic events "are often not consistent among themselves or with available linguistic, archeological, and paleoanthropological data" (Tarazona-Santos, 2001). The disagreements over the number of migrations, the peoples of origin, the presence of much variation or little variation in the founding genes (e.g., Ward, et al. 1991 and Torroni et al., 1993c, p. 604) the differences between Y-chromosome and mtDNA results, the challenges with contamination, and the conflicts with linguistic and other evidence, all suggest that much work remains to be done to reliably obtain interpret DNA results.

It is clear that the origins of the Americas are more complicated than previously thought. This applies not only to scientists, but to those who accept the Book of Mormon. Just as scientific progress requires abandoning old errant assumption, increased knowledge about the Americas and improved understanding of the Book of Mormon text itself shows that many Latter-day Saints have incorrectly assumed that the Americas were a vacuum prior to Lehi's arrival, and that Lehi's group provided the primary genetic source for all Native Americas. These errant assumptions should be abandoned, but since the text does not make such claims, all we need abandon is our misunderstanding, not a sacred volume of scripture that is indeed an authentic ancient text.

CONTINUE to APPENDIX 4: Literature Cited and Resources on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

Further Reading

Main page on DNA and the Book of Mormon

Appendix 1: What the Book of Mormon Says

Appendix 2: DNA Evidence

Literature Cited and Related Resources

Curator: Jeff Lindsay Contact:
Last Updated: Oct. 20, 2012
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