The Modern Ainu, pt 2

Welcome back, everyone. Yesterday we were discussing Ainu genetics. Today we’re still discussing Ainu genetics, but this time we’re discussing mtDNA instead of Y DNA.

Modern Ainu (political protest) in 1992

Based on analysis of one sample of 51 modern Ainus, their mtDNA lineages have been reported to consist mainly of haplogroup Yhaplogroup Dhaplogroup M7a … and haplogroup G1[49][52][53] Other mtDNA haplogroups detected in this sample include A (2/51), M7b2 (2/51), N9b (1/51), B4f (1/51), F1b (1/51), and M9a (1/51). Most of the remaining individuals in this sample have been classified definitively only as belonging to macro-haplogroup M.[52] According to Sato et al. (2009), who have studied the mtDNA of the same sample of modern Ainus (n=51), the major haplogroups of the Ainu are N9 (14/51 = 27.5%, including 10/51 Y and 4/51 N9(xY)), D (12/51 = 23.5%, including 8/51 D(xD5) and 4/51 D5), M7 (10/51 = 19.6%), and G (10/51 = 19.6%, including 8/51 G1 and 2/51 G2); the minor haplogroups are A (2/51), B (1/51), F (1/51), and M(xM7, M8, CZ, D, G) (1/51).[54]

Note that Y (confusingly named) is a sub-haplogroup of N9. It’s commonly found in groups around the Sea of Okhotsk, (including the Ainu,) and in Indonesia, similar to the distribution of Sundadont teeth. Haplogroup D is found in Native Americans (highest frequency among the Aleuts,); Siberians, Ainu, east Asians, Japanese, etc. M7 is kind of generically east-Asian, with high frequency in Japan. In other words, Ainu maternal DNA is fairly similar to that of Japan at large + nearby Siberians.

So how closely related are the Ainu to rest of the Japanese?

Given the archaeology of the area and what we now know of the genetics, it looks like the Ainu were descended primarily from two main groups:

  1. Jomon, (the ancient people of Japan,)
  2. Nearby Siberians, (eg, the Nivkhs.)

Over the past hundred years or so, though, the Ainu have purposefully intermarried with the non-Ainu Japanese, who are themselves descended from a mix of:

  1. Jomon
  2. Yayoi, who invaded around 300 BC, conquering the Jomon.

We’d expect therefore for the Ainu and Japanese to share a fair amount of their mtDNA (the Yayoi probably absorbed Jomon women into their groups;) but not much Y DNA. According to Wikipedia:

Studies published in 2004 and 2007 show the combined frequency of M7a and N9b were observed in Jomons and which are believed by some to be Jomon maternal contribution at 28% in Okinawans (7/50 M7a1, 6/50 M7a(xM7a1), 1/50 N9b), 17.6% in Ainus (8/51 M7a(xM7a1), 1/51 N9b), and from 10% (97/1312 M7a(xM7a1), 1/1312 M7a1, 28/1312 N9b) to 17% (15/100 M7a1, 2/100 M7a(xM7a1)) in mainstream Japanese.[55][56]

A recent reevaluation of cranial traits suggests that the Ainu resemble the Okhotsk more than they do the Jōmon.[57] This agrees with the reference to the Ainu being a merger of Okhotsk and Satsumon referenced above.

map of gene-flow in and out of Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present

Now certainly, if we can use DNA testing to tell that someone is “half Spaniard, a quarter Finnish, and a quarter Czech, with 3% Neanderthal DNA,” then we can use DNA testing to tell what %s of someone’s ancestry are Japanese, Ainu, Jomon, Yayoi, Siberian, etc.–it’s just a matter of getting enough relevant samples. The only major issue I could see getting in the way is if there actually is no such thing as a genetically “pure” Ainu, but rather a bunch of small Ainu groups with varying levels of admixture from all of the other groups. For example, there is no such thing as “Turkic” genetics–all “Turkic” groups speak Turkic languages, take great pride in being Turkic, and presumably have cultural connections, but genetically they are quite diverse. The situation is similar with Jewish groups. 2000 years ago, most Jews were genetically “Jewish,” but today, the vast majority of Jews are at least 50% non-ancient Hebrew by DNA.

From Ingold


But of course, genetics doesn’t tell you much about the lives of modern Ainu.

Many people theorize recent connections between all of the peoples along the north Pacific rim, from Japan to Oregon, and northward across Canada, based on similar abstract, geometric art styles; lifestyles; and documented contacts. The eternally-controversial Kennewick man (a 9,000 year old skeleton discovered in Washington State,) was initially described by some anthropologists as resembling an Ainu man. Mister Kennewick has since been proven to be related to modern Native Americans–Native Americans may simply have looked different 9,000 years ago.

I look forward to more research on connections between circum-polar and circum-Pacific peoples.

For further reading and interesting photos, I recommend The Ainu and their Culture by Dubreuil.


So I still haven’t tracked down anything I consider a good source on the percent of Neanderthal DNA in people from particular regions of Europe, and I should note that at this point, I consider pretty much *everything* in the field of Neanderthal DNA in modern homo Sapiens quite speculative and not nearly has solid as people make it ought to be. But it’s still really interesting stuff, so here goes. I’ll start with a little background information in case you haven’t been following along:

1. Modern people tend to have a little bit of archaic DNA from non-human hominins. Pretty much everyone outside of Africa (including African Americans and even some Africans) has Neanderthal DNA; folks down in Papua New Guinea also have Denisovan DNA (I can’t remember if people outside of PNG have Denisovan.) People in Africa, I hear, have their own admixture from whoever else was living down in Africa. Oh, and people in Tibet have admixture from the hominins who used to live in Tibet before them.

2. Interestingly, the Neanderthal DNA does not appear to be concentrated where you’d think it would be. Sure, Neanderthals themselves hung out primarily in Europe and the Middle East, but American Indians seem to have the most Neanderthal DNA, followed by East Asians. (I consider these findings especially speculative.)

I have noticed in studying maps of different waves of human migrations that where one wave follows another, the first wave ends up way out in the fringes. Take, for example, the parts of Europe where people speak Celtic languages. Celtic languages were once widespread in Europe, covering France, Spain, Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, and a few other places, like possibly a town in Turkey. Today, Celtic languages are spoken in isolated pockets on the outer costs of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. There are a few other isolated spots on the mainland coast where the languages persisted until fairly recently. Germanic peoples invaded all of these countries, taking them over and imposing their languages, until the Celtic languages are only left at the fringes, in places protected by their isolation.

So, likewise, perhaps Europe itself, being closer to Africa, had more invasions and so ended up with less Neanderthal DNA than the Americas, which were really bloody hard to invade.

There are a lot of other ways one group could get more Neanderthal DNA than another.

3. So how Neanderthal are you? On average, I believe non-African people have about 2.5% Neanderthal DNA.

For perspective, you have 32 great-great-great grandparents, who were probably born around 150 years ago, and 64 great-great-great-great grandparents, whom we’ll just neatly say were born around 170 years ago.

1/32 = 3.1%, so you’d expect to receive about 3.1% of your DNA from each of your 3xGreat Grandparents. 1/64 = 1.6%, so you get about 1.6% from each of your 4X Great Grandparents. So that’s where the average person’s Neanderthal contribution is–it’s like having one Neanderthal ancestor from the mid 1800s.

A lot of people claim to be ethnically Irish based on less.

4. I suspect Europe’s Neanderthal hotspot is Sardinia.

Speculations later.