Thursday, June 1, 2017

First look at ancient Egyptian mtDNA

Thanks to Schuenemann 2017 we finally have DNA from the ancient Egyptians. It sequenced three ancient Egyptian genomes and 90 ancient Egyptian mtDNA genomes. All of the samples come from Middle Egypt and range in age from about 1300 BC to 300 AD.

The genetic affinity of the ancient Egyptians doesn’t carry any surprises. They were native to the Middle East. With published ancient DNA we can trace their roots back 12,000 years to that region. But unlike other ancient Middle Eastern DNA, the ancient Egyptians also harbored a little bit of some sort of Sub Saharan African ancestry(5-10%).

I’ve taken a close look at the ancient Egyptian mtDNA results. So here’s a first glimpse into the mtDNA affinity of the ancient Egyptians…..

Like their genome-wide affinity the ancient Egyptian’s mtDNA is distinctively Near Eastern. Not just Middle Eastern but Near Eastern. Recall earlier this year I pointed out that modern Egyptian mtDNA shows affinity to the Near East not NorthWest Africa. They share most mtDNA first with modern Egyptians but then also Arabians and peoples in the Levant(Syria, Lebanon, etc). A mere 1%(1 sample) belonged to Sub Saharan African mHG L(xM, N). Modern Egypt though has a frequency of 20% frequency!

A handful of mHGs characterized ancient Egyptian mtDNA. 44% belonged to the following mHGs: R0a 7.8%, HV1 6.7%, J2a2 6.7%, T1a 14.4%, M1a 5.6%, I 4.4%. 

Every single one of those mHGs is specific to the Near East-North Africa except for U6a and M1a which make a significant presence Iberia and many parts of Africa.

Today R0a, HV1, and J2a2 interesting all peak in Egypt. And the ancient Egyptians had as high of a frequency in those mHGs as you’ll find in any modern population. Their high frequency of J2a2(6.7%) is even more interesting considering it has been found in the Natufians. J2a2 seldom appears outside of the SouthWest Asia-North Africa. Last year I classified it Near Easter(See here). J in Europe is dominated by J1c while J1b-J1d dominates J in much of the Middle East.

R0a has a more international distribution than J2a2 and HV1. Like J2a2 it peaks in the Near East but it also surprisingly has a strong presence as far east as India. Several examples R0a have been found in Neolithic and Bronze age Jordan.

Saying the ancient Egyptians had a lot of T1a doesn’t say much considering T1a is equally popular in most of West Eurasia(from Ireland to Iran). The T1a clades the ancient Egyptians belonged to: T1a7, T1a2, T1a5, T1a8, all are Near Eastern-specific. None of them belonged to European-SC Asian T1a1. Most of my modern T1a7 samples are from Egypt.  All of my Egyptian T1a7 samples belong to an unclassified T1a7 clade, it’ll be interesting to see if these ancient Egyptians belonged to that clade.

Here’s the most important differences between ancient Egyptian mtDNA and modern Egyptian+Near Eastern mtDNA: moderns have a lot more J1b, H, U3, and African L(xM, N).


  1. I have haplogroup T1a. Maternal line is from Cordoba Spain. Am I Egyptian?

  2. With more research I think we will learn that the roots of J2a2 extended far beyond the Near East. Unless my ancestress was captured during the crusades and gave birth before slitting her captor's throat I doubt that her origins were near Egypt.

    1. Its Natufian/West asian , it entered europe during Neolithic

    2. Thanks...were there men in Europe before then? Is this the period or were they the human females who mated with Neanderthal males? I read that no Neanderthal MtDNA has been found in a modern person so it was female humans who mated with them. I have a lot of Neanderthal markers... a lot.

  3. M and N are not african , and the reason modern egyptians have much higher L is because of slave trade many egyptians were poor so they acquired slave african females as wifes because they were cheap so this changed the gene-pool.
    last this 5% sub saharan was found in the Ptolemaic sample , while the Pre-Ptolemaic had 0% ssa.

  4. Haplogroup M and N decend from Haplogroup L3 which either Asian or East African some subclade of Haplogroup M and N are native to Africa.

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