Africa is one of those visited places where you instinctively feel a connection – it’s primal. During my second trip to Africa, we went to Uganda and Rwanda to track the mountain gorillas. These gorillas are one of our closest animal relatives, sharing 98.6% of our genomes and 99.6% of our DNA.
But, I had to know how I was attached to the human history in this land, so I participated in the National Geographic Genographic Project. You send a swab of saliva and they trace your mitochondrial DNA roots. This is not a genealogical tree like you normally think – mother/father, grandfather, on up the ladder.
It traces your DNA to the origin. My origin starts with Branch L3 which originates from “Mitochondrial Eve” born about 180,000 years ago in East Africa. She is the ancestor of all living non-Africans.
The L branch is shared by all women alive today, both in Africa and around the world. The L3 branch is the major maternal branch from which all mitochondrial DNA lineages outside of Africa arose.
From there my DNA line moves up East Africa and Asia. (N Group - 60,000 years ago), on to West Asia (R Group - 55,000 years ago), across Russia (U Group – 47,000 years) and then to Scandinavia (U5 Group – 30000 years ago). One in five Finns belongs to the U5 Group! This is as far as the genographic project has gotten…hopefully soon I will learn how and when my maternal ancestors migrated to Central Europe and the British Isles. Because DNA markers require a long time to be informative, the more people who participate in the project the faster it will move along.
At least now I know how to more concretely appreciate my emotional attachment to my African ancestors and travels.