Who are you?
That’s a question with many possible answers. You are the sum of a lifetime of experiences. You are the result of choices you have made. You are the result of truths your parents instilled in you. You are the outcome of values drawn from your culture.
From a genetic perspective, however, you are the outcome of a long process of genealogical fusion. A man and a woman coming together, one of millions on a vast constellation which explodes out across the earth and coalesces back to a few ancient progenitors.
The personal tree of life continues through you.
How can you summarize the shape of this tree and all of its branches? There is no one way.
myOrigins attempts to reduce the wild complexity of your genealogy to the major historical-genetic themes that arc through the life of our species since its emergence 100,000 years ago on the plains of Africa. Each of our 24 clusters describes a vivid and critical color on the palette from which history has drawn the brushstrokes that form the complexity that is your own genome. Though we are all different and distinct, we are also drawn from the same fundamental elements.
The explanatory narratives in myOrigins attempt to shed some detailed light upon each of the threads that we have highlighted in your genetic code. Though the discrete elements are common to all humans, the weight you give to each element is unique to you. Therefore, each individual receives a narrative fabric tailored to their own personal history, a story stitched together from bits of DNA.
We’ve listed the Population Clusters and accompanying narratives below. You can find more on our myOrigins Walk-through.
Population Clusters and Descriptions
In the list below, you can click on a Population Cluster to see it’s description.
Judaism is a religion, but the Jewish people are also a nation. The latter implies genetic relatedness to their ancient founder population. More concretely, modern Jewish populations have diversified into numerous branches including the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi. Genetic commonalities derived from their Middle Eastern ancestry unify these populations.
The Sephardic cluster originated with the Jewish people of Iberia and is found all along the shores of the Mediterranean. Closely connected to clusters in Southern Europe, this cluster also has a strong relationship to the Middle East. Like the Ashkenazi cluster, it brings together diverse genetic threads and exhibits similarities and affinities to southern European and Fertile Crescent populations.
At the height of the Roman Empire, Jewish populations were scattered throughout the Roman territory. After the fall of Rome, the Jewish population in Spain was among the most numerous, and it prospered for a thousand years under Moorish rule. Five hundred years ago, this population was scattered due to their forced expulsions from Spain and Portugal. Fleeing to the Ottoman Empire, Morocco, and a few locales in northern Europe, the Sephardic population maintained their genetic distinctiveness while they fused with the local cultures.
Judaism is a religion, but the Jewish people are also a nation. The latter implies genetic relatedness, to their ancient founder population. More concretely, modern Jewish populations have diversified into numerous branches including the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi. Genetic commonalities derived from their Middle Eastern ancestry unify these populations.
The Ashkenazi cluster, who represent the majority of the world’s Jewish population, derived from countries that were located within Central and Eastern Europe. This population is now scattered across the world with the largest concentrations in Israel and the United States and represents a unique mix of Middle Eastern and European genetic elements, which crystallized within the last 2,000 years.
The North and Central America cluster consists of present day Native American populations that span from southeastern Alaska down through the western half of the United States and end at the top of Nicaragua. Populations within this cluster are descendants of the first migrations from Siberia that moved into the Americas via the Bering Land Bridge roughly 15,000–23,000 years ago. These migrating populations split roughly 13,000 years ago as one group migrated east and south to populate areas of North and Central America and a second group spread down into South America.
Subsisting largely as nomadic hunter-gatherers, the First Peoples of Northern America are commonly recognized by their uniquely fluted projectile points (Clovis points) and tools, which were used to hunt large animals (e.g., mammoths, saber-toothed cats, land sloths, and even camels) that were present in North America at the end of the last Ice Age.
Later populations, such as the Hohokam society in the southwest (near the present-day city of Phoenix, Arizona), display evidence of increased social complexity, likely due to the use of irrigation management technology. Water control and irrigation of crops are seen as early as 700 CE in some Hohokam sites, which lead to bountiful harvests. This large food surplus allowed for the growth of larger populations supporting skilled craftsman and artisans.
Early populations in this cluster were also shaped by the extreme variation in environment and local resources. These variations resulted in cultural and linguistic diversity that defines early and present day populations in this region.
Viking traders from Scandinavia had made their way to Greenland and North America before the 10th century CE, and a trade practice between local populations and Vikings was established. It was not until roughly 500 years later that Northern Native populations in this cluster would have contact with permanent European colonizers. European colonization in the 16th century CE resulted in either the complete or near complete massacre of entire tribes and the near total destruction of the cultures of surviving Northern and Central Native American populations. Later, the forced movement of Native populations led to further devastation as many perished on the treks they were forced to endure; the Trail of Tears in the 1830’s is one of the most infamous examples of this. Therefore, it is quite rare for present day people to have a high percentage of origins from this cluster, even with documented family lineage. Testers within this cluster may have a percentage of genetic relatedness lower than expected.
The South America cluster is found in present day Native populations who inhabit Cuba, the Caribbean islands, the regions south of Nicaragua, and as far south as Argentina and Chile.
Similar to populations in the North and Central America cluster, populations in the South America cluster are descendants of the Early Siberian populations who came across the Bering Land Bridge connecting North East Asia with Alaska roughly 15,000–23,000 years ago. These First Peoples of the Americas migrated south and split into two groups roughly 13,000 years ago. The first of these groups stayed in the regions of North and Central America while the second continued on to populate South America.
Although descendants of the original large game hunter-gatherer Clovis populations, South American populations quickly adapted to their region and relied on a diet heavy in fish, coastal foods, and crop products. Present day descendants of this cluster are representative of centuries of cultural diversity from the Peruvian Incas to the small Amazonian tribes scattered throughout the rainforest.
Similar to the North and Central America cluster, Native populations within this cluster also fell victim to colonization. The time span of colonization in South America was not as prolonged as it was in the north. Rather, South America was colonized by Europeans rather quickly, and many Native populations fell victim to European guns and germs. Like North and Central America, South America has experienced high rates of European and African admixture from centuries of colonization and the Atlantic slave trade. It is quite rare for present day people to have a high percentage of origins from this cluster, even with documented family lineage. Testers within this cluster may have a percentage of genetic relatedness lower than expected.
Modern humans arrived on the British Isles roughly 40,000 years ago via a land bridge that connected these islands to continental Europe. Early hunter-gatherer populations were able to navigate into and out of this region until roughly 6000 BCE when melting ice sheets caused sea levels to rise and the connection was severed between the populations within the British Isles and continental Europe. Farming occurred largely as an indigenous adaptation with little evidence of acquiring this technology from surrounding colonizing regions. Small agricultural communities are even recorded as the primary lifestyle by Roman invaders in the early 1st century CE.
By the second millennium BCE, trade relationships spread, and under the control of the Chieftains of Wessex, trade routes spanned from Ireland into central and eastern continental Europe via waterways. The wealth amassed from this intensified trade likely enabled the Wessex Chieftains to begin construction on what would grow to become Stonehenge. These trade practices further solidified a deep genetic connection with populations in the West and Central Europe cluster and areas of Scandinavia.
By 43 CE, Roman forces had conquered Britain. However, by 500 CE, Germanic tribes (originating in present day Scandinavia and eastern Europe) and Asian forces toppled the Roman Empire, and the subsequent continental European expansions brought Saxon tribes into the British Isles. Powers in the British Isles also conscripted mercenary populations from continental Europe. The Saxons, Angles, and Jutes came over to support Briton forces defending against the Picts and Scots in the 6th century CE.
Starting in the late 8th century CE, the British Isles were invaded and settled by Viking parties during the Viking expansion. Normandy later invaded and solidified cultural and economic connections between the British Isles and continental Europe. To this day, these ancient occupations and trading practices left a lasting impression on the genetic relatedness between populations in the British Isles cluster and Southeast Europe, Scandinavia, and West and Central Europe clusters.
The Scandinavia cluster consists of present day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Due to the remaining ice sheets from the last Ice Age, modern humans did not permanently settle in this region until roughly 9000 BCE. During this time, Denmark and Sweden were connected via a land bridge that enabled migration from continental Europe to the Scandinavian Peninsula roughly 13,000 years ago.
These early hunter-gatherer populations settled along the waterways—lakes, marshes, and rivers. By 6000 BCE, the Ertebolle peoples had established complex hunter-gatherer settlements and seasonal camps along the coastlines. The cultural and technological achievements of these peoples are paralleled in regions of the North European plains stretching eastward to regions in Ukraine and Siberia.
By 2500 BCE, local populations in this cluster had begun farming and soon established strong trade links with continental Europe. These were particularly robust with populations along the Danube River basin stretching from present day Moldova, west to Germany, and south to the Roman Empire.
Chieftain tribes ruled ancient Scandinavia, and the Viking Age was born around 800 CE in the bay between the Gotta River in Sweden and Cape Lindesnes of Norway. Between 800 and 900 CE, Viking populations had taken control of trade from the Dnieper River to the Baltic Sea and Constantinople, connecting them to populations as far away as the Middle East, Western Russia, and Siberia to the east. During the Viking Age (800–1050 CE), Vikings spread from Scandinavia as far west as North America and east to Russia, raiding and colonizing any settlements that were in their path from Ireland and Scotland to England, France, Iceland, and Greenland. Viking populations moving into the east maintained control in the Slavic states along the Baltic Sea, Russia, and Steppe regions until they were forced out by invading Mongol armies.
By the 11th century CE, the Viking Age had ended, and the powers of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway battled for control of the Scandinavian cluster. In 1397, the Kalmar Union unified the three powers until the early 16th century CE.
Modern humans arrived in the area of present day Finland roughly 9,000 years ago after the ice sheets from the last glaciation began to retreat. As Finland remained geographically isolated from most of continental Europe, the early populations remained largely unaffected by the early European activities, such as the Roman, Celtic, and Iranian expansions.
The first peoples in Finland settled in scattered settlements along the southern coasts of Finland and were soon forced northward by later migrations. By 1000 BCE, migrations into Finland pushed the indigenous Sami people into the northernmost reaches of the region. Other indigenous populations remained in the south and were either assimilated by or intermarried with the migrating populations, leading to the development of the chieftain tribes of the Finns, Tavastians, and Karelians. Throughout much of history, populations in the Finland cluster remained organized into large hunter-gatherer and herding societies, some of whom continue this lifestyle to this day.
During the Viking Age (800–1050 CE), Finland found itself between the Viking and Russian trade routes and profited by providing furs to Viking traders; however, they were not known to have participated in any Viking raids.
After the Viking Age, Finland was a battleground for the Russian and Swedish invading forces, both of which tried to lay claim to Finland. From the 12th century CE on, native Finish populations remained organized into their traditional tribal communities and were largely under Swedish control until the 1700’s, after which Russia gained short-lived political control over Finland.
Throughout Finland’s history, the peoples of this region remained largely isolated and more culturally unaffected by invading populations than other European regions. In fact, Finland’s cultural autonomy can even be seen in their unique Finn-Ugrian language, which shares no similarities with Scandinavian or Slavic languages. Genetically, however, influence from centuries of occupation and invasion is illustrated in the close genetic relatedness between populations in the Finland cluster and populations from Russia and Scandinavia.
The West and Central Europe cluster consists of present day countries of France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, and Germany. Modern humans began to populate West and Central Europe toward the end of the last ice age when the ice sheets north of the Mediterranean coast began to retreat.
Due to ancient interactions and exchanges with cultures from the British Isles, Scandinavia, Asia, and Africa, this cluster displays an incredible history of migration, invasion, and colonization resulting in continual shared genetic, cultural, and linguistic relatedness with nearly all of the other European clusters.
Long distance travel between continental Europe and populations in the British Isles are illustrated by the shared knowledge of specific pottery and metalworking technologies. Through analysis of his teeth, remains of an individual (the Amesbury Archer) buried around 2000 BCE near Stonehenge in England was proven to have grown up in mainland Europe, thus illustrating the close connections between these two clusters.
The development of complex city-states was first established along the southern coastlines of France. Colonies of Greek, Phoenician, and Carthaginian settlers were the first to establish these complex societies; Roman colonies were quick to follow transferring cultural practices, such as the importance of wine drinking for the elites in central and eastern France.
To the north, barbarian tribes maintained semi-nomadic settlements throughout most of the cluster. By roughly 300 CE, Jutes, Angles, and Saxons, having originated in Scandinavia, were pushed westward by invading forces from Attila the Hun, further intensifying tension between the Romans and the barbarian tribes. With Germanic tribes being pushed out of eastern Europe as well, Slavic speaking peoples settled in their wake, occupying areas leading up to east Germany. Continual raids from various European and Asian groups ended the Roman occupation of this area by roughly 500 CE. During this time period, these various groups continued migration to further reaches of land once unified by Rome. These regions included Northern Italy, most of Britain, modern day France, and Spain; they also conquered most of Northern Africa, Sardinia, and Rome in the process.
It is after this migration that populations within this cluster began to establish complex and diverse civilizations that are later recognized as some of the most powerful and influential cultures in the world. These ancient histories continue to influence identities and histories of present day populations in this cluster.
The Southeast Europe cluster consists of present day populations from the areas of Italy, Greece, and the western Balkan states from Bulgaria to Croatia. Present day populations in the Southeast Europe cluster show some of the highest rates of genetic relatedness to the second wave of migration into Europe roughly 11,000 years ago. This wave of migration consisted of Neolithic farmers from the Fertile Crescent and expanded primarily into southern Europe, incorporating small scattered European hunter-gatherer communities along their path.
The island of Sardinia, having early evidence of post-glacial hunter-gatherer inhabitants, was not permanently settled until this migration of Neolithic farmers from the fertile crescent populated it roughly 8,000–7,000 years ago. Although a key position in early Mediterranean trade routes, the populations of Sardinia remained relatively isolated genetically and today, represent a particularly unique connection to Southeast European Neolithic ancestry.
Populations within the Italian peninsula and the Greek and Balkan states, however, display more genetic diversity having experienced waves of migration and the rise and fall of numerous civilizations. The ancient populations on the Italian peninsula generally consisted of the Greek colonies in the south, Etruscan cities in west-central Italy and north of Rome, and Italian groups, such as Samnites and the Umbrians, who inhabited Rome and central Italy. The western Balkan States mostly consisted of small kingdoms until the rise of Alexander the Great’s father Philip II of Macedon (present day Macedonia).
These early states had a wide influence as they were shaped by Alexander the Great’s campaigns, the Roman expansion, and migrations from Slavic tribes who were forced from the Carpathian Mountains by Germanic tribes in the 5th–6th centuries CE.
The Southeast Europe cluster is home to civilizations that many consider to have founded the principles of Western civilization and continue to influence modern politics, art, and architecture. Greek and Roman influence spans the western and southern regions of this cluster, while the influence of the Hellenistic world of Macedonia and Alexander the Great encompass the Western Balkan states.
The East Europe cluster consists of an area encompassing present day Latvia, south to Ukraine, Romania, and the northern part of Bulgaria, west along the eastern edge of the Balkan states to Poland and the eastern half of Germany.
The early populations in the East Europe cluster consisted largely of small agricultural communities. Some of these developed indigenously, while others were colonies of farming communities from Asia Minor. Eastern Europe played a significant role in the metalworking traditions of Scandinavia, and an intense metal trade was established between the two by 1500 BCE. In 1000 BCE invasions from the Celts (from Gaul and Germany) in 1000 BCE in the north and central regions and invasion from Iranian tribes to the south in interrupted this trade. By 200 BCE, Scandinavian groups drove southward and ended the Iranian control in the south.
Slavs from the North Carpathian Mountains were forced into the steppe regions of present day Ukraine and Belarus by the 5th century CE. The Turkish Empire controlled the Ukrainian steppe between 700–900 CE and used its location to improve their mercantile empire. By the Viking Age of the 8th century CE, trade between the Scandinavia cluster and the East Europe cluster continued. By the middle of the 9th century CE, Vikings took control of the trade route that ran from the Baltic Sea, along the Dnieper River, and into Constantinople in present day Turkey. The Vikings exploited the local Slavic peoples and established their stronghold in Kiev. These Viking merchants were to be the progenitors of the Kievan Princes. By the 11th century CE, the Viking Age ended, and in 1240, the Mongol army sacked Kiev, adding further cultural and genetic influence to this cluster. Since the invasion of Kiev, this arm of the Mongol army became known as the Golden Horde—the western portion of the Mongol Empire.
The East Europe cluster sits on two prominent trade routes, which resulted in a history complete with invasion and migration. As a result, the genetic relatedness of populations within this cluster is shaped by the water trade routes from Scandinavia and from the Baltic to (the Black Sea) Constantinople via the Volga, Dnieper, Dniester and the Danube, connecting Eastern Europe with Scandinavia and Siberia; it also includes the Steppe region, connecting Eastern Europe to Russia, Asia Minor, and the Eastern Middle East. Genetic diversity in this region is high.
The Iberia cluster consists of present day Spain and Portugal. Modern humans reached this area roughly 35,000 years ago.
Farming and animal domestication were slow to gain momentum in this region as most populations remained organized into small hunter-gatherer bands or extended family groups. It is not until 5,000 years ago that larger communities and villages were established as lifestyles began to shift toward farming. The site of Los Millares in southeast Spain displays this social complexity and contains evidence of a stratified society with marked inequality.
By 800 BCE, Phoenician settlers from the Middle East had established the city of Carthage in Tunisia, North Africa and arrived along the southern coast of Spain to establish colonies; the Greeks followed by 575 BCE and established colonies along the southern coast of Spain. Inland Spain was comprised of agricultural and herding communities or tribes. These inland Iberian peoples maintained regular trade and interaction with the colonies on the coast, as evidenced by the cultural artifacts they had brought from Central Iberia. Furthermore, this cluster shares a common genetic heritage with parts of Western and Central Europe, the British Isles, and Southeast Europe due to the settlement of Celtic and later, Germanic tribes
When the Phoenicians fell to the Babylonians, Carthaginians moved north to colonize Ibiza and southern areas of Spain by the 2nd century BCE. Evidence of cultural and genetic influence of colonization remains in this region. There were three distinct writing systems established in Iberia: one based on the Phoenician alphabet and two more based on Greek models. These writing systems were largely used in the southern portions of the peninsula until Roman conquest at the end of the 2nd century BCE, after which there was continual war between the Romans and the northeastern Celtiberians and the western Lusitanians.
Islamic forces spread throughout the Mediterranean by the 7th century CE, and their influence is forever encapsulated in the Moorish architecture of southern Spain. Populations from clusters in the Americas show genetic relatedness with the Iberia cluster, as the Spaniards played a significant role in early colonization of the New World.
The West Middle East cluster is comprised of present day populations from regions along the Eastern border of Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine. Regions within the West Middle East and East Middle East clusters were areas of the first migrations out of Africa roughly 100,000 years ago. Nestled on the western edge of the Fertile Crescent, this cluster has been home to populations that have played a key role in the development of human civilization throughout history.
With the development of farming and the domestication of animals roughly 12,000 years ago, populations from the West Middle East are noted for the introduction of farming into Southern Europe. Populations in this cluster are also credited with establishing the first civilizations, thus laying the foundation for urbanism.
Populations in this cluster have been influential throughout history, though the most significant achievement could be said to have been made by the Phoenicians more than 3,000 years ago. Credited with establishing the foundation for all modern alphabetic writing systems, the Phoenician alphabet (created before 1000 BCE) directly influenced the writing systems of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek civilizations. The Phoenicians established colonies throughout most of the Mediterranean, including the strategically important city of Carthage in Northern Africa. Carthage became the largest Phoenician colony and allowed them to control and monopolize trade throughout the Mediterranean. Trading within this region meant that as populations within this cluster expanded throughout the Old World, they came into contact with populations from as far away as Russia, Morocco, Spain, and even Viking traders from the north.
Populations within this cluster share genetic relatedness and a history of trade and conquest among many regions within the Mediterranean. Present day members of the West Middle East cluster share genetic similarity with members of the Druze religious sect primarily found in Lebanon and the nomadic Bedouin tribes found within the deserts of Jordan and Syria. Each of these cultures remains deeply rooted in the history of this region. The Druze are particularly noted as successfully resisting Crusader invasions along the Lebanese coast, and rebelling against the Ottoman Empire.
The East Middle East cluster consists of regions that range from the southern coast of the Caspian Sea in Iran to Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Modern humans arrived in this region roughly 100,000 years ago and quickly developed technological and social complexity. Considered to be of key significance for social development throughout much of the Old World, the East Middle East cluster was home to the early civilizations of Mesopotamia. These populations continue to have a direct effect on cultures today.
Early adoption of farming practices roughly 12,000 years ago saw the transition from small hunter-gatherer bands to a more sedentary society. This allowed large civilizations to begin forming much earlier than in other parts of the Old World. The East Middle East cluster is home to the creation of Cuneiform, the first written script (est. roughly 5,000 years ago), which was discovered at an Uruk site in Iraq. The later Sumerian city-states in Mesopotamia are noted as having been the first to record the lineage of formal kings and dynasties around 5,000 years ago.
Major trade routes connected the East Middle East and West Middle East clusters, who both heavily utilized the Persian Gulf for trade. Civilizations and trade flourished in this region. The continual rise and fall of numerous societies within this cluster resulted in a history of genetic relatedness between the East Middle East populations as well as populations such as the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Persians. Today, the connections between the nations around the Gulf remain despite divisions over religion. The shared ties are deep and extend out toward a diaspora that is the echo of historical events long forgotten.
The Asia Minor cluster encompasses present day Turkey and Armenia. Home to the earlier migrations out of Africa, early settlements in the Turkish city of Catalhoyuk were also some of the first farming societies dating back to 7300 BCE. This region has an incredible history of short lived civilization and has been at the center of trade (both cultural and material) from the Persian Gulf to Southern Europe.
The early civilization of the Hittites (roughly 3,000 years ago) dominated most of modern day Turkey and even reached south into Syria and the Levant. Tablets found at Hattusa (the capital city of the Hittite civilization) were written in seven or eight different languages, illustrating the prominent role this city and civilization played in international travel during its reign.
What happened after the fall of the Hittites in the 13th century BCE and before the Phrygians gained control in the 8th century BCE has been lost to history. The Phrygian Empire came to power in the Asia Minor cluster roughly 2,800 years ago. The Phrygians are recognized for their immense mineral wealth and their famously mythologized King Midas.
Following the pattern of short lived rule in this region, the Phrygians began to lose power over modern Turkey in the early 5th century BCE, only about 300 years after they gained control. The demise of the Phrygians happened when the capital city of Gordion was destroyed by the Cimmerians (peoples having originated in the Steppes in southern Ukraine, who began to spread southward via the Black Sea).
After Gordion was destroyed, it did not take long for the Persian Lydians to take control of the falling Phrygian empire in 547 BCE. An arm of the Persian Empire, the Lydian civilization is credited with having developed the earliest known coinage, a practice later adopted by the Greeks and the entire Persian Empire.
Later, Turkey was considered part of the Roman Empire with the large cities of Troy and Constantinople (present day Istanbul) playing a significant role in the adoption of Greek and Roman culture in the Asia Minor cluster.
The North Africa cluster consists of present day Tunisia, Northern Morocco, and Algeria. This cluster is recognized as home to some of the most distinct and ancient populations in the world. Sometimes referred to as the “Atlas Lands” (due to the Atlas mountain ranges that run along the northern coast of this region), the North Africa cluster remained geographically constrained for most of its ancient past. Some of the earliest evidence we have of human habitation can be found in this cluster from the Ain el-Hanech site in Algeria to the Sidi abd el-Rahmane site in Morocco.
A combination of farming and pastoralism spread throughout this region roughly 8,000–7,000 years ago, and the lifestyle remained largely unchanged until the arrival of Phoenician traders some 4,000 years later.
Trade routes had a huge impact on this region as a number of large cultures lay claim to this land and left a lasting genetic and cultural influence. Roughly 2,900 years ago, the Phoenician city of Carthage in Tunisia marked the beginning of the extensive history of colonization and trade in the North Africa cluster. Carthage would grow to be the largest colony under Phoenician rule, as well as the richest city in the ancient world due to their monopoly on trade routes within the Mediterranean.
The Roman Empire destroyed Carthage in 146 BCE. Between the fall of Carthage and the rise of the Roman empire, local African kingdoms, namely the Mauri, Numidae, and Gaetuli tribes, took control of the area. It is during this time that the Berber people emerged in North Africa. The Berbers consisted of smaller Numidian kingdoms who had previously been semi-nomadic. The Berbers were known for their large stone built royal tombs, which spoke to the Roman influence in the region.
Toward the 7th century CE, populations within this cluster came under the rule of the Islamic Arab world, which continues to this day.
The East Central Africa cluster consists of populations from present day Ethiopia, the southern area of Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, the eastern side of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia.
Early migrations of the Bantu people to the north are credited with bringing farming and ironworking to much of Africa south of the Equator between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago. Populations surrounding Lake Victoria saw particular growth around the first millennium CE with the adoption of farming and cattle rearing.
The people and languages within the East Central Africa cluster are incredibly diverse as a result of continual international trade and colonization. In fact, all of the language families found in continental Africa are represented within this cluster. There is also evidence of strong trade between populations of this cluster and China, Rome, regions of Asia and India, and the Middle East. The urban cities of Shanga and Gedi in Kenya and Kilwa in Tanzania benefitted from increased international trade in the Indian Ocean as well as domestic trade from the African interior, beginning in the 1st millennium CE.
Around 700 CE, traders from the Persian Gulf and Arabia established a regular trading route along the coasts south of Somalia. The islands off the coast of East Asia were of particular interest (and vulnerability) to colonizing populations as it enabled whoever dominated this region to control trade within the western Indian Ocean. The East African coast was incredibly desirable to many colonizing factions for this reason. By the 15th century CE, Shirazi families from modern day Iran established dynasties on key trading islands off of the coast of East Africa and ruled until the Portuguese invasion of 1498.
The South Central Africa cluster consists of present day South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia, and the southern half of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are no adequate archaeological or oral remnants from populations in this region prior to the Common Era, and much is still unknown about the ancient hunter-gatherer tribes and wealthy states of earlier times. However, older populations have left their mark with the numerous examples of rock art that is spread throughout this region.
Populations in the South Central Africa cluster remained organized into smaller hunter-gatherer groups until influence from the Bantu expansion encouraged farming and iron working practices between 200–500 CE. The Bantu populations are a part of a shared language family that originated near the Nigeria/Cameroon border and subsequently spread east and south within Africa.
After the Bantu expansion reached South Africa, evidence of larger, semi-permanent farming communities were seen by the 2nd half of the 1st millennium CE. This region remained largely isolated until the 8th century CE when Arab traders began focusing their efforts toward the western side of Africa via trade within the Zimbabwe Plateau. By the 11th–15th centuries CE, these traders had established roughly three dozen new settlements in this region and had helped develop a common Swahili culture. This forever changed the existing social and economic organization of the region.
It was within this timeframe (around the 13th–15th century CE) that the development of the Great Zimbabwe began. The Great Zimbabwe is deemed one of the most impressive archaeological sites in all of Africa and was one of southern Africa’s earliest cities with a population numbering between 15,000 and 20,000 inhabitants. The Great Zimbabwe contained artifacts from trade with China, Persian cultures, Southwest Asia, and East African trading cities. The massive size of the city is partly what makes it so impressive, in some areas structures measure 36 feet high and with a width of 20 feet.
The Portuguese and Dutch later colonized Angola, Mozambique, and the Cape of Good Hope, and both had established settlements by the 17th–18th centuries CE, thus adding to the genetic admixture of populations within this region.
The West Africa cluster spans the western coast of Africa including present day Chad and Niger with strong representation in Lesotho and Swaziland. Little about the ancient populations in the West Africa cluster has survived; however, much of the early development of the African continent can be attributed to populations in this cluster. It is evident that pastoralism was widely practiced in this cluster before the adoption of farming techniques. Farming may have partly begun with the Bantu people, originating in the grasslands along the Cameroon/Nigeria border and then spreading with their migrations throughout Africa.This large and long lasting migration is called the “Bantu Expansion” and is credited with introducing other African clusters to farming and iron working practices.
Urban and state centers were established in this cluster by the 1st millennium BCE as seen at the sites of Jenne-Jeno in Mali and Koumbi in Ghana. Urbanization in this cluster occurred indigenously; societies had developed social complexity via organized trade and market networks and even monarchical rulers prior to interaction through trade or colonization. Urbanization and government were enhanced for these established complex societies through international trade and interaction.
Trade was greatly stimulated by the established trade routes along the Sahara (Trans-Saharan trade routes), which not only brought Islam to sub-Saharan Africa but also intensified contact between West Africa and traders from the Mediterranean and Muslim dynasties. Beginning roughly in the 7th century BCE, traders exported gold, gum, timber, and slaves from West Africa across the Trans-Saharan trade routes to North Africa. From here, these exports were sent to areas in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Asia.
By the 15th century CE, Portuguese traders stopped along the coast of West Africa on their way to Asia. This sparked the long history of colonization in West Africa as well as the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade, which lasted until the beginning of the 19th century CE. Merchants from some of the most influential European powers; France, Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia were primarily invested in the Transatlantic and European slave trade. This trade seized Africans from areas in the West Africa cluster, transporting them mostly to plantations in North America, South America, the Caribbean islands, and to a lesser extent locations in Central Asia and Europe. This mass movement of people from West Africa has contributed to some of the genetic and cultural diversity around the world.
The Central Asia cluster consists of present day Pakistan, Kashmir, Northern India, and Western Nepal. Trade was a paramount factor for populations and civilizations in this cluster, facilitating both the growth and downfall of various large civilizations in the region. The extensive history of conquest and trade between the Central Asia cluster and surrounding populations has resulted in shared similarities with populations of the Middle East and Europe. However, for thousands of years, populations in Northern India remained linguistically, technologically, and genetically divergent from populations in South India until a shift in interaction roughly 4,200 years ago.
One of the early societies of this region is the Indus Valley civilization of Harappa. This society experienced a rapid growth as well as a swift fall, both of which may largely be attributed to changes in trade with other civilizations mainly along the Persian Gulf and in the Mesopotamian cities of Sumer and Elam. The enormous size of Harappa necessitated trade because the urban centers were located on floodplains that were almost completely devoid of raw materials. Harappa lasted from 2600–1900 BCE and is credited with its standardization of script (which has yet to be deciphered), urban planning, and even a common weight series.
Invasions and conquests from Persia in 516 BCE and Alexander the Great two centuries later left lasting imprints in this region and contributed to the genetic and cultural heritage of Central Asia. Following Alexander the Great’s conquest, warring kingdoms along the Ganges valley in Nepal were unified, establishing the Mauryan Empire which spread in all directions. The Mauryan Empire remained the leading force in Central Asia from 325–185 BCE and maintained regular contact with populations in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and Mainland China. They were the first to exploit the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean to connect them to the Roman empire and these innovative trade routes are still in use today.
The South Central Asia cluster is comprised of present day Southern India and Sri Lanka. Until roughly the 6th millennium BCE, peninsular India and Sri Lanka were connected by land. Modern humans arrived in this region roughly 34,000 years ago. However, complex societies did not develop until much later, and much of the ancient history of the South Central Asia cluster is comprised of smaller, largely egalitarian and sometimes mobile communities.
In present day context, this cluster is intimately connected to the Central Asia cluster; however, before 4,000 years ago these two clusters were separate and for the most part, divided by the Narmada River. This division is further evident by the use of different language families as well as a staggered timeline for both the adoption of farming practices and the admixture of Indo-European influence between these regions. The end of this division coincides with the fall of the Indus Valley civilizations and increased trade with Roman sailors. This suggests that these two populations were culturally isolated from one another until this fall, with civilization centers moving east and south to the Ganges, thus facilitating interaction between these two clusters.
Ancient populations in the South Central Asia cluster spoke languages from the Dravidian family, which are not found outside of Southern Asia. Small agrarian and pastoral communities, that are known for their complex megalithic tombs, dominated this cluster until roughly the 1st century CE when Roman traders in the Indian Ocean appeared. This cultural convergence opened up the region to intensified international trade, which was further encouraged with participation in trade along the Silk Road.
With increased trade and urbanization, the South Central Asia cluster witnessed its first large civilization—the Satavahana dynasty, which lasted from 27 BCE to the 3rd century CE. All rulers of this dynasty are recognized as having participated in trade along the Silk Road, further solidifying the importance the Silk Road played on the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.
Modern humans arrived in Siberia roughly 40,000 years ago after access to the region was opened up by retreating ice sheets. These ancient hunter-gatherer populations spread all across Siberia with some groups continuing east across the Bering Land Bridge to populate the Americas roughly 15,000–23,000 years ago. Because of this, there is still genetic relatedness between Siberian and Native American populations to this day.
As Siberian populations became more established in the area, their lifestyles changed little from the first bands of people; consisting largely of small semi hunter-gatherer and pastoral nomadic groups. Populations within this cluster experienced predominantly Chinese influence starting around 1000 BCE and later, influence from the Turkic-Mongols in the 3rd century BCE. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire laid claim to Southern Siberia from the 13th to 14th century CE.
Colonization from Russian forces in the 16th century CE led to the destruction of many of the smaller tribes due to the spread of disease and exploitation from colonists. However, larger tribes, such as the Sakha (Yakut) and Buryat, utilized the colonists to gain profit and were largely incorporated into the colonizing society, while others were able to maintain their traditional practices. Present day populations of Sakha (Yakut) still practice a mostly pastoral lifestyle and continue to herd horses, cattle, and reindeer.
Today, the people of Siberia express closer relatedness to populations within East Asia and northern populations in Japan, suggesting more recent migrations from the south. There has also been increased relatedness between populations in Siberia and western Russia since Siberia’s integration as a Russian state.
The Northeast Asia cluster encompasses present day China, Mongolia, Japan, Korea, Siberia, and Kazakhstan. Modern humans are believed to have arrived in this region of East Asia via two potential routes: a coastal route leading from the eastern regions of Africa and an early continental migration through western Eurasia.
The scope of the regions in which these ancient peoples settled was vast. Populations within this cluster mostly consisted of small mobile hunter-gatherer groups. These hunter-gatherer groups spread wide, and migrations took these hunter-gatherers into Siberia, Korea, and further east to Japan. During this time, sea levels were low enough that Japan was still connected to mainland Asia via a land bridge.
Farming practices were established roughly 10,000 years ago in the Loess Plateau and Central Yangzi River Valley and came later to peripheral areas in this cluster. Notably, the Jomon in Japan are recognized as one of the longest enduring hunter-gatherer groups in the world. On the Asian continent, early populations experienced continual tension with populations from the western steppe regions until the region was unified by the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE. Following the Qin, the Han dynasty and later the Mongol army of Genghis Kahn continued driving international expansion.
In Korea, the Han empire had established four provinces, maintaining control for the following 400 years. Regular contact between populations in China, Korea, and Japan is estimated to have started around 500 BCE. Later bronze and iron trade between Korea and Japan proved to be transformative for Japan and their weapon industry.
Populations within this cluster remained largely isolated until roughly 5,000 years ago. However, once this region was opened, other populations were quick to adopt many cultural and technological artifacts from the area and spread them around the world. Two of the most notable features of this region were the creation of the Great Wall and the Silk Road trading route. The Great Wall was initially created to defend China from the invading Xiongnu warriors from Mongolia and was later extended westward to protect merchants traveling along the Silk Road. The first leg of the Silk Road was marked by the Great Wall and proved to be enormously impactful to most of the Old World regions, as it facilitated previously limited or non-existent trade and interaction between largely separated cultures.
The Southeast Asia cluster is primarily comprised of present day populations from Southeast China, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. However, this cluster extends, for less densely representative populations, to the islands of Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Sumatra, and the Malaysian Peninsula. This region saw its first wave of modern humans (the descendants of those who migrated out of Africa) roughly 40,000 years ago.
There is evidence that populations within this cluster were of the earliest farmers, potentially coinciding with the emergence of farming in Mesopotamia roughly 14,000 years ago. Populations in this cluster were divided geographically into the lowland wet-rice farmers of the Vietnamese, Khmers, Burmans, Thai, Malays, and Javanese and the highland dry-rice farmers of the Rhade in Vietnam, the Dayak in Borneo, and the Hmong in Laos. While the highland populations practiced a semi-nomadic lifestyle with a focus on improving farming techniques and varying social structures, the lowland populations were more sedentary and amassed a larger amount of material goods and food with a centralized political system.
Although rice cultivation is central to this region, the cluster is most recognized for its immensely diverse and varying linguistic heritage. The largest family of languages within this cluster are the Austronesian languages, 1,200 of which are still spoken today.
Originating in or around Taiwan in 4000 BCE, the Austronesian languages spread with human migration through the South China Sea into the Philippines, Java, Borneo, and Sumatra by 2000 BCE. Later migrations occurring between 2000 and 1000 BCE saw smaller groups of people moving from the South China Sea onto the mainland in Vietnam and the Malay Peninsula. The Austronesian migrations to the west resulted in settlements established in Madagascar between 100 and 700 CE. These migrants assimilated local hunter-gatherer populations along the way and brought agricultural practices, domesticated animals such as pigs and dogs, bows and arrows, and tattooing practices to these areas. These migrations display clear connections to the Oceania cluster as Austronesian languages are found as far east as Easter Island.
In the 1st millennium BCE, Austronesian populations within this cluster established the first complex societies in the Malay Peninsula, Vietnam, and Sumatra, quickly thrusting populations in this cluster into the global scene. Archaeological and historical evidence from this region illustrates cultural and material trade—and at times colonization—between the Southeast Asia cluster and peoples from Islamic Asia, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Germany. Although there remains slight genetic relatedness from these earlier migrations and colonization, the Southeast Asia cluster is genetically considered to be a sister cluster to the Northeast Asia cluster due to centuries of north and south migrations.
The Oceania cluster consists of present day populations from Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Britain Island, Timor-Leste, and Flores Islands. Modern humans arrived in this cluster roughly 45,000 years ago and spread south and east out of Southeast Asia. During this time, sea levels were significantly lower with ocean water locked in large polar glaciers. This allowed people to migrate across the many land bridges throughout the South Pacific islands. For example, the Sahul Shelf connecting New Guinea and Timor island to Australia facilitated early human and animal migrations out of Southeast Asia. Reference populations in this cluster are predominantly found in indigenous New Guinea and Australian populations; however, genetic similarity with this cluster can be seen as far away as Polynesia to the east and India to the west.
With the exception of Australia and New Guinea, early hunter-gatherers in this cluster were assimilated by the later spread of agricultural Austronesian populations that had originated in or around Taiwan around 4000 BCE. These peoples are identified by their incredibly diverse language family, which is the second largest in the world, making up some 1,200 languages today. Austronesian migration brought agriculture, animal husbandry, and cultural practices such as tattooing into the Flores and Timor Islands around 1500 BCE and the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia by 400–750 BCE.
Australia maintains its own unique history as it is the last hunter-gatherer continent to maintain this lifestyle until European contact in 1788. Early migrations throughout this cluster allow for present day genetic relatedness between the Oceania cluster and the Southeast Asia cluster. This once widespread diaspora can be found in present day Andaman Islanders and in the Philippines.