December 14, 2005

Every man a king!

The Irish Genghis Khan has been discovered. In northwestern Ireland, one out of every five Y-chromosomes appears to be descended in the direct male line from from the early medieval Uí Néill dynasty. I wouldn't be surprised if actor Sam Neill ("Jurassic Park"), who was born in Northern Ireland, is a direct descendent. (He's not as kingly as Sean Connery, but he'd do.)

Here's the abstract from American Journal of Human Genetics:

A Y-Chromosome Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland
Laoise T. Moore et al.

Seventeen-marker simple tandem repeat genetic analysis of Irish Y chromosomes reveals a previously unnoted modal haplotype that peaks in frequency in the northwestern part of the island. It shows a significant association with surnames purported to have descended from the most important and enduring dynasty of early medieval Ireland, the Uí Néill. This suggests that such phylogenetic predominance is a biological record of past hegemony and supports the veracity of semimythological early genealogies. The fact that about one in five males sampled in northwestern Ireland is likely a patrilineal descendent of a single early medieval ancestor is a powerful illustration of the potential link between prolificacy and power and of how Y-chromosome phylogeography can be influenced by social selection.

And here's a 2003 article, "The Norse Code," by Neil Macphail:

Are you a MacDonald herding sheep on your lonely croft? A MacDougall commuting home from your office job? Or even a MacAlister living a quiet but humdrum life?

If so, there is every possibility that lurking in your body is the genetic fingerprint of one of Scotland's greatest warriors - a fearsome man capable of tearing the heart out of a Viking foe.

An Oxford University scientist has traced the Y-chromosome, which determines maleness, of the founder of Clan Donald - the great Somerled of Argyll, who was born around 1100 and drove out the Viking invaders.

Geneticist Bryan Sykes says this microscopic fragment of the fearsome fighter still lives on in the DNA of half a million clansmen throughout the world. Indeed Professor Sykes says the Y-chromosome of the Gaelic warrior, who it seems had Norse blood himself, is so prevalent it could be among the most successful in the world.

Prof. Sykes and his team made the discovery almost by accident while they were researching genetic links between the Scots and the Vikings and looking for Norse Y-chromosomes. He and researcher Jayne Nicholson had taken thousands of DNA samples from men in the Highlands and Western Isles, and spotted a group that stood out.

They were at first puzzled, then Miss Nicholson looked at the donors' names. These revealed that among the men with the identical Y-chromosomes were MacDonalds, MacAlisters and MacDougalls. Prof. Sykes said: "There didn't seem all that much in it until Jayne said quietly that these clans were related. "The possibility that this Y-chromosome was inherited from the common ancestor of the MacDonalds, MacDougalls and MacAlisters was incredibly exciting.

They wrote to dozens of those clansmen throughout Scotland, enclosing a sampling brush for them to collect DNA from inside their cheeks. In the samples of those who replied, they found a single common Y-chromosome. To be double sure this was Somerled's, Prof Sykes embarked on a sensitive piece of research involving the living chiefs of the Clan Donald and their septs.

He said: "I wanted to see if the clan chiefs still alive, whose recorded genealogies descend from Somerled, also shared the same chromosome. This was a delicate task. We might find one or more of the chiefs did not have it - meaning one of their paternal ancestors might have been adopted, or had not been the biological father of his heir.

He approached Lord Godfrey Macdonald, Sir Ian Macdonald of Sleat, Ranald MacDonald of Clan Ranald, William McAlester of Loup and Ranald MacDonnell of Glengary, enclosing a DNA brush. The result was conclusive: 'They all shared the same chromosome. There was now no dought we had identified the legacy of Somerled.'

Now the only one whose lineage is in doubt is Somerled himself. Tradition says he descended from the ancient Irish kings - but Prof. Sykes says the chromosome proves his Norse ancestry.

Gregory Cochran emails:

The MacLeods have a similar story, and there are a zillion other such Y-chromosome studies in progress.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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