At the Television Critics Association press tour last month, National Geographic took samples of all of our DNA as part of “The Human Family Tree,” a special airing tonight (Sunday, Aug. 30).
The special, narrated by that master of interconnectivity Kevin Bacon, is meant to retrace the deepest roots of the human species, to show how we’re all tied together through our genes. The DNA tests, conducted via mouth swab and taken immediately after a big lunch one day, was meant to show that my mother was a cupcake and my father was a turkey sandwich.
Fortunately, leftover food particles seem not to have compromised the sample from my inner cheek, at least not as much as my inability to retain the e-mail with the necessary login information to find the results of my test.
[Said results after the break… Or just watch “The Human Family Tree” tonight… I won’t be in it, but I’ll be watching to try making sense of things…]
So what did I learn? I learned that I’m Haplogroup J2, at least on my father’s side. To be more specific, it’s J2 M172.
I’m told that Haplogroup J2 appears in the highest frequencies in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Ethiopia. In Europe, J2 markers are found generally in the Mediterranean area, particularly in Southern Italy, where 20 percent of males carry the marker, and southern Spain, where 10 percent of men carry the marker. It’s hard for me to know what to make of this information, since my knowledge about my ancestry on my father’s side has generally been limited to awareness that as far as anybody could keep records, my people were from Lithuania and Eastern Europe. Then again, the heaviest concentrations of my J2 Haplogroup peeps are found in the Middle East, places like Israel, which would just make J2 stand in for “Semitic,” which isn’t so strange.
The graphic for My Genetic Journey traces my Haplogroup to either Northern Africa (where I have no real sense of lineage) or Italy (where I have no sense of lineage). That, I guess, is what makes this kind of DNA testing so funky, because many of us know where we came from, but we think “where we came from” means two or three or five or 10 generations. We don’t think about what may have occurred multiple centuries ago.
Geneticist Spencer Wells says (in a video attached to my results), “What does J mean? This is a very important Haplogroup, because people the people bearing Hapologroup J remade the Modern World.”
He continues, “They were the people present in the Fertile Crescent at the dawn of the Neolithic Revolution, the first farmers. And the expansion of these people and their lineages around the world has led to the rise of what we think of as modern society, modern settled life.”
Wells adds that if I went to Jericho and looked at the archeological sites, I’d get a sense of what life was like for J2 M172 people. Rest assured that next time I return to Israel, I’ll add that to my itinerary.
In any case, this information probably explains why the tree given to me at FOX’s Eco-Casino Party two years ago is still alive, despite my erratic ministrations on its behalf. I come from an agriculturally adept people and I couldn’t kill that darned tree if I want to. I have green thumbs. And forefingers.
Or is that not what it means?
Honestly, I have no idea.
And that’s why I’ll be watching (or DVRing), National Geographic’s “The Human Family Tree” tonight.
Read more about The Genographic Project.