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Ancient Migrations

With the benefit of genetics, and mitochondrial DNA, we are now able to look at the footprints that our earliest of ancestors left. Subtle, natural mutations in mitochondrial DNA have enabled scientists to analyse the development of the world's populations.

Soon after the appearance of Mitochondrial Eve around 150,000 years ago, an early expansion of modern humans populated much of Africa, around 100,000 years ago. The incredible story of the peopling of the world is told through a combination of genetics and archaeology.

An mtDNA view of the peopling of the world by Homo sapiens

The maternal lineages of all living humans coalesce in 'mitochondrial Eve', born in South or East Africa about 150,000 years ago. Initially, Homo sapiens spread mainly within Africa. Some early modern fossil locations dating from this period are indicated on the map.

The group of mtDNA sequences from this first expansion can still be found today, particularly in the KhoiSan ('bushmen') of Southern Africa and the West pygmies of Central Africa. These earliest groups of mtDNA sequences - or haplogroups - are known by scientists as 'L1' and 'L0', and all subsequent groups are also known by a letter.

About 60,000 years ago a founder group moved out of Africa and their descendants, through the natural process of mutation, formed the haplogroups M and N. These groups in turn gained a foothold during the Ice Age in Asia, Australia and parts of Europe and evolved their own specific types. So, for example, Europe is populated by the haplogroups H, I, J, K, T, U, V, W and X; Asia by A, B, C, D, E, F, G, M, and Y; the Americas by an Asian branch with A, B, C, D and X ; Papua New Guinea by P and Q; and Australia by further M and N types.

Everyone in the world fits into one of these haplogroups or motherlines. Each one of these haplogroups has a fascinating story to tell about its role in the population of the world. Roots for Real's mtDNA tracing service enables you to discover your very own haplogroup, and much more about your ancestral origins.

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