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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Swedish Rescue: Official Church Responses to DNA

Leaders of the LDS Church rarely have the courage to directly answer difficult questions. Instead, they hide behind apologists and increasingly their well funded PR department. If someone raises a question they simply refer them to these unofficial sources for an explanation. This is a common tactic large corporations use to avoid having to answer difficult questions. Its a form of "plausible deniability". The leaders pretend or don't know the answers and refer questioners to the apologists. The apologists can give utterly outrageous answers (e.g. horse = tapir; two Cumorahs; Vanishingly Small Geography Theory, etc) and the church can distance itself from them because the apologists don't officially speak for the church. 

On November 28, 2010 a special fireside was held in Stockholm, Sweden for members of the LDS who had doubts. The fireside was attended by Elder Marlin K. Jensen (LDS Church Historian) and Richard E. Turley Jr. (Assistant Church Historian). Our attention was drawn to the occurrence of this meeting by Hans Mattsson, who had recently retired as an Area Authority of the Church in Europe. You can read Hans' interview with the New York Times hereA full transcript of the fireside can be found at the Mormonthink website.

Hans Mattsson
This fireside is notable for several reasons, but in my view the most significant thing that occurred at this fireside was that LDS general authorities who had been sent by the First Presidency actually gave answers to difficult questions. Consequently, we can regard those answers as official church responses. And just as many of us suspected, those answers are exactly the type of answers being given by the church's "unofficial" apologists, most of whom are/were based at the Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University.

Swedish Questions

At the beginning of the fireside members were invited to submit questions. Once a list had been gathered, answers were given and further questions taken. Given that the audience were the descendants of seafaring vikings it was not surprising that the following question was asked.

QUESTION: We had some Vikings visit North America about 1000 years ago, and today we know exactly where they lived actually, there are archeological evidence that they leave there, etc. So what about all the millions of people who have been Lamanites or Nephites … What kind of evidence can you show that actually exist? Every single small Indian tribe in the whole of America we know about today because they all leave buildings and tombs and anything which we can prove that they are there, have been there. And as far as I know there is nothing prove there have been Lamanites or Nephites in America.
If we have time also could you comment on the American Indians and the DNA, and the connection to Lamanites, Nephites, and then back to the Jewish people. Interesting to hear.

It is a well-established fact that the viking Erik the Red reached the New World in about 1000 AD. There is unmistakable archaeological evidence of his trip as well as written records. So why can't we find the remains of massive Nephite and Lamanite civilizations? I made a similar observation a decade ago in my book Losing a Lost Tribe. 

“Ten centuries ago a handful of Norse sailors slipped into Newfoundland, established small colonies, traded with local natives, then sailed back into the fog of history. In spite of the small scale of their settlements and the brevity of their stay, unequivocal evidence of their presence has been found, including metalwork, buildings, and Norse inscriptions. Just six centuries earlier, the Book of Mormon tells us, a climactic battle between fair-skinned Nephites and dark-skinned Lamanites ended a millennial dominion by a literate, Christian, Bronze Age civilization with a population numbering in the millions. Decades of serious and honest scholarship have failed to uncover credible evidence that these Book of Mormon civilizations ever existed. No Semitic languages, no Israelites speaking these languages, no wheeled chariots or horses to pull them, no swords or steel to make them. They remain a great civilization vanished without a trace, the people along with their genes.”

—Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 2004

Official Answers

Richard TURLEY: Quickly. Archeology and the Book of Mormon. Why isn’t there all this specific evidence of Nephites and Lamanites. You know, I’m going to combine it with Indian DNA because the answers are really quite similar. You may be able to find some evidence of Viking culture on the coast, but if Vikings went to the new world many, many times, you probably wouldn’t be able to find evidence of all the people who went there.
QUESTION: I´m sorry, ??- I mean there were millions of people building cities and creating wagons with wheels, and horses, and had so many things, weapons destroying things, so I guess there should be some traces, somewhere, in the whole of Americas if they ever existed.
[Turley missed the point of the question, hence the frustrated follow up question above. He moves on to talking about DNA.]

TURLEY: As you know, there are cultural ruins all over the Americas. The question is, were these Book of Mormon peoples or not? Some people have tried to answer that using the DNA to say maybe these were Book of Mormon people, maybe they were not. Are there any DNA experts here? I’m gonna give you my best short answer on DNA.
QUESTION: Is it the same as FAIR and FARMS?
TURLEY: Um. It may be. Let me just—if you have a family tree that goes back like this, and so on, you get the idea, it’s way out here. DNA cannot tell us about all of our ancestors. I was the president of the genealogical society of Utah, which oversees the collection of family history records , the Church’s family history records. We were very interested in DNA for genealogical purposes to find out what it could tell us. What we learned is that DNA can tell you about this line here. OK? The Y chromosome. And DNA can tell you about this line here, which is mitochondrial DNA. So through DNA, you can learn about the line that is all males down through here. If there’s a female in this line, it’s stuck and it can’t go any further. Now, here you can tell about the line that is female all the way down. OK? But what’s in the middle here you can’t discover through DNA with today’s technology. OK? Now, if you think this out further, like this, what basically happens is let’s say you’ve got one person here down to maybe 10 million or whatever. 
How many of those 10 million people have DNA that we can discover this way? If the lines don’t intertwine, the answer is just these two. The first one and this one. What actually happens is that as people intermarry and you shift from male to female here or from female to male there you lose the opportunity to trace their strand. So what happens over time is that you lose—you lose DNA identity as you work your way down through time. It’s not always possible to be able to identify peoples who were there. 
Turley's answer about the limitations of mtDNA and Y-DNA studies comes straight from the apologetic work of several LDS scholars. It appeared in a 2003 FAIR article by D. Jeffrey Meldrum "The Children of Lehi: DNA and the Book of Mormon". The same argument appears twice on the BYU Maxwell Institute website in articles by Brian Stubbs and D. Jeffrey Meldrum, and Trent D. Stephens

MtDNA and Y DNA Population Studies 

Turley is quite correct that mtDNA and Y chromosome DNA analysis does not reveal much about an individual's ancestors. They reveal only two out of about a million ancestral positions in a person's family tree going back 20 generations. So how on earth can they tell us anything useful? The reason is that human geneticists studying Native Americans are NOT studying the genealogy of individuals. They are studying the genetic relationships of entire populations. And MtDNA and Y-DNA studies have been spectacularly useful for tracking human population migrations around the world. Closely related people tend to have the same mtDNA and Y-DNA lineages, particularly before the modern age of transoceanic voyaging. As related groups of people have migrated around the world they have taken their genes with them.  

Virtually all mitochondrial lineages found throughout the world can be grouped into less than twenty-five major family groups represented by letters A, H, X, and so on. Essentially all Native American mitochondrial lineages fall into one of five major families: A, B, C, D, or X, none of which were derived from a recent migration from Israel. If we could go back twenty generations in an American Indian’s pedigree chart, it is extremely likely that those same five lineages occupied virtually all the million-odd ancestral slots. Even those mitochondrial lineages that end up in males and are not passed on to the next generation came from the same five sources. It is possible that some lineages may not have been detected yet or have been lost in time through chance, but these would have been very rare mitochondrial family lines. 

Turley is also unaware of the recent work on nuclear genes that essentially fills in the large numbers of ancestral slots in a person's pedigree chart. Work on nuclear DNA has confirmed that Native American DNA is derived from Asia. For a description of the nuclear DNA research see my post entitled "Could Generations of Lamanite DNA Just Disappear?" 
TURLEY: But there’s a bigger problem. The bigger problem is this: in order to capture DNA, in order to make a comparison, you need two things. One, you need to know, what was the DNA of Lehi’s family? And then two, what is the DNA of ancient American peoples? We know some but not all the answers here. We’re continuing to learn over time. The body of types of DNA for these people is growing. With this one, we have no way of knowing the answer. We do not know what Lehi’s DNA was. The place where they were living at the time was a place that had immigration in and out. The kind of DNA they had is impossible to determine. So that’s the basic answer. You can’t tell because you don’t know both the DNA of Lehi’s family history.
QUESTION: So there are people in the Americas now might have DNA from Lehi? You don’t know the original.
TURLEY: They might be—they could easily be descendants of Lehi for the reason I explained at first with that chart. They might have the DNA of Lehi, we just don’t know what DNA Lehi’s family had.
QUESTION: You don’t think that he was from the house of Israel?
TURLEY: Yes, but so is most of the world today.
[It is astounding how poorly informed this last statement is. It is sheer nonsense to think that most of the world's populations are descended from the House of Israel...even partially. All of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas were heavily populated many thousands of years before Israel even existed. China sustained massive populations well over 10,000 years ago, as did much of the rest of Eurasia. It is a myth that the House of Israel has played at centre stage of world affairs for the last couple of thousand years.] 
QUESTION: [01:53:07-01:53:22]
TURLEY: No but if, but if his area is a crossroad, we have immigration coming in, it doesn’t take very many generations before that DNA is, as I was showing you here earlier, it only takes one marriage for that to stop.
QUESTION: [01:53:39-01:53:46] I actually don’t think that’s correct according to scientific evidence today. I think you actually can trace back to with DNA and tell for instance where the Swedish people are coming from or where the Asian people are coming from. I think you can do that quite well according to reports I have seen. I’m very, very surprised that you’re [playing] that there is no evidence at all.
TURLEY: You can follow this.

All I said was if, if these people don’t intermarry, it’s one. But if they intermarry what happens is this line—let’s pose that this person has a child and that child marries here. 
OK? Then this DNA gets connected here and goes in along the male line all the way through. They have a daughter and that daughter marries and they have a line of daughters that could come in like this. But the original DNA batch from here? They don’t replicate down.

QUESTION: I’m not an expert but that’s your opinion and you know much more about this than I do. If you look at the tests they’ve done now with the DNA they’ve found with your mind it’s, you know, statistically, do you see that it’s very probable, the outcome compared to, you know? It would be easier if they found maybe some indication that would be stronger there would be some trace. What’s your opinion on it? Do you feel, would I lie to you? It’s statistically probable the way we see it?

TURLEY: I grew up with a PhD father who was a scientist, OK, he was a nuclear engineer and I was taught scientific method and statistics and the importance of recognizing the limitations of the science. What I’m saying about DNA is its an extremely important tool for finding our where peoples come from. Its limitation is, it can’t tell us about all the people who used to exist, it can only tell us about some. Now, maybe someday, the technology will improve. But today, it can’t. So, because of these limitations, for anybody who claims one position or another on Lehi’s families is inconsistent with the science. That’s all I’m saying.
Turley's claim that we need Lehite DNA in order to be able to detect his ancestors today is an argument that has been presented over and over again by several apologists including Jeff LindsayMichael R. Ash, FAIR, Brian Stubbs, Daniel Peterson and Matthew Roper to name a few.

We Don't Need Lehite DNA, We Need non-Asian DNA

It is nonsensical to claim that because we don't know what the DNA of Lehi's family looks like we cannot possibly find Lehite DNA today. We know that Lehi and Mulek were members of two different Israelite tribes and that they and their families lived in Jerusalem. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that both the Lehites and Mulekites were Israelites, or at the very least closely related to people living in the Middle East. We know a considerable amount about the DNA lineages of living people whose ancestors were Israelites reaching back 2600 years ago. Israelite DNA lineages belong to the same family groups found in European populations: the H, I, J, K, N, T, U, V, W, and X groups. Other Middle Eastern populations such as the Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese, and other Arabic groups have similar mitochondrial DNA lineages belonging to these families. Essentially all Europeans and Middle Easterners possess one of these lineages.

LDS apologists didn't need ancient Asian DNA to be convinced that American Indians are essentially all descended from Asian ancestors. So why do we need ancient Israelite DNA? John Butler has loudly trumpeted the missing Lehite DNA argument; yet he was persuaded “that almost all Native Americans tested thus far possess genetic signatures closely resembling modern-day Asians”. 

One of the attractions of working with DNA is that it carries its own history within its sequence. People who are related to each other carry DNA that shares common spelling changes that have accumulated throughout time. Anthropologists don’t need an ancient DNA sample to confirm relatedness because related DNA lineages by definition share common DNA spelling changes that occurred in their ancestors. Modern populations carry everything we need because these informative DNA spellings are rarely lost over the generations; rather, they are inherited down the generations.

The other obvious problem is that we don't have any Native American DNA lineages that are even candidate Israelite DNA lineages. Those that don't belong to the five lineage families (A to D, X) are derived from Western European or African populations and arrived after Columbus. This is especially true for Mesoamerica, a place where many apologists believe the Book of Mormon was played out. Virtually 100% of Native American DNA lineages are Asian in origin. They belong to large lineage families that have common ancestors with Asian lineages going back about 15,000 years. 

Even if Asian lineages miraculously found there way to Israel 3,000 years ago and were picked up by the Lehites, they would be distantly related to the Asian lineages that found their way to the New World over 15,000 years ago. For the same reason contemporary Asian A lineages, for example, are easily distinguished from contemporary Native American A lineages.

BYU Apologetics is as official as it gets

Almost everything published by FARMS, FAIR and the Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University appears with the following sort of disclaimer.
"The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Now we know the truth. When Church leaders are in a corner and are forced to respond to difficult questions they assume the exact same position as LDS apologists at BYU. The church can no longer plausibly deny that the views of the Maxwell Institute do not represent the position of the church. When push comes to shove the church's unofficial apologists are pretty much as official as it gets.  

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

A couple of years ago I was invited to write a chapter on the colonization of the Americas for an upcoming encyclopedia on human migration.  Volume 1 of the encyclopedia, which includes my chapter, was recently published and should soon be available either electronically or in printed form in major public and university libraries. I have posted some excerpts from my chapter that may be of interest to readers who once held erroneous views on the subject.  

Volume 1 - Prehistoric Migrations

Chapter 9 
The human colonization of the 
Americas: population genetics
Simon G. Southerton
Published Online: 4 FEB 2013

"The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration provides a complete exploration of the movements of human populations from prehistory to the present day. It includes thematic interpretations and theories of migration, as well as the significant contemporary scientific discoveries and scholarly interpretations that have reshaped the way historians and social scientists analyze and map the past." 

Volume 1 is dedicated exclusively to prehistoric migration. My chapter documents the genetic evidence for the colonization of the Americas, while chapter 8 by David Meltzer examines the archaeological evidence. The two chronologies (archaeological and genetic) are generally in good agreement. Other chapters that may interest folk include Chapter 41 Polynesia, East and South, including transpacific migration; Chapter 44 North America: Eskimo-Aleut linguistic history and Chapter 45 North America: Paleoeskimo and Inuit archaeology. 


Migration to Beringia

“The earliest immigrants to the Americas brought with them a subset of the maternal and paternal DNA lineages present in their Asian source populations. … Virtually all modern Native Americans possess an mtDNA lineage that belongs to one of five founding haplogroups, which are all present among native populations of Siberia. These maternal lineages have been designated A, B, C, D, and X. Of these haplogroups, only X is present in both central Asian and European populations; however, the X haplogroup is large and diverse, and the X lineage (X2a) found in Native American populations represents a distinct branch on the Eurasian X lineage tree.”

“Interestingly, these late Pleistocene migratory parties included domesticated dogs, as mtDNA sequences isolated from ancient dog remains from Latin America and Alaska are most closely related to the DNA lineages present in Old World dogs.”

Migration into North and South America

"Analyses of mtDNA subclades within haplogroups has been particularly useful for exploring the nature of Native American migrations from Beringia into the remainder of the Americas. Three subclades of mtDNA subhaplogroup C1 are widely distributed among North, Central, and South American Indians... The coalescence estimates for them is 16.6–11.2 kya, which suggests that the colonization of the Americas south of the continental ice sheets may have occurred after the LGM. A date of 16–17 kya, as suggested by the genetic evidence, is in agreement with recent archaeological discoveries (e.g. from Monte Verde in Chile and Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania) that predate Clovis lithic sites in North America" (See Figure below).

Controversial migration theories

“Molecular genetics discoveries are contributing important new data to often heated debates surrounding less widely supported hypotheses of the settlement of the Americas. ...

There is currently little evidence that Native Americans migrated beyond the Americas into the Pacific or that Polynesians settled in large numbers in the Americas. A distinctive “Polynesian lineage” belonging to the mtDNA B haplogroup, which is shared by almost all extant Polynesians, has not been detected among Native American populations. There is currently no genetic evidence that peoples from Melanesia, Polynesia, Australia, Africa, Europe, China, or the Middle East contributed significantly to the pre-historic Native American gene pool. The molecular genetic data thus offer little support for settlement theories at the fringe of mainstream anthropology and archaeology. Interestingly, in response to molecular research, the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) recently changed its belief that Israelites were the “principal ancestors” of Native Americans to a still overly hopeful qualification that they were “among the ancestors of the American Indians”. However, the question of whether there could have been small admixtures from other parts of the world is frequently raised by journalists, maverick anthropologists, and revisionist historians."