IntroductionLDS scholars defending the historicity of the Book of Mormon have focused most of their energy on shrinking the Book of Mormon footprint and most of their anger on secular critics. The arrival of DNA put even more strain on LGT as it placed severe limits on the scale of the Lehite incursion. Limited geography theory (LGT) apologists, as they are known, now concede that the ancestors of Native Americans largely originated in Asia and that Lehi and his family played a minor role in a small corner of the New World.
Over the last 6 years Rodney Meldrum has been loudly promoting the Heartland Theory, which argues that the Book of Mormon civilisations were located in the heartland of North America. In his book Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA Meldrum claims that critics of the Book of Mormon were too quick to claim all Native American DNA lineages were derived from Asia (Rediscovering, pages 5-8) and LGT apologists have been misled by the critics. A controversial claim of Heartland apologists is that the mitochondrial X lineage found among a small percentage of North American tribes is derived from Israel and was brought to the Americas by Lehi and his party. The Heartland model has rapidly established itself as arguably the most popular model of where Book of Mormon events occurred.
These are some of the key claims of Rodney Meldrum.
1. Native American X lineages are derived from Israel
2. The X lineage is more frequent in Jewish populations
3. The X lineage is not found in Asian populationsNone of these claims are true.
This post is the first of three posts dealing with the X lineage DNA claims of Rodney Meldrum, who leads the Heartland apologetic movement. The first post summarises the science, the second deals with Meldum's interpretation of the science and in the third we'll discuss Meldrum's questionable salesmanship.
Post I. Meldrum's X lineage: THE GOOD
In the first post I introduce some of the key scientist who have researched the X lineage and summarise the X lineage research.
Post II. Meldrum's X lineage: THE BAD
In the second post I review Rodney Meldrum's Creationist agenda, how this impacts his interpretation of the science and his "creative' use of evidence in support of his Heartland movement.
Post III. Meldrum's X lineage: THE UGLY
In the third post I look at the controversy Rodney Meldrum has sparked in apologetic circles and the questionable way he is selling his ideas.
Mitochondrial DNAReaders who have chanced upon this article may not be familiar with the use of mitochondrial DNA (abbreviated mtDNA) analysis to study human genetics. Briefly, mtDNA consists of the same strands or “base pairs” or nucleotides that are found in the rest of our DNA which is found in the cell’s chromosomes. Each nucleotide (base) is designated by the letters A, C, G, and T, with A always “paired” with T, and C always paired with G. These letters represent the molecular structures so famously identified in the work of Watson and Crick.
Mitochondrial DNA does not exist as part of the paired chromosomes we see in the cell nucleus. MtDNA is a circular, single stranded molecular, which compared to autosomal DNA, is considerably shorter. There are only 16, 569 base pairs in human mtDNA, rather than the three billion found in the chromsomes in the nucleus. This makes sequencing and analyzing mtDNA much less daunting.
We inherit our mtDNA from our mothers. The fertilized ovum that we each arose from, contains mtDNA that exist outside the cell nucleus in small bodies known as “mitochondria.” As a result of cellular replication, those 16,569 pairs are reproduced identically over and over again with very few errors in the copying process. However, while errors (or mutations) are extremely rare, they do happen and are passed on to future descendants of the woman.
Scientists track mutations in mtDNA lineages in order to classify mtDNA into related lineage families. DNA scientists have categorized mtDNA sequences into haplogroups, and since Native Americans were the first people studied, their haplogroups were labeled A, B, C, and D. As new methods were developed and the sequences were studied and the differences noted, additional letters and numbers were added to reflect those relationships. For example, haplogroup A1 is more closely related to A3 than to B1, as might be expected.
Haplogroup X was a “latecomer” to DNA science, and its discovery in the New World as well as the Old World fuelled speculation about how and when it arrived. We now know that connection occurred more than 20,000 years ago, based on the large number of differences between X lineages found in the Americas and those in the Old World.
The ScientistsThere are numerous scientists who have made very important contributions to our understanding of Native American DNA and in particular the origins of the X haplogroup lineage. I think it is important to put a face to some of these people; for the most part they don't have an axe to grind with the Mormon Church. Indeed, some doubtless hold their own religious beliefs. But what all of these scientists have in common is that they have advanced degrees in the science of human genetics and have carried out their own original research, often over several decades. The evidence these scientists deal with on a daily basis has convinced them the earth is billions of years old, evolution is a fact, and humans are related to all livings things on our planet.
President of the Estonian Academy of Science
Richard Villems has a BSc and PhD in medicine from the University of Tartu, Estonia. He has had a long and distinguished career in evolutionary biology and has been President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences since 2004. Villems is the senior author of a major study on the X lineage that revealed the deep branches in the X lineage family tree and how widely the lineage has dispersed across the globe since the last ice age. The research involved 44 scientists from a dozen European countries.
Curator of Archaeology
Ohio Historical Society
Brad Lepper has a MA and PhD in Anthropology from Ohio State University. He is a Curator of Archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society and an occasional Visiting Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Denison University. His primary areas of interest include North America’s Ice Age peoples, Ohio’s magnificent mounds and earthworks, and the history of Archaeology. Dr Lepper is an expert on the Newark “Holy Stones," a series of carved and polished stones bearing Hebrew inscriptions, said to have been found in the ancient mounds near Newark, Ohio in the 1860s. They were seized upon by those who believed “savage” Indians could not have built Ohio’s mounds, but have been considered frauds since the late 1800s. However, some enthusiasts, including Rodney Meldrum, have recently claimed they are authentic. Dr. Lepper has recently been working with local American Indian leaders to have the Hopewell sites nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
University of Texas at Austin
The X lineage ScienceBefore examining Rodney Meldrum’s Israelite X lineage claims in posts II and III its worth taking a look at what the scientists who did the actual research think about the origin of the X2a lineage. None of the non-LDS scientists involved in the discovery and characterisation of the X2a lineage of Native Americans wishes to cause the Mormon Church any harm. They are merely on a scientific quest for the truth about the origins of Native Americans. This research has led them all to the conclusion that the X lineage arrived in the Americas over 15,000 years ago. The two most important X lineage papers were published in 1998 and 2003 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, one of the leading international human genetics journals.
The discovery of the X lineage was first reported by Brown et al. from Emory University in 1998 in a paper entitled "mtDNA haplogroup X: An ancient link between Europe/Western Asia and North America?" The senior author of this paper is Douglas Wallace who was profiled earlier. It was clear to the authors of this paper that any links between Old and New World X lineages were very old.
“Median network analysis indicated that European and Native American haplogroup X mtDNAs, although distinct, nevertheless are distantly related to each other. Time estimates for the arrival of X in North America are 12,000-36,000 years ago, depending on the number of assumed founders, thus supporting the conclusion that the peoples harboring haplogroup X were among the original founders of Native American populations.”
— Brown et al., 1998The other key paper on the X lineage was published in 2003 by Riedla et al. entitled "Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X". The senior author of this paper was Richard Villems (profiled above). The authors of this work concluded the following:
“It is notable that X2 includes the two complete Native American X sequences that constitute the distinctive X2a clade, a clade that lacks close relatives in the entire Old World, including Siberia. The position of X2a in the phylogenetic tree suggests an early split from the other X2 clades, likely at the very beginning of their expansion and spread from the Near East.”
— Riedla et al., 2003The X lineage haplogroup, is an ancient and highly divergent mtDNA lineage family. It has recently been divided into two subgroups, X1 and X2, which diverged about 30,000 years ago. Subgroup X1 is rare, and restricted to North and East Africa, and the Near East. Subgroup X2 appears to have expanded its distribution soon after the last glacial maximum (LGM) about 21,000 years ago, reaching far into Eurasia and the New World. It is more common in the Near East, the Caucasus, and Mediterranean Europe; and somewhat less common in the rest of Europe.
Within the X2 sub haplogroup there are distinct subclades that are found in particular populations. Subclades X2a and X2g are found exclusively in North America, and have not been observed in Eurasia, Mesoamerica or South America. Likewise, subclades X2b, X2c, X2d, X2e and X2f are absent in the New World but present in Eurasia. There are even more X2 lineage subclades not shown in the tree below, which is based on a comprehensive database of entire mitochondrial genome sequences which can be accessed at the phylotree.org website.
Scientists can use the amount of variation in a family of related DNA lineages to estimate the time to its most recent common ancestor. They are able to do this because at the population level, mutations in mitochondrial DNA tend to occur at a relatively constant rate. By counting the number of mutations in a lineage family scientists can estimate how long the lineage family has existed. This information has helped scientists to gain information about when Native Americans first separated from Asian populations and migrated to the New World. When scientists calculated the age estimates for the X2a lineage and the other 4 major lineage families found among Native Americans, they found that all 5 haplogroups were about the same age, about 17,000 years old. This is compelling evidence that the X2a lineage entered the Americas with the original founders. It is clearly not derived from Israel which didn't exist until about 3,000 years ago.
Ancient DNA lineages
However, there are reports of the presence of the X lineage in much more ancient remains at Windover, Florida (Hauswirth et al. 1994). The site has been carbon-dated to about 7000-8,000 years ago. DNA was isolated from 14 individuals and 166 base pairs of mtDNA sequenced between positions 16151 and 16317. Within this region there are two diagnostic mutations connected to the X lineage. The first mutation at position 16278 is a C to T change (known as C16278T), and is diagnostic of the X lineage. The second mutation is a G to T transition (G16213A) which is diagnostic of X2a lineages. Two of the specimens analyzed carried the lineage X mutation (C16278T), but they both lacked the G16213A (X2a) mutation. It is possible that the lineages identified are ancestral to modern X2a lineages or they may be a distinct branch of the X lineage family which is rare or has gone extinct. It is highly likely that they are X lineages, but because the C16278T mutation has been observed in one other lineage (out of several thousand - see phylotree.org), there is a small chance that it is another lineage. More detailed studies on the Windover site may yet fully confirm this finding.
|Isolation of ancient DNA requires considerable care |
to avoid contamination with the scientists own DNA
- they belong to subclades not found in Eurasia, including the Middle East
- they are not derived from Israel
- they are as highly diverse as the Native American A, B, C and D mtDNA lineages
- they arrived in the New World about 15,000 years ago
- they will inevitably be conclusively identified in ancient DNA pre-dating the Book of Mormon period
Hauswirth et al. (1994) Inter- and Intrapopulation Studies of Ancient Humans. Experientia 50, 585-591.
Reidla, et al. (2003) "Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X," American Journal of Human Genetics 73, 1178-90.
Shlush, L. I. et al (2008) The Druze: A population genetic refugium of the Near East. PLoS ONE, 3 , p. e2105.
Smith, D. G., Malhi, R. S., Eshleman, J. et al. 1999. Distribution of MtDNA Haplogroup X among Native North Americans, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 110, 271-84.