DNA Results from Asturias, Spain Add to the Genographic Project Human Family Tree

Genetic results from Asturias, Spain, or Espana Verde (Green Spain), go deeper than the delightful cidre and fabada asturiana. From low hominin ancestry to high numbers of unique European lineages, the Genographic Project sheds new light on the history of Espana Verde. 

by Rachel Bruton

Last year, the Niemeyer Center of Aviles (Asturias) invited the Genographic Project to visit Asturias and celebrate with them the region’s heritage. After a series of Genographic related activities, a group of 100 excited participants lined up to swab with the Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry Kit, test their DNA, and gain a better understanding of the area’s migratory history. This week, the Genographic Project revealed the interesting findings about the region.

One of the participants was the Aviles Mayoress, Ms. Pilar Varela. She commented how collectively the Asturias results “show how we all can trace our common roots to Africa, yet each one’s path to reach Asturias is somewhat different.”

Ties to all of Europe

Map of Asturias Maternal Ancestry
Map of Asturias’ Maternal Ancestry

Among the 100 people who participated, most (>80%) of their maternal lineages belonged to one of the seven major European haplogroups (branches on the human family tree). Lineages from the Middle East and North Africa were also present, but in smaller numbers (between 5 and 10% each), and one participant had Native American maternal ancestry, not commonly found among the Spanish.

Maternal haplogroup H was the most common branch among participants, accounting for more than a third of lineages. Interestingly, the ancestral haplogroup HV, with ties to early agriculturalists from the Middle East or possibly Europe’s earliest settlers, was found in eleven Asturians present. Overall, the maternal results showed a high frequency of some of Europe’s oldest lineages, a pattern similar to their Basque neighbors, also from northern Spain.

Map of Asturias' Paternal Ancestry
Map of Asturias’ Paternal Ancestry

Haplogroup R1b was the reoccurring lineage for paternal ancestry, accounting for nearly 75% of male participants in this group. R1b is the most common European Y-chromosome branch, and nearly 60% of European men carry this lineage. One interesting finding revealed, however, was that many of the men came from lesser known branches of the R1b, suggesting their exact origin remains a mystery. Among the paternal lineages only one had ties to Europe’s fist modern humans.

Ancient Cousins

A photo of a reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman.
A reconstruction of a Neanderthal female.
Photograph by Joe McNally, National Geographic Daily News

Before modern humans arrived in Iberia about 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals ruled Spain. And although most anthropologists agree that humans and Neanderthals mixed, a point of interest among the participants was the unusually low percentage of Neanderthal in their DNA. The people from Asturias on average carried only 1.5% Neanderthal DNA, compared to the 2.5% average observed among most other modern European groups.

National Geographic’s roots in Asturias go deeper than DNA. In 2006, it was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication in 2006 for its efforts to inspire people to care about the planet. To learn more about National Geographic’s Genographic Project and discover your own ancient ancestry, visit www.genographic.com

Changing Planet

Dr. Miguel Vilar is the Science Manager for National Geographic's Genographic Project. Miguel is also a molecular anthropologist and a science writer. His fieldwork has taken him to remote places throughout the South Pacific, East Africa, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. In the laboratory he researches the modern genetic diversity of human populations from Melanesia, Micronesia, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Miguel has published in several anthropology and genetics journals, as well as popular science magazines.