Changing Planet

DNA Reveals Unknown Ancient Migration Into India

For ten years, Genographic Project scientists have explored and explained how patterns in our DNA show evidence of migration and expansion routes of our ancient ancestors across the globe. DNA has shown that genetically modern humans arose in Africa some 150,000 years ago, and around 60,000 years ago left Africa and went east into Asia, north into Europe, and south into Australia. But new research from Genographic Project scientists in India shows that eventually some of them also moved back west, and brought their language with them.

Genographic Project scientists Drs. Ramasamy Pitchappan and GaneshPrasad ArunKumar from Tamil Nadu, India, analyzed the Y-chromosome (paternally-inherited) DNA from more than 10,000 men from southern Asia. The findings, published in the Journal of Systematics and Evolution, showed that in the last 8,000 years humans expanded west from Southeast Asia back to India.

A Lao farmer paddles along a golden river at sunset. (Photo by W.E. Garrett)

This previously undetected migration is evident from the frequency and diversity of a specific genetic clan, or haplogroup, in that part of the world. The Genographic scientists found a much higher frequency of haplogroup O2a1 in their research than expected. “Since O2a1 is accepted as the founding lineage of Austro-Asiatic languages (a group of related languages from Southeast Asia), the origin and spread of this lineage gives clues on the history of these speakers and the region. Our study shows a clear decrease in age and diversity of haplogorup O2a1 from Laos to East India, suggesting an east to west spread out of Southeast Asia,” explains Dr. ArunKumar about his findings.

Dr. ArunKumar working in the field
Dr. G. ArunKumar collects samples in the field in eastern India. (Photo courtesy of G. ArunKumar)

But why did they focus on just one haplogroup, when there are hundreds of distinct haplogroups in Asia? “The Y chromosomal haplogroup O2a1 accounts for almost 15 percent of Indian male lineages and 58 percent of male lineages from Southeast Asia, and the distribution of this haplogroup matches the distribution of Austro-Asiatic languages (i.e. Vietnamese, Cambodian, Munda, and Nicobarese), and some of these Austro-Asiatic speaking populations are 100-percent haplogroup O2a1,” adds Dr. ArunKumar. “Thus understanding the distribution of O2a1 sheds light on the origin and movement of people in that part of the world.”

Haplogroup O2a1
Around the darkest red spot in southern Asia in the map above, two small arrows indicate the westward movement of people of haplogroup O2a1 from Laos back into India. (Image courtesy The Genographic Project)

Previous Genographic Project studies have also shown strong correlations between language and frequency of a certain haplogroup. Examples include the relationship between Indo-European languages and paternal haplogroup R1, and Austronesian languages and mitochondrial DNA (maternal) haplogroup B4. In each case, language similarities paralleled genetic similarities.

So, does this mean that the language you speak is ingrained in your DNA? Well no, but even though language is learned (nurture) and DNA is inherited (nature), the two are undoubtedly interconnected and, as we have shown, correlated.

Learn more about this and other Genographic Project research and what haplogroups our scientists are currently studying at

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.
  • Pak Karim

    Please spread these findings to the people of the countries where ethenic discrimation abound especially in Myanmar.

  • Adrian Edwards

    Stephen Oppenheimer, in “Out of Eden”, says that some of the migrants out of Africa had passed Sumatra before the explosion of Mt Toba about 74,000 years ago which covered the Indian subcontinent in volcanic ash and wiped out most of the population. Could these returnees be descendents of these survivors returning to repopulate an empty India?

  • Sarabjeet Singh

    congratulations Dr. Pitchappan and Dr. ArunKumar for your remarkable work in the context of tracing our Ancestry.

  • Terry Jackson

    Interesting how some in India despise their dark skin brethren when their ancestors were dark skinned. Amazing how some Indians treat Africans and African Americans when their brethren are African. Science reveals all.

    • Thank you for your comments. One of the themes we have learned through these analyses is that we are all closely related and that humans as a species originally came from Africa.

  • Anon

    looks like from this map these people didn’t migrate as much as india and africa may have split apart or drifted apart from one another. Were all the continents together at some point?

    • Thank you for your questions. The scientific thought is that the continents were closer together tens of millions of years ago, but these migration we have discovered through analyzing our shared DNA are in the order of tens of thousands of years old.

  • Ashutosh Sabnis

    This is very fascinating. Thanks for sharing. Is there any new research on haplogroup Q-M346?

    • Thank you. I do not know of any study specific to Q-M346 in Asia or the Americas, but our Consortium scientists from North America published an article on new branches of Q found among the Eskimo-Aleut and Athapaskan groups in Alaska and Canada. I would be happy to sent it to you if you would like.

  • Ronald Santoro

    How did my family go from Afro/Indian to possibly Greek than Sicilian, to Italy with genetic flaws with BRACA gene, Dupruytrenre’s Disease. The former being from Northern Europe and the latter being from the meditation section.

  • Ronald Santoro

    especially interested use because I lost my mother and her 5 sisters as well as 2 cousins and 40 year daughter has been battling breast cancer for 9 years. The Gene has been isolated to a small Jewish community outside of Germany

  • Joe Tassone

    Miguel, Interesting article. My paternal family comes from Calabria and yet my DNA is I2b.
    Do you have any information on when I2b entered southern Italy? Thank you.

  • Dr Prasad Magar

    This is just preliminary findings and not conclusive proof of some group migrating to India, more importantly it should be mitochondrial DNA for studying lineage this study is basically flawed and should be discarded

  • Rex

    This gives a lot of credence to the flooding events of Sundaland during this same time frame. 3 major pulses of glacial melt caused sea levels to rise about 330 feet, which put most of Sundaland, underwater, and drove the people out. It also gives clues to who made the ancient megalithic ruins at Gunung Padang in Malaysia, off the coasts of Java too. I think underwater archaeological investigations are really needed of this area. It may also neatly explain the connections with native Taiwanese further to the north, and maybe the underwater megalith at Yonaguni as well.

  • Tschaka Tonge

    eep it up! All cheers to the efforts of The Genographic Project. Since childhood in the 1960’s I had a pointed interest in the origins of our human species. Starting with Mary and Louis Leakey’s find in Olduvai Gorge in 1959. As an African-American child at the time, this was fantastic to read in “The Weekly Reader.” I felt proud; this when Africa was still called “The dark continent” in children’s cartoons. The science confirms our origins, similarities and regional ethnic differences and culture. Keep up the dutiful work Haplo by Haplo and like the DNA prove and show. Smile.

  • Tschaka Tonge

    Keep it up! All cheers to the efforts of The Genographic Project. Since childhood in the 1960’s I had a pointed interest in the origins of our human species. Starting with Mary and Louis Leakey’s find in Olduvai Gorge in 1959. As an African-American child at the time, this was fantastic to read in “The Weekly Reader.” I felt proud, this when Africa was still called “The dark continent” in children’s cartoons. The science confirms our origins, similarities and regional ethnic differences and culture. Keep up the dutiful work Haplo by Haplo and like the DNA prove and show. Smile.

  • Jann Fullerton

    I have a kit and number and password but can’t get in

  • Peggy Tree

    With the continents having been closer together at this time, isn’t it possible that migrations from the African or European regions could have reached North American? They are finding earlier signs of Native Americans who they think could have reached the North American area by water. This would have been a much less perilous journey at that time than it would at the present time. Could it possibly be an explanation also, for the one White tribe of Cherokee Indians in the eastern portion of the United States?

    I loved the article and really appreciated the map showing the areas and directions early man took out of Africa.

    Another question I have, which I do not want my name associated because it would sound like a racist question, which I do NOT mean it to be with is: For man who did not leave Africa and stayed in tribal communities, did their mental development fall behind that of man who left Africa and had so many travel, climatic, and other different challenges to overcome? I’ve always wondered about this because of the number of Appalachian people I have worked with who have never been out of the state, some not out of the county they live in. They are afraid to go outside the county and tend to have developmental disabilities or lower levels of intelligence. People with lower intelligence levels also seem to be more racist and less tolerant of people of color. That’s why I asked this question.

  • Suresh G. Nait

    Where should I give my blood sample.

  • Craig McMullen

    My wife and I submitted DNA to AncestryDNA for fun. We both had stories of Native American ancestry in our lineage. Long story short, we did not. But I discovered something very interesting in mine. 97% European, expected. 41% Irish – most of my ancesters immigrated from Scotland. 38% Europe West- Swiss ancestery a surprise. 9% Scandina-another surprise. 8% Italy/Greece another surprise. 1% Great Britian – expected. But what is the most surprising is the other 3%. 1% Caucasus, Asia West, 1% Asia Central, and 1% Mali. I realize this add up to 101% assuming not a full percentages. Any thoughts, ideas, comments? Find this all very interesting.

  • Suraj Shetty

    Thanks Miguel for the update.
    I come from family with roots in western coastal city of Mangalore. In the area in around this city, Tulu language is spoken, which is distinctly different from Kannada which spoken in surrounding area . Reading your article I am wondering are we were a group who settled later in the area and carried our language with us. If there is a way to participate in this program ,, let me know.

    • Hello Suraj,

      Thank you for your comment. Your question about settlement and migration is a very interesting one. If you are interested in learning more about these patterns, feel free to reach out to Dr. Pirchappan or Dr. ArunKumar. They continue to carry out great anthropological work in that region. Best wishes to you!

  • Peter Buhanist


    Having read Mr Oppenheimer’s book, your point came to my mind, too. But since the publication of his book, the consensus for the timing of the exodus seems to have moved to around 60.000 BP. So there is a timing inconsistency in that proposal. I find it strange though that geneticists fail to triangulate their findings with those of geologists. Perhaps their calibration sucks and Oppenheimer is right, after all.

  • Gaurav Jha

    Thanks Miguel Vilar for this information.

    I want to ask a question. Does it mean that Humans (Homo-sapiens) as a specie migrated from Africa to Laos and did not settle anywhere in the middle-east or Migrated to Europe directly from Africa?

    • You are very welcome! No, what this means is that people did settle all along the way in the Middle East and South Asia, and some migrated not from there to Europe and Central Asia. But now we know that at least one population migrated back west from Southeast Asia towards the South Asia.

  • Jacqueline Stonitsch Berghorn

    I was part of this study with Natl Geo n cant log into to ck my DNA study . Can you advise what site to go on pls
    Thank You

    • Depending on when and how you took the test, you may be able to see your results online at If you can’t see them, and you worked with one of our scientists in the field, please contact him or her directly and they can guide you on how to access your results. Thank you!

  • Ebrahim Mohamed

    please I want to be part of this study (Genographic Project )
    What are the steps to join?

  • Janice Glenn

    2-3 years ago encountered something (???) that showed a very ancient town in Southern India that had its own language and training of male monks from childhood. This village was allegedly isolated from essentially all contact with other human culture. The language bore no ties to any known linguistic tree. I have been trying since to locate information about this alleged historical/contemporary village/people. Alas, I do not recall where I came across this story. Can you help me with this? Thank you VERY much!

  • Larry Cole

    I can’t find how to access the information from the cheek swabs I sent in months ago from Kit #2. Also I can’t find out how to register. Why doesn’t this web site help me get this information?

  • Gunes Takar

    ı want to be a part of

  • Sandy Augusta

    What DNA company is the right one to trust in giving a correct analysis

    • Hello Sandy,
      All of the current companies provide reliable services, but they each have different questions they aim to answer or services they provide.
      Visit us to learn more about our project and what our goals are.

  • Catherine

    I am very interested in being a participant in this project. I have been trying to trace my lineage with no success. Keep hitting dead ends. One family member says one thing, another says contradicting info. Others who did know all passed away. Please help?

  • Mindy Swan

    How well does this DNA testing generate results on Native Americans? I feel like there hasn’t yet been enough study on the Native Americans to be able to determine true lineage.

    • Hello Mindy,
      There have been some studies on Native American groups from Canada and the US, but you are correct to asume that there haven’t been enough work done to be able to distinguish lineages among neighboring nations or tribes. The Genographic Project has been succesful working with some Indigneous American groups, and we continue to be interested in working with groups moving forward. As DNA technology improves, we are able to tell more about specific lineages and populations, but the more participants we have the more we can learn and then convey. Thank you for your interest, and please let us know if you would like more information.

  • nathalie

    there is a part of the tunisian genom which is south east asian, and nobody knows what it means . does that part of the tunisian genom have anything to do with O2a1 haplogroup? if yes, what is the link?
    if no, what is the haplogroup identified in tunisia as being southeast asian?

    • Hello Nathalie,

      I have not heard of the Tunisian/Southeast Asian connection. Do you know where you heard about this?


  • Patricia Schneider-Zioga

    Please consult with linguists in your discussions, Nat. Geographic! By far the majority of linguists are convinced that language per se, as a human capacity, is innate. What you probably mean to report is that a particular language is not encoded in your DNA– however, the human capacity for language almost certainly is.

  • Theresa McGinniss Galloway

    My results were tested as 4.2% Denisovan and 2.9% Neanderthal. My entire family is from Ireland, with my war bride mother an immigrant said to be 1/2 Irish and 1/2 Spanish or Portuguese descent. As a first generation American, I would like to see more information from National Geographic considering coastal route migrations using the 3/4 million testings in your first Genome 2.0 study.
    I want to get a kit for my son and daughter but am waiting until the Denisovan DNA markers are included in the test again. I hear new observations on Irish DNA population data National Public Radio but little to none published on this site. You cannot monitor what is not measured. Please provide more current alternate theories based on the data already collected. Thanks.

  • Sheila

    I took part in the first geno project. I had my brother do the geno 2 test. He is the end of the patriarchal line. He is r-l257 (makes me also) and we are also W5a on the mitochondrial haplogroup. I believe that the haplogroups are a bit rare among those tested 3%and1% . How and where do I find out more about these two groups?

    • Hi Sheila,

      Thanks for your comment! To learn more about individual haplogroups, I would direct you to common interest groups managed by our laboratory partners at Family Tree DNA. I know the Y chromosome haplogroup R has been quite heavily studied, and group leaders there can help you learn more about it. MtDNA haplogroup W5a is quite rare, a web search may be helpful in that case.

  • Alana Costigan

    I was surprised to find that I was mostly Irish as all my maternal family came from the Isle of Lewis in he Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Paternal family from Mainland Scotland. Plus, i was surprised to see so little Scandinavian ancestry. This, because the Western Isles of Scotland were visited by the Norsemen who stayed to farm. On Lewis all of the villages on the shore have Norse names. Can you explainthis please?

    • Hello Alana,
      Thank you for your comment. We do not have an explanation, but we have seen varying degrees of Scandinavian genetic influence in the British Isles. It is a heavily studied part of the world, I expect we will be learning more about this in the years to come.

  • Per A.J. Andersson

    Intresting find! And the idea about Toba and a possible repopulation of India from the east is quite in interesting one. To those of you who thinks the basic form of Genographic testing tells all about your lineage, please rethink. Y-chromosomes are inherited only from male to male, and mitochondie-DNA is inherited only from female to female. So for each successive generation you look back, there could be 50 percent more of you lineage that you cannot trace through basic Genographic testing. Those American Indian genes could be there, allbeit not (as easily) detectable.

  • Evg

    Does anyone involved in the Genographic Project have correlated the project’s findings through DNA studies and the archeological data gathered in multiple dig-sites in the Mesopotamean area over the last 200 years?

    • Thanks for your comment. We have collaborated with various people doing Ancient DNA throughout Europe, and to a lesser extent in Mesopotamia. We hope to keep growing those collaborations.

  • Leonel Edgardo Fonseca Herrera

    Each discovery open us the door to obtain more information about our past, and remember us who all modern humans are closely related.
    The investigations in my country confirm us the real history to the conquest and the Pre Columbian cultures assimilation tending to give us a new vision that permitted the valorization to our native heritage

  • Ashok

    Migration from India towards Europe/Mediterranean areas has been explained by Alain Danielou in his book, “A Brief History of India”, in 1971. Having said that, if one is M-130, is it possible that, one could be Pre-Dravidian, in other words could be Adi-Dravida and not Dravidian? And what part does Haplogroup O2a1 play in M-130. May be Drs. Ramasamy Pitchappan and GaneshPrasad ArunKumar could fill in the gaps in lay person’s language Please. Thanks.

  • Barin Das

    I am a Bengali Indian, with both parents born in what is now Bangladesh. While my paternal line is H1* common among S Asians, my Mitochondrial DNA is ‘A” as tested by 23andme Lab in USA. This haplogroup is common among certain native Americans who had crossed over from NE Asia during the ice age. I was surprised by my MT DNA which showed an amazing length of distance travelled down South from Siberia down to S Asia.

  • Wayne ILLES

    There is a region which was in Hungary for over 1000 years and then was split in 1920, the border goes right through the Bodrogkoz. I have been doing my genealogy back to the early 1700s and am finding out that a lot of my ancestors were also related to each other. It turns out that the Bodrog apparently is where the Huns originally settled when they entered the Carpathain Basin. My grandparents were born over there but even my parents who weren’t it turns out were 7th cousins and their ancestors weren’t from the same town since 1802. I have visited the area and everyone I speak with it turns out is somehow related to me. Are there other areas like this in Europe or elsewhere?

  • Tom

    My paternal line shows about a dozen markers, my maternal only 3. Is this normal?

  • Parshu Narayanan

    It makes intuitive sense – Australoid peoples streaming in from the East and Mediterrnean people ( Caucasoids to use an archaic term) streaming in from the West to give birth to the Indus Valley Civilization, the mix of Ancient North Indians ( Dravidian speakers?) and Ancient South Indian ( Austric speakers?) – and after the flooding and droughts made the Indus Valley decline to vanishing there was an invading creamy layer on top – the Indo-Aryans who gave everyone in the North their language and their genes too, in small percentages
    From what I’ve read this is the story that makes sense – but of course Harappan DNA is still being analysed

  • Rita Lamb

    My family for the few generations I know of (roughly from the year 1800) were all Irish and English, so when my results were ‘93% GB&I’ it didn’t really surprise me.

    But there was also ‘4% East European’, which did. Is there any way to know how/when the East European got there? Should I be imagining ancient migrations, or a Polish sailor getting lucky with my g-g-granny in a Limerick pub?

  • Ilamadi Manickam

    I am wondering if
    1. any specific haplo group for Tamil speaking people as the language is the oldest language ever human speak ( i believe)
    2. Have the native people of Kolli Hills (of Tamilnadu state , India) been sampled
    3. In the south most part of India, it is believed that people moved from submerged continent to current landmass. is there any specific findings in this haplo group

  • Pitchappan

    I appreciate all the comments. In this study, we identified a east to west migration of O2a males along with their language, that we see today in India among Autro Adriatic speakers – tribal males of Orissa.

    Mankind, as do other species is always a story of migration, settlement and expansion. If one understands this there will be no conflict in thus world: we are all brothers and sisters. Birth place of Mankind, and more so the ancient lands in Middle East:that were the cradle of first human exodus are all in heavy distress and ethnic conflicts, like Aleppo. Spread the message of brotherhood, and pray for a better tomorrow.

  • Carolyn

    I hope that photo was just a posed photo because the method of collecting samples there would lead to contamination of samples.

  • Sunil

    Terry Jackson – This was really a new concept that was really established due to British rule, it was never a concept in Indian Culture. Indian culture is accepting of all cultures and religions. The word Aryan comes from the ancient Sanskrit word Arya which means noble person, but was used by the British with the help of Max Muller to create a false history of the Aryan migration from Europe into India. This was done to make Indians feel thankful for their repression.

  • Divaker V Vittal

    There Was A TV Series From NG On This Migration And Also National Geographic DVDs Are Available In Many Book Shops For Us To See The 1st Family Of The Respected Country. A Farmer’s Family Near Madurai Is Credited As The First Family Who Set Foot In India.

    My Surprise Is Much Towards A Broader Spectrum Of Visible Proofs Which Is Stemmed With Cultural, Traditional Customs Which Are Distinctive Across The Continents. Particularly About The Marriage Customs, Marriage Celebrations and Customs, Puberty Celebrations and Customs, Funeral Customs and Celebrations (Liberation of Soul From Body Hence Celebration) and Also Music Tunes and Tempo, Fighting Stance, Dance and Music Related To Those All Share Too Much A Commonality To Ignore. I Have Personally Observed This Keeping South India As The Base and Compared With Many South Eastern Countries And South and South East Africa Including Madagascar. I Have Observed Music From Australian Aborigines But I Have Not Witnessed Physically, Maybe After I’ve Understood This In Clear I Would Be In A Position To Write Something Worthy About The Cultural Connection With These People Who Are Disconnected By Continents

  • David

    no not only in Myanmar, the racism in India against Africans is becoming much, forgotten they also came from Africa. and no matter how strong they mix with other races ,the African genes can never go out of their looks. Africans are still the prototype of every race.

  • Donna M Calhoun

    I recently had my DNA done by Ancestry. All my life I have wondered about my heritage. I am 12% Mali, 20% East Indian, all the rest from Caucus countries. I look Indian. So I consider myself a child of the Silk Road.

  • George

    I am Greek and my wife is Tamil from Sri Lanka , our children look like the Northern Indians, the Indo0Greeks of ancient times. Life is Amazing. Peace!

  • Zul Mir

    I got my DNA results which was a little surprising, my family is from Kashmir, and my results showed 73% Indian continent, 13% Scandinavian, 12% east & west Asia (Turkic) The Scandinavian was a total surprise to me. I’ve been told I can blend in to many places,, but I certainly don’t look Scandinavian,.fascinating discoveries

  • Madhava Gopal

    My name is Madhava Gopal and I am from Salem, Tamilnadu, India.
    I have written a book on Tamil Vedham which existed 4 million years ago. I have also recorded and posted over 80 episodes in YouTube for viewing. Tamil is way beyond just being a language, it is a gateway to the universal truths and that is why the civilisation with this knowledge flourished 4 million years back. All this knowledge was lost when Lumeria submerged into the sea and now it has been brought back through the book “Tamil Vedham” as revealed to me through meditation for the last 45 years. It is very important to understand the greatness of our amazing Tamil language so that our future generations take pride in learning, preserving and flourishing through this ancient knowledge.

    I am grateful to the divinity for giving me the opportunity in bringing back this lost gem which will give an insight about the greatness of our ancestors.
    My attempt here is to share and take this amazing wealth of knowledge and the technology of sounds received through Tamil Vedham to as many people as possible and I would be most grateful if you could help me in anyway possible in this endeavour.
    Thanking you.
    With warm regards,
    ‭+91 98427 07112‬

  • Noel

    I sent my d.n.a. To Genographic and never was able
    To receive my results ( national geo.) I gave
    Gifts to other family members and now because
    Of my poor results ( I never received clear info. It
    Was all binary stuff much to advanced for me.
    Never clear modern English. Thank you for
    Your modern concideration. Noel

  • Rena Salomon

    Do any of your DNA tests go back to Mesopotamia area? I’m reading mostly Africa or Asia, will this test give me more information if I was born in the Middle East?

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