Like many Americans, Nick Donofrio, IBM Executive Vice President, Innovation and Technology, knew his ancestors came from somewhere else. In his case, his grandparents came from Southern Italy to New York City. What he didn't know was that their forebears had settled in remote mountains in the Middle East 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.
"I never would have imagined the results," Nick says. "They're really kind of amazing." Analysis of Nick's DNA found he belonged in the Haplogroup J2. This group originated in an area to the west of the Zagros Mountains in Iran. The area we now refer to/know as Mesopotamia, and it was the first culture in that part of the world to domesticate plants. Plant domestication, in turn, led to agriculture. Mesopotamians went from a society of hunter-gathers to farmers. Then they went on the road.
Around 9,000 to 9,300 years ago, the Neolithic farmers began to expand, moving through Turkey and on to Europe. (Today Haplogroup J2 men are found throughout all of Europe, although usually as a small percentage of the population.) Scientists believe the migrants brought the new technology of farming with them and thus were able to settle among existing societies without conflict. In anthropological terms, this was a technology transfer, not a population replacement.
But how Nick's ancestors found their way from Mesopotamia to Italy remains unclear. "That's why we need to collect hundreds of thousands of these samples," says Nick. More samples will help fill in the gap between the origins of modern humankind and the beginnings of recorded history.
Like everyone in the Genographic Project, Nick will see more information as more participants submit DNA for comparison. With a larger database to work with, scientists will be able to trace more ancestral footprints.
"I'm really excited about how this study will help people better understand the many things that connect us as members of the human family," Nick says. "The Genographic Project promises to enrich our world by expanding mankind's knowledge and enabling us to learn more about common history."