The Culpepper Ancestral Journey
From The Genographic Project of National
Geographic, and based on a report prepared in July 2007 for Warren
Culpepper, co-publisher of Culpepper Connections. As Warren is a
descendant of Henry Culpepper, the progenitor of most American Culpeppers,
the following narrative is applicable to all Culpeppers who are descendants
of Henry, as well as to all other individuals who are members of haplogroup
Your Y-chromosome results identify you as a member of haplogroup
The genetic markers that define your ancestral history reach back roughly
60,000 years to the first common marker of all non-African men, M168,
and follow your lineage to present day, ending with M253, the
defining marker of haplogroup I1.
If you look at the map highlighting your ancestors' route, you will see
that members of haplogroup I1 carry the following Y-chromosome
M168 > M89 > M170 > M253
What's a haplogroup, and why do geneticists concentrate on the Y
chromosome in their search for markers? For that matter, what's a marker?
Each of us carries DNA that is a combination of genes passed from both
our mother and father, giving us traits that range from eye color and height
to athleticism and disease susceptibility. One exception is the Y
chromosome, which is passed directly from father to son, unchanged, from
generation to generation.
Unchanged, that is unless a mutation—a random, naturally occurring,
usually harmless change—occurs. The mutation, known as a marker, acts as a
beacon; it can be mapped through generations because it will be passed down
from the man in whom it occurred to his sons, their sons, and every male in
his family for thousands of years.
In some instances there may be more than one mutational event that
defines a particular branch on the tree. This means that either of these
markers can be used to determine your particular haplogroup, since every
individual who has one of these markers also has the other. Therefore,
either marker can be used as a genetic signpost leading us back to the
origin of your group, guiding our understanding of what was happening at
that early time.
When geneticists identify such a marker, they try to figure out when it
first occurred, and in which geographic region of the world. Each marker is
essentially the beginning of a new lineage on the family tree of the human
race. Tracking the lineages provides a picture of how small tribes of modern
humans in Africa tens of thousands of years ago diversified and spread to
populate the world.
A haplogroup is defined by a series of markers that are shared by other
men who carry the same random mutations. The markers trace the path your
ancestors took as they moved out of Africa. It's difficult to know how many
men worldwide belong to any particular haplogroup, or even how many
haplogroups there are, because scientists simply don't have enough data yet.
One of the goals of the five-year Genographic Project is to build a large
enough database of anthropological genetic data to answer some of these
questions. To achieve this, project team members are traveling to all
corners of the world to collect more than 100,000 DNA samples from
indigenous populations. In addition, we encourage you to contribute your
anonymous results to the project database, helping our geneticists reveal
more of the answers to our ancient past.
Keep checking these pages; as more information is received, more may be
learned about your own genetic history.
Your Ancestral Journey: What We Know Now
M168: Your Earliest Ancestor
|Time of Emergence: Roughly 50,000 years ago|
|Place of Origin: Africa|
|Climate: Temporary retreat of Ice Age; Africa moves from drought to
warmer temperatures and moister conditions|
|Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 10,000|
|Tools and Skills: Stone tools; earliest evidence of art and advanced
Skeletal and archaeological evidence suggest that anatomically modern
humans evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and began moving out of
Africa to colonize the rest of the world around 60,000 years ago.
The man who gave rise to the first genetic marker in your lineage
probably lived in northeast Africa in the region of the Rift Valley, perhaps
in present-day Ethiopia , Kenya, or Tanzania, some 31,000 to 79,000 years
ago. Scientists put the most likely date for when he lived at around 50,000
years ago. His descendants became the only lineage to survive outside of
Africa, making him the common ancestor of every non-African man living
But why would man have first ventured out of the familiar African hunting
grounds and into unexplored lands? It is likely that a fluctuation in
climate may have provided the impetus for your ancestors' exodus out of
The African ice age was characterized by drought rather than by cold. It
was around 50,000 years ago that the ice sheets of northern Europe began to
melt, introducing a period of warmer temperatures and moister climate in
Africa. Parts of the inhospitable Sahara briefly became habitable. As the
drought-ridden desert changed to a savanna, the animals hunted by your
ancestors expanded their range and began moving through the newly emerging
green corridor of grasslands. Your nomadic ancestors followed the good
weather and the animals they hunted, although the exact route they followed
remains to be determined.
In addition to a favorable change in climate, around this same time there
was a great leap forward in modern humans' intellectual capacity. Many
scientists believe that the emergence of language gave us a huge advantage
over other early human species. Improved tools and weapons, the ability to
plan ahead and cooperate with one another, and an increased capacity to
exploit resources in ways we hadn't been able to earlier, all allowed modern
humans to rapidly migrate to new territories, exploit new resources, and
replace other hominids.
M89: Moving Through the Middle East
|Time of Emergence: 45,000 years ago|
|Place: Northern Africa or the Middle East|
|Climate: Middle East: Semiarid grass plains|
|Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Tens of thousands|
|Tools and Skills: Stone, ivory, wood tools|
The next male ancestor in your ancestral lineage is the man who gave rise
to M89, a marker found in 90 to 95 percent of all non-Africans. This
man was born around 45,000 years ago in northern Africa or the Middle East.
The first people to leave Africa likely followed a coastal route that
eventually ended in Australia. Your ancestors followed the expanding
grasslands and plentiful game to the Middle East and beyond, and were part
of the second great wave of migration out of Africa.
Beginning about 40,000 years ago, the climate shifted once again and
became colder and more arid. Drought hit Africa and the grasslands reverted
to desert, and for the next 20,000 years, the Saharan Gateway was
effectively closed. With the desert impassable, your ancestors had two
options: remain in the Middle East, or move on. Retreat back to the home
continent was not an option.
While many of the descendants of M89 remained in the Middle East,
others continued to follow the great herds of buffalo, antelope, woolly
mammoths, and other game through what is now modern-day Iran to the vast
steppes of Central Asia.
These semiarid grass-covered plains formed an ancient "superhighway"
stretching from eastern France to Korea. Your ancestors, having migrated
north out of Africa into the Middle East, then traveled both east and west
along this Central Asian superhighway. A smaller group continued moving
north from the Middle East to Anatolia and the Balkans, trading familiar
grasslands for forests and high country.
M170: Occupying the Balkans
|Time of Emergence: 20,000 years ago |
|Place of Origin: Southeastern Europe|
|Climate: Height of the Ice Age|
|Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Hundreds of thousands|
|Tools and Skills: Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic
Your ancestors were part of the M89 Middle Eastern Clan that
continued to migrate northwest into the Balkans and eventually spread into
central Europe. These people may have been responsible for the expansion of
the prosperous Gravettian culture, which spread through northern Europe from
about 21,000 to 28,000 years ago.
The Gravettian culture represents the second technological phase to sweep
through prehistoric Western Europe. It is named after a site in La Gravette,
France, where a set of tools different from the preceding era (Aurignacian
culture) was found. The Gravettian stone tool kit included a distinctive
small pointed blade used for hunting big game.
The Gravettian culture is also known for their voluptuous carvings of
big-bellied females often dubbed "Venus" figures. The small, frequently
hand-sized sculptures appear to be of pregnant women—obesity not being a
problem for hunter-gatherers—and may have served as fertility icons or as
emblems conferring protection of some sort. Alternatively, they may have
These early European ancestors of yours used communal hunting techniques,
created shell jewelry, and used mammoth bones to build their homes. Recent
findings suggest that the Gravettians may have discovered how to weave
clothing using natural fibers as early as 25,000 years ago. Earlier
estimates had placed weaving at about the same time as the emergence of
agriculture, around 10,000 years ago.
Your most recent common ancestor, the man who gave rise to marker
M170, was born about 20,000 years ago and was heir to this heritage. He
was probably born in one of the isolated refuge areas people were forced to
occupy during the last blast of the Ice Age.
It's possible that the Vikings descended from this line. The Viking raids
on the British Isles might explain why the lineage can be found in
populations in southern France and among some Celtic populations.
M253: Surviving the Ice Age
|Time of Emergence: Roughly 15,000 years ago|
|Place of Origin: Iberian Refugia (Spain)|
|Climate: Ice Free Regions, or Refugia, During the Ice Age|
|Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately
|Tools and Skills: Late Upper Paleolithic|
Some 20,000 to 15,000 years ago your ancestors, like many Europeans,
sought refuge from the massive sheets of ice that covered much of the
continent during the last ice age. They found temperate ice-free refugia, in
which they could survive, on the Iberian Peninsula.
While your ancestral lineage was geographically isolated by ice the
distinctive genetic marker M253 appeared in one of its male members.
As the Earth warmed and the glacial maximum passed, some 15,000 years ago,
the ice finally began its slow retreat. The refugia's dwellers left the
peninsula and began to repopulate other parts of Europe that had once been
covered by ice. They carried with them the unique genetic marker that
defines haplogroup I1.
Today this marker is still found in high frequencies throughout northwest
Europe, providing a genetic map of the physical paths your ancestors walked
This is where your genetic trail, as we know it today, ends. However, be
sure to revisit these pages. As additional data are collected and analyzed,
more will be learned about your place in the history of the men and women
who first populated the Earth. We will be updating these stories throughout
the life of the project.
Postscript by Warren Culpepper
The I1 Project at Family Tree DNA has identified for the I1
haplogroup some specific variations in DNA signatures (i.e.
haplotypes) by region. Their Ultra-Norse Type 1 (Norway) haplotype is the
closest match to the Culpepper's. This suggests that the Culpeppers who
first appeared in recorded history in 12th century England were probably
Viking descendants. The Vikings were Norse seafaring traders, warriors and
pirates who raided and colonized wide areas of Europe from the late 8th to
the 11th century.
DNA Home Page
02 Jan 2015