Last week, Ugo gave a persuasive argument (to some) that explained whether the LDS Church has a position on evolution, as well as why DNA has not been found among Native Americans.  However, we didn’t address the Lemba Tribe.  In Simon Southerton‘s book, “Losing a Lost Tribe”, he notes that the Lemba Tribe in Africa (unlike Native Americans) has Middle Eastern DNA.  I asked Dr. Ugo Perego about this finding.  We get into the details on that here.

Ugo: The Lemba Tribe is an African tribe.  Traditionally they claim to have Jewish ancestry but physically they are African.  They did this DNA study, this was done several years ago, and actually things have changed a little bit since then.  The original thing that made a huge impact that people still remember is the fact that Jewish researchers identified a marker among Jewish families called the Cohen haplotype.

Cohen is the priestly class.  It’s a surname which is linked back in time of the Levi or Aaron, brother of Moses, and that would be the priestly class that was found among the different Israelite tribes.  The first research says we identified these markers.  It’s very dominant among the Cohen families which traditionally was the priestly family.  They have the marker.  The other families don’t have it as much as they do.

Do all the Cohen people have the marker?  No.  Do people that are not Cohen have the marker?  Yes, but the majority of the Cohens has it, so they are linking to them.  It’s never 100%, it’s never all or none.  They have it.  We link it to Jewish families, we link it to the priestly class.  Now the Lemba Tribe says we are part of the Jewish family too.  They found the Cohen haplotype among them as well, so you think genetically it makes more sense.

GT:  Right.  The story that I remember, it seemed to me, and correct me if I’m wrong.  It seemed to me they kind of had a similar story as Book of Mormon people.  They both left Jerusalem about the same time.

Ugo: Yes.

GT:  600 B.C. In the case of the Lemba tribe, they travelled through and ended up in southern Africa, married with the local population, and they have this…

Ugo interrupts: this marker.  That’s the simple story.  There are other things that could happen.  One of them is that Jews accept converts.  You are not biologically a Jew only because you are …{pauses}

GT:  born Jew.

Ugo: born Jew.  They accept converts.  What I think is that most of these Lemba thing could also be a result of a sort of a mixture, some sort of founder effect, but not much as a migration as much as they thought, maybe like a few people that came and had an interaction and then there was maybe this gene that spread.

As Ugo kept talking, he asked me a VERY interesting question that I had originally intended to ask him.

Ugo:  Is there old world DNA in America today?

GT:  Old world meaning European?

Ugo: Yes, or Middle Eastern or African.

GT:  Obviously since Columbus came, there certainly is there.

Ugo:  Ok.  Why did you say since Columbus?

GT:  Because the Spanish and everybody intermarried with the Indians.

Ugo:  Ok, so do you think that we can determine with absolute certainty, DNA from Europe that arrived in 1493 versus DNA from Europe that could have arrived in 1491?

GT:  No, that would be no.

Ugo:  Ok.  Do you think we can determine DNA from 1800 versus DNA from 1000 A.D. from Europe found in America?

GT:  I would think so.

Ugo: The answer is no.  Do you know the Vikings were in Greenland from 1000-1400 A.D., 400 years?  We have written documentation that they were here, the Icelandic woman actually kept their record of their voyages.[1]  We have villages, remains of Viking villages in Greenland that around 1400, they just left.  They just left.  We also have DNA from Native Americans in Iceland, which pre-dates Christopher Columbus, that’s been there.  So we know probably these Vikings took some women to Iceland, and that’s why we have their DNA there.  But where is the Viking DNA in America?

GT:  That’s a great question.  I have no idea.

Ugo: Well I’m sure it’s there, but there is not enough time for the post-Columbus DNA, to differentiate it from the pre-Columbus DNA.  So whenever we find European, Middle Eastern, or African DNA in the Americas, even among tribes, native tribes, by default, scientists always say, we think this is post-Columbian admixture.  But we don’t know, because the rate of mutation of DNA is not as fast as 100 years or 200 years.

Mitochondrial DNA, we actually measure one mutation every 5,000 years, mitochondrial DNA, which is one of the studies that have been done.  So the point is we do find European DNA among Native tribes, but we always think that came with the Spaniards or with the Europeans.  The first 200 years that they were here, they did whatever they wanted.

So you go to a reservation and you test a hundred people, you find 60 of them that might have Native American DNA, and then you find 40 that have European DNA.  You think, well, this is the Spaniard mixing with them.  They kept culturally their identity, but genetically we don’t know.  We don’t know where that came.  2,600 years ago is not enough time to differentiate DNA from Europe, from post-Columbian to pre-Columbian DNA.  It took 15,000 years for DNA to slightly differentiate it from the Asian counterpart.

Were you aware that pre-Columbus DNA can’t be distinguished from post-Columbus DNA, and that scientists by default just assume American DNA is automatically post-Columbus?  Were you aware that Viking DNA, which came long before Columbus, can’t been identified in the Native American population?  Of course this leads to our last episode (with Dr. Perego) with Rodney Meldrum’s claims of finding Middle Eastern DNA in America.

Ugo:  The claim that this particular DNA marker, it’s called X2A, found in North America of the proof of Book of Mormon remnants, or Book of Mormon legacy from the Middle East, it is good thinking, but it is not founded.  Research today, as we have it today does not support that at all.  In fact, are you familiar with the Kennewick Man?

GT:  A little bit.

Ugo:  The Kennewick Man was a skeleton found on the Columbia River in the state of Washington, close to the Canadian border.  It dated to about 8,000-9,000 years with carbon dating.  He has features that look very much like European, or non-typical of Native Americans.  A few years ago the whole genetic sequence was done on him, and his DNA is Native American.  He belongs to X2A which is the same marker that is the one that Rod Meldrum says is for the Great Lakes.  But it’s found on the Northwest coast close to the Beringia passage.  It is the oldest X2A found in America, meaning all the others are a subgroup of that one, so he’s been here the longest.  It’s dated to 8-9,000.  His autosomal DNA is all Native American, so he’s not European, but he has this X2A.

Besides X2A has never been found in the Middle East; other X lineages have been found in the Middle East, but not this particular one.  X2A is not younger than other X lineages, meaning it did not come from them genealogically.  We call it phylo-genetically in genetics which means genealogically.  You have a father, you have a daughter or son.  You never have the son in your pedigree before you have the father.  Does that make sense if you put these in order?

So the X2A in America is not a daughter of the X’s in Middle East.  As of today, they have never found any X2A in any other parts of the world but the Americas and because of the Kennewick Man has these features, it seems to me to point more toward a Beringia arrival like the others.  In fact we are publishing a new paper with a group in the University of Illinois on ancient X2A samples found in Alaska in that article.  That is going to further prove that it is not what Rod Meldrum says today.

With all this DNA knowledge that Dr. Perego has, I had to ask him a question.  In January 2014, the LDS Church produced a new Gospel Topics Essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon.  Did Dr. Ugo Perego if he have anything to do with writing that essay?  I think you’ll find his answer very interesting.

Ugo:  I actually took the lead on the project of writing that.  I wrote a much more extensive paper which has been published as well in the Interpreter, the online Mormon journal.  It’s about 40 pages long and then from that the Church condensed it down to what is the in Gospel Topics today. Some people will say, well if this is doesn’t say—they wanted to keep it short.  There are a lot of footnotes.  You can go and read more.  You have the full article on the other page.  There is another article with me in the other article[2], a more extensive article, and then we have several geneticists, even known Latter-day saint geneticists that I sent the manuscript, and asked, “what do you think about it?”  Forget that you don’t know, or you know about the Book of Mormon, but does the story make sense with the genetic context.  Am I presenting genetics and the principles in a fair manner, an honest manner?  I incorporated their feedback, and then I submitted that to the Church and that’s what we have today.  I was the main guy behind it but it was others, even known LDS geneticists that were involved.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with Dr. Perego.  Cody wrote a wonderful piece last week, The Book of Mormon Can Be True Without Being Historical, and I’m glad people who may dis-believe in historicity of the Book of Mormon still find value.  My question is this:  are you persuaded by Perego’s line of reasoning?  Are you surprised/not surprised at his role in writing the Gospel Topics Essay?


[1] Her name is Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir.  Basic information is found at

[2] Other author is Jayne E. Ekins.  See