The Y-DNA STR profile and the mtDNA profile of ancient Yakuts are known and available for comparison to individuals who are curious whether they may have descended from the same lineage. The story below outlines how the Y-DNA and mtDNA profiles of the ancient Yakuts were discovered.
The Yakuts (or Sakha) are an ethnic group from the Sakha Republic, an autonomous Turkic Republic within the Russian Federation. Northern Yakuts are semi-nomadic hunters, fishermen and reindeer breeders, while Yakuts in the south tend to be horse and cattle breeders. The origin of this population is unclear and is likely to have been influenced by several large population movements from Southern Siberia and Central Asia, including the Huns (2nd – 5th centuries) and Genghis Khan (13th century).
Genetic analyses of ancient Yakuts
The Sakha Republic is a very cold region during the winter, often with average temperatures below -40 °C. These cold temperatures enable the excellent preservation of human remains, allowing scientists to extract and analyze ancient Yakut DNA. Since 2004, several laboratories have been working together to analyze these remains. In a 2010 publication, the authors described 27 complete Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes and validated 60 mitochondrial DNA sequences from 65 ancient individuals exhumed from various locations. In a 2015 study, the researchers also investigated several autosomal markers to identify close biological relationships between individuals. Other smaller studies have also analyzed several other individuals from other locations.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a useful type of DNA to analyze from ancient remains, as there are hundreds to thousands of mtDNA genomes per cell, significantly increasing the chance of obtaining good quality DNA. MtDNA also has a rapid evolution rate and a strict maternal (mother to child) inheritance, making it very useful for tracing maternal lineages. There are three regions of the mtDNA that can be analyzed – two hypervariable regions (HVR1 and HVR2) and the coding region. These studies sequenced one hypervariable region (HVR1) from each skeleton. Although mtDNA is very useful for tracing maternal ancestry, it does not provide any information on equally important paternal lineages. Y-chromosomal DNA is nuclear DNA that is passed down from father to son along the direct paternal lineage, hence providing a way to trace paternal ancestry. Autosomal DNA is also nuclear DNA that we inherit in equal amounts from each parent. We have two copies of each autosomal chromosome – one inherited from each parent. The analysis of autosomal DNA is useful for the identification of close biological relationships.
Burial practices of the ancient Yakuts
Before Christianization, the ancient Yakuts buried their dead. This was an unusual burial practice at the time in that region of the world, as most bodies were put in aerial graves on platforms or in the trees. It is known that Yakut burial sites are at elevated sites overlooking summer settlements and usually a body of water and have a view of the mountains. However, other burial practices, such as relationships within burial groups, are relatively unknown. Genetic analyses of several graves from a large funerary complex near the village of Ulak-Aan (Khangalasse district of the Sakha Republic) indicated that ancient Yakut burial practices may have also relied on social kinships, rather than just biological relationships.
Origins of the Yakutian population
The large-scale study published in 2010 demonstrates that the Yakutian population formed before the 15th century. The male origins appear to be a small group of settlers (likely horse-riders) from the Cis-Baïkal region, while the female origins are from different South Siberian populations, particularly the Evenks ethnicity. The genetic characteristics of Yakutian people were established during the 15th century and are still present in modern-day Yakuts.
There is quite a low level of Y-chromosome diversity in the ancient Yakut population, indicating a strong founder effect from a small population size. The common Y-DNA haplotype found in ancient Yakuts is also present in present-day Yakuts, but has not been detected in neighboring populations, reflecting limited male gene flow from Yakuts to neighboring Siberian populations. In contrast, there is a higher diversity of the maternal lineages among the ancient Yakut skeletons. The more common mitochondrial profiles detected in ancient Yakuts also occur in present-day Yakuts and neighboring Siberian countries, indicating gene flow with the immigrating Yakuts.
DNA Database Comparisons
The DNA tests conducted in these studies have identified 38 different mtDNA HVR1 sequences and 21 different Y-DNA STR haplotypes from the ancient Yakut population. If you have taken the mtDNA HVR1 (Standard Maternal Ancestry) test or Y-DNA STR (Paternal Ancestry) test, you can compare your results against these ancient Yakuts to see if you share a similar profile.