Deep Ancestry: My Unexpected Ancient Heritage in Haplogroup V

Spring 2019 update: I almost took this post down, but have decided to leave it up. Seven years ago my understanding of deep ancestry and haplogroups was rudimentary, and when I read this I cringe a bit at my naiveté. However, there is still some good information and a sweet story of connection and lots of cool things to think about here, so I’m gonna leave it.

Alternatively titled "Now I Know That My Imagination's Uncontrollable Flights of Whimsy into Scandinavian Hyperborean Dream States is All in My Genes"

(The human family tree only started to separate into diverging branches about 2,000 generations ago...)

After six weeks of patiently checking in every day, I finally got my DNA results back from The Genographic Project yesterday! I thought the timing was quite fitting, as today is my birthday. The test was a Xmas gift and I was so happy to finally have the opportunity to do something that I've been wanting to do for years- trace my ancient heritage back to the dawn of humankind.

The Genographic Project is an amazingly ambitious endeavor by The National Geographic Society and Dr. Spencer Wells to map the genetic journey that the ancestors of modern humans took when we left Africa some 60,000 years ago. (I just noticed that I wrote "we" there instead of "they", which is forcing me to share that Faulkner quote yet again because I seem to have just subconsciously proven it somehow true, "The past is never dead. It isn't even past".) I am so inspired by this project, and by the fact that these questions that humans have been asking for millennia about where we came from and how we are got here are now being answered. And that we can all participate in the uncovering of this knowledge!

Each of us comes from a seemingly endless line of ancestors, the number of them doubling each generation further back we go. But modern day testing only allows you to trace two lines- either your pure maternal line (mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's mother...) via the Mitochondrial DNA that only women pass down, or your pure paternal line (father's father's father's father's father's father's father's father's father...) via the Y chromosome. Women don't have a Y chromosome, so if we want to trace our patrilineal heritage we need to have a close male relative submit his DNA.

I started getting interested in all of this a few years ago when I started learning more about my immediate ancestors. I was fascinated by their stories, and amazed at how close they all felt to me, how real it suddenly seemed that these people who I had never met had had a major influence on who I was to become. But my mind would wander off, wander outward, and I'd wonder about my, as they call it, Deep Ancestry. The people whose names I would never know, who lived in pre-history, who were certainly not born in America. I had looked into various DNA testing companies, but didn't have the money or inclination to participate just yet.

That all changed when I watched The Human Family Tree, an informative and moving special by National Geographic. I was blown away by how far our gene-tracing technology has come, touched by how genetically close we really all are, and floored by the prospect of contributing my DNA to this large database of knowledge and finding out more about myself and my deep ancestry in the process. (I would add that this looks to me to be the cheapest way to find out your own ancient ancestry, plus you have the chance to add to a large pool of data and help this branch of science progress forward.)

In case you're a total psychopath who finds all of this boring and can't imagine how the lives and selves of your ancestors effect you today, consider how totally unlikely it is that you exist at all and how every decision each of your millions of antecedents made somehow all led to you being here now:

From Are You Totally Improbable or Totally Inevitable?

I was recently watching Faces of America, a PBS documentary that explores the ancestry of famous people (yes, much like Who Do You Think You Are?) and in it the host Henry Louis Gates Jr. asks Meryl Streep "Do you think that our ancestors shape who we are?" and she answers, succinctly but eloquently, "We are nothing but them".

You see, all of this matters. So I was absolutely thrilled, and quite surprised, to find that my long line of maternal grandmothers and I belong to Haplogroup V. (Simply put, a haplogroup is a group of people who share a common ancestor). I was pretty sure my ancestry would be European (though the farthest back I've been able to trace my matrilineal heritage is French Canada in the 1800s), but I never would have expected to belong to this particular group.

Haplogroup V is the least common of the 7 European clans defined in Bryan Sykes book The Seven Daughters of Eve, which I read sometime last year and am certainly going to read again soon (with renewed interest)! In it, Sykes assigns names to each ancestral clan mother, and Haplogroup V's matriarch is bequeathed the moniker Velda.

According to Swanstrom "Velda is the smallest of the seven European clans containing only about 4% of native Europeans. Velda lived 17 thousand years ago (~850 generations) in the limestone hills of Cantabria in northwest Spain. Her descendants are found nowadays mainly in western and northern Europe. They are surprisingly frequent among the Skolt Sámi (Lapps) (50%) of Scandinavia and the Basques (12%) of Spain." And according to Eupedia "Haplogroup V reaches its highest frequency in northern Scandinavia (40% of the Sami), northern Spain, the Netherlands (8%), Sardinia, the Croatian islands and the Maghreb. It is likely that H1, H3 and V, along with haplogroup U5, were the main haplogroups of Western European hunter-gatherers living in the Franco-Cantabrian refuge during the last Ice Age, and repopulated much of Central and Northern Europe from 15,000 years ago."



This graphic shows Haplogroup V and H (which gave rise to V)'s worldwide distribution today. I wonder how common this genetic marker is in America? According to this it's between 0 and .5%, but that seems so low. Although National Geographic does echo the sentiment that not many of Velda's descendants live outside of Europe now, "Today, Haplogroup V tends to be restricted to western, central, and northern Europe. It's age is estimated at around 15,000 years old, indicating that it likely arose during the 5,000 years or so that humans were confined to the European refuge [meaning during the last Ice Age]."

I'll probably never know which Haplogroup V subgroup I am descended from, though it is nice to belong to such a small group and have the options be less that they could otherwise be. What I do know though is that my ancestors lived in or near the Northernmost reaches of Europe, quite possibly in Scandinavia. Although none of my genealogy work has linked any of my more immediate ancestors to this region, I have always felt a sort of spiritual affinity with these wintry latitudes and their inhabitants. A while back I posted about my Deep Genealogy work with my herbalist friend Atava. I remember during our first conversation she asked me about my family history and what I am drawn to most. I mentioned the Scandinavian connection, but quickly followed up by saying that I have no evidence that I am indeed a descendent of anyone who has lived there.

Well, that has all changed now. Now I know that my nerdy obsession with the word hyperborean (I've been able to use it twice on facebook and once on twitter and many times in conversations ever since I came across it in my gigantic old dictionary last winter) is somewhat justified. Hyperborean means "beyond the north wind", and I just think that that is the most beautiful sentiment to be able to express in one word. Just imagining a place beyond the north wind immediately sends my imagination into a dreamy revery full of old earth spirits, wise animal guides, and hearty folk who spend their evenings rosy-cheeked beside the roar of the hearth fire.

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I have a love for all European folk prints, and especially those of the Scandinavian persuasion. I will stock my shop with any vintage dress that features one, and am always looking for new art to hang on my walls.

My shelves are lined with books about Northern Europe in the Ice Age and the Middle Ages. I love Norse mythology and yew trees. I love Viking history. I love their ships and especially the prows of their ships. In the most epic dream I've ever had I was in a sort of dusky underworld, floating along alone on a classic Viking ship on a murky river reminiscent of Styx. The prow was a three-headed snake/dragon that was alive, each creature slithering its long head over and under that of its companions. The ship with its living three-headed prow serpent was taking me somewhere secret and subterranean.

And of course, there's the ever-present mind-lure of Arctic whaling. I love reading stories, both fictional and true, about the crazy ass whalers who braved the ice to chase enormous sea creatures in the name of savagery and profit. (If this is your first time reading this blog, rest assured that I do not support whaling, but am fascinated by its history).

Don't even get me started on the Nordic fjords.

I've also been enamored of the Sami people ever since reading about them a few years ago. The November 2011 issue of National Geographic featured the most gorgeous photographic essay about these folk, who spend their time following their reindeer herds between Siberia and Scandinavia:

Then recently I found out that my lovely & amazing friend Summer is a direct Sami descendant (and doesn't she just look the part?) and the first words out of my mouth were "No wonder I feel such a kinship with you!" or something of the like, having no idea that that statement was more literal than metaphorical.

If there's one thing I've learned from The Genographic Project, it's that we really and truly are all connected. It's a scientific fact. Somewhere back in time, Summer here and I share an ancestor. And if you keep going back, or forward, you and I do too.

We all come from the same place and the same small group of African hominids who were lucky or smart or destined enough to outwit their surroundings and beat the odds when all other hominid lines failed. And yet, as Dr. Wells points out, what really stands out from this project's data is that we're all so different. Haplogroup V diverges from all the other haplogroups in ways geographic, cultural, and perhaps even spiritual. Each lineage, each family, each individual is a joyful expression of the heartbreakingly beautiful dance of cosmic evolution of which we are all a blessed part.

Each atom in our bodies was born of supernova explosions millions of years ago. We are literally made of stardust, and the cosmos are our most ancient ancestors. Speaking of, have you heard Bjork's latest album Biophilia? Especially the song Cosmogony? Bjork, who I have always loved, who I have always been told I resemble (especially my childood pictures), and who I am now officially considering kin since she is from Northern Europe, certainly understands the common origins of all of life.



I will move onward from this day, my birthday, knowing that much more about where I come from, feeling supported by all who came before me and all that carries me forward in strong and silent ways of which I will never be consciously aware.

Upside Down, Underwater, & Anew

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This winter has been the most challenging time in my life. The postpartum year or so was pretty gnarly, but fairly stable compared to what's gone on over the past three months. My partner Graham and I came thisclose to splitting up (thereby splitting our family up), we lived in a waaay too small house under the thumb of an irrational, mean-hearted landlord, we struggled every day to come up with enough money to make ends meet, and we got into some hurtful and emotional personal drama with some of our best friends.

I felt like I was drowning, kicking my way to the surface, hoping for that break in the fabric of the water where it would give way to air. We searched constantly for a new home, new jobs, we talked and talked our way through our problems and the problems with our friends. But still there was no give. Nothing was shifting, despite my and our efforts.

During my last period I did some (apparently, very strong) "magic" in my own little way with the intention of deeply grounding and strongly centering myself in order to push through the stagnation.

And then last Monday I was driving along a curvy, scary road (Highway 20 between Nevada City and Truckee) in a rain/snow storm with three and a half year old Mycelia in back. I must have been lost in thought, because suddenly I realized that I had lost control of our truck, that it was slipsliding across the wet road. I don't remember what I did, tried to get it under control I suppose. But soon I saw that we were careening toward, fishtailing in a 180, right at the dirt embankment that had been to our right but was about to be to our left. The bed of the truck clipped it and...

Next thing I knew I woke up upside down. I didn't feel fear when the car was sliding around and I didn't feel it now either. I went into pure Mommy Survival Mode. Get myself out, then get her out. She was talking to me, "Mommy I'm hurt, mommy I'm hurt" so I knew that she was alive and aware. I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned around onto the roof/floor of the truck, opened the door, and climbed out. There were already two cars pulled over with men running to help (this is how I later realized that I had blacked out momentarily). I ran around to the other side of the car to get Mycie out but it had landed at such an angle that her door was dug into the earth, and I couldn't get it open. One of the men, in his 50's at least, exhibited some serious strength by pushing the side of the truck up out of the ground and was able to open the door for me. I reached in, undid her carseat buckles, and pulled my baby outta there. She had a bruise on her left eyelid and broken capillaries all around her eyes (and carseat strap indentations on her neck), and that was it. The right side of my neck was aching a bit, but the fight-or-flight hormones prevented me from feeling all the other little hurts until later.

The cops came, the ambulance came, I tried to rescue our various belongings from the truck. The EMT's loaded us into the ambulance and took us to the hospital. On the way Mycie chided the driver Mark for going too fast on slippery roads, and told Jerry, in back with us, to sit down and put on his seat belt. She was so amazing that day, and ever since. I see no signs of trauma in her. She has said a few times since then, in the car when we're driving, that she doesn't want us to "fall down" in the car again. I have researched car accident trauma in children and she is displaying no signs of it. She and I both went to a healer friend of mine and he did find some compression in her neck that he fixed right away, and I plan to have her get some craniosacral work soon. And I will continue to listen to her when she talks about it and be open to anything she may have to express.

As for me, the bodywork I received from my friend was invaluable. I had a rib out, compression in the neck, severe pain in my right neck (diagnosed in the ER as whiplash- my xrays were fine), and achy hips. All this I knew before seeing him. But it wasn't until I was lying there on his table that the bruises on my head were discovered. Now this was less than 24 hours after the crash, and I had been going through and processing a lot in that time, but how the ache and tenderness there evaded me is a mystery. It is now, four days later, what I feel the most. And what scares me the most. Head injuries can often wait months or even years to manifest. But I feel like this is okay, just normal bruising. To be expected after one's roof has literally caved in.

After the initial healing session I called Graham, who had just been at the tow truck place and had taken these photos:

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He said that the guys there were amazed that the driver had survived. I said to him, "Just imagine if someone had been in the passenger's seat, they'd be dead for sure." The reason I thought this is because, in the picture that I am so glad I thought to take at the crash scene (at the top of this post), I thought that the front seat facing the camera was the passenger's seat. I thought this because I crawled out the other side when I came to, and I didn't remember moving to the other side of the car to get out. But Graham pointed out to me, "Amber, that is the driver's side."

Holy. Shit. And then seeing the photos he took it's like "Ohhhh, no wonder the left top side of my head hurts like hell".

In the ambulance on the way to the hospital (they had a carseat for Mycie and I had to be strapped to the stretcher) I suddenly realized for the first time... Oh my god, we were protected. We should not have walked away from that. (And this was before I had seen Graham's photos and realized how dented in the driver's side headspace was!). I just got this overwhelming bodily feeling that some spirits or something had enveloped us in a warm bubble of *just enough space* and shielded us from the severity of the impact. I mean, she has a bruised EYELID, I have bruises on both sides of my head- if the parts of the car that hit us had penetrated a half, a quarter, of an inch deeper...

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I have always had a deep affinity for whales. And it was the whales who popped into my mind first as I lay there on the stretcher fully realizing what had happened and sending all my loving and grateful energy to whatever had been there with us. It seems so appropriate. Whales are so fucking grounded they're underwater. They move slowly, with intention, in their dark worlds, sending out and receiving vibrations to give them information about their surroundings and those close to them. Waking up upside down, knowing that my whole life had just changed, was like being momentarily submerged in an underwater womb of new beginnings. One of my first thoughts, hanging there, was "something really good had better come of this".

(A friend sent me a beautiful facebook message with the subject line HEALING LOVE after seeing the photos of the crash, and it included these lines: "This is proof and a big reminder that YOU HAVE A MOST IMPORTANT AND ESSENTIAL MISSION ON EARTH AT THIS TIME. That is it. And you have a momentum of blessings coming around to you as the snap back of what you put out into the dimensions of the world.")

And man that snap back started right away and has been awesome. A few days after the crash we found out that we got the house rental we had wanted! After months of searching and trying, this is *very* exciting news.

And the settlement money! The truck was listed on craigslist at the time of the crash. I had spun out in the rain last fall as well- a rear wheel truck with a light back is dangerous, and I never felt safe in that car. But the settlement money we have just received far exceeded the price we were asking on the car (due to the payment plan the folks who sold the truck to us had been on), and we can use it to move into the new place, pay off one of our credit cards, pay off Mycie's sweet little Waldorf preschool through the year, do some serious Violet Folklore shopping (!) so that I can really start rocking the shop once we are settled, and buy ourselves a new little family four wheel drive station wagon (or two).

So all of this makes me think of a radio interview I heard with the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar a few years ago. She ended up going off on a tangent about her Saturn Return and how life changing it was for her and this horrible car accident she was in during that time. I thought about how mine was coming up and just hoped that it would not involve a car accident. Luckily for me, my injuries were far less severe than hers. But nevertheless, it was a lesson.

Okay, so even though I have to say that nearly everything I've ever read about Aquarius seems to describe me pretty accurately, and even though I have found my friend Li's astronomy/astrology wisdom 100% accurate and helpful, I am still enough of a skeptic about astrology that I wasn't so sure I even believed in this "Saturn Return".

Until now. A friend said, "It is one of the realest things I know. Let it be your teacher." To which I replied, "Oh girl, it's schooling me." I mean, there was all the struggle of the last few months, and then I literally get flipped upside down, knocked unconscious, and then awaken to a new reality. That's exactly what the Saturn Return is about, and I am certainly paying attention to what is being revealed.

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Other really positive outcomes of this include the healing of relationships that had been strained (this sort of thing really makes you realize what and who is important, and what baggage it's time to let go of), and something that was really needed for me - a deeper spiritual connection with life, the universe, and all its manifestations. All of these important things that I had moved off to the periphery of my consciousness while in stressed out survival mode this winter are now center stage - my loved ones who have passed on, the whale spirits, water spirits, and the essences of the many plants and herbs that I love but had been greatly neglecting (calendula and yarrow keep coming up especially). I feel them again, and I feel that they were in the car with us at the moment of impact.

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It's crazy to think of all the little moments and decisions that led us to be in that car on that road at that moment. Six years ago our friends purchased the truck that they would later sell to us, making sure to buy one with a good crash safety rating. One year ago my friend decided to go into the Peace Corps, and at the time of the accident I was driving home from Tahoe where I was for her going away party. That morning I had decided to go home another route due to the weather warnings, and had literally made the decision to go the way I did after all at the last possible minute before the road forked.

Which is to say, it all feels "meant to be". As soon as I came to it all just felt right. It wasn't a conscious thought, just a knowledge. Like, "Okay. It happened. It's done. We're okay. Time to take the actions necessary to move on from here." I never felt regret or fear or "Nooooo!".

And I am consciously putting it out there to the universe that I am open to all the lessons to be learned from this, to all the communication from all my little guides, to any healing that comes at me from whatever direction.

This is just the beginning. Of a new life, a new consciousness, a new connection. I have found myself again and am ready to move forward with my family into what comes next, knowing that I have love and support all around me.

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