Y-chromosome haplogroup J, and its subgroups J1 and J2, are connected with origins in the Arabian Peninsula, Southern Europe and North Africa, and among many men of Ashkenazi Jewish, Arab Bedouin, Uygur and Uzbek origin. Explore J haplogroup maps and history here.
If you have heritage in the Arabian Peninsula, Southern Europe or North Africa, you’re going to want to know about Y-chromosome Haplogroup J. First you may want to review the concepts of SNP markers and Y-chromosome haplogroups here.
What is haplogroup J?
The Y-chromosome Haplogroup Tree is our first stop in dissecting Haplogroup J. It’s the great tree of the family of man.
In terms of age, the first men with the Haplogroup J mutation lived well before anybody in haplogroups to its right in the tree. But the origination of Haplogroup J is not nearly as ancient as its predecessors, Haplogroups H back through A.
Today, descendants of Haplogroup J can be found all over the world, defined by the Y-SNP mutation called J-M304. When this mutation was new, it first laid down firm footing in Western Asia and spread from there, giving rise to high concentrations of descendants in the Arabian Peninsula. It further expanded from there primarily west along the north and south shores of the Mediterranean, and also modestly east into Asia.
Haplogroup J1 subgroup, and J1-M267, J-P58
Early in this expansion process, Haplogroup J developed 2 subgroups, J1 and J2. J1 is defined by the mutation J-M267 and the subhaplogroup is often referred to by that name. The mutation that gave rise to J2 is called J-M172. Although members of both haplogroups spread along similar migration routes and continue to co-exist today, they descend from subbranches that split anciently. A DNA test-taker today receiving a Y-haplogroup result of J1 may have ancestry from similar geographies as another test-taker from J2, but they have not shared common Y-DNA ancestry for about 30,000 years.
A frequency heatmap shows where people with J1-M267 ancestry are found in the world today. The sometimes disparate places where J1 shows up are remarkable. J1 is the heavy majority haplogroup today in Iraq and Iran near the Zagros Mountains, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar with up to 7 out of 10 males as members.
Ethnic groups of the Middle East also have strong occurrence of J1, including Arab Bedouins and Ashkenazi Jews. The frequency of J1 sharply decreases outside the borders of Semitic-speaking areas, even though they are geographically close: for Turkey, most of Iran and Northern India the occurrence is less than 1 in 10. Then across a land gap with a scarcity of J1, the northeast Caucasus shows a strong focus of concentration. Across the Red Sea, small areas in Sudan are also highly frequent for J1, up to 70%. Coastal Mediterranean communities in Europe and North Africa see elevated pockets of J1 as well.
Ever an interesting haplogroup, J1 has some famous subbranches. Its most frequent subgroup is called J-P58, and is by far the most widespread of any. It is considered a Semitic subbranch and has a prevalence up to 75% among J1 lineages on the Arabian peninsula. People with Jewish ancestry found in J1 almost exclusively belong to the J-P58 subgroup as well.
Jewish Cohanim YDNA Signature
In fact, a very specific Jewish lineage defined by a set of genetic markers called the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH) resides in J1. The Cohanim are men who trace their ancestry over millennia to the Jewish priestly class. In 1997, researchers reported a set of DNA markers that appeared to be quite distinguishing of those connected to Cohanim lineages. Even among the general Jewish population, the CMH markers were powerful for identifying the Cohanim. At the time, this study was among the first of its kind, putting forth a compelling proof-of-concept where DNA could be used to trace genealogy to specific lineages. A later study in 2000 located the CMH markers among the Lemba tribe in far-way South Africa, lending some confirmation to their oral history of a Jewish connection to their people. Men carrying the original definition of the CMH belong to a small subbranch of J1 defined by the Y-SNP marker J1-B877, and the common ancestor of these CMH lineages is estimated to have lived ~3200 years ago.
As DNA sampling became more widespread and new DNA methods developed in subsequent years, the original CMH fell under scrutiny as it became apparent that the same DNA markers were also found in Haplogroup J2. J1 and J2 are deeply divergent in a timeframe that vastly precedes the origination of the Jewish priests. It became clear that the original CMH markers alone were not sufficient as a diagnostic test for this lineage, and others were added to it to make it more distinguishing. The version of the CMH found in J2 that is not connected to the priestly Jewish line is in a small subbranch defined by the marker J2-L26.
Haplogroup J2 subgroup, and J2-M172
J2 is the other major subbranch of Haplogroup J, defined by the mutation J2-M172. Although anciently it followed a similar migration route as J1, today the focus of concentration of men with the J2-M172 mutation is distinctive from J1. It is found in greatest frequency in the Fertile Crescent of modern Iraq and the Caucasus. Uygurs and Uzbeks also carry a strong contingent of J2. In Europe, members of J2 track the Mediterranean coast west to Spain (Fig 4). J2 is also numerous among both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, hovering around 15-20%. Such an interesting coverage of this part of the world!
Famous people who have haplogroup J
If the pre-historic descriptions of the travels of J1 and J2 aren’t riveting enough to drive you to take a Y-chromosome test, just do it so you can find out which famous people you’re (very distantly) related to. Noah Webster, Jr. of Merriam-Webster Dictionary notoriety descends from J1, along with actor Dustin Hoffman and several members of the House of Saud. J2 boasts distinguished membership as well with US politician Bernie Sanders, the Rothschild international banking family, and entertainer Adam Sandler (sloppy joe, sloppy-sloppy joe).
How to get your Y haplogroup information
For a refresher on your options for obtaining your Y-haplogroup, review our handy table in the previous post about haplogroup testing here.
And always remember if you don’t have a Y-chromosome yourself, a male relative from your paternal line will carry this genetic information for your family. Go and discover your Y-DNA!
Get started for free with your YDNA journey. Take our free Why the YDNA Mini-Course to consider the many ways YDNA might help you answer your questions about your family history. The Mini-Course is an excerpt from our YDNA for Genealogy Course, which takes you deeper into understanding Y-haplogroups and using them in genealogy research (as well as other topics such as YDNA matching, surname project participation, and when to use Big Y).