Genetic Chaos

Thursday, May 06, 2004

American Indian Demographic History and Cultural Affiliation: A Discussion of Certain Limitations on the Use of mtDNA and Y Chromosome Testing

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome studies have been used increasingly over the last 20 years by anthropological geneticists and others to reconstruct the peopling of the Americas as well as to infer American Indian cultural affiliation and demographic histories. While the promise of this method is great, there are several problems inherent in some of its current uses. These limitations are discussed concerning the following six currently accepted methods: interpretation of coalescent times as times of origin; 2) the current uses of haplogroups; 3) sample sizes; 4) use of language groups to define population groups; 5) use of contemporary American Indian reservations to infer prehistoric tribal history; and 6) a combination of these to determine American Indian population history, historic migrations, and demographic history. This paper concludes that caution must be exercised in claiming too much for the method. Instead, it is recommend that it be used in conjunction with other established sources of data such as oral history, ethnography, linguistics, and archaeology when attempting to reconstruct American Indian cultural history or in determining the cultural affiliation of groups.

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