Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

September 23, 2017

No, Afrikaners do not have British or English ancestry

Filed under: Afrikaner,Afrikaner genotype,Ancestry,Boer — Razib Khan @ 9:58 pm


In my post below on the non-European ancestry of Afrikaners, several readers mentioned that friends of Afrikaner background were rather chagrined to have reported British ancestry from genetic tests. The cultural reason for this is well known: many Afrikaners exhibit hostility toward British imperialism due to the deprivation and death which was the consequence of their resistance to the expansion of the Empire during the Second Boer War. This is above and beyond the antipathy which was manifestly made obvious by the fact that with the transfer of the Cape Colony to the British in the early 19th century thousands of white farmers migrated into the hinterlands to escape the new power (in part to preserve their customs, such as slavery).

By the 20th century, this anti-British aspect of Boer identity manifested itself in pro-German sentiments, as can be seen in the film The Power of One.

But the reality is that it is strange for Afrikaners to have British ancestry. Yes, they are not exclusively Dutch, with substantial German and French (Huguenot) components in their background. And there has been some recent intermarriage with English speaking whites. But presumably that’s recent enough that people would know.

Rather, I think what is happening is that genetic tests do not have the power to distinguish well between English and Dutch ancestry. In fact, the minority ancestry from Anglo-Saxons in southeast Britain would have stronger affinities with the Dutch than most of the island.

To figure out what was going on I asked people on Twitter for 23andMe profiles. I got a response from someone whose results I posted above. This individual has Boer ancestry, mostly Dutch, going back to the late 17th century on his mother’s side and late 18th century on his father’s side. And you see 17% “British” ancestry. He also provided his wife’s 23andMe output. Her ancestry dates back to the late 17th century on both paternal and maternal sides, so it is not a surprise she has more non-European ancestry:

She is 18% British. In fact, the European ancestry fractions of both these individuals are rather similar when it comes to “French-German”, British, and Scandinavian. I suspect what we’re seeing here is what the algorithm pops out quanta wise for Dutch.

I took the South African individuals who had some non-European ancestry, and ran them on Admixture and projected a PCA with British and Dutch individuals. You can make your own judgment, but I think these are definitely people who are of mostly Dutch ancestry.

January 21, 2012

The quest for an Afrikaner genotype

Update: If interested, please email me at contactgnxp -at- gmail -dot- com. Also, I am getting some feedback via 23andMe that people with white South African matches noticed Africa segments in many of the ancestry paintings. This has definitely increased by probability that the admixture proportion is ~5 percent. There will probably be a few genotypes coming in shortly, but I am going to see if I can get more people typed (fundraising appeal pending!).

It’s been a while since I’ve gone looking for genotypes of particular ethnic groups. The results were rather good for the Tutsi and Malagasy. So I thought I’d venture out again, despite being a bit busy. Here’s what I want: the genotype of an Afrikaner (or several). A few years ago South African geneticist J. M. Greeff did an analysis of his own pedigree, and estimated that he had ~6 percent non-European ancestry (he did validate this with some genetic markers; e.g., his father’s mtDNA is of the M haplogroup, which is almost always Indian). This is in line with other genealogists who have estimated, about 5 percent non-European heritage. How much should we trust these non-biological studies? The genomic estimates of African American ancestry being ~20 percent European were anticipated by analyses of family histories from text records, so we certainly shouldn’t dismiss them (in fact, it seems possible that these analyses will underestimate non-European ancestry because of cryptic individuals in the pedigrees).

And we have plenty of records of people of non-European ancestry contributing to the Afrikaner population in any case. Greeff found the records for his own pedigree, but the first Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony was himself of mixed-race (his mother was Eurasian). The question is is a matter of degree. Are Afrikaners like American whites, with hardly any non-European ancestry (~1 percent or less), or like Latin American whites, with significant non-European ancestry (~5 to 20 percent)? My own bet is that they’ll be in the middle. The proportion of non-European ancestry is low enough that individuals such as Sandra Laing are very rare indeed. But if the 5 percent estimate is valid, and almost of all these ancestors were women, then a larger proportion of the mtDNA is going to be non-European.


So how do we do this? Well, I need an autosomal genotype. I’ll take it anyway I can get it. But, if you don’t have one, but are willing to let me analyze your own genotype, and, are of 100 percent known Afrikaner descent, then we can probably figure out a way to purchase you a kit.

Why does this matter? I guess you could ask why any science matters. I’m a little confused as to why no one has done this before. There’s plenty of work on the cultural cousins of the Afrikaners, the Cape Coloureds. My working assumption is that except for the initial decades of the Cape Colony, when women were in severe shortage and the color line was not as strict, most of the non-European gene flow into the Afrikaners is going to be from the Cape Coloureds. This means that like the Cape Coloureds the Afrikaners carry within them the genetic variation of a huge swath of the world’s population. The non-European ancestry of the Afrikaners is naturally part African. Bantu and Khoisan. But there is also considerable Asian, from South and East Asia. Though this leaves out the Middle East and the New World, you have here most of extant genetic variation in human populations.

There are approximately 3 million Afrikaners in South Africa. What if these were the only human beings left on earth? At 5 percent that’s 150,000 non-Europeans, with a mix of Southeast Asians, Chinese, Indians, Khoisan, and Bantu. Because of diminishing returns you’ll actually have enough variation in just a few thousand individuals of any given ethnic group to capture most of its genetic character. In other words you could in theory reconstitute the Chinese and Khoisan from these Afrikaners.

Addendum: The paper, Complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from southern Africa, has one “South African European.” But I suspect that this individual is author Vanessa M Hayes, and she is not an Afrikaner to my knowledge.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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