How DNA Divides LDS Apologists

by Simon G. Southerton

Principal Research Scientist Group Leader,
Applied Biotechnology and Genomics,
CSIRO Forest Biosciences, Canberra, Australia

The emergence of molecular research on the ancestry of American Indians in the last decade has sparked a flurry of activity in the LDS apologetic community. It has been unsettling for many to learn the DNA of living American Indians is most similar to the DNA of populations living in the vicinity of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. While American Indian DNA appears to be distantly related to Middle Eastern DNA, if there were any Middle Eastern groups who entered the New World as recently as 2500 years ago and built large civilizations, their DNA has disappeared and their civilizations have vanished without a trace. The mainstream academic community has been far less surprised by the DNA research. There has long been a scientific consensus that American Indian civilizations arose independently of any Old World influences or contributions and that the principal ancestors of the American Indians began entering the continent via the Bering land bridge about 20,000 years ago. Sadly, Mormons are still expected to believe things about American Indians which are not true.

Mormons may be excused for thinking LDS scholars are united in their defense of the Book of Mormon in the face of the DNA findings. However, LDS apologists come in all stripes and colors, and their apologetic responses frequently contradict the arguments of their colleagues. Some refuse to concede any ground in the DNA battle, holding fast to the widely held traditional view that the Lehites played on center stage in the New World pre-history (Hemispheric Geographists). Most apologists prefer the safety in numbers offered by the now quasi-official view that the Book of Mormon events occurred in a small region of Mesoamerica (Limited Geographists). In this theory, championed by John Sorenson and his followers at the Neal A Maxwell Institute at BYU, the Lehites were a small group of colonists who entered a heavily populated New World. Consequently, they made an undetectable contribution to the American Indian gene pool. Another theory with a rapidly growing army of supporters argues that the Lehite and Jaredite civilizations were located in the vicinity of New York State in North America (North American Geographists). Yet others go to another extreme, believing that the Lehites did not even reach the Americas, but rather colonized other lands such as the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia (Alternative Geographists).

It is impossible—and I might add rather pointless—to produce a comprehensive response to such a divided apologetic barrage. The task is made somewhat easier by the fact that many of the most hostile apologetic attacks on the critics could also be directed against competing LDS apologetic theories. Before commenting on specific apologetic arguments, I would like to respond to a common argument LDS apologists frequently direct at critics. Most claim the critics are setting up a straw man—that Mormons believe all American Indians are Lamanites—and then incinerate this belief using the DNA evidence. In the act of making this claim, apologists are constructing their very own straw man. There is no need to focus solely on the traditional geography as the DNA evidence severely calls into question all of the competing apologetic theories.

Hemispheric Geographists
Some Mormon scholars refuse to budge from the traditional view that the Lehites and Jaredites were the primary American colonists. To them, the Book of Mormon narrative leaves insufficient wiggle room to include hoards of non-Israelite “others”. These scholars find it hard to dismiss numerous statements in support of the hemispheric view by former prophets including Joseph Smith. Moreover, they cannot stomach the strained re-interpretations of the Book of Mormon that Limited Geographists make in order to accommodate the millions of non-Israelites who have lived in the New World for tens of millenia. The most visible of the hemispheric apologists is David Stewart, webmaster of The Cumorah Project (, a website carrying comprehensive LDS statistical data that has revealed the recent slowdown in LDS Church growth. In Stewart’s view, current DNA data is consistent with the traditional hemispheric view of American Indian ancestry, which has all or most American Indians being descended from Book of Mormon peoples.

In his article “DNA and the Book of Mormon” published on the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) website,1 Stewart concluded the following:

The recent explosion of molecular DNA data has led to a considerable increase in knowledge about our roots. However, some individuals have drawn—and widely publicized—conclusions far beyond those validated by existing data. The claims of critics that DNA evidence disproves traditional LDS teachings about Native American ancestry are based in a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of science and ignorance of history and scripture.

In his article, Stewart provides his view of human DNA genealogy, which has the Lost Tribes of the House of Israel playing a key role in populating the world. According to Stewart, the “genetic evidence of one or a few closely related founding groups serving as the ancestors of the overwhelming majority of Native Americans is fully consistent with the traditional LDS view which has the American Indians originating from the Lamanites, Nephites, and Mulekites.” Sorenson apologists (see below) have argued long and hard against this traditional view, and I will limit my comments to Stewart’s most flagrant misrepresentations of the DNA science.

Stewart claims the most abundant American Indian Y chromosome, the Q lineage, is a founding Jewish lineage, that it is therefore probable that Jewish Q lineages made their way to America via Lehi.

Marker Q-P36 (also known as M-242), postulated by Behar and colleagues to be a founding lineage among Ashkenazi2 Jewish populations, … is … found in over 76% of Native Americans. Douglas Forbes writes, “We find M242 scattered all over central Eurasia and concentrated in Turkistan just north of Iran. The ten tribes including Manasseh were taken captive to Media (northwest Iran). So M242 is found scattered just where you would expect it would be if legends of the 10 tribes escaping captivity by going north are true.” … The finding of two dominant Y-chromosome lineages in Amerindian populations is harmonious with the traditional LDS view of Lehi and Ishmael representing the principal male ancestors of Native Americans, with Zoram and the Mulekites contributing minor lineages.

There is compelling evidence to show that Native American Q-P36 lineages came from Siberia, not from Jewish populations. The Q-P36 lineage is a minor (~5%) lineage among the Ashkenazi (Behar et al., 2004), but it is most likely to have originated in surrounding European populations, where it occurs at similarly frequencies.3 The claim that the Q lineage is “scattered all over central Eurasia and concentrated in Turkistan” is extremely misleading. The Q lineage occurs at a frequency of about 10% in Turkistan; however, the highest concentrations of the Q lineage in populations outside of the Americas are in the Selkups and Kets (66-94%) adjacent to the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia.4 The Altai populations also contain the highest frequencies of the American Indian mtDNA founder lineages A, B, C, D and X.5 Since Siberian Altai populations contain high frequencies of both paternal and maternal DNA lineages that are most closely related to American Indian lineages, it is particularly likely that the Q-P36 lineage arose in Siberia.

Stewart is selective in his use of evidence from research papers he cites, particularly if the data do not fit with his Israel-centric worldview. Both Zegura (2004) and Seielstad (2003) conclude that Q-P36 lineages in American Indians descend from a common lineage that was present in Asia between 14,800 and 17,200 years before present.6 This age rules out the possibility that American Indian Q-P36 lineages originated in a Middle Eastern group that came into existence just 2,500 years ago. These estimates are also consistent with the most recent age estimates for New World mtDNA lineages of about 19,000 years ago, as presented in a 2008 study co-authored by Mormon researchers Ugo Perego and Scott Woodward.7

Stewart’s views on the DNA, and his interpretation of the Book of Mormon narrative, are entirely at odds with most mainstream LDS apologists who have shelved the hemispheric geography for good. While both share a rigid belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, their views on where that history was played out are worlds apart.

Limited Geographists
Most apologists now shun popular LDS views of the scale of the Book of Mormon story in New World prehistory. Overwhelming scientific evidence that American Indians are essentially all descended from Siberian ancestors and have lived in the Americas for about 20,000 years has led many apologists to shrink the Book of Mormon geography to limited territories in Mesoamerica. Rather than the Lehites entering a continent “kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations,”8 we have them entering densely populated pre-existing civilizations and their DNA being diluted away to undetectable levels. Numerous other problems such as a requirement for a second Mesoamerican Hill Cumorah and the transportation of the gold plates over 3000 miles to the New York Hill Cumorah are swept under the carpet in the apologetic rush. Another awkward problem is that the God, speaking to Joseph Smith in LDS scripture, frequently refers to American Indians in North America as the Lamanites (See Doctrine and Covenants 28:8-9, 14; 30:6; 32:2; 54:8).

In response to the DNA evidence which calls into question the Book of Mormon as a factual history, a flood of FAIR-sponsored DVDs has recently appeared. Trailers from these have been posted on YouTube and many include interviews with faithful Mormon scholars. The most prominent of the DVDs is The Book of Mormon and New World DNA, produced by FAIR in 2008.9 True to form, the first 3-4 minutes of the presentation are spent undermining the scientific credentials of two of the noisier “Book of Mormon critics,” anthropologist Thomas Murphy and a plant geneticist (me). The producers of the DVD then present an array of interviews with seven LDS apologists, five of whom have no molecular training, including D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University. Meldrum is most famous for his obsession with Bigfoot, and his interpretation of “evidence” for this rumored life form has drawn heavy criticism in the anthropological community.

Even if you have a million pieces of evidence, if all the evidence is inconclusive, you can’t count it all up to make something conclusive,
—David J. Daegling, University of Florida 10

Keith Crandall, professor and chair of the Department of Biology at Brigham Young University, is the star recruit for the FAIR apologists; his prominence on the DVD is probably because of his experience in population genetics. He is a recent convert to the LDS Church—new to the apologetic arena—and makes a notable debut with a startling claim, repeated three times for emphasis throughout the DVD:

The most recent DNA evidence that I’ve seen, in terms of peopling of the Americas, shows this Middle Eastern haplotype at greatest frequencies in the Mayan people; so if that’s your perception of where Lehi and company set up shop then the DNA evidence would be consistent with that.

Scientists have been studying the Maya for decades and have found no reliable evidence that they are descended from Middle Eastern populations. If there were genuine evidence for pre-Columbian Middle Eastern DNA among the Maya, this would be an earth-shattering discovery that would make headlines worldwide. The data Crandall cites is from a 2005 paper by Noah Rosenberg and colleagues, who examined variations in human chromosomal DNA.11They tested 993 chromosomal sites in individuals chosen from among fifty-three populations in Africa, America, Cenral/South Asia, East Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania. The researchers color-coded the variances to assist in their interpretation. Figure 1 below shows Rosenberg’s results in dividing global chromosomal DNA into five clusters. Not unexpectedly, people from the same regions of the world have related DNA, which the team coded as orange for African DNA, blue for European/Middle Eastern, pink for Asian, green for Oceanic, and purple for American. Eurasia is so big, they had to divide the chromosomal DNA into two clusters. It turns out that as you walk from France to China, the proportion of pink to blue chromosomes gradually increases. In any case, Professor Crandall, who goes to considerable lengths in the FAIR DVD to point out how tricky this type of population genetic data is, concludes that since a small portion of Maya chromosomes is colored blue (the dominant color of Middle Eastern chromosomes), this is evidence of Middle Eastern DNA in the Maya. Is it a reasonable conclusion?

The Rosenberg team wanted to know if worldwide genetic variation coincided with major geographic regions. The study was not designed to examine genetic relationships between individual populations at high resolution. In other words, it was as if Rosenberg’s DNA microscope was set to 5X and Crandall interpreted it as if it had been set to 50X magnification. Using Crandall’s logic, it would be equally valid to claim that Italian, French, or Russian DNA occurs at highest frequency among the Maya, but this claim would be unlikely to appeal to his intended audience. In order for the DNA data to show anything meaningful about the relationship between Middle Eastern populations and the Maya, the chromosomes would need to be divided into many more clusters instead of the six that Rosenberg and colleagues used. We consequently cannot see much difference between French chromosomes in Western Europe and Indian chromosomes in Southern Asia, while we can easily tell these people apart from their physical appearance.

Chromosomes in global populations

Figure 1. Chromosomes in global populations were grouped into five clusters, indicated by different colours. Each individual in a population (e.g., 25 individuals in the Maya population) is represented by a thin horizontal line partitioned into segments belonging to the different chromosome clusters. The Maya have significant, but not overwhelming, portions of blue and pink chromosomes. Crandall concludes that since some blue chromosomes occur among the Maya, they must have come from the Middle East (from Fig. 2. in Rosenberg et al., 2005).

An important oversight of Crandall’s is the pink chromosomal DNA among the Maya, which is an important clue to where the blue DNA may have come from. If we were looking for a population likely to be more closely related to the Maya, it would be logical to consider populations that have portions of blue and pink chromosomes. In addition, it would make sense to look at populations that we already know from mitochondrial and Y chromosome studies12 to be related to American Indians. About 10,000 American Indians have been DNA tested and over 99% have a maternal DNA lineage derived from Siberia in Central Asia.13 Consequently, it would be prudent to take a closer look at Central Asian chromosomes. If Crandall had not been so preoccupied with the Middle East, he would have seen that in Central Asian populations we find abundant blue and pink DNA (Fig. 1). This is consistent with the idea that Mayan DNA is largely derived from Central Asian populations, exactly as the mitochondrial and Y chromosome data revealed.

Crandall also claims there “are Middle Eastern haplotypes where we as Latter-Day Saints would expect them to be in this Mayan population, as opposed to across all North and South America.” He makes this statement on the basis of a single North American population, the Pima, and three South American populations (Fig. 1), an alarming conclusion for a population geneticist to make given the small number of populations studied. The recent publication of a much more comprehensive study of American Indian populations by Sijia Wang in 2007 has revealed just how wide of the mark Crandall’s conclusion was.14 Wang expanded the number of populations studied from 5 to 29 and included about 500 individuals. As Fig. 2 shows, DNA variation in the Maya does not stand out from other American Indian groups.

Colored clustering chromosomal DNA from 29 American Indian populations

Figure 2. Colored clustering chromosomal DNA from 29 American Indian populations and DNA from Africa, Europe, East Asia and Siberia. The Mayan population does not stand out from other American Indian populations. Each individual in a population (the red arrow points to the Maya sample) is represented by a thin vertical line partitioned into segments belonging to one of five chromosome clusters (from Wang et al., 2007)

Wang’s team also included Siberians among the populations they examined. DNA that once appeared pink and blue in the Maya in Rosenberg’s work (Fig.1) now appears mostly red because it is more closely related to chromosomes found among Siberian populations (Fig. 2). The small proportions of blue chromosomal DNA in American Indian populations are most likely to be the result of interbreeding with Europeans since Columbus. This is supported by the fact that higher proportions are seen among Algonquian tribes (Cree and Chipewyan) which were heavily impacted at first contact along the Atlantic seaboard. In addition, we see small proportions of African DNA in several American Indian populations, including the Arhuaco (northern Columbia), Wayuu (northern Colombia and Venezuela), and Maya (Fig. 3). The orange chromosomal DNA is most clearly seen in Fig. 2, where it appears above the blue European DNA. These findings are in agreement with mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA studies on American Indians, which suggest a similarly low frequency of European and African DNA lineages across the two western hemispheres.15 American Indian populations from remote areas of the Amazon, including the Surui and Ache who were only recently discovered, have no European or African chromosomal.

Figure 3. Magnified portion of Fig. 2 showing proportions of chromosomal DNA clusters in the Maya. The small regions of orange appearing in the columns above the blue indicate the presence of African DNA.

Crandall’s misrepresentation of the work of Rosenberg’s team is egregious, given the lengths he and other FAIR apologists go to to impress the listener with his skills in understanding “tricky” population genetic data. According to Crandall, critics do not understand population genetics; after all, what would a “plant geneticist,” as they call me, know. “They don’t understand the population genetic literature because they’re not population geneticists so they couldn’t interpret these kinds of data,” says Crandall. “It’s a very tricky kind of literature,” he continues, “and a tricky kind of data to wrap your brain around.” How is it possible that Crandall, a population geneticist, managed to misinterpret the Rosenberg data? An important clue is revealed in Crandall’s next comment.

But it’s pretty patently obvious when you look at their data in this one figure in particular. You know. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s there.

There are two interesting aspects to this statement. First, Crandall seems to want to protect his scholarly standing by not coming out as a full-fledged advocate of the position the DVD promotes. Notice how he phrases it, as if it is not necessarily what he himself believes; he is just offering a helpful hint for anyone who might hold such a view. Second, although he wants to maintain professional distance and scientific objectivity, he is comfortable recommending that limited geographists go out and find evidence for their position. I should not draw too fine a distinction here, but I agree that interpreting scientific research can be tricky, particularly when someone’s opinions are fixed and that person is looking for evidence that supports his viewpoint. That is the fundamental problem with Crandall’s representation of the Rosenberg paper. The BYU professor commits the apologist sin of mining the literature to prove a point—in this case a religious point. Not surprisingly, he overlooked, or decided not to comment on, the evidence that did not support his view.

Crandall’s Mayan claim in the DVD is directly followed by yet more reckless remarks by John Tvedtnes, a BYU linguistics scholar who has no molecular research experience. Not surprisingly the claims get bolder. According to Tvedtnes:

There is direct DNA evidence for the Book of Mormon. The haplogroup X, which has been trashed by a lot of the critics, saying “Well, no, it’s also found in Asia,” no, the type of X that is found in Mesoamerica is, in fact, from the Middle East.

These claims wither under closer investigation. There are currently no published reports of the X lineage in Mesoamerica or South America.16 The lineage has only been found in North America where it occurs at moderate frequency in eastern tribes. Far from being closely related to Middle Eastern lineages, the American Indian X lineages are distantly related to them. Fig. 4 shows a family tree of X lineages from Europeans, Altaians (Siberians), and American Indians, constructed by Derenko and colleagues seven years ago.17 The tree clearly shows Altai X lineages occupying an intermediate position between European (Austrian, Bulgarian, Central European, English, French, German, Tuscan, Turkish) and American Indian X lineages, just as would be expected if they were the source of American Indian X lineages. Consequently, molecular anthropologists outside of the LDS apologetic struggle—who do not pick and choose the evidence they like—do not see any connection between New World X lineages and the Middle East.

The most detailed analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of Jewish groups has revealed that the X lineage is extremely rare among Ashkenazi Jews, occurring at a frequency of about 1% in 565 individuals tested.18 Many of what were previously thought to be X lineages among the Jews and Middle Eastern populations belong to a different lineage, haplogroup N1b.19 The N1b mtDNA lineage is not found among American Indians.

Further evidence that American X lineages are not derived from a recent Middle Eastern incursion comes from estimates of how long American Indian X lineages have been separated from their ancestral lineages. This is estimated by studying how much new genetic variation is present in American Indian X lineages—the same approach used for the A, B, C, and D lineages.20 American Indian X lineages turn out to have been in the New World for about 20,000 years, or 17,000 years prior to the existence of Israel, essentially ruling out any possible recent connection with the Middle East.21

Family tree of X lineage from Europeans, Altaians, and American Indians.

Figure 4. Family tree of X lineage from Europeans, Altaians, and American Indians. Circles indicate specific DNA lineages and the diameters indicate their abundance. The asterisk indicates the oldest, or ancestral, X mitochondrial lineage in the tree. Lines join related lineages and numbers indicate positions in the mitochondrial DNA where mutations have occurred, giving rise to new mitochondrial lineages. The abbreviations stand for Native American (NA), Altaian (ALT), Austrian (AUS), Bulgarian (BUL), Central European (CE), English (ENG), French (FRE), German (GER), Tuscan (TUS), and Turkish (TUR) populations (Derenko et al., 2001).

Further attempting to find DNA lineages that could have bypassed Asia on their way to the Americas, Tvedtnes stumbles from one dubious haplogroup claim to the next. This time it is an N lineage found in Europeans and American Indians but most importantly not in Asians:

There is also one that is called N. It’s found in other parts of the world too. It’s found in Europe. And some N types have been found, mostly in the Inter-Mountain West, as a matter of fact, among the Fremont culture. But they have been found also back east, in the eastern United States. N does not seem to have come from Asia at all.

The “N” lineage Tvedtnes is referring to is an unknown lineage identified by Ryan Parr in 1996 among ancient samples from the Fremont culture in the Great Salt Lake wetlands region of Utah.22 At the time of Parr’s paper, some puzzling DNA lineages had cropped up in North American Indians which did not fall into the A-D lineage families. For convenience, these unknown lineages were classified as N lineages. It was not until two years later that the vast majority of these were found to belong to the X family, a group of lineages now known to be derived from Asia.23 Tvedtnes confuses a lineage class found in Europe—the genuine lineage N family—with the name given by Parr and others for a number of unknown lineages discovered over a decade ago. Contrary to Tvedtnes, the N lineage is found in Asia.24 If this really added anything of substance to the debate, why didn’t Parr—the author of the Fremont study, who also appears on the DVD—speak about this evidence himself rather than leave it to a linguist to interpret his work?

One of the most difficult problems for the limited geography theory is explaining why millions of indigenous American Indians were not mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The dearth of scriptural support for the presence of these “others,” outside of the Israelite civilizations, is illustrated by the poverty of the argument put forward in the FAIR DVD. The mysterious appearance among the Nephites of a man named Sherem eighty years after the Lehites arrived is offered by Michael Ash as evidence that other unknown groups must have been nearby.25 Sherem was unknown to the Nephite leader Jacob, so the explanation for the appearance of this man must be the millions of invisible American Indians. Is this the only reasonable explanation? What about the Mulekites, who were unknown to the Nephites at the time and occupied lands in their vicinity? John Tvedtnes even mentions the Mulekites on the DVD as evidence that “others” were present! What about the Jaredites, who also colonized territory the Lehites eventually came across? What’s the mystery? Sherem’s appearance can be simply explained within the Book of Mormon history and without reference to the real world.

Jeffrey Meldrum believes that “repeated statements by individuals” in the Book of Mormon that they were a “pure descendant of Lehi” is particularly illuminating. He explains that “it was very likely that the rest of the people were married and [were] assimilating individuals from the indigenous peoples.” Meldrum’s failure to contemplate other simple explanations for the single—not repeated—pure descendent quote is startling.26 He seems to have overlooked the Zoramites and the Ishmaelites. The Mulekite civilization headquartered at Zarahemla had been in contact with the Lehite civilization for several hundred years by this time, according to the Book of Mormon.

North American Geographists
A new group of apologists is breathing a new lease of life into a geography theory that has long been regarded with suspicion by mainstream BYU apologists. Spearheaded recently by Rod Meldrum,27 a non-scientist with a background in marketing, this resurging theory argues that Book of Mormon events did not take place in Central America, but rather in the northeastern United States in the vicinity of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. Meldrum is joined in his campaign by fellow Mormon Wayne May, editor and publisher of Ancient American,28 a magazine produced largely by Mormons. The editorial position of the journal is that it “stands firmly on behalf of evidence for the arrival of overseas visitors to the Americas hundreds and even thousands of years before Columbus.” These visitors are believed to have contributed to the “birth and development of numerous and sophisticated civilizations which flourished throughout the American Continents in pre-Columbian times.”

Also aligned with Meldrum is Shawn Davies, president of the Ancient Historical Research Foundation (AHRF), another collection of amateur Mormon archaeologists running a website on the fringe of New World archaeology. Davies is an IT consultant with twenty years of amateur field experience. Scientific adviser Steven E. Jones is a BYU physicist who is convinced the World Trade Center was destroyed by controlled demolition during the September 11 attacks. His public statements brought considerable embarrassment to BYU, which removed him from academic duties in late 2006.

A key selling point of the North American theory is that it removes two awkward requirements from the limited geography model: the two Cumorahs and the 3,000-mile trek by Moroni to deposit the plates in New York. Traditional interpretations, currently held by most Mormons, sit comfortably with this theory. Meldrum and his team have assembled an interesting array of archaeological evidence in support of this theory in a four hour DVD entitled DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography. 29Population genetics constitute only a small part of the story presented on the DVD, but Meldrum seems to be aware of the powerful appeal genetic research has.

In the limited attention given the topic on the DVD, we encounter once again the appearance of the X lineage in North America.30 It was most common in the Algonquian Indians on the eastern seaboard and in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. I have already described the major lines of evidence precluding any X lineage connection with the Middle East, but Meldrum makes additional claims that should be mentioned. His approach is to clip quotes from scientists, made years ago during the period immediately preceding and soon after the discovery of the X lineage among the Altai in Siberia. He is able to make considerable mileage out of questions raised during those early intense debates surrounding the X lineage’s origin. Mainstream molecular anthropologists now agree that it is one of the original five founding lineages that have been in the New World for about 20,000 years.31 Meldrum makes much of the fact that American Indian X lineages contain an additional two mutations that set them apart from the Altai; he probably does not know that all four American Indian maternal lineages (A, B, C, and D) contain 2-3 additional mutations that set them apart from Asian A, B, C, and D lineages. They are all distantly related to lineages in Asia, as they have been separated for twenty millenia.

Alternative Geographists
It may come as a surprise to some readers that there are many apologists who see the Book of Mormon events as having occurred outside the Americas. The weight of scientific evidence against the possibility of an American setting has been sufficiently compelling, and their faith in the historical claims of the Book of Mormon sufficiently rigid, that they have looked elsewhere. Ralph Olson, a retired chemistry professor, has argued that the narrative can be more comfortably situated on the Malay Peninsula than in Mesoamerica.32 In his book, A More Promising Land of Promise, he presents an eclectic array of evidences to back up his theory, interspersed with criticism of the Limited Geographists, including the challenge created by DNA studies. In Olson’s defence, positioning the Book of Mormon narrative in Asia neatly overcomes such anachronisms as the lack of Old World horses, cattle, and goats and crops such as wheat and barley. I will not dwell on Olson’s theories as mainstream LDS apologists have shown no interest in them. Insufficient DNA research has been conducted on native people of the Malay Peninsula; however, Cambodians were shown by Noah Rosenberg to be closely related to other East Asians, who are only distantly related to Middle Easterners.

There is an unwritten law in LDS apologetics stating that the historicity of the Book of Mormon cannot be questioned. Consequently, apologists gather inconclusive evidence that supports a fixed opinion while ignoring evidence that does not. A second law—encapsulated in the words of Ronald Reagan’s “Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans”—is equally true as apologists rarely publically denigrate other apologists.

American Indians are not descended from Israelites. This is the clear message from over a century of research by thousands of archaeologists and anthropologists. This research has revealed that the original Americans entered the continent about 20,000 years ago. By about 10,000 years ago, independent of Old World civilizations, Native American began developing their own civilizations and domesticating their own New World crops (maize, beans, squash) and animals (llamas, turkeys, alpacas). There is no conclusive evidence whatsoever that Old World civilizations had any significant contact with American Indian cultures until 1000 AD, with the arrival of the Norse in Newfoundland. American Indian accomplishments stand on their own merit; they have their own unique origins and histories, and the descendants of the first people to inhabit the New World are growing impatient with Mormons imposing their European-style mythologies on them. In a similar way, scientists are growing impatient with non-scientists sensationalizing or cherry-picking their way through the technical literature—especially those who begin by questioning the foundations of science on the basis of theological assumptions.

Simon’s Blog

Rodney Meldrum: Cherry picking the X lineage


1.Stewart, D. 2006. DNA and the Book of Mormon. FARMS Review 18 (1):109-38; online at FAIR: Defending Mormonism.

2. Ashkenazi Jews are descended from medieval Jewish communities who colonized the Rhineland.

3. Scientists suspect that the presence of the Q lineage among European (Ashkenazi) Jewry is by way of the Khazar people who converted to Judaism in the eighth century. The Khazars inhabited what is now the Ukraine but later migrated into Eastern Europe and mixed with the Diaspora there. This is discussed by Levy-Coffman, E. 2005. A mosaic of people: the Jewish story and a reassessment of the DNA evidence. JoGG 1 (Spring):12-33.

4. Tambets, K, et al. 2004. The western and eastern roots of the Saami: The story of genetic “outliers” told by mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes. Am J Hum Genet 74 (4):661-82; Karafet, T., et al. 1999. Ancestral Asian source(s) of New World Y-chromosome founder haplotypes. Am J Hum Genet 64 (3):817-31.

5. Zakharov, I., et al. 2004. Mitochondrial DNA variation in the aboriginal populations of the Altai-Baikal region: Implications for the genetic history of North Asia and America. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1011 (April): 21-–35.

6. Zegura, S., et al. 2004. High-resolution SNPs and microsatellite haplotypes point to a single, recent entry of Native American Y chromosomes into the Americas. Mol. Biol. Evol. 21 (1): 164-75; Seielstad, Mark T. et al. (2003) A novel Y chromosome variant puts an upper limit on the timing of the first entry into the Americas. Am J Hum Genet 73 (3):700-05.

7. Achilli A., et al. 2008. The phylogeny of the four Pan-American mtDNA haplogroups: Implications for evolutionary and disease studies. PLoS ONE 3(3): e1764. Ugo Perego and Scott Woodward are Mormons working at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) in Salt Lake City.

8. 2 Ne. 1: 8.

9. The Book of Mormon and New World DNA, parts 1-3, YouTube.

10. Holloway, M. 2007. Bigfoot anatomy. Scientific American (Nov.).

11. Rosenberg N., et al. 2005. Clines, clusters, and the effect of study design on the inference of human population structure. PLoS Genet 1 (6): e70.

12. Maternal DNA lineages are defined by DNA spelling changes found in mitochondrial DNA, a small portion of human DNA passed from mothers to their children. It is widely studied to reveal human genealogical relationships. Y-chromosome DNA is studied to reveal paternal lineages.

13. Southerton, Simon G. 2004. Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, 88-92, 213-22.

14. Wang S., et al. 2007. Genetic variation and population structure in Native Americans. PLoS Genet 3 (11): e185.

15. See Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 213-20.

16. Mitochondrial DNA from two out of sixty individuals from among the Maya could not be classified as an A, B, C, or D lineage; however, to date they have not been sufficiently characterised to determine if they are X lineages. See Gonzaléz-Oliver A., et al. 2001. Founding Amerindian mitochondrial DNA lineages in ancient Maya from Xcaret, Quintana Roo. Am J Phys Anthropol 116 (3):230-35. The X lineage is absent or rare in South America. See Dornelles, C., et al. 2005. Is haplogroup X present in extant South American Indians? Am J Phys Anthropol 127 (4):439-48.

17. Derenko, M., et al. 2001. The presence of mitochondrial haplogroup X in Altaians from South Siberia. Am J Hum Genet 69 (1):237-41. See also Reidla, M., et al. 2003. Origin and diffusion of mtDNA haplogroup X. Am J Hum Genet 73 (5):1178-90.

18. Behar, D., et al. 2004. MtDNA evidence for a genetic bottleneck in the early history of the Ashkenazi Jewish population. Eur J Hum Genet 12 (May):355-64.
19. Ibid

20. See Achilli (2008) for age estimates for the four major American Indian (A, B, C, D) lineages.

21. Reidla, M., et al. 2003. Origin and diffusion of MtDNA haplogroup X. Am J Hum Genet 73 (5):1178-90; Brown, M., et al. 1998. MtDNA haplogroup X: An ancient link between Europe/Western Asia and North America? Am J Hum Genet 63 (6):1852-61. All of the above issues related to the X lineage were fully addressed in Losing a Lost Tribe, 89-92, 96. Fagundes, N., et al. 2008. Mitochondrial population genomics supports a single pre-Clovis origin with a coastal route for the peopling of the Americas. Am J Hum Genet 82 (3): 583-92.

22. Parr, R., et al. 1996. Ancient DNA analysis of Fremont Amerindians of the Great Salt Lake wetlands. Am J Phys Anthropol 99 (4): 507-18.

23. Brown (1998); Smith, D., et al. 1999. Distribution of MtDNA haplogroup X among Native North Americans. Am J Physical Anthropology 110 (3):271-84.

24. Palanichamy, M., et al. 2004. Phylogeny of mitochondrial DNA macrohaplogroup N in India, based on complete sequencing: Implications for the peopling of South Asia. Am J Hum Genet 75 (6):966-978.

25. The account of Sherem is in Jacob 7.

26. A search of the Book of Mormon at the LDS Church website reveals a single “pure descendant” quote in 3 Nephi 5: 20 (about AD 26) long after the first contact between the Mulekite and Lehite civilizations (about 300 BC).

27. Rod Meldrum and Jeffrey Meldrum are apparently not closely related.

28. Ancient American.

29. DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography.

30. In April 2008, two short clips from the DVD appeared on the Internet (see note 9 above). The narrator’s voice was digitally distorted and credits linking the DVD to Rod Meldrum appeared twice, first with many spelling mistakes, suggesting that the posting may not have been authorized by Meldrum.

31. Fagundes (2008) contains a comprehensive study of variation in the entire sequence of 86 American Indian mitochondrial genomes from the five founding lineages, A-D and X.

32. Olson, R. 2006. A More Promising Land of Promise.