Europeans are basically one big family

UC DAVIS (US) — Everyone with ancestors from the European continent are likely cousins who share the same family members from about a thousand years ago.

“What’s remarkable about this is how closely everyone is related to each other. On a genealogical level, everyone in Europe traces back to nearly the same set of ancestors only a thousand years ago,” says study co-author Graham Coop, a professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.


“This was predicted in theory over a decade ago, and we now have concrete evidence from DNA data,” Coop says, adding that such close kinship likely exists in other parts of the world as well.

Coop and co-author Peter Ralph, now a professor at the University of Southern California, set out to study relatedness among Europeans in recent history, up to about 3,000 years ago. Drawing on the Population Reference Sample (POPRES) database, a resource for population and genetics research, they compared genetic sequences from more than 2,000 individuals. Their findings are reported in the journal PLoS Biology.

As expected, Coop and Ralph found that the degree of genetic relatedness between two people tends to be smaller the farther apart they live. But even a pair of individuals who live as far apart as the United Kingdom and Turkey—a distance of some 2,000 miles—likely are related to all of one another’s ancestors from a thousand years ago.

Subtle local differences, which likely mark demographic shifts and historic migrations, exist on top of this underlying kinship, Ralph says. Barriers like mountain ranges and linguistic differences have also slightly reduced relatedness among regions.

Coop noted, however, that these are all relatively small differences. “The overall picture is that everybody is related, and we are looking at only subtle differences between regions,” he says.

To learn about these patterns, Ralph and Coop used ideas about the expected amount of genome shared between relatives of varying degrees of relatedness. For example, first cousins have grandparents in common and share long stretches of DNA.

Ralph and Coop looked for shorter blocks of DNA that were shared between cousins separated by many more generations.

Because the number of ancestors doubles with every generation, the chance of having identical DNA in common with more distant relatives quickly drops. But in large samples, rare cases of distant sharing could be detected. With their analysis, Coop and Ralph were able to detect these shared blocks of DNA in individuals spread across Europe, and calculate how long ago they shared an ancestor.

Coop and Ralph hope to continue the work with larger and more detailed databases, including much finer-resolution data on where individuals lived within a country.

However, Coop noted that while studies of genetic ancestry can shed light on history, they do not tell the whole story. Archaeology and linguistics also provide important information about how cultures and societies move and change.

“These studies need to proceed hand in hand, to form a much fuller picture of history,” Coop says.

Source: UC Davis

chat24 Comments

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  1. igi

    Remote Viewer: this is absolute and complete bullshit; but we’re more or less used to scientists’ manure

  2. Graeme

    Wow Igi, so how is it that the magic light-box you call a “COM POO TA” works? You know, the thing you used to make that comment. More scientists’ bull, I guess.

    A really interesting study, kudos to the author.

  3. adela

    Very interesting article. I just hope that one day they can prove that ignorance is also a genetic trait.

  4. Viridian

    Why is it “absolute and complete bullshit”? Because the facts don’t fit some bizarre ideology of yours? Very well: we’re waiting for your contradictory evidence. I guess “igi” is short for “ignoramus”.

  5. Zepo

    lol, igi. I bet you’re one of those people that accepts facts if and only if they agree with what you already believe. Please continue to do that! Your lack of competence means there’s less competition for me.

  6. Matthew

    I agree with everyones comments except the one of the narrow minded “igi”. The whole article makes perfect sense.

  7. Bob

    Does this mean that 1,000 years ago one family moved into europe and slaughtered all the other inhabitants?

    What happened to the ostrogoths, the visigoths, the druids, the vikings? Did they all die off, to be replaced with this one common european ancestor?

    Sadly, violence and ignorance are both dominant genetic traits. There probably was one particularly violent family that eliminated all “competition” and then repopulated the continent with their evil, demented seed.

  8. Bob

    “But we’re more or less used to scientists’ manure”.

    I knows. Right?

    Like them scientists who’s been tellin’ us tha planet is getting warmer. Or that we all popped out of an ape’s vagina, or that women are equal to men. They even tried to convince us that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth. Some other crazy scientist is blabbing some awful nonsense about the earth being round. Round! Seriously? What crazy talk. Everyone knows the truth is literally in the bible. And its literal, literally.

  9. Bob

    Hey igi, you’re so right, we don’t need scientists using precision equipment and empirical knowledge to prove and disprove things or quantify and identify our natural world. We should rely more on our own observations and a collection of fables, fairy tales and children’s stories to shape our understanding of the world.

    I look up in the sky in the morning and the sun is in one location. When I look up 12 hours later it is onthe other side of our obviously flat earth. Therefore any fool can see that the sun literally rises in the east, then literally moves across our sky and sets in the west. To even consider that the earth revolves around the sun whe. Eveyone can plainly see the sun move across our sky. Simply ridiculous.

    Also, if you leave meat sitting out on your counter long enough, it will spontaneously create maggots. Simple observation. Leave meat out, maggots appear. Where else would they come from? Flies couldn’t possibly lay eggs, the meat created the maggots.

    Everyone knows scientists are all part of the liberal agenda to destroy religion. You know scientists went to colleges, where many of them studied liberal arts. Everyone knows every liberal loves art. See the conspiracy? The art of liberals is educating our yutes. Conservatives would never learn liberal arts since that’s for pussies. We’d much rather invade some land where the people look different from us, than learn that pussy liberal arts stuff.

  10. Dunc

    I think I enjoyed Bob’s comments more than the actual article :-)
    Duncan, inbred European scientific type of chap … oops mentioned inbreeding, sorry Ig.

  11. Adam

    Well stated Bob

  12. John

    If you were to start counting your ancestors, two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents etc, you would find that in ten generations you have over a thousand ancestors. In twenty generations you have over a million ancestors. And in thirty generations you have over a billion ancestors. Thirty generations ago would have been approximately the year 1300 when the entire earth had a population of about 300 million. What this has to mean is that not only are we all related to a small group of people living in Europe a thousand years ago, we are related to nearly everyone living a thousand years ago.

  13. Jan

    @John, this is seriously flawed math. My two parents have two children so that is only one parent per child. My four grandparents have 16 grandchildren, so that is only 0.25 grandparent per grandchild, not 4.

  14. John

    How many parents do YOU have? How many grandparents? Great grandparents? It doesn’t matter how many siblings you have, you still have the same number of parents and grandparents.
    The point is that if you go back just 30 generations, you will find common ancestors with nearly every other person on the planet.

  15. Mary J

    Fun reading on a Friday. Thanks.

  16. Rich

    A little calculating:
    Let’s suppose one generation is 25 years – that’s right in the middle of the prime reproductive span historically, I’m guessing. So there would be 4 generations every 100 years, and 40 generations in 1,000 years.

    If you trace back from yourself one generation you have your parents. Everyone who is not a clone (I guess that leaves out Igi) has 2 biological parents. So for every person, in the first generation back there are 2 ancestors. Since each of them had 2 parents, in the next generation back you will find 4 ancestors, and the one before will have 8, then 16, then 32, etc. To see how many ancestors you have in the 40th generation back, many people will recognize this as simply a matter of taking the base 2 (parents) and raising it to the 40th power (generations). When you do that calculation you get a very large number – 1,099,511,627,776 in fact – approximately 1 trillion. But what if I’m wrong, and there are really only 3 generations per 100 years? Then we’re looking at 2 raised to the 30th power – which is 1,073,741,824 – or approximately 1 billion
    But the only estimate I can find for the entire world’s population in 1,000 AD is 50,000,000 which I got from here: – and to throw our calculation off even more, the population of Europe would be only a part of that. So unless those population estimates are off by a factor of about 22,000 (or a factor of only 21 if we’re assuming 30 generations instead of 40) many of those European ancestors have to be doing “double-duty” along the way.

    But how does an ancestor do “double duty”? Imagine you’re looking at the 5th generation back. If all your ancestors in that generation were unrelated to subsequent generations you would have (2 raised to the 5th power) – 32 ancestors. Mathematically you expect to see 32 individuals. But suppose that 2 ancestors in the 3rd generation back were first cousins. There would be only 30 instead of 32 individuals in the 5th generation because 2 of the 30 did “double duty” – instead of being direct ancestors to only one, they were grandparents to 2 of the ancestors in the 3rd generation. There is a *lot* of that in everyone’s ancestry – and it’s less harmful biologically than is generally assumed. (Don’t get the idea that I’m promoting first-cousin marriage – I’m not.) To put it another way, the gene pool going back 1,000 years is MUCH smaller than it would be if all of our ancestors were unrelated. Approximately 22,000 times (for 40 generations) as concentrated as it would be if they were all unrelated. I imagine somebody has invented an “index of relatedness” to describe this – I dunno – but what I see here from comparing the predicted number of unrelated ancestors vs. the actual number or people living at the time – without looking at actual gene markers – tells me to expect a very high degree of relatedness.

    That Coop and Ralph can prove from genetic markers that all Europeans are descendants of fewer than 50,000,000 individuals (I found an estimate of 38,000,000 here: is really quite remarkable. So lighten up – we’re really all family! (This can be extended to all populations of hummans – we humans are ALL MUCH more closely related than the Igi’s of the world might believe.)

  17. john

    Very well written Rich! All of this genetic research has also caused many scientists to redefine how we think of race. We are so closely related that the small genetic differences are not enough to classify us as “races”. We are all one big family. Light skin is almost certainly a mutation from the dark skin of our ancestors. Since all the oldest fossils of our species are found in Africa it is a small leap to say that we all have African ancestors. Of course geography would have played a role in lightening skin color as humans migrated out of Africa to colder climates. There is a great book called “mapping Human History” By Steve Olsen that explains this very well.

  18. Rich

    @John: There is a really fascinating study that was turned into a book and a documentary called, “The Journey of Man”. ( ) It demonstrates through tracing gene markers on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA that all humans did indeed originate in Africa. It went even further by mapping the several distinct migrations from Africa that took place over thousands of years. In the biological scheme of things “race” is a social distinction and more or less irrelevant biologically. Yes, skin pigments have come and gone based on latitudes and the strong influence on fertility of sun-induced vitamin D in ancient populations. (Today we compensate with dietary supplements.) Basically skin pigments have always been most prevalent in human populations near the equator – all around the world – and fall off more or less evenly in both directions in human populations located further from the equator. European ancestors lost their skin pigment a long time ago because at Northern latitudes there is not enough light intensity to stimulate vitamin D if there is pigment blocking the absorption of the sun’s radiation. And without vitamin D the fertility rate is low. Interestingly, the modern population that most closely resembles the source population for the rest of the world – i.e., their gene pool encompasses more of humankind than any other – are the Kalihari bush people. You may have seen them portrayed in a movie (it was a feature comedy made in the 80s called, “The Gods Must Be Crazy”.) There is overwhelming proof that the overwhelming majority of differences between people are brought about by our culture, history and personal circumstance rather than our biology.

  19. Rusty

    Its interesting when science proves what the Bible teaches.

  20. raul izquierdo

    well im no scientist but i figured this out in junior high. being that you need a male and female to reproduce. im betting that it started out with a really really small pool of people. that builds upon eachother. and new lands were found the family moved away. kinda like your family does on a smaller scale it makes perfect sense to me then as it does now. only now they have the proof. but i didnt need it. science does.

  21. Rodney Mathews

    This is awesome opossum.

  22. MoC

    These calculations do not take into account the lethal diseases that wiped out huge segments( two thirds as of 1351) of the European population. We “white folk” are descended from the relatively few survivors of those epidemics. It is surprising that we aren’t even more closely related.

  23. John

    Of course nobody is descended from people who died before having children or from family lines that died out. But we can say with quite a bit of confidence that you are related to anyone living 2000 years ago if they had children. So if you always wanted to be related to Charlemagne, or Cleopatra, or Julius Caesar, there is a good chance that you are. We as a species are very, very closely related. Shame on you for marrying your cousin.

  24. John

    @ MoC, I nearly missed the phrase “we white folks”. It doesn’t matter how much pigment you have in your skin, you are related to everyone on the planet. Race is an outmoded concept that needs to be discarded as soon as possible. White, black, brown, we are all family.

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