Founding Fathers

England’s Grandpa & the Million
Kids of the World’s Biggest Killer

Up to a few months ago, Scottish retired lecturer Ian Kinnaird was known to family and friends as smart but quiet 72-year-old chap, who once studied Africa as part of his Geography degree. Now, after a DNA test, he’s fast becoming known the world over as a rare direct descendant of the first woman on Earth, Eve, who lived in that continent 190,000 years ago.
That immediately reminded us of Genghis Khan, a ruthless tyrant known as much for the record numbers of those he killed over seven centuries ago, as for those he left as descendants. In fact, recent studies on the Y chromosome variants, linked him to as many as a third of the current world population, some sharing a direct blood line with him.
Kinnaird‘s test showed that his mitochondrial DNA, passed through the female line, was 30,000 years old and only two genetic mutations removed from Eve. While most men have a genome with around 200 mutations since the earliest humans, Kinnaird’s genetic markup makes him ‘the grandfather of everyone in Britain”.
In the case of Genghis Khan, the Y chromosome, unlike all the rest, has only one copy, passes unchanged through generations of males, baring any new mutations, and is absent in females who have two X chromosomes. A study found that in Asia, for example, approximately 16 million men share a certain Y chromosome that could only have come from the Mongol despot.
According to historian and St Andrews University rector Alistair Moffat, who set up the DNA project, Kinnaird’s lineage first appeared in in Senegal, but had never been seen in northwest Europe before. It is likely to have reached the U.K. through the arrival of slaves in Liverpool.
‘A woman who might be called Eve and a man who might be called Adam really existed. Eve, the mother of all of us, lived around 190,000 years ago just as homo sapiens were evolving. Other women lived at the same time but only Eve’s mtDNA survived.’ Adam may have lived in central Africa only 140,000 years ago, and his YDNA survived to father all of the male lineages on earth.
Kinnaird cannot pass on his mtDNA, but his sister can and the daughter she gave up for adoption will carry the rare bloodline. The project has now tested 2,000 people across the U.K. and most have markers that trace their ancestry back up to 3,500 years, defining them as descendants of the earliest Britons, the Ancient Irish, Vikings, hunter gatherers and cave painters.
It took centuries but researchers are finally coming around to identifying redeeming qualities in the “work” of feared Mongol General Genghis Khan. Up to now, everyone was convinced that when he got busy creating his vast empire in the 13th and 14th Centuries, invading and pillaging nations, and pretty much annihilating anyone standing on his way, he was doing that just for his thirst for blood.
Oh, how wrong we all were. For yes, he did kill about 40 million of his closest enemies, either because they opposed his plans of world domination or didn’t like his hairstyle, but all he had at heart was the best interest of future generations, you see?
Years after his horse-driven, bow-wielding hordes left on their wake carnage and smoldering villages, the paths they galloped on got covered by an explosion of lush vegetation, that helped remove nearly 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere. We don’t know of anyone else who has done as much for the environment as this misunderstood philanthropist.
study by the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Energy concluded that he was a truly eco-warrior who deserves our respect, not just the fear of his sharp-spear armies. Good ol’ Gengis was, after all, as old fashioned as any garden variety conqueror, and would rather nip the bud, so to speak, of any potential disaffect than to see him grow into another inconvenient enemy. Just like any modern despot next door, wouldn’t you say?
Consider that the next time you spot someone holding a blood soaked sword coming your way. To give you some context, the study also found that many of history’s tragic events, such as the Black Plague, the fall of China’s Ming Dynasty and the conquest of the Americas don’t look so bad when you think they also ignited a widespread return of forests after a period of massive depopulation, i.e., mass murdering.
But no one perfected and accelerated this transformation from body to soil nutrients as Genghis Khan. And the Mongol invasion, which lasted a century and a half and led to an empire spanning 22 per cent of the Earth’s surface, immediately stood out for its longevity. As his troops repeatedly wiped out entire settlements, they were able to scrub more carbon from the atmosphere than any other conqueror ever since.
The findings of the study add yet another dimension to the biography of Temüjin of the Borjigin, his real name, along with the unification of the Mongolian tribes and the conquering of territories as far apart as Afghanistan and northern China, where he left mountains of skulls behind. In all, Genghis Khan conquered almost four times more lands than Alexander the Great.
It all sounds glorious until one realizes that the only way we’re still talking about him today is because he did raped and murdered his way to immortality. Not close to a thousand years have helped us forget that, dormant inside our genetic codes, there may be both the mother of us all, and a blood-thirsty rapist who will stop at nothing to get his seed passed on.
By the way, those 700 million tons of carbon are roughly the amount generated in a year by global consumption of petroleum-based fuels. But before you start longing for another Gengis Khan to arise and solve our environmental woes, keep in mind that his reputation as one of the cruelest war leaders that ever singed his name on history books is far from hyperbolic and unlikely to change, the psychobabble about his sad childhood notwithstanding.
What the Carnegie study on the effects of, ahem, the carnage left by the Mongolian does point to is to new ways of making land-use decisions today that will diminish our impact on climate and the carbon cycle. Besides, since there are so many more people living on Earth now, it’d be at least anti-practical to apply his methods to optimize forest cultivation and carbon absorption systems.
A much better way is, of course, to simply abandon carbon-based energy fuels. So if you are gingerly thinking that it may be inevitable, and even necessary, the appearance of a new Genghis, please snap out of it right now.
* Parts of this post were published in Oct. 2010

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