East Africa

An updated version (3.0) of Ancestry Composition has been rolled out by 23andme in January 2019 for all its customers. FINALLY it also includes a meaningful African breakdown! I have always believed that the best way to find out about the predictive accuracy of any particular DNA test or update is to look at the results of people who actually know their (recent) origins. In order to improve correct interpretation I have therefore started a survey among African DNA testers. Using their group averages as some sort of rudimentary benchmarks so to speak. Of course also some basic knowledge about DNA testing (in particular 23andme’s reference populations and methodology) as well as historical context will remain essential to really get the most out of your own admixture results!Follow the link below to see my spreadsheet which contains all the individual results I used for my survey findings:

Twelve new African regions on 23andme

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Map 1 (click to enlarge)

AC-33-Africa.001

Nine specific regions and 3 broadly macro-regions are now available on 23andme’s Ancestry Composition to describe your origins across the African continent (aside from “Broadly Sub-Saharan African” and “North African & Arabian”). The country name labeling is not to be taken too literally, as always. But it is actually quite indicative if you simply take it as a proxy and also take into account surrounding countries. Despite being less specific it will still also be helpful to distinguish between macro-regional areas within Africa: West African versus Central & Southeast Africa versus Northeast Africa, see also table 1.

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On this page I will be featuring the individual screenshots of East African 23andme testers (from Tanzania to Sudan). Almost all results included in my survey have been shared with me by the DNA testers themselves.Some results were also kindly shared with me by friends. And a few results were collected by me from social media. Naturally I verified the background of each sample to the best of my capabilities but I did not have absolute certainty in all cases. I like to thank all my African survey participants for having tested on 23andme and sharing their results with me so that it may benefit other people as well!

For screenshots of the individual results from other parts of Africa see also:

For screenshots of East African 23andme results before the 2018/2019 update see this page (published in 2015):

At times I will also feature screenshots of people of mixed background. Usually 1 parent being from a specific African country and 1 parent being from Europe or elsewhere. But also Africans with 1 European grandparent, 1 great-grandparent etc..  In order to make the African composition results inter-comparable between all my survey participants I have scaled the African part of 23andme’s breakdown to 100% for people of mixed background. I actually find that especially in these mixed cases 23andme’s update really shows it added value. As most of the times also the known African background of mixed people is fairly well described.

p.s.   I will usually only feature screenshots of the African breakdown. You will notice it will often not add up to an expected 100%. In most cases this is because of a well known “bug” in 23andme’s Ancestry Composition. Which causes people of “100% African” descent to show trace levels of non-African admixture or “unassigned” ancestry. This can generally be considered “noise”, i.e. reflecting an artefact of the DNA test. Hopefully it will be fixed with the next update. In some other cases though the individuals will have genuine additional non-African ancestry. Which might however be “native” to Africa still. Especially if it is related to North African(-like) DNA. Otherwise it might reflect historical geneflow from outside of Africa within the last 500 years or even earlier.

p.p.s.   Sometimes I might draw comparisons with the former African breakdown on AncestryDNA. Unless stated otherwise I will always be referring to the old version of AncestryDNA, current between 2013-2018! As I believe that Ancestry’s last update of September 2018, unlike 23andme’s current update, has not been beneficial for Africans and Afro-descendants. See also:

East African group averages

Table 1 (click to enlarge) 

EA group averages

This table contains my main survey findings. It illustrates how 23andme’s new African breakdown is performing for East Africans. Click on this link for an up-to-date version of this table. Although less specific do take notice how also the macro-regional breakdown (West African vs. Central & Southeast African vs. Northeast African) is reasonably in line.

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The statistical data displayed in table 1 is evidently based on a minimal sample size but still pretty comprehensive already. Only a few East African countries are not yet being covered (Burundi and Djibouti). All of the included countries themselves do harbour a multitude of ethnic groups. A greater degree of genetic diversity and individual variation might be expected therefore across East Africa and also within the listed countries.

Even though only preliminary statements should be allowed at this stage I still suspect that these group averages are already a reasonably good approximation of the main regional components to be found within the genepool of this part of Africa. According to 23andme’s new African breakdown obviously 😉 . The group averages I have calculated so far often exceeding 90% for each nationality! Although admittedly intermediate countries such as Uganda and Ruanda are less well captured right now. Also for Kenya and Tanzania actual ethnic background will often result in strong individual variation. Which is to be expected given the greater ethno-linguistic diversity in these countries (Bantu, Nilo-Saharan, Cushtic etc., see also this page). Contrasting with the much more homogeneous composition of my survey participants from the so-called Horn countries: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia as well as Sudan and South Sudan.

The “Southern East African” region is based on 23andme’s reference populations from the socalled Swahili countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda & Ruanda (see this link). Therefore not surprising that this region is usually prevailing for my survey participants from these countries. The labeling of this region is somewhat confusingly referring to the southeast of Africa. But the real focus is on DNA from the Swahili speaking countries. Which are located more so in the center of Eastern Africa. 23andme probably wanted to make a distinction with their North Eastern African regions, based on various Horn countries. Especially for Afro-Diasporans it is well-advised to be aware of the ambiguity of how Eastern Africa tends to be defined in DNA testing.3

 “Southern East African” has been minimal for my survey participants from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and even South Africa (Sotho). Even when in particular Mozambique counts as quintessentially Southeast African! In my book at least (see this page). Instead “Congolese” is clearly prevailing for them (>70%, see this page).  This again goes to show the arbitrariness of geographical labels 😉 . “Congolese” on 23andme serves as a principal indicator of Bantu ancestry, not only in Central Africa but also in Southern Africa! And most likely also among those Bantu populations of Kenya, Tanzania, Ruanda which have a lower degree of additional Nilo-Saharan or Cushitic lineage. As testified by the considerable “Congolese” scores (>10%) for especially my Tanzanian and also 1 Kenyan & Ruandan (Hutu) samples.

Because of their greater ethnic and/or genetic homogeneity things are more straightforward for the Horn countries as well as Sudan & South Sudan. Northeast African DNA was already well defined in the previous version of 23andme’s Ancestry Composition. And amazingly it is now being further refined into: “Ethiopian & Eritrean”, “Somali” and “Sudanese”. With very impressive group averages above 90% sofar. And almost mutual exclusivity with West & Central African DNA when combining all three “North Eastern African” regional scores as well as the “Broadly” one.

However despite their seemingly exact country name labeling, the “Ethiopian & Eritrean” and “Sudanese” regio also cover DNA found across borders. Strongly correlating with distinctive ethnic backgrounds in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Ruanda. “Somali” sofar being most exclusive. Perhaps due to my limited sample group. Although probably also indicative of Somalia’s higher degree of genetic homogeneity. While the customer samples from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, used by 23andme as reference population, may have been more varied. And therefore more likely to also generate genetic similarity across borders.

The intriguing aspect about East African DNA test results is that the implied time framing will always be essential. Naturally this also goes for people of other backgrounds. But especially for Northeast Africans it can make a HUGE difference if their origins are described while also taking into account pre-historical migrations from thousands of years ago. According to its own claims 23andme’s Ancestry Composition is aimed rather on describing ancestral origins within a historical time frame. Although in the past it certainly did not always succeed in this objective. Many people taking DNA tests will probably be most curious about their recent, genealogically meaningful origins (say last 500 years or so). Otherwise things might get too confusing for the layman.

However at times looking at your DNA within a more ancient time framework can also be very insightful. Especially for East Africans with significant degree of ancient West Eurasian lineage. This is currently not shown on 23andme. Although due to limited sampling this did occur in the past as well as on AncestryDNA (see this page). One might get an impression of one’s more ancient origins (which will be much more diverse by default!) by uploading on GED-Match. But it might be a good idea if 23andme were to provide its customers with two versions of their Ancestry Composition in a next update. Zooming into both your recent and more ancient ancestry. Explicitly mentioning the implied timeframing as well as providing needed context for proper interpretation. For more details see also:

Additional regions may be unexpected at first sight for people who according to their own knowledge are “100%” Kenyan, Ugandan, Somali etc.. Taking these results at face value can therefore be misleading without correct interpretation. The disclaimers I already mentioned above as well as the links provided below should provide sufficient clarification. As actually such outcomes do usually still make sense. In short the advise would be to: don’t overfixate on the labeling of ancestral categories! Rather try to maximize informational value despite imperfections. In fact this does not only go for 23andme but any kind of admixture analysis. In order to avoid jumping to premature conclusions I highly recommend that you atleast browse through some of the topics mentioned in the following links:

“Southern East African” centered in Swahili countries 

Map 2 (click to enlarge)

Southern East African

The labeling of this region may be referring to the southeast of Africa. But the real focus is on DNA from the Swahili countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Ruanda and Uganda. Which are located more so in the central part of East Africa. A bit confusing but 23andme probably just wanted to make a distinction with their Northeast African regions, centered on the socalled Horn countries. For Afro-Diasporans it is worthwhile to know that Malagasy DNA is also described by this region. But not convincingly so (23.4% on average sofar and 20.3% for “Congolese”). The same goes for South African Coloureds, among whom I found a group average of 40%.  “Southern East African” scores among my survey participants from Zimbabwe and Zambia are mostly in between 10-20%. But it can get as low as 4% for one of my Mozambican samples! Not an equivalent of the former “Southeast Bantu” region on Ancestry therefore. Perhaps more similar in scope to Ancestry’s new “Eastern African” region. Except it does not really go northwards beyond Kenya and Uganda.

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KENYA (Luo?)

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KEN - 99.9

Going by surname I suspect this person might be of Luo descent. Quite possibly she has been included as one of the customer samples 23andme used for their African Reference Populations (see this link). It would explain the quite astonishing score of nearly 100% “Southern East Africa”. Actually this outcome merely means her DNA is a perfect match to the dataset 23andme compares it with. It does not imply her ancestral background is less complex per se. Using a different algorithm and different reference populations might very well lead to more diverse results. I actually also have her brother’s breakdown which indeed looks much less homogeneous! Although “South Eastern African” is still predominant with 78.7%. See further below.

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KENYA (?)

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KEN - 91

Notice how this person’s breakdown hardly contains any West African DNA. As expected only East African regions appearing. Before the update 23andme did a bad job at describing the origins of Kenyans (and many other East Africans as well, excl. Horners). Because of the ill-advised inclusion of Kenyan samples in their former West African category! Which only served to create some sort of measure of all-encompassing Niger-Congo ancestry. Rather useless therefore…

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KENYA (?)

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KEN -81.7

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KENYA (Luo?)

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KEN - 78.7

Brother of the person whose results are shown on top with nearly 100% “Southern East African”. Which might have been a fluke on 23andme’s part. His breakdown seems more realistic. Although I suppose they might also be half-siblings. Notice the rather high “Congolese” score. Which is of course not to be taken too literally but still is indicative of a western shift of this person’s DNA, compared with my other Kenyan survey participants. For whom “Congolese” was often below 1%.

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KENYA (Kikuyu?)

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KEN - 78.6

Aside from the convincing “Southern East African” score do also notice the correct assignment of “Kenya” as ancestral location. Based on IBD matching rather than admixture analysis. This new feature on 23andme serves to specify ones more recent lineage. And it does its job quite well, at least for Kenyans themselves.  “Kenya” was correctly mentioned 8/10 times as ancestral location among my survey participants.

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KENYA (?)

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KEN - 73.7

This person had one of the most noticeable “Nigerian” scores among my East African survey group. Although obviously it is still very minor, not even surpassing 5% when also combining with other trace elements of West African regions. Again not to be taken too literally but serving to underline how this person’s DNA contains an ancestral component which is probably more common among western Bantu populations in Kenya. Ultimately to be explained by Bantu migrations originating in Nigeria/Cameroon in ancient times.

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KENYA (?)

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KEN 71.5

Considerable “Ethiopian & Eritrean” score for this person. The highest I have seen sofar among Kenyans, but not atypical. I suspect it is merely an expression of increased South-Cushitic lineage among certain ethnic groups within Kenya such as the Kikuyu and the Maasai. Interesting that sofar this ancestral component is not primarily being described by “Somali”.

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KENYA (?)

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KENYA 68

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KENYA (?)

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KEN 63.7

Highest “Sudanese” score sofar among my Kenyan survey group. Unfortunately I do not know the ethnic background of this person. One might expect this region to correlate especially with Nilo-Saharan lineage I suppose. Will be interesting to see the test results for a Maasai person.

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KENYA (1/2 Bangladeshi)

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KEN - halvie

Fascinating results for this person with one parent from Bangladesh. Both sides of his mixed heritage seem to be adequately described. However the increased presence of “Sudanese” does require proper interpretation and knowledge of Kenya’s ethnic diversity. Proportionally speaking (14.1/47.8=29%) it represents an even higher scaled score than the previous one! Regrettably I do not know his exact Kenyan ethnic background. But it is very likely to be a distinctive ethnicity and not one of Kenya’s main Bantu speaking populations.

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 KENYA? (1/2 English?)

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KEN or TAN halvie

Very impressive result for this person who has been adopted and therefore has no certainty about her birth parents. A few years ago she was contemplating that she might have an African American or West Indian parent! However this breakdown makes that practically impossible. And instead either a Kenyan or Tanzanian parent seems very likely (based also on her DNA matches!). Taking her African breakdown as 100%, her scaled score for “South Eastern Africa” is 93% (46.4/4), the second-highest such score in my survey! Perfect illustration of how regional admixture CAN be very useful and certainly is not only fit for entertainment…

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TANZANIA (Luo, Hehe)

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TAN - 67.1

Unlike most of my Kenyan samples my 2 Tanzanian survey participants both score substantial “Congolese” scores. Although “South Eastern Africa” was still predominant. It probably has to do with a stronger western Bantu imprint. The minor “Nigerian” and “Broadly West African”scores also to be explained in this manner.

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TANZANIA (Rangi, Sukuma)

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TAN - 63.2

Although not as pronounced as among my Kenyan survey group still interesting to also see indication of absorbed Cushitic and/or Nilo-Saharan ancestry for this Tanzanian sample. As suggested by the various Northeast African scores.

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RWANDA (Hutu)

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RUA - 71.7

Going by the 3 Ruandan results I have seen sofar “Southern East African” seems more so descriptive of Hutu origins. Although really it is the additional regions which make for the most insightful contrast. This Hutu person also receiving a considerable “Congolese” and mislabeled West African regional scores. All of which indicating a stronger Bantu imprint, as expected. Still also some additional Northeast African scores. But not to the same degree as for the two Tutsi results below.

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RWANDA (Tutsi)

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RUA - 44.8

Over 50% of combined Northeast African regional scores for both of my Tutsi samples. Highlighting their strong ancestral connections with this area. Notice also the minimal amount of “Congolese”. Before the update these Tutsi persons actually scored some of the highest “East African” scores, only topped by Somali results. These new breakdowns show much more detail. Intriguingly “Somali” does not appear to be a fitting proxy for their non-Bantu origins.

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RWANDA (Tutsi)

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RUA -40.9

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UGANDA (Hema?)

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UGA 1

Regrettably I do not have any details on this person exact ethnic background. But because of the similarity with the previous Tutsi results this person might be a Hema or a related ethnic group.  According to 23andme’s info Ugandan customer samples have also been utilized for their Reference Populations (see this link). But it does not say anything about the number nor the ethnicity of these Ugandan samples. Not surprising therefore that “Southern East African” comes in first place but only at around 50%. The remaining Northeast African regional scores being indicative probably of a shift away from the majority Kenyan samples 23andme has been using.

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UGANDA (Nilo-Saharan: Aringa & Kakwa)

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UGA 2

Even lower “Southern East African” score for this second Ugandan. But very interestingly “Sudanese” comes in first place! Given his confirmed ethnic background one might assume it acts as an imperfect but still useful indicator of Nilotic DNA. Before the update this person’s breakdown erroneously contained a 57.1% West African score (see this screenshot). Caused by the inclusion of Kenyan samples in that category back then. Intriguingly quite a considerable West African portion (combined 11.7%) is still showing up! The highest West African share among all my East African survey participants. Possibly indicative also of Chadic connections? Or maybe just a reflection of how this part of Africa (Uganda, Chad, Central Africa, South Sudan, northern Congo) is still poorly sampled?

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“Sudanese” also (partial) proxy of Nilotic DNA? 

Map 3 (click to enlarge)

SUDANESE

Very predictive of Sudanese origins. Going by the results of my survey participants from both South Sudan & Sudan around 90%! Impressive also the near lack of overlap with neighbouring regions of “Ethiopian & Eritrean” and “Somali”. Still descriptive as well of possibly Nilotic(-like) lineage among a selected group of people in Uganda, Kenya and Ruanda. As far as I know 23andme has not disclosed the number of Sudanese samples they are using as Reference Populations. Nor their exact ethnic background. Unfortunately so, as this would improve a proper interpretation of this region.

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SOUTH SUDAN (Nuer)

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Z. SUDAN - Nuer

Impressive prediction of South-Sudanese origins! Notice also how all the regional scores outside of East Africa are only appearing as minuscule trace elements. “Southern East African” does seem significant as secondary region. Same goes for the Dinka results below.

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SOUTH SUDAN (Dinka)

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ZSUD - 90.7

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SUDAN (?)

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SUDAN 98.1

Highest “Sudanese” score sofar in my survey. I actually have no certainty if this person is either from Sudan or South Sudan. I am going by the Muslim surname. No mentioning of “Sudan” as ancestral location btw.  Likewise this did also not happen for my two South Sudanese survey participants. Although this did occur for the following two samples for whom I have more certainty about their Sudanese Arab background.

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SUDAN (Sudanese Arab?)

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SUD - 91.6

Although the “Western Asian” score might appear to be minimal. More of it could very well be included within the “Sudanese” score. Ancient West Eurasian DNA is after all also absorbed within the “Ethiopian & Eritrean” as well as the “Somali” regions. Sudan does present a special case though as Arab lineage is usually to be traced back to a relatively recent and historical time frame. As shown below there are Sudanese who do receive higher “Western Asian” scores.  And individual variation is to be expected. But I suppose uploading to Gedmatch might be most useful to determine the actual degree of West Eurasian DNA among both Sudanese and Horners.

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SUDAN (Sudanese Arab?)

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SUDAN 63.5

This person has a much more substantial “Western Asian” score. It will be interesting to see the variation of Arab lineage among Sudanese Arabs which undoubtedly must exist. And also to which degree this might be separated from more ancient West Eurasian DNA, as also found among Horners. According to its own claims 23andme’s Ancestry Composition should after all be focusing on describing ancestral origins within a historical time frame. Although in the past it certainly did not always succeed in this objective.

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SUDAN (Fulani a.k.a. Fellatah)

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SUDAN - Felatta

Very special results. Awesome testimony of how 23andme’s new African breakdown is indeed able to disentangle the intricate regional origins of this Sudanese Fulani person, a.k.a. Fellata. The new “Senegambian & Guinean” region is clearly functioning as a marker of Fula lineage for him as well as Nigerian Hausa-Fulani. An outcome which was formerly also obtained on Ancestry (see this spreadsheet). Confirmation of eastbound Fula migrations from Guinea across the Sahel into northern Nigeria and then onwards to Sudan! Along the way inter-ethnic unions did occur as reflected by the substantial “Sudanese” as well minor “Nigerian” scores. Even more amazing how this is further corroborated by the appearance of “Guinea” and “Nigeria” as ancestral locations! For more details on the distinctive genetics of Sudanese Fula see also this fascinating study.

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“Ethiopian & Eritrean” also proxy of Cushitic DNA further south? 

Map 4 (click to enlarge)

Ethiopian & Eritrean

Very predictive of Ethiopian & Eritrean origins. Going by the results of my survey participants from both these countries around 96%! Impressive also the near lack of overlap with the neighbouring region of “Somali”.  But still additionally appearing in minor amounts among my Sudanese results (around 5%) and for my Kenyan survey group (max. score so far 16%). Even more pronounced “Ethiopian & Eritrean” scores were reported for my Ugandan and Ruandan samples (max. scores around 30%). Obviously the country name labeling is not to be taken literally in these cases! Interesting that sofar this region seems to be appearing as a primary indicator of South Cushitic lineage and not “Somali”. Possibly to do with the more diverse composition of the Ethiopian and Eritrean customer samples as compared with the Somali ones?

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ERITREA (?)

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ERITREA

Safe for some minor “Sudanese” practically 100% “Ethiopian & Eritrean”. Notice also the correct assignment of “Eritrea” as ancestral location! Very impressive as further refinement, inspite of the genetic overlap with Ethiopians. Based on IBD matching rather than admixture analysis.

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ERITREA (Tigrinya)

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ERITREA 92.5

This breakdown shows a somewhat lower “Ethiopian & Eritrean” score and a more noticeable “Sudanese” score than the group averages sofar. This person’s results have been phased however and his father only shows 0.1% “Sudanese” and is 99.7% “Ethiopian & Eritrean”. Interestingly on Gedmatch also some distinctive Nilotic-like segments could be detected but at a lower overall proportion of around 1%.

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ERITREA & ETHIOPIA (Tigrinya & Amhara + distant Italian)

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ERITREA - 89.5

African breakdown is pretty much as expected, except for the lower total. Only too bad that “Eritrea” is not also showing up as additional ancestral location. Very cool to see this person’s distant Italian background (which he was already aware of) being confirmed by the minor but still distinctive European score of 2.3%. Possibly some of the “Western Asian” % is to be added as well. On both counts these scores are atypical for my other Horner survey participants who tend to show any European admixture only at noise level ~ 0.1% (if at all). While also “Western Asian” tends to be <1%. Indicative of how 23andme is now able to reasonably distinguish between (very) ancient West Eurasian lineage and recent European admixture. HUGE difference compared with how Northeast Africans were described on 23andme ten years ago 😉

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ETHIOPIA (Southwest: Sidama & Gurage)

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ETHIO - 99.2

Very convincing results! Notice also the correct assignment of “Ethiopia” as ancestral location. Interesting also because of this person’s origins in the southwestern part of Ethiopia. Which seems to not have impacted his breakdown at all. As far as I know 23andme has not disclosed anything about the number nor the exact ethnic backgrounds of their Ethiopian customer samples which have been utilized as Reference Populations. Could be useful to know the approximate proportion of Oromo’s, Amhara’s etc. among them.

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ETHIOPIA (Oromo)

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ETHIO -97.8

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ETHIOPIA (?)

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Ethio - 97

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ETHIOPIA (1/2 African American)

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ETHIO & AA

Fascinating composition for this person with one parent from Ethiopia and one African American parent. Illustrating how 23andme is able to accurately distinguish between East African and Trans-Atlantic Afro-Diasporan origins. The latter being more varied of course. Indicated in this screenshot by several West African regions and also an additional minor European component.

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“Somali” most exclusive ethnic region? 

Map 5 (click to enlarge)

SOMALIan

Very predictive of ethnic Somali origins. Going by the results of my Somali survey participants around 97%! Impressive also the near lack of overlap with the neighbouring regions of “Ethiopian & Eritrean” and “Sudanese”.  Unlike these two latter regions I have not yet found any noticeable reporting (>2%) of “Somali” for my survey participants from other East African countries. Safe for one person of possibly Bajuni descent, an ethnic minority from southern Somalia. His rather decreased score of only 23.1% “Somali” seemingly confirming the quite exclusive character of this region. Probably caused by 23andme’s selection of ethnic Somali customer samples as Reference Populations with a high degree of genetic homogeneity. Should be interesting to see how 23andme handles describing the origins of mixed Somali persons with known lineage. For example a half Somali, half Eritrean person or a Somali with 1 known great-grandparent from Yemen.

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SOMALIA (Somali)

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SOM - 100

Can it get more convincing? Still good to realize that such results are only a reflection of  how well a person’s DNA happens to match 23andme’s Reference Populations. Possibly this person was himself included as a customer sample. Many people taking DNA tests will probably be most curious about their recent, genealogically meaningful origins (say last 500 years or so). Otherwise things might get too confusing for the layman. However at times looking at your DNA within a more ancient time framework can also be very insightful. Especially for Somali and other East Africans with a significant degree of ancient West Eurasian lineage. One might get such an overview (which will be much more diverse by default!) by uploading on GED-Match. But would it not also be ideal if 23andme were to provide its customers with two versions of their Ancestry Composition? Explicitly mentioning the implied timeframing as well as providing the needed context for proper interpretation.

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SOMALIA (Somali)

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SOM - 98.8

Aside from the convincing “Somali” score do also notice the correct assignment of “Somalia” as ancestral location. Based on IBD matching rather than admixture analysis. This new feature on 23andme serves to specify ones more recent lineage. And it does its job very well, at least for Somalians themselves.  “Somalia” was correctly mentioned 5/5 times as ancestral location among my survey participants, incl. the possibly Bajuni one.

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SOMALIA (Somali)

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SOM - 96.4

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SOMALIA (Somali)

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SOM - 93.2

Even when still clearly predominant this person’s “Somali” score is on the lower end of the range for my survey participants. Combined with the minor but still distinctive West & South Asian trace elements it seems a southern Somalian background might be suggested?

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SOMALIA (Bajuni?)

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SOM 23

These results belong to a person who is also from Somalia but clearly with a mixed background. Possibly of Bajuni descent, one of the ethnic minorities living in southern Somalia. An area which traditionally was characterized by much more cosmopolitan demographics than the homogenous nomadic Somali clans. We can instantly recognize the Indian Ocean connections by looking at the quite considerable Asian scores being reported (see this page for a similar AncestryDNA result for a person of Banaadiri/Bravanese descent). Otherwise his African breakdown also looks peculiar due to the inclusion of all three Northeast African regions with double-digit scores. While the regional scores suggesting Bantu lineage (“Congolese”, “Southern East Africa”) are actually quite subdued.  Not sure what to make of it. But still quite informative that “Somalia” is appearing as ancestral location. See also:  Somalia’s invisible minorities.

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Notes

1) Sometimes it almost seems that admixture analysis is being considered mere guessology by its fiercest critics. Or only fit for cocktail parties as the saying goes 😉 This has however not been my experience. I do agree that performance among the various DNA testing companies and third party websites is very variable. And obviously even more so going back in time. I have myself only tested with 23andme and Ancestry and I found that with correct interpretation and knowledge of their methodology you can indeed derive useful information from admixture/ethnicity results. Which were of course not just pulled out of a hat.

I strongly believe that when Tracing African Roots most people do not have the luxury to be snobbish about admixture analysis. Instead they will want to maximize informational value from any promising source available, despite shortcomings. Combining with other research findings (DNA matches, genealogy, relevant historical context, other types of DNA testing, etc.). in order to achieve complementarity rather than putting all your eggs in just one basket.

I know of many people who made important discoveries about their genetic ancestry by using their admixture results a.k.a. ethnicity estimates. For example I have heard several stories by West Indians who had unexpected Asian admixture, minor but still substantial (>10%). And this information was really useful to them as it lead them to previously unknown Asian contract labourer ancestors. There are plenty of other ancestral scenarios for Afro-Diasporans which can be illuminated by way of the continental breakdown which is usually quite accurate.

The regional or subcontinental percentages are indeed not to be taken all too literally. But again I know several persons who did rely on distinctive regional scores to make a breakthrough in their ancestral quest. For example I have been told about at least three instances of NPE being confirmed whereby the father turned out to be East African instead of African American or West Indian. In one case indicated by the very predictive “East African” category on 23andme (pre-update) but also by a singular combination of “Southeastern Bantu” and “Middle Eastern” regional scores on AncestryDNA. Many times I have also seen how unexpected partial Cape Verdean lineage could quite reliably be corroborated by  “Senegal” scores on AncestryDNA. Not only for African Americans, but also for Hawaiians (due to whaling connections, see upcoming blog post)!

Such cases are bound to increase now that 23andme’s regional granularity has been significantly improved. All the more reason to resist being overly dismissive about admixture analysis, as this may deprive you of valuable insights! Although naturally this does not imply you should stop informing your self about any inherent limitations or imperfections. Reviewing the results of native Africans provides a good independent measure in my opinion to evaluate the usefulness of 23andme’s newly updated African breakdown. For more discussion see also:

2I have been gathering African test results on 23andme for many years already. Originally to gain a greater understanding of the African categories included in 23andme’s old version of Ancestry Composition when it was being updated in 2012/2013. Thanks to the kind willingness of people to share their results I was able then to compile some sketchy “population averages” in 2013 which I shared on 23andme’s online community at that time. These survey findings can still be seen in this online spreadsheet. The individual results can be seen by clicking on the tabs on the bottom of the sheet. The screenshots of their results have also been featured on these blog pages:

In 2018 I blogged about the former Country of Ancestry results being reported for Africans on 23andme (in 2015):

3) Generally speaking I believe that any DNA test result indicating East African ancestry for Trans Atlantic Afro-Diasporans should always be critically scrutinized. I tend to be very sceptical about the degree or frequency of “East African” DNA results reported for Afro-Diasporans from the Americas. Because this does not fit well with historical plausibility nor cultural retention. Of course one must remain open minded and within it self this topic of any possible East African connection for the Atlantic Afro-Diaspora is quite intriguing. Hypothetically speaking in rare and individual cases I suppose it might be possible to have one single East African ancestor. However I am assuming it would be greatly diluted then in most cases.

But certainly such atypical cases do not justify the currently much inflated level of so-called East African DNA results being reported by various DNA testing companies, across the board. Either haplogroups, admixture scores or DNA matches suggesting such connections. The tricky thing is that DNA testing of course is no exact science, due to faulty algorithms, lack of reference populations etc.. On all fronts, also including DNA matches! Which can very well be IBS or false positives, in particular smaller matches (see this chart). Especially the implied time framing is often unclear. I highly suspect DNA test results suggesting East African ancestry are often merely a consequence of VERY ancient population migrations across the continent (going back millennia instead of centuries). Something which would also be detected among actual West or Central Africans.  Irrelevant therefore from a genealogical perspective (last 500 years or so).

Luckily 23andme has been able to make a quite accurate distinction between Northeast African DNA and West/Central African DNA already before this update. And it continues to do so with its refinement of three new specific regions for “Ethiopia & Eritrea, “Somalia” and “Sudan”. Unrivaled by any other DNA testing company I am aware of. The new “South Eastern African” region is also very useful but still I find its labeling a bit awkward. As it may lead to confusion among Afro-Diasporan DNA testers. I think it helps to be as specific as possible when outlining East African ancestry. Making a distinction between various parts within Eastern Africa:

  • Southeast Africa (Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, Zimbabwe)
  • Swahili East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and possibly also eastern DRC, Ruanda/Burundi.)
  • Northeast Africa (a.k.a. the Horn: Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan).

Of course macro-regional definitions tend to be blurry and context-dependent. But coming from a Tracing African Roots perspective I tend to restrict East Africa to only the Swahili speaking countries. and the Horn. Because this makes it easier to zoom into the legitimate Southeast African connection (mostly Madagascar & Mozambique) for Trans-Atlantic Afro-Diasporans. Now when it comes to historically documented ancestral connections between East Africa (Swahili & Horn countries) and the Americas it is far less apparent than for Southeast Africa. Although it is known that some atypical Trans-Atlantic slave voyages did depart from the Swahili Coast: Mombasa (which used to be ruled by the Portuguese!) and also Zanzibar. But going by actual numbers as well proportionally this flow of people was quite minuscule. Going by documented slave voyages the East African share in Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade might be less than 0.1% (=6,324/6,709,327; see also note 1 of this page). (it is quite different though for Afro-Diasporans living around the Indian Ocean!)

To be frank I think the odds of any meaningful genetic inheritance from these areas (Swahili Coast and further north) are going to be very slim for Trans-Atlantic Afro-Diasporans and currently it is greatly overstated in DNA testing (other than 23andme which again seems pretty accurate for the most part, see also upcoming Afro-Diasporan surveys!) . Then again in individual cases it is not be ruled out. But solid follow-up research is required to corroborate such findings.

DNA matches might very well provide more validation. But personally I again feel it is best to be cautious to rule out any false positives. As IBS or very generic population matches might be more rampant than many people realize. Also the possibility & extent of inter-ethnic unions taking place within Africa is often not taken into consideration. Implying that the MRCA for any given match might actually not be of the same background as your DNA match. Just to name one possibility: Swahili traders incorporating Central African DNA (eastern DRC and Zambia) and subsequently intermixing with other East African ethnic groups might result in an East African match at times I suppose.