Friday, October 25, 2013

The Y Chromosome of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar

Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar (1211-1279) was an important official in China under the Mongol emperors of the Yuan Dynasty. There is a brief contemporary biography that says he was from Bukhara in central Asia, which seems plausible, and that he was descended from an ancient noble family of Persia, which has always been disputed. This matters to a lot of people in China because he has thousands of decendants; the famous admiral Zheng He was one of them.

Now Chinese geneticists have studied the Y chromosomes of the male-line descendants of Sayyid and Zheng He and published their results:
Sayyid Ajjal is the ancestor of many Muslims in areas all across China. And one of his descendants is the famous Navigator of Ming Dynasty, Zheng He, who led the largest armada in the world of 15th century. The origin of Sayyid Ajjal's family remains unclear although many studies have been done on this topic of Muslim history. In this paper, we studied the Y chromosomes of his present descendants, and found they all have haplogroup L1a-M76, proving a southern Persian origin.
Which is pretty cool. It is also interesting to note that despite Mao and the Cultural Revolution and all the other stuff that has happened in China there are still thousands of people who know their genealogies back to the fifteenth century. And how wonderful that the man who led China's great exploratory fleet into the Indian Ocean was the descendant of Central Asian immigrants whose roots were in Iran.

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