DNA, Lamanites and Book of Mormon

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Simon Southerton, geneticist and author of Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church, has taken up a crusade to “[examine] church teachings that American Indians and Polynesians have a historic bond with ancient Israelites.” He does so by using DNA research and applying it to current popular opinion of members of the Church and writings of some scholars with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

This seems to be a thorny issue for Southerton. He left the Church because there seemed to be no conclusive evidence that supported the widely held notion among Latter-day Saints that Pacific Islanders and indigenous people of the Americas were descended from the Lamanites.

First, I find it unbelievable—actually, I can believe it, but it still is dumbfounding—that someone’s conviction to the Church can be swayed by scientific evidence. The Book of Mormon is not a scientific journal. It does not establish scientific fact and does not even heavily support scientific theories. It is nothing more than a spiritual record—interspersed with select historical information—of a distinct, isolated group of people.

Second, there is no indication whatsoever in the Book of Mormon that the Lamanites and Nephites were completely alone in the Americas. To say otherwise is nothing more than speculation. It is entirely plausible and even likely that the Lamanites and Nephites encountered—and even mingled with—other peoples already present in the Americas. This alone would reduce any existence of Israelite DNA. As well, it is entirely plausible that the Lamanite population died off or were exterminated; after all, the record of their history is incomplete.

Third, popular belief among Latter-day Saints does not equal doctrine. Just because many Latter-day Saints hold on to the archaic notion that all people indigenous to the Americas are descended solely from Lehi, does not make it church doctrine. I wish more people would understand this one principle. Tradition is not doctrine.

The Book of Mormon is primarily a religious book containing teachings and doctrine about God and Jesus Christ. To treat it primarily as anything else is to treat it as a very shaky foundation.

That being said, it only take a smidgen of logic to see that DNA research does not disprove the Book of Mormon. One would think a scientist like Southerton would understand that.

29 thoughts on “DNA, Lamanites and Book of Mormon


    1. I believe that most American Indians are in fact descended from the Lamanites. 66% of American Indians have a Y chromosome that can’t be traced to any population in the old world. The mainstream scientific view is that it originated by mutation in America or Beringia within a genetic bottleneck. This is actually consistent with the Book of Mormon (BOM). Ergo I theorize that the owner of this Y chromosome was Laman and the mutation did not take place in Beringia but Jerusalem when Laman was conceived.

    2. The studies of MtDNA are irrelevant. Only one woman in Lehi’s group could have passed her MtDNA down even to the next generation. That would be Ishmael’s wife. Lehi had only sons. Ergo the MtDNA of his wife died with her. It is also true that MtDNA could get from Siberia to Jerusalem via the slave trade, political marriages or a combination thereof.

    3. The Nephites found a larger group of people (Mulekites) and incorporated with them. Despite this fact, they still called themselves Nephites showing a greater regard for religious faith than lineage. It is also likely that Laman’s descendents got women from other groups, but still retained the name of Laman. How else would they increase so fast? Eventually they became more numerous than the Mulekite-Nephites. Why would this happen? The Nephites didn’t practice birth control. One way would be that the Lamanites practiced polygamy and got women from other groups.

    4. Mulekite history says they came from the Middle East but at a time of great antiquity. Ergo every human on Earth could have been descended from the group into which Mulek was born. I theorize the Pericues were Mulekites. This is also not terribly relevant to modern day Lamanites, because the Mulekite-Nephites were exterminated.

    5. The existence of haplogroups in central Siberia similar to haplogroups in the Americas, no more proves a migration from Siberia to America than it proves migration from America to Siberia. Furthermore, those haplogroups could and probably do exist in the Middle East in a tiny minority of women.


    Nephites incorporated with Mulekites(Pericues) and they were exterminated together. The Lamanites were successful conquerors and took women from other groups who may or may not have been of Siberian origin. Eventually they dominated the hemisphere. The physical differences between American Indians and people of the Middle East are the result of a bottleneck effect and genetic drift. This can greatly alter allele frequencies and produce a people that look very different than the people from whom the founders came. This is the cause of most human diversity we see today. The difference may also be the result of intermarriage with other people. An example of this can be seen in the Lemba. Many Lemba have Y chromosomes of Hebrew (Levite) origin, but speak a Bantu language and are physically indistinguishable from other Bantus. The AmerIndians may have Laman’s Y chromosome but speak a language of non-semitic origin for similar reasons.

  2. The studies of MtDNA are irrelevant. Only one woman in Lehi’s group could have passed her MtDNA down even to the next generation. That would be Ishmael’s wife. Lehi had only sons. Ergo the MtDNA of his wife died with her. It is also true that MtDNA could get from Siberia to Jerusalem via the slave trade, political marriages or a combination thereof.

    Didn’t Nephi mention having sisters in 2 Nephi 5:6?

  3. If you read Simon’s book, it completely destroys any chance that there was anything short of divine intervention in changing the genes of the occupants of North America if the BoM were an actual record of what transpired.

    If you can reconcile the notion of a required intervention by gods, then you have no probelms with the findings of Mr. Southerton.

    There really is no arguing with his findings … they’re pretty much water-tight.

  4. Didn’t Nephi mention having sisters in 2 Nephi 5:6?

    Yes. Were they sisters or sisters-in-law however?

    There really is no arguing with his findings … they’re pretty much water-tight.

    His findings? No. His presumptions? Yes.

    His research efforts were fuelled by the idea that indigenous peoples in the Americas were all descend exclusively from Lamanites.

    This presumption however is based solely on tradition. If Lamanites were not the only ancestors of the indigenous peoples then there is no point to his research.

  5. His research efforts were fuelled by the idea that indigenous peoples in the Americas were all descend exclusively from Lamanites.

    Not entirely on point, really.

    He argues that there should be a significant amount of tracable DNA in the population of the amerindian, if the large populations existed as described in the BoM.

  6. if the large populations existed as described in the BoM.

    And if those large populations were exclusively Israelite in ethnic origin. It is not unreasonable to assume many of those numbers were peoples who already lived there.

  7. Is it possible that the stories from the BOM did not even happen in the America’s? Moroni wandered after the Nephites were destroyed.

    I watched a TV show on cable where these blacks in Africa claim to be Jews. Their DNA was tested and they have Jewish DNA.

    Their skin was changed to darkness. hum!!!

  8. I am a student of Historical Linguistics and East Asian Cultures. I have been reading about the debate between scientific DNA mapping of the genes of the native people in ancient America.

    In my studies, I too believe that the American Indians have Asiatic DNA and similarities in culture, appearance and the like.

    Recently, I have read a book that might shed some light on the Asiatic DNA mixed with the American Indians. This book is by Gavin Menzies. The title is 1421 the year China Discovered America.

    In this book, the author Gavin, has done extensive research as to the period of discovery during the Ming Dynasty and other Chinese Dynasties. He also refers repeatedly to the evidence of DNA and Chinese colonies and voyages that have happened during the 1400’s. Gavin Menzies states that the Chinese who went on these voyages took with them Arabs, people from India, and around the globe on these sea faring missions. He also states that these explorers were to set up settlements throughout the world to subjugate the countries into the Chinese tribute system. This would explain why the results of the DNA of American Indians would be the way that they are.

    May I suggest, that we take a closer look to this book and the DNA evidence presented in it as the underlying answer as to why there is Chinese and Asiatic DNA found in the American Indian today?

    It must also be noted that not only the Ming Dynasty circa 1368 to 1428 made these discoveries, but as far back as other early Chinese Dynasties have also made voyages of discoveries.

  9. NEW RESEARCH … very interesting

    It has been acknowledged by the scientific mainstream for years that nodern Jews and Native Americans share common DNA lineages. For example, the Q-P36 Y-chromosome lineage is found in 31% of American Indians in the US, (Hammer 2005) 5% of Ashkenazi Jews (Behar 2004) and 5% of Iraqi Jews. (Shen 2004) Most scientists believe that Q-P36 entered America long before Book of Mormon (BoM) times. This, of course, does not mean that a strain of Q-P36 could not have made a late entry.

    However, mainstream science has a problem with this lineage they have not yet been able to resolve in a way that supports their theories.

    In 1996 Dr. Peter Underhill, a PhD from Stanford University calculated that the most recent common male ancestor of most Native Americans lived 2147 prior or 151 BC. He determined this from the genetic diversity of Y-chromosomes in living Native Americans. Essentially he counted mutations and applied a rate of 2.1 per 1000 (Weber & Wong) and a generation length of 27 years. This date can, of course, be adjusted by altering variables like the generation length. For example with a generation length of 32.65 years, a date of 600 BC is obtained.

    Even faster mutation rates of 2.8 per 1000 have been observed in father/son pairs (Kayser). However, Underhill has never believed that this date was true. He and a colleague named Zhivotovsky have spent a good deal of time developing what they call an ‘effective’ mutation rate. The theory is that even though rates of 2.1 per 1000 (Weber & Wong) and 2.8 per 1000 (Kayser) have been observed in living populations, that mutations don’t really accumulate that fast over thousands of years. Their effective rate is 6.9 per 10000 or 0.69 per 1000.1

    In 2006, a study by Pakendorf et al. used the mutation rate observed by Kayser (2.8 per 1000) and got a pretty accurate date for the migration of the Yakuts. Pakendorf states, “… it has recently been proposed that ‘effective’ mutation rates (Zhivotovsky et al. 2004), which are not based on pedigree studies but on archaeologically calibrated migrations, may reflect the true historical processes better than pedigree rates. Using the average ‘effective’ rate of 6.9 [per 1000] calculated by Zhivotovsky et al. (2004) results in a much greater age of the Yakut male expansion of approximately 3800 years … However, these older dates are inconsistent with linguistic and archaeological evidence: … the split of Yakut from Common Turkic cannot be earlier than 1,500 years BP.” 2

    So, Kayser’s faster rate works fine in Siberia. Applying these faster mutation rates to American Indians gives dates for the most recent common ancestor that range well within BoM times.


    1. Zhivotovsky LA, Underhill PA, Feldman MW (2006) “Difference between evolutionarily effective and germ line mutation rate due to stochastically varying haplogroup size”

    2. Brigitte Pakendorf et al (2006), “Investigating the effects of Prehistoric migrations in Siberia: genetic variation and the origins of Yakuts” | Hum Genet (2006) 120:334–353 | DOI 10.1007/s00439-006-0213-2

  10. Very interesting topic, and it looks like there has been much digging into the depths of DNA science.

    Jumping back to Kim’s original comment about tradition not being doctrine, meaning just because most members have the idea that Lamanites are the principal ancestors of native americans does not make it doctrine. Obviously it’s the introduction to the Book of Mormon that introduces this confusion. It states that the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. Traditionally the word “principal” is interpreted as chief or majority. Yes it implies “not sole”, but also implies to many people the variants should not be overly significant.

    I understand Southerton’s difficulty with the subject. When Discovery Channel can show a striking DNA match of a young Mongolian to an ancient Amazon warrior (DNA that would have been “diluted” by the natives of the region) then I can see how someone would be puzzled that native American DNA does not demonstrate Israelite lineage more clearly.

  11. Obviously it’s the introduction to the Book of Mormon that introduces this confusion.

    I’m not sure that it is obvious. Inf act, I would propose that the BOM introduction is a result of the confusion, not a cause of it.

  12. I will quote Craig Ferguson by saying, “That is only if you believe in DNA testing.”

    I don’t believe in carbon dating. Maybe as a church we should not believe in DNA testing.

  13. Jamie Trwth said: “I don’t believe in carbon dating. Maybe as a church we should not believe in DNA testing.”

    Are you suggesting the Church restrict it members in what they can and cannot believe? Do you also believe the world is flat? That was religious teachings in the not too distant past.

  14. The overall view of the Book of Mormon is that the Lamanites when they come unto the “law” they become as the Nephites: therefore causing to be no opposition at all. As they exist and commune with each other, they are as if there were no “ites” amongst them!

    The Lord don’t give a rats, pardon the pun, of who’s who in the crew; really, He created “casts” so as we as human BEINGS can know that Wrong can only go so far, but Good is eternal and everlasting, and ‘How high is up? don’t tell me cause I don’t wont to know!

    To be a Lamanite, is to be lost from the Lords path, not a particular blood line that is best left for the tea parties of those who talk with a plum in their mouth, for they, them themselves are Lamanites.

    The best way to solve a problem is, don’t talk about it at all, for to do so only adds to the confusion and breeds the same.
    The Lord will do his own work in his own time! He said so.

    PS I am looking to speak with a so say “Lamanite” or rather a Native American LDS or other regarding a pacific belief that pre dates 2000 years or so.

    My email: andrewjohnburridge@yahoo.com.au

  15. “To be a Lamanite, is to be lost from the Lords path”

    This is new. You might want to break it to the FAIR boys that they’ve had it wrong all these years…

  16. “This is new. You might want to break it to the FAIR boys that they’ve had it wrong all these years…”

    Typical rick… you’re such a Lamanite. ;-)

  17. My two cents worth…

    For better or worse, we all make decisions about who we are going to marry and what religion we are going to follow. Once those decisions are made, one should not look back with regret. The happiness of our families is at stake. I believe that God is forgiving. If we happen to pick an incorrect religion but live that religion with honor, we will still receive blessings. At this point, I don’t think that any religion is absolutely true, nor do I think that any religion is completely false. The Truth is found in bits and pieces from many sources and in many religions.

    I now accept the fact that the BOM is not a literal history. However, I still believe the BOM is inspired, even if it is not divine. I think that all of this discussion about DNA has made me a lot less smug and lot more understanding about other religions. Bottom-line, we should all strive to live honorable lives. This end goal should be enough. Whatever happens in the after life, for me, it is what it is, and it will be enough. Personal actions speak louder and count more than beliefs or creeds.


  18. The posts about DNA cover a wide field but what about the other end of life, the spritual form of life that science rejects outright because it is not subject to the rules of life as science defines them, not so long ago the universal doctrine of science that no life can exist without sunlight was stood on its head when Dr Ballard who discovered the Titanic also discovered life is suprisingly abundant in the cold dark depths of the ocean. When scientists had recovered from there disbelief they investigated the proof Dr Ballard presented them with and came to the realisation that life be it in much less evolved forms than man, doe’s indeed live in the darkness quite indipendent of sunlight because it converts chemical energy pouring out from the sea bed at incredably high temperatures into nourishment for a food chain that sustains a great variety of lower life forms. It is this astonishing finding that has intensified the search for life elsewhere in the universe by some of the worlds best scientists who now reason that as it happens on earth it can happen elsewhere.
    The point of my post is that now that science has outgrown its own version of the flat earth doctrine perhaps it will begin to concider that the highest form of biological life on earth has always been dependent on the light of the sun, and if life has evolved elsewhere because the conditions are comparable with those in which lower life forms can flourish on earth then by this truth life elsewhere will have to be biologicly speaking of the same primative forms it has taken on earth. The conclusion is that life elsewhere that has ‘evolved’ beyond mans biological light dependent state can only be of a spiritual perspective, just as we are given a fleeting look at in the scriptural refferences to angels ect.

    Mr Smith did not as far as I know make any direct refferences to biological forms of life elsewhere, but somewhere he did refer to the planet Kolob…any thoughts on this?

  19. DNA evidence is pretty conclusive that the persons tested came from Asia tens of thousands of years ago. Yet the Book of Mormon states that Lehi and his family came from the mid east to the Americas about 2600 years ago. One explanation for this is that the DNA of the Lehites has disappeared. I posted in my blog about a year and a half ago an example that was published in Science magazine of two migrations to Europe.[1] The culture in Europe today is from the second migration while the DNA of Europeans today is from the first migration. That is, the DNA of the second migration has disappeared even though the culture of that migration has remained. I’m repeating that post here, for those interested.

    As explained in Earliest European Farmers Left Little Genetic Mark On Modern Europe, the first settlers in Europe are believed to have been Paleolithic hunter-gatherers who arrived about 40,000 years ago. About 7,500 years ago people migrated to Europe and brought farming to that area. The question thus arises, are modern Europeans descended from the hunter-gatherers, the farmers, or both?

    DNA was obtained from skeletons of early farmers, and the DNA contained “genetic signatures that are extremely rare in modern European populations. Based on this discovery, the researchers conclude that early farmers did not leave much of a genetic mark on modern European populations.” In fact, ‘”Our paper suggests that there is a good possibility that the contribution of early farmers could be close to zero,” said Science author Peter Forster from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, UK.’

    The situation given in the Science article is that of two migrations to an area, and the DNA of the later migration not occurring in the people presently living in that area. Since Europe, today, is an agricultural society, the early farmers in the later migration had a significant impact on the culture of Europe, even though they left basically no lasting genetic evidence of their existence. “It’s interesting that a potentially minor migration of people into Central Europe had such a huge cultural impact,” said Forster.”

    This is an interesting parallel with the Book of Mormon. Science tells us of early migrations to the Americas from Asia via the Bering Strait. The Book of Mormon tells of a later migration (the Lehites) from the Mediterranean area. However, DNA studies of modern Native Americans show that the Native Americans who were studied have no DNA markers from the Mediterranean area. Apologists for the Book of Mormon have explained that DNA markers from a group of people could die out and thus not be found in modern people (see, for example, Addressing Questions). However, their comments seemed like rationalizations since they could not offer examples from science of DNA markers “dieing out”. We now have from science, as explained in the article from Science magazine, a knowledge of two migrations to Europe and a knowledge that the second migration had a great influence in the culture of Europe but the DNA from this later migration does not occur among modern people currently living in Europe. That is, the DNA markers from the second migration have “died” out. This does not “prove” the Book of Mormon to be true. It is merely a parallel between science and the Book of Mormon. One importance to Latter-day Saints of this parallel is an understanding that the DNA of the American Indians is not necessarily a complete map of the migrations to the Americas.

    [1] http://convergencesciencereligion.org/2008/05/parallel-migrations-to-americas-part-6.html

  20. Just an excerpt from one of the papers I’ve read, found on http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu
    The paper was called Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research. by John M. Butler

    *** Does DNA testing of modern individuals detect all previous genetic lineages ***

    “An interesting study reported in the June 2003 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics leads me to believe that it is possible for Book of Mormon peoples to be ancestors of modern Native Americans and yet not be easily detected using traditional Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests. This study, conducted by a group of scientists from a company called deCODE Genetics, used the extensive genealogies of people from Iceland combined with probably the most massive population study ever performed. They traced the matrilineal and patrilineal ancestry of all 131,060 Icelanders born after 1972 back to two cohorts of ancestors, one born between 1848 and 1892 and the other between 1742 and 1798.6

    Examining the same Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA markers used in other genetic studies, these 131,060 Icelanders “revealed highly positively skewed distributions of descendants to ancestors, with the vast majority of potential ancestors contributing one or no descendants and a minority of ancestors contributing large numbers of descendants.”7 In other words, the majority of people living today in Iceland had ancestors living only 150 years ago that could not be detected based on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests being performed and yet the genealogical records exist showing that these people lived and were real ancestors. To the point at hand, if many documented ancestors of 150 years ago cannot be linked to their descendants through Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests from modern Iceland, then it certainly seems possible that the people who are reported in the Book of Mormon to have migrated to the Americas over 2,600 years ago might not have left genetic signatures that are detectable today.”

    I’m no scientist, and not a scholar in any degree of the word, but I thought this was interesting and thought I’d share. The whole paper is available at the above address.

    Peace >8D

  21. I think he brought out a book or 2 & it should have been called “Simon Southertons Great Testamony Shaker”.
    I have no doubt the book of mormon is true & that we need to remember is how did our Father Adam & Mother Eve lineage end up turning into “Chineese,Japaneese,Aboriginal,Asian,Indian,Europeen” instead of just the one blood type & Color.
    in other words if you had used this dna evidence a thousand years after adam was created & a thousand years before the Flood & tested 2 people from families living miles apart that there may to be a chance that their dna would have been the same, but yet now we have different races & colors.
    So how can you rely on sientific evidence instead of a spiritual witness from God himself & know we need to let god test us his way & wait on our lord
    for an answer.
    How does someone serve in the church for 30-years & then his mind become so darkened that he starts relying on science.

  22. Re M Skelton No 13 in list: Not having visited the site for some time I was suprised by this list of posts and scanning though wonder if M Skelton may be able to apply his linguistic skills to a study I am engrossed in about the evolution of religion -which may throw some light on the belief systems of the cultures in the BOM.

    I am at the present time looking at how Zoroaster, who is accepted to be the founder of the Persian religion that had its Holy scriptures burnt when Alexander invaded,revised the earler religion of Zarathustra (6000 BC, 1400 BC,1000 BC,according to various sources.

    There is some evidence that the liguistics changed from the original which supports the view that Zoroaster lived in a later time period than Zarathustra and simply refined the established religious traditions for the common good, as is suggested to be the case with the Bibles prophets so Mr Smith arguably did likewise.

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