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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Feb;144(2):300-8. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21408.

Southeast Asian origins of five Hill Tribe populations and correlation of genetic to linguistic relationships inferred with genome-wide SNP data.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


In Thailand, the term Hill Tribe is used to describe populations whose members traditionally practice slash and burn agriculture and reside in the mountains. These tribes are thought to have migrated throughout Asia for up to 5,000 years, including migrations through Southern China and/or Southeast Asia. There have been continuous migrations southward from China into Thailand for approximately the past thousand years and the present geographic range of any given tribe straddles multiple political borders. As none of these populations have autochthonous scripts, written histories have until recently, been externally produced. Northern Asian, Tibetan, and Siberian origins of Hill Tribes have been proposed. All purport endogamy and have nonmutually intelligible languages. To test hypotheses regarding the geographic origins of these populations, relatedness and migrations among them and neighboring populations, and whether their genetic relationships correspond with their linguistic relationships, we analyzed 2,445 genome-wide SNP markers in 118 individuals from five Thai Hill Tribe populations (Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, and Lisu), 90 individuals from majority Thai populations, and 826 individuals from Asian and Oceanean HGDP and HapMap populations using a Bayesian clustering method. Considering these results within the context of results ofrecent large-scale studies of Asian geographic genetic variation allows us to infer a shared Southeast Asian origin of these five Hill Tribe populations as well ancestry components that distinguish among them seen in successive levels of clustering. In addition, the inferred level of shared ancestry among the Hill Tribes corresponds well to relationships among their languages.

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