A small proportion of Afghan children have a distinctively European appearance, sometimes blonde or red-haired, quite different from the dark Asian looks of most Afghans. Western explorers have always wondered whether they might be descended from the Greek soldiers in Alexander’s army whom we know settled in Asia. The Afghans themselves are proud of this tradition: Marco Polo records that in the thirteenth century the Kings of Badakshan (the remote eastern part of Afghanistan that abuts China) claimed descent from the Greek conqueror .
Alexander the Great succeeded where the Soviet Union failed. He conquered and held Afghanistan. Along his route, he founded cities, always called Alexandria, in which he settled troops too old or too injured to continue on the campaign. He founded between eight and twelve in Afghanistan . These cities formed the backbone of one of the least known civilisations in the ancient world: the Greek kingdom of Bactria that flourished between 300 and 148 BC.
Having founded his chain of Alexandrias, and before turning his attention to India, Alexander conquered the area known today as Nuristan. The information given in the ancient sources about this is extraordinarily interesting. They record that the inhabitants made wine, there was ivy such as the Greeks used to wreathe their brows , myrtle, box trees and laurels. The native name seemed to be Nysa and Alexander decided that he had stumbled on a sanctuary of Dionysus founded by the god on his wanderings. Alexander sacrificed to Dionysus and some of his officers, wearing ivy garlands, became possessed by the god. ‘What a scene it must have been, like some painting of Poussin!’
A scientific experiment requires a hypothesis to test. The hypothesis that we will be testing is this:
The human genome is made up of 23 pairs of chromosomes. On 22 of these, a person’s genes can recombine, so that they contain both maternal and paternal genes.
The Jewish priesthood is said to be descended from Moses’ brother Aaron. The Hebrew word for priest is kahen and Jewish tradition claims that the priestly caste is preserved in men surnamed Cohen. The laboratory tested a large group of male Jews called Cohen and found that 50% have a genetic signature signifying a common male ancestor who, if a constant mutation is assumed rate, lived in 2,100 to 3,250 BP (Before Present).
The Lemba are a black, Bantu speaking group in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Their oral tradition claims Jewish descent. This is not uncommon. The myth of the ‘lost ten tribes’ exiled from Samaria in 722 BC is a powerful one, and as a legitimating myth of origins may be compared to royal houses claiming descent from Alexander. Indeed, the nineteenth century saw the establishment of a sect of ‘British Israelites’.
DNA sampling may be done with simple mouth swabs to remove cheek cells, which are then preserved in chemicals in a test tube.
Some months of laboratory work will be needed to process the samples, followed by statistical analysis of the results.