Prevailing Belief About The Ancestry of the Bhutanese People Debunked After Research Done By Professor Van Driem


Spanning almost two decades, the research reconstructs the ancestry of the people of the Greater Himalayan region including Bhutan, based on genes and languages.

Brokpa tribe of Bhutan. (Source: Bhutanholidayplanner)


By Tashi Wangchuk, Ph.D. Environmental Scientist | Kuensel

This synopsis is based on a talk given by Professor George Van Driem who delivered a series of lectures in Thimphu at the end of August 2018 concerning the ancestry of the Bhutanese people.  

We Bhutanese are plagued by a paucity of reliable information particularly on our own ancestry.  Clear light on what seems shrouded in mystery and myth is finally being shed by Prof. Van Driem and his colleagues who researched on this subject.

Details about how the research was conducted

Spanning almost two decades, the research reconstructs the ancestry of the people of the Greater Himalayan region including Bhutan, based on genes and languages. The study is therefore large scale and from Bhutan, genetic samples of 941 individuals belonging to 17 distinct language groups were collected and analysed.  

In particular, the long-term comprehensive study looked at the genetic diversity among the various linguistic groups in Bhutan using several DNA markers. This is an infallible and ground-breaking approach to revealing our deep genetic history and origins. It overcomes historical limitations and traces our ancestry to the very beginnings of the first modern humans (Homo sapiens).

This also enables comparisons of ancestral relationships, not only among the various Bhutanese linguistic groups, but also our prehistoric connections to the wider populations of Asia and beyond. 

Surprising outcome of the research

The findings are startling and significant. The Genetic diversity of certain markers such as Y chromosome haplotypes or alleles based on Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) are highest in the Eastern Himalayas and Bhutan compared to the rest of Asia. Autosomal DNA findings also corroborate this finding. 


The O haplogroup ancestor which originates in the Eastern South Himalayas spread into East and Southeast Asia.

Source: Kuensel


This means that our ancestors did not come from Tibet, Mongolia, China or anywhere north. Quite the reverse, the ancestors of the people in these areas had their roots in the Eastern Himalayas. 

About 75,000 to 62,000 years ago, our ancestors ‘emerged in waves’ from Africa as Prof. Van Driem writes. The Eastern Himalayas and Bhutan served as a ‘central staging area’ for the peopling of East and Southeast Asia. He also mentioned that the Eastern Himalaya can be identified as a cradle of ethnogenesis and a principal thoroughfare in the course of population prehistory. 

For the Bhutanese, the significance of this finding is that all linguistic groups in Bhutan are ‘original’ and had their genesis here in the motherland. Indeed Prof. Van Driem states that the region comprising Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Southeastern Tibet and Northeastern India had furnished the cradle for the ethnogenesis of all East Asian language families that is, the Trans-Himalayan, Hmong-Mien, Austroasiatic and Austro-Tai.

At even greater time depths, the Uralo-Siberian and Altaic linguistic phyla too may have ultimately originated in the Eastern Himalaya. The accompanying figures from one of Prof. Van Driem’s papers tracing the spread of the Y chromosomal haplogoups N and O provide a visual representation of the findings.  

Prevailing belief about the origins of the Bhutanese debunked after the research

For the Bhutanese, the prevailing belief that certain ethnic and linguistic groups are the original inhabitants of Bhutan while the others came in from Tibet and settled here from the north has been completely debunked.  

Indeed all Bhutanese are actually more closely related to each other as revealed by our genes and we in fact ‘furnished’ ancestors to the north. 


The counterclockwise spread of the paternal lineage N (M231) from the Eastern Himalayas to East and North Asia and as far as Lappland.

Source: Kuensel


Put simply, there is more genetic diversity here in Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas than elsewhere in Asia, making us the centre of ethnogenesis as Prof. Van Driem puts it.  

The Bhutanese people had not migrated here from the north and definitely did not originate from Mongolia. This belief has been debunked again and again by Prof. Van Driem as the ‘Mongoloid Myth’ and the ‘Sino-Tibetan myth’.  In fact, quite the opposite is revealed from our genetic history.  

These findings are a breath of fresh air to our myth laden and incomplete historical sources. What is important for Bhutanese is that our genes prove that we are one people, united by our common ancestry.

For more information, please visit the website:


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Bhutan Times.


Related Posts

The Myth And Mystery Surrounding The Elusive Yeti Of Bhutan

As far as the Bhutanese are concerned, the Yeti continues to live on in the collective belief and consciousness of the...

Aug 29, 2018 15:56

More Than Just Exoticism, The Royal Highland Festival In Laya...

The heart of the festival celebrates the highlanders’ unique and beautiful clothing, dance, music, handicrafts, food,...

Oct 07, 2018 09:07

The Only Surviving Monarchy In The Himalayas – What Makes...

“The 1865 battle of Changlingmithang was the last battle before the adoption of the monarchy in 1907.”

Aug 18, 2018 08:59

Discover How The Lhops Of Bhutan Build A Rombu (Tomb) For The...

According to the Lhops, the tomb which is also known as the Rombu hold significant value in their lives for it connects...

Oct 28, 2018 15:53

Loss of the Brokpa Dress Culture in Bhutan

The impact of declining sheep rearing practice would lead to the loss of the brokpa dress culture, which is unique in...

Mar 28, 2018 17:57

Study Finds Homestays And Eco-tourism Helped Preserve Bhutan’s...

The evaluation found that 98 percent of the homestays used exclusive traditional products like local food products and...

Aug 25, 2018 16:17



Bhutan’s Internet Addiction Rate Among The Highest In The Southeast Asian Region

According to a study conducted by a team of doctors, at least four out of 10 adolescents are addicted to the internet in Bhutan.

Nov 14, 2018 13:16

11 Things To Know About Bhutan's New Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering

Dr Lotay is the president of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) party that won 30 of the 47 seats in Bhutan’s third general election held on Oct...

Nov 13, 2018 10:20


Waste Paper Recycling Unit In Bhutan Employs Ex-Drug And Alcohol Addicts

The waste paper recycling unit also manages waste, helps to keep the environment clean and reduces the import of egg trays by 50 percent.

Nov 17, 2018 14:34

Laya Central School Faces Infrastructure Constraints For Its First Batch Of Students In 2019

The current infrastructure that caters to classes up to the eighth grade was built more than two decades ago.

Nov 15, 2018 13:54


Female Archer Dorji Dema Hopes To Inspire More Women To Take Up Archery In Bhutan

Dorji Dema, a mother of three is among the first women in Bhutan to play in an archery tournament.

Nov 05, 2018 08:11

Bhutanese Bagged Gold In Both Men And Women’s Category In The Scenic But Gruelling Laya Run

In a gruelling race where both locals and foreigners participated, Bhutanese won gold medals in both the men and women’s category.

Oct 24, 2018 18:01


According To The World Bank, Bhutan Ranked 81st In Ease Of Doing Business Report 2019

The rankings were determined by sorting the aggregate scores on 10 parameters, each consisting of several indicators.

Nov 05, 2018 15:45

Bhutan’s First Entrepreneurship Festival Held In Thimphu To Foster The Spirit Of Innovation

A book entitled “Entrepreneur Stories” was also launched at the opening of the festival. The stories are expected to encourage young...

Oct 29, 2018 15:48


Discover The Wonders Of The Black-Necked Crane Festival – A Day Devoted To These Graceful Birds In Bhutan

This unique festival will leave a lasting impression on you. With more than a hundred villagers participating, see the fascinating masked...

Nov 09, 2018 21:39

The Theme Of Bhutan’s Jhomolhari Festival 2018 - Living In Harmony With The Ghost of High Mountains

The theme of this year’s festival 'Living in Harmony with the Ghost of High Mountains' is centred on the conservation of the elusive yet...

Nov 02, 2018 16:20


Exploring The Usage Of Minerals In Traditional Bhutanese Medicine

One of the challenges in the usage of minerals as ingredients in traditional medicine is the rarity of minerals.

Nov 16, 2018 15:58

17th Annual National Design and Art Competition Held In Thimphu To Showcase Bhutanese Art

The competition had three categories – gho, kira and embroidery before 2017. Since then, two new categories - traditional painting and...

Nov 13, 2018 17:24

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!