It was good to be a rampaging Mongol warlord circa 1200 A.D. - at least when it came to having a lot of sex and killing off your genetic rivals.

But he was not the only one. A new study finds that millions of Asian men share a common ancestral heritage with 11 people dating back 4,000 years ago. The study examined the male-specific Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son, in more than 5,000 Asian men belonging to 127 populations. Though most Y-chromosome types are very rare, the team discovered 11 types that were relatively common across the sample and studied their distributions and histories.

Two common male lineages have been discovered before, and have been ascribed to one well-known historical figure, Genghis Khan, and another less-known one, Giocangga. The team team found genetic links via a chain of male ancestors to both Genghis Khan and Giocangga, in addition to nine other dynastic leaders who originated from throughout Asia and date back to between 2,100 BC and 700 AD.

The project's leader, Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester's Department of Genetics, said, "The youngest lineages, originating in the last 1,700 years, are found in pastoral nomadic populations, who were highly mobile horse-riders and could spread their Y chromosomes far and wide. For these lineages to become so common, their powerful founders needed to have many sons by many women, and to pass their status - as well as their Y chromosomes - on to them. The sons, in turn, could then have many sons, too. It's a kind of trans-generation amplification effect."

First author of the study Patricia Balaresque of Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse said, "Identifying the ancestors responsible for these lineages will be difficult or impossible, as it would rely on finding their remains and extracting and analysing ancient DNA. This hasn't yet been done for Genghis Khan, for example, so the evidence remains circumstantial, if pretty convincing."

Citation: European Journal of Human Genetics doi:10.1038/ejhg.2014.285