Total population
c. 81.7+ million[1]
Regions with significant populations
South Korea       c. 49,110,000 (2019)[a][2]
North Korea       25,955,138[b][3]
Diaspora as of 2021
c. 7.3 million[4]
 United States2,633,777[4]
 United Kingdom36,690[4]
 New Zealand33,812[4]
Jeju and Korean Sign Language minorities
Predominantly : Irreligious
Significant : Korean shamanic, Christian, and Buddhist
Related ethnic groups

Koreans[i] are an East Asian ethnic group native to Korea.[11][12][13][14] The majority of Koreans live in the two Korean nation states of North and South Korea, which are collectively referred to as Korea. As of 2021, an estimated 7.3 million ethnic Koreans resided outside of Korea.[4] Koreans are also an officially recognised ethnic minority in other several Continental and East Asian countries, including China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Outside of Continental and East Asia, sizeable Korean communities have formed in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.


See also: Names of Korea

South Koreans refer to themselves as Hanguk-in[j] or Hanguk-saram,[k] both of which mean "people of (Sam)han." Members of the Korean diaspora often use the term Han-in.[l]

North Koreans refer to themselves as Joseon-in[m] or Joseon-saram,[n] both of which literally mean "people of Joseon". The term is derived from Joseon, the last dynastic kingdom of Korea, which itself has been named after Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom according to legend. Using similar words, Koreans in China refer to themselves as Chaoxianzu[o] in Chinese or Joseonjok, Joseonsaram[p] in Korean, which are cognates that literally mean "Joseon ethnic group".[15][16] Koreans in Japan refer to themselves as Zainichi Chousenjin, Chousenjin[q] in Japanese or Jaeil Joseonin, Joseonsaram, Joseonin[r] in Korean. Ethnic Koreans living in Russia and Central Asia refer to themselves as Koryo-saram,[s] alluding to Goryeo, a Korean dynasty spanning from 918 to 1392.

In the chorus of the South Korean national anthem, Koreans are referred to as Daehan-saram.[t]

In an inter-Korean context, such as when dealing with the Koreanic languages or the Korean ethnicity as a whole, South Koreans use the term 'Hangyeore'.[u]


The origin of Koreans has not been well clarified yet. Based on linguistic, archaeologic and genetic evidence, their place of origin is located somewhere in Northeast Asia, but its exact pattern of expansion and arrival into the Korean peninsula remain unclear.[17]

Archaeological evidence suggests that Proto-Koreans were migrants from Manchuria during the Bronze Age.[18] Most linguists similarly place the linguistic homeland of Proto-Korean and of early Koreans somewhere in Manchuria, such as in the Liao River region. Later, Koreanic-speakers migrated to northern Korea and started to expand further south, replacing and assimilating Japonic-speakers and likely causing the Yayoi migration.[19][20] Whitman (2011) suggests that the Proto-Koreans arrived in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula at around 300 BCE and coexisted with the descendants of the Japonic Mumun cultivators (or assimilated them).[21] Vovin suggests Proto-Korean is equivalent to the variant of Koreanic languages spoken in southern Manchuria and northern Korean peninsula by the time of the Three Kingdoms of Korea period and spread to southern Korea through influence from Goguryeo migrants.[22] The arrival of early Koreans can be associated with the Bronze Age dagger culture, which expanded from the West Liao River region.[23] Archaeologic evidence points to a connection between the pottery-making style of the Late Neolithic to Bronze Age cultures in the West Liao River basin and the Korean peninsula.[24] Miyamoto 2021 similarly argues that Proto-Koreanic arrived with the "rolled rim vessel culture" (Jeomtodae culture) from the Liaodong Peninsula, gradually replacing the Japonic speakers of the Mumun-Yayoi culture.[25]

However, a number of Korean scholars[who?] reject the notion that the Korean speakers were not native to the Korean Peninsula, and argue that no solid evidence of such linguistic migration/shift as well as population and material change in the peninsular region has ever been found to support relatively later migrations.[23][clarification needed]

The largest concentration of dolmens in the world is found on the Korean Peninsula. In fact, with an estimated 35,000-100,000 dolmen,[26] Korea accounts for nearly 40% of the world's total. Similar dolmens can be found in Northeast China, the Shandong Peninsula and the Kyushu island, yet it is unclear why this culture only flourished so extensively on the Korean Peninsula and its surroundings compared to the bigger remainder of Northeast Asia.


Main article: Genetic history of East Asians

Geographic location and dates of ancient individuals in Northeast Asia. The Bronze Age West Liao River farmers (WLR_BA) display long-term genetic continuity with modern Koreans.
Proto-Macro-Koreanic arrived after Proto-Japonic from Liaodong and the Changbaishan region with the introduction of bronze daggers around 300 BC.[27]

Modern Koreans can be modeled to be derived primarily from Bronze Age farmers from the West Liao River.[28] West Liao River farmers of the Bronze Age themselves can be modelled to be derived from the combination of two Ancient Northern East Asian lineages, namely "Neolithic Yellow River farmers" and Ancient Northeast Asians (Amur hunter-gatherers) during the Neolithic period. The spread of Proto-Koreanic can be linked to the expansion of Bronze Age West Liao River farmers. It is also suggested that this type of ancestry was introduced into the Japanese gene pool by early Koreanic-speakers, during the Kofun period.[29] WLR_BA ancestry is also associated with the Upper Xiajiadian culture, which in turn can be used as source proxy for Bronze Age and modern Koreans.[30][31]

Koreans display high frequencies of the Y-DNA haplogroups O2-M122 (approximately 40% of all present-day Korean males), O1b2-M176 (approximately 30%), and C2-M217 (approximately 15%).[32] Some regional variance may exist; in a study of South Korean Y-DNA published in 2011, the ratio of O2-M122 to O1b2-M176 is greatest in Seoul-Gyeonggi (1.8065), with the ratio declining in a counterclockwise direction around South Korea (Chungcheong 1.6364, Jeolla 1.3929, Jeju 1.3571, Gyeongsang 1.2400, Gangwon 0.9600).[33][34][35][36][37] Haplogroup C2-M217 tends to be found in about 13% of males from most regions of South Korea, but it is somewhat more common (about 17%) among males from the Gyeongsang region in the southeast of the peninsula and somewhat less common (about 7%) among males from Jeju, located off the southwest coast of the peninsula.[38] Haplogroup C2-M217 has been found in a greater proportion (about 26%) of a small sample (n=19) of males from North Korea.[39][40] However, haplogroups are not a reliable indicator of an individual's overall ancestry; Koreans are more similar to one another in regard to their autosomes than they are similar to members of other ethnic groups. Studies of polymorphisms in the human Y-chromosome have so far produced evidence to suggest that the Korean people have a long history as a distinct, mostly endogamous ethnic group, with successive prehistoric waves of people moving to the peninsula and two major Y-chromosome haplogroups.[41] The mitochondrial DNA markers (mtDNA haplogroups and HVR-I sequences) of Korean populations showed close relationships with Manchurians, Japanese, Mongolians and northern Han Chinese but not with Southeast Asians. Y-chromosomal distances showed a close relationship to most East Asian population groups, including Southeast Asian ones.[42] Ancient genome comparisons revealed that the genetic makeup of Koreans can be best described as an admixture of the Neolithic Devil's Gate genome in the Amur region in the Russian Far-East adjacent to North Korea as well as that of rice-farming agriculturalists from the Yangtze river valley.[43] The results from the findings in the Devil's Gate showed that the ancient populations of the area were already admixed from both Northeast Asian and Southeast Asian sources. These groups correlate closely to modern Koreanic and Japonic, who form a cluster in regional comparisons, along with certain Tungusic groups, such as Ulchis, Nanais, and Oroqens.[44] Nonetheless, the intermingling with ancient Southern Chinese settlers, who shared ancestry with Iron Age Cambodians, significantly contributed to more than 70 percent of the current genetic variability observed in the modern Korean population.[45]

Koreans show a close genetic relationship with other modern East Asians such as the Yamato Japanese, Southern Tungusic groups and some northern Han Chinese subgroups from Hebei and Manchuria.[11][12][14][46][47][13] According to a genetic distance measurements from a large scale genetic study from 2021 titled 'Genomic insights into the formation of human populations in East Asia, Koreans are genetically closest to Yamato Japanese, followed by a larger margin by Northern Han on FST genetic distance measurements.[48] The reference population for Koreans used in Geno 2.0 Next Generation is 94% Eastern Asia and 5% Southeast Asia & Oceania.[49]


Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History, Eugene Y. Park said that many Koreans seem to have a genealogical memory blackout before the twentieth century.[50][51] According to him the vast majority Koreans do not know their actual genealogical history. Through "inventing tradition" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, families devised a kind of master narrative story that purports to explain a surname-ancestral seat combination's history to the extent where it is next to impossible to look beyond these master narrative stories.[52] He gave an example of what "inventing tradition" was like from his own family's genealogy where a document from 1873 recorded three children in a particular family and a later 1920 document recorded an extra son in that same family.[53] Park said that these master narratives connect the same surname and ancestral seat to a single, common ancestor. This trend became universal in the nineteenth century, but genealogies which were published in the seventeenth century actually admit that they did not know how the different lines of the same surname or ancestral seat are related at all.[54] Only a small percentage of Koreans had surnames and ancestral seats to begin with, and that the rest of the Korean population had adopted these surname and ancestral seat identities within the last two to three hundred years.[55]


Main articles: Culture of Korea, Culture of North Korea, and Culture of South Korea

North Korea and South Korea share a common heritage, but the political division since 1945 has resulted in some divergence of their modern cultures.[citation needed]


Main articles: Korean language and Hangul

The language of the Korean people is the Korean language, which uses Hangul as its main writing system. Daily usage of Hanja has been phased out in Korean peninsula other than usage by selected South Korean media companies (mostly conservative) when referring to key politicians (e.g. current and former Presidents, leaders of major political parties) or handful of countries (e.g. China, Japan, Canada, United States, United Kingdom) as an abbreviation. Otherwise, Hanja is exclusively used for academic, historical and religious purposes. Roman alphabet is the de facto secondary writing system in South Korea especially for loan words and is widely used in day-to-day and official communication. There are more than 78 million speakers of the Korean language worldwide.[56] The difference in speech between North and South Korea stem from already pre-existing dialects instead of a supposed post-war divergence.


Traditional Korean royal wedding ceremony with the male royal wearing royal costume

Main articles: Korean diaspora and Demographics of South Korea

Large-scale emigration from Korea began as early as the mid-1860s, mainly into the Russian Far East and Northeast China (also historically known by the exonym Manchuria); these populations would later grow to more than two million Koreans in China and several hundred thousand Koryo-saram (ethnic Koreans in Central Asia and the former USSR).[57][58] During the Korea under Japanese rule of 1910–1945, Koreans were often recruited and or forced into labour service to work in mainland Japan, Karafuto Prefecture (Sakhalin), and Manchukuo; the ones who chose to remain in Japan at the end of the war became known as Zainichi Koreans, while the roughly 40,000 Koreans who were trapped in Karafuto after the Soviet invasion are typically referred to as Sakhalin Koreans.[59][60]

South Korea

In June 2012, South Korea's population reached 50 million[61] and by the end of 2016, South Korea's population has surpassed 51 million people.[62] Since the 2000s, South Korea has been struggling with a low birthrate, leading some researchers to suggest that if current population trends hold, the country's population will shrink to approximately 38 million population towards the end of the 21st century.[63] In 2018, fertility in South Korea became again a topic of international debate after only 26,500 babies were born in October and an estimated of 325,000 babies in the year, causing the country to have the lowest birth rate in the world.[64][65][66]

North Korea

Further information: Demographics of North Korea

North Korean soldiers wearing Soviet-inspired uniform in the Joint Security Area

Estimating the size, growth rate, sex ratio, and age structure of North Korea's population has been extremely difficult. Until release of official data in 1989, the 1963 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook was the last official publication to disclose population figures. After 1963 demographers used varying methods to estimate the population. They either totalled the number of delegates elected to the Supreme People's Assembly (each delegate representing 50,000 people before 1962 and 30,000 people afterwards) or relied on official statements that a certain number of persons, or percentage of the population, was engaged in a particular activity. Thus, on the basis of remarks made by President Kim Il Sung in 1977 concerning school attendance, the population that year was calculated at 17.2 million persons. During the 1980s, health statistics, including life expectancy and causes of mortality, were gradually made available to the outside world.[67]

In 1989, the Central Bureau of Statistics released demographic data to the United Nations Population Fund in order to secure the UNFPA's assistance in holding North Korea's first nationwide census since the establishment of the state in 1948. Although the figures given to the United Nations might have been distorted, it appears that in line with other attempts to open itself to the outside world, the North Korean regime has also opened somewhat in the demographic realm. Although the country lacks trained demographers, accurate data on household registration, migration, and births and deaths are available to North Korean authorities. According to the United States scholar Nicholas Eberstadt and demographer Brian Ko, vital statistics and personal information on residents are kept by agencies on the ri ("village", the local administrative unit) level in rural areas and the dong ("district" or "block") level in urban areas.[67]

Korean diaspora

Korean emigration to the U.S. was known to have begun as early as 1903, but the Korean American community did not grow to a significant size until after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; as of 2017, excluding the undocumented and uncounted, roughly 1.85 million Koreans emigrants and people of Korean descent live in the United States according to the official figure by the US Census.[68] The Greater Los Angeles Area and New York metropolitan area in the United States contain the largest populations of ethnic Koreans outside of Korea or China. The Korean population in the United States represents a small share of the American economy, but has a disproportionately positive impact.[citation needed] Korean Americans have a savings rate double that of the U.S. average and also graduate from college at a rate double that of the U.S. average, providing highly skilled and educated professionals to the American workforce.[citation needed] According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Census 2021 data, median household earnings for Korean Americans was $82,946, approximately 19.0% higher than the U.S. average at the time of $69,717.[69]

Significant Overseas Korean populations are also present in China, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, and Canada as well. The number of Koreans in Indonesia grew during the 1980s, while during the 1990s and 2000s the number of Koreans in the Philippines and Koreans in Vietnam have also grown significantly.[70][71] In Central Asia, significant populations reside in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as parts of Russia including the Far East. Known as Koryo-saram, many of these are descendants of Koreans who were forcely deported during the Soviet Union's Stalin regime.[72] The Korean overseas community of Uzbekistan is the 5th largest outside Korea.[4]

Koreans in the United Kingdom now form Western Europe's largest Korean community, albeit still relatively small; Koreans in Germany used to outnumber those in the UK until the late 1990s. In Australia, Korean Australians comprise a modest minority. Koreans have migrated[where?] significantly since the 1960s.

Part-Korean populations

Pak Noja said that there were 5,747 Japanese-Korean couples in Korea at the end of 1941.[73] Pak Cheil estimated there to be 70,000 to 80,000 "semi-Koreans" in Japan in the years immediately after the war.[74] Many of them remained in Japan as Zainichi Koreans, maintaining their Korean heritage. However, due to assimilation, their numbers are much lower in recent times.

Kopinos are people of mixed Filipino and Korean descent. The proliferation of Kopinos in the Philippines has been a source of controversy as many Kopinos are born to South Korean fathers who impregnate Filipino women and then abandon them.[75] The 'Mixed Filipino Heritage Act of 2020' estimated there were around 30,000 Kopinos.[76]

Lai Đại Hàn is a Vietnamese term referring to mixed children born to South Korean men and South Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War. These children were largely conceived as the result of wartime rape. No exact data is available on the number of Korean-Vietnamese because many of them choose to conceal their roots, but an estimate by a Korean scholar says the number of Lai Dai Han around the world is at least 5,000 to as many as 150,000.[77][78][79]

See also


  1. ^ In 2019, 95.1% of South Korea population was South Korean by nationality and 4.9% were of foreign nationality. South Korea is thus considered one of the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world. Precise number of ethnic Koreans specifically is difficult to estimate since South Korean statistics do not record ethnicity. Furthermore, many immigrants are repatriated ethnic Koreans themselves while unknown number of South Korean citizens are not ethnically Korean which skews any statistical estimate. Some of the largest groups of immigrants are ethnic Koreans from China (Joseonjok), Japan (Zainichi) and the former Soviet Union (Koryo-saram).
  2. ^ Due to the country's isolationist policies, North Korea is presumed to be almost entirely homogeneous.
  3. ^ This includes South Korean and North Korean people in China. Korean with Chinese citizenship is referred to in China as Joseonjok in Korean and Chaoxianzu in Mandarin Chinese.
  4. ^ Referred to in Japan as Zainichi in Japanese.
  5. ^ Koreans of Uzbekistan are part of the wider Koryo-saram identity.
  6. ^ Koreans of Russia are part of the wider Koryo-saram identity.
  7. ^ Koreans of Kazkahstan are part of the wider Koryo-saram identity.
  8. ^ Koreans of Ukraine are part of the wider Koryo-saram identity.
  9. ^ South Korean: 한민족/한국인/한국사람, 韓民族/韓國人/韓國사람, Han minjok (Han race), Hanguk-in (persons of the Han country), Hanguksaram (Han country people), North Korean: 조선민족/조선인/조선사람, 朝鮮民族/朝鮮人/朝鮮사람, Joseon minjok (Korean race), Joseon-in (Joseon persons)/Joseonsaram (Joseon people); see Names of Korea
  10. ^ Korean: 한국인, Hanja: 韓國人
  11. ^ Korean: 한국 사람
  12. ^ Korean한인; Hanja韓人, lit.'people of Han'
  13. ^ Korean: 조선인, Hanja: 朝鮮人
  14. ^ Korean: 조선 사람
  15. ^ Chinese: 朝鲜族
  16. ^ Korean: 조선족, 조선사람
  17. ^ 在日朝鮮人, 朝鮮人, Zainichi Chousenjin, Chousenjin
  18. ^ Korean재일조선인, 조선사람, 조선인
  19. ^ Korean: 고려 사람; Cyrillic: Корё сарам
  20. ^ Korean: 대한사람, lit.'People of Great Han'
  21. ^ Korean한겨레; RRHangyeore; MRHan'gyŏre, lit.'nations/people of Han'


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  3. ^ "Worldbank, 2020". Archived from the original on 27 February 2022. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af 재외동포현황(2021)/Total number of overseas Koreans (2021). South Korea: Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2021. Archived from the original on 24 February 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2022.
  5. ^ "재외동포 현황" [Current status of overseas Koreans]. oka.go.kr. Office of Overseas Koreans, Republic of Korea. 2023.
  6. ^ 재외동포 본문(지역별 상세). Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 15 July 2011. p. 64. Archived from the original on 8 September 2021. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Wachtregister asiel 2012-2021". npdata.be. Retrieved 12 April 2023.
  8. ^ Koreans at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013) Closed access icon
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  10. ^ Julian Ryall, Tokyo (31 May 2016). "Polish firms employing North Korean 'slave labourers' benefit from EU aid". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
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  17. ^ Kim, Jangsuk; Park, Jinho (5 May 2020). "Millet vs rice: an evaluation of the farming/language dispersal hypothesis in the Korean context". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 2: e12. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.13. ISSN 2513-843X. PMC 10427441. PMID 37588344.
  18. ^ Ahn, Sung-Mo (June 2010). "The emergence of rice agriculture in Korea: archaeobotanical perspectives". Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. 2 (2): 89–98. Bibcode:2010ArAnS...2...89A. doi:10.1007/s12520-010-0029-9. S2CID 129727300.
  19. ^ Janhunen, Juha (2010). "RReconstructing the Language Map of Prehistorical Northeast Asia". Studia Orientalia (108). ... there are strong indications that the neighbouring Baekje state (in the southwest) was predominantly Japonic-speaking until it was linguistically Koreanized.
  20. ^ Vovin, Alexander (31 December 2013). "From Koguryǒ to T'amna: Slowly riding to the South with speakers of Proto-Korean". Korean Linguistics. 15 (2): 217–235. doi:10.1075/kl.15.2.03vov.
  21. ^ Whitman, John (1 December 2011). "Northeast Asian Linguistic Ecology and the Advent of Rice Agriculture in Korea and Japan". Rice. 4 (3): 149–158. Bibcode:2011Rice....4..149W. doi:10.1007/s12284-011-9080-0.
  22. ^ "Vovin, Alexander (2008). From Koguryo to Tamna: Slowly Riding to the South with Speakers of Proto-Korean". Korean Linguistics. 15. Linguistic evidence indicates speakers of
  23. ^ a b Kim, Jangsuk; Park, Jinho (2020). "Millet vs rice: an evaluation of the farming/language dispersal hypothesis in the Korean context". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 2. Cambridge University Press: e12. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.13. ISSN 2513-843X. PMC 10427441. PMID 37588344. He also suggests that the arrival of Koreanic in Korea was associated with the spread of the Korean-style bronze dagger culture from present-day northeast China to Korea around 300 BCE. ...

    While pottery styles clearly differ between northeast China and the Korean Peninsula, an influx of northeast Chinese pottery styles into Korea has not been detected, and the styles of the two areas remain distinct long after the appearance of millet with little change in Chulmun pottery styles over time. ...

    However, as outlined above, because the Korean Peninsula was already occupied by Chulmun hunter–fisher–gatherers since at least 6000 BCE, a key to evaluating the millet hypothesis is determining whether millet was adopted by the Chulmun foragers (diffusion) or whether it was brought along as a part of a large-scale migration of farmers from Liaoning. If millet was introduced as a result of a large-scale migration of farmers from Liaoning, an archaeologically detectable influx of Liaoning culture and changes in material culture after the introduction of millet should be expected, because vessel shape, manufacturing technology and the design layout and motifs of Korean Chulmun pottery markedly differ from those of Liaoning pottery. However, there is no detectable appearance of elements of Liaoning material culture that accompanies the arrival of millets. ...

    Even if millet was brought by some migrants from northeast China to Korea, archaeological evidence demonstrates that the scale of migration was probably not large enough to lead to a fundamental linguistic change or the dispersal of a linguistic family.
  24. ^ Osada, Naoki; Kawai, Yosuke (2021). "Exploring models of human migration to the Japanese archipelago using genome-wide genetic data". Anthropological Science. 129 (1): 45–58. doi:10.1537/ase.201215.
  25. ^ Miyamoto, Kazuo (January 2022). "The emergence of 'Transeurasian' language families in Northeast Asia as viewed from archaeological evidence". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 4: e3. doi:10.1017/ehs.2021.49. hdl:2324/4796095. ISSN 2513-843X. PMC 10426040. PMID 37588923. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the people of the Jeomtodae pottery culture, the direct ancestors of Three kingdom states, spoke Proto-Koreanic.
  26. ^ Nelson 1993, p. 147.
  27. ^ Whitman, John (December 2011). "Northeast Asian Linguistic Ecology and the Advent of Rice Agriculture in Korea and Japan". Rice. 4 (3): 149–158. Bibcode:2011Rice....4..149W. doi:10.1007/s12284-011-9080-0. ISSN 1939-8433.
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  29. ^ Wang, Rui; Wang, Chuan-Chao (8 August 2022). "Human genetics: The dual origin of Three Kingdoms period Koreans". Current Biology. 32 (15): R844–R847. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2022.06.044. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 35944486. The northern East Asian ancestry was suggested to be related to the Neolithic West Liao River farmers in northeast China, who were an admixture of ANA and NYR ancestry3. The finding indicated that West Liao River-related farmers might have spread the proto-Korean language as their ancestry was found to be predominant in extant Koreans. Proto-Korean groups, in turn, introduced West Liao River-like ancestry into the gene pool of present-day Japan5.
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Further reading