I am an Australian who grew up on the north coast of NSW, moving to Sydney at the age of 14. Following a doctorate in theoretical physics at the University of Sydney, I have had a 40-year career as an epidemiologist specializing in population health and global health statistics. I moved to Switzerland in 2000 and was responsible for the health statistics of the World Health Organization (WHO) for nearly 20 years. I have published over 140 peer-reviewed papers, as well as books and book chapters, and have been listed from 2014 to present in the Web of Science ‘highly cited researcher’ index, which recognizes the world’s most influential researchers over the past decade. If you want to know more about my professional work, google can help, or you can take look at https://colinmathers.com/.

I have been a keen bushwalker, caver, canyoner and kayaker since university days, and have dabbled in rock climbing. When I came to Switzerland, I took up downhill skiing and alpine climbing also. I practiced traditional Japanese martial arts for almost 30 years, reaching the rank of 6th dan black belt in Japanese jujutsu. I competed as part of the Australian team at the 1995 World Jujutsu Championships and won a silver medal. Since 2015, I have been training and competing at national level in powerlifting and currently hold ten Swiss powerlifting records.

Following my retirement from WHO in 2018, I continue to live in Geneva and have been doing some consulting on global health statistics as well as research on other topics of interest. I have practiced various forms of meditation for over thirty years now, including a period where I trained more intensively in Zen practice with Western and Japanese masters. Since retirement, I have been actively exploring states of consciousness through meditation, psychedelics, and other mind-body disciplines. Ultimately, my practices, analyses and scribbling are all a quixotic attempt to make sense of things, to understand the big picture and the nature of reality.

I started this blog in 2014 mainly as a place where I could post about things of interest to me and use my writing to structure or order my thoughts on these subjects. The act of making a blog post public requires a rigor that keeping personal notes does not. Writing for a notional audience of interested strangers keeps me honest, forces me to research properly, to document data and sources and to justify my conclusions, not just leap to them and assume that they are justified, as is too easy to do. Whether or not the result is actually of interest to others is not the point. Unlike blogs focussed on a specific subject, I don’t expect many people to have the same range of rather odd interests I do. But the availability of a digital public archive of my thoughts and conclusions turns habits that would otherwise be time-wasters into something valuable. At minimum, they are a record that I can return to, and recently they have also been a source of inputs for various articles published elsewhere.

I don’t really expect many others to read me, I am mainly writing as a discipline to assemble and summarize my thoughts — to explain myself to myself. And while I never set out to blog in the hopes of achieving a following or a brand, the act of publishing my own interests has helped people with similar interests to mine to find me — and vice versa. Some of these contacts have been very fruitful, and they are welcome.

I have made several post series here on specific topics.  These may be best read in order and links for the more interesting of these series can be found here.

A list of selected books and articles published elsewhere is available <in preparation>.

© Colin Douglas Mathers, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without my written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Colin Douglas Mathers and this Mountains and Rivers blog with appropriate citation or link to the original content.

11 thoughts on “About

    • THank you for your confidence in me. I am certainly full of ideas for blogging and semi-compose things in my head as I am driving to work or similarly occupied with non-brain-involving activity. But actually doing it….I shall have to develop some focus and make time. The busyness of life is a problem at present, I am hoping to change that somewhat. But the blog may be a slow or spasmodic developer for the present.

  1. Hi Colin,

    Just before departing for July sessin with my teacher Rolf Drosten Roshi, one of the Dharma heirs of Aitken Roshi, I found the photo of Aitken roshi, Bolleter roshi, et al. at your homepage. For private use, I have photo-shopped it to get a good portrait of Aitken roshi.

    May I use this excellent portrait of Aitken Roshi officially?

    Cheers, Björn

    Björn Lindgren

  2. Hi Colin. Fascinating to read your ancient ancient posts of the U5 haplogroup. I’m trying to research mine, I have U5b2b as my own. But I know little about how it developed and where it migrated to after u5a and u5b came about. Is there any sources I can use to learn further what happened after the to new subclades were Created? I would really appreciate your advice



    • Oliver, thanks.I’m glad you enjoyed my posts. There is much less information about the more recent detailed U5 subgroups than for equivalent Y DNA subgroups. Unfortunately, the mitochondrial DNA is much smaller than the Y chromosome and so accumulates fewer mutations over time, limiting the resolution of the migration paths that can be established. A starting point is the SNP tracker website http://scaledinnovation.com/gg/snpTracker.html . On the top page there is a map. You can enter U5b2b in the box for SNP and select the symbol beside it for females (circle with cross below). It will display the “migration path” to U5b2b based on an average of the locations of earliest known ancestors of people who have tested to have that subclade. Read the caveats on the site, because this method of calculating location has severe limitations based not only on the fact that earliest known ancestors may bear no relation to location of ancient ancestors, but also will be biased by the location distribution of the people who get tests done AND by the fact that the average may bear no relation to the actual location (eg- if there were only 2 data points, one in Spain and the other in Russia, the average could lie in Germany). Increasingly, ancestral locations are being established based on sequencing of ancient DNA from prehistoric remains and this is improving location estimates as more remains are sequenced. The snpTracker does take ancient remains into account in estimating location, but not sure how often this is updated or how up-to-date it is.

      My only other suggestion is to do some web searching for other people who may have investigated U5b2b migration. This could include academic research papers or websites like mine. A basic starting point is the Wikipedia article on haplogroup U https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_U_(mtDNA) which says “U5b2b arose between 12,000 and 17,000 years ago.[45] The clade was notably linked to Neve, who, at the time of her discovery, was the oldest identified female infant burial in Europe, carbon-dated to around 10,000 years ago.”

      You might also be able to get a more detailed test that would identify more recent subclade branches. I’ve gone 2 further steps using a test with Family Tree DNA (FTDNA.com) and they also have some information on migration paths and dates. But the most recent subclades in the last couple of thousand years have very large uncertainty in estimated dates of occurrence, and quite likely in location (since there will be few examples typically on which to base location).

      The current reference nomenclature for maternal haplogroups can be found at http://phylotree.org/

  3. Good evening!

    I stumbled upon your maternal ancestry page when trying to find out which “nation” (or rather, branch) the builders of Stonehenge belonged to. Myself being of Polish origin, I once tried out a genetic test from Living DNA and got the following result:

    Y-DNA R1a (R-Z280) vs. mtDNA J1 (without any further details).

    R1a is fairly common amongst Eastern Europeans and appears in very old cultures like Yamna or Karassuk. J1 on the other hand does puzzle me, as it’s quite frequent (19 %) amongst Polish Gypsies. As far as I know about my own ancestry, I have no Gypsy or Jewish ancestors. So where do I have haplogroup J1 from?

    • Good morning! I did a bit of quick research on J1. According to Wikipedia, maternal haplogroup J arose around 45,000 years ago in the near east or Caucasus and a further mutation in a J woman resulted in the J1 haplogroup (around 27,000 years ago). J1 accounts for 80% of haplogroup J and is spread across Europe with an overall frequency of around 11%. While the Polish Roma have the highest observed frequency of J1 at 19%, it is also present at other populations, for example, Ireland — 12%, England-Wales — 11%, Germany — 7%, Russia (European) — 7%, Iceland — 7%, Poland — 6%, Austria-Switzerland — 5%, Finland-Estonia — 5%. While its possible you might have a maternal ancestor who was Polish Roma, all you can really conclude is that a line of your maternal ancestors are descended from the original J1 woman, who lived in the near east around 45,000 years ago. Almost certainly these J1 maternal ancestors lived in Europe (and could have been anywhere in Europe) and were part of the early hunter-gather population who moved back into northern Europe at the end of the last ice age, around 14,000 years ago. My maternal ancestors likely retreated during the ice age to the Basque country. Other northern Europeans retreated to Italy and the Ukraine. Possibly your J1 ancestors returned to northern Europe from one of these.

      My Y haplogroup is a subclade of R1b. In another post here (https://mountainsrivers.com/2020/07/16/my-paternal-ancestors-from-adam-via-ice-age-siberia-to-the-steppes-of-europe/), I have traced my paternal ancestral haplogroups from Y-DNA Adam (around 275,000 years ago in Cameroon) down to haplogroup R1, which arose around 23,000 years ago on the Eurasian steppes (possibly in Kazakhstan). The defining mutations for R1a and R1b occurred around 22,000 and 20,000 years ago. R1a likely arose somewhere near the Caspian Sea, likely in Iran.

      R1a and R1b likely both arrived in western Europe with the Yamnana, nomadic horse warriors from the Caspian steppes, whose DNA became dominant in Europe around 5000 years ago. I describe this Steppes invasion in a second post at https://mountainsrivers.com/2021/02/04/my-paternal-ancestors-european-journey-from-the-caspian-steppes-to-celtiberia/. Look under R-ZZ1 heading for a description of how the Yamnana Y-DNA largely replaced the previous hunter-gatherer Y-DNA.

      So like me, your maternal ancestors date back to the early hunter-gatherer cultures of Western Europe, whereas your paternal ancestors arrived much more recently around 5000 years ago with the invasion of the Steppes nomadic Yamnana culture.

      • To be precise: The frequencies you stated as examples are in fact for the “basal” haplogroup J*, not for J1. Nevertheless, you can learn quite much about your ancestry from DNA test results.

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