of Africa," say two geneticists in a recent review. If there were many migrations, they add, "they would have had to originate from the same source population in Africa."
It's reasonably likely, then, that the first modern humans left Africa in a single group, that they crossed the southern end of the Red Sea and slowly spread, generation by generation, around the coasts of Arabia and Iran until they reached India. Because of the lower sea levels during the Pleistocene ice age, the archaeological evidence of this coastal passage would now lie underwater.
But this version of events is not yet generally accepted. Another possibility, favored by some experts, is that people traveled from Africa to India by a northern route, across the top of the Red Sea and through the Levant and Iran.
A third possibility is that there were at least two migrations, one to the north and the Levant, the other to the south and India. This theory is favored by archaeologists who have reservations about the reliability of genetic inferences. But if the geneticists are right that there was only one migration, a choice must be made between the northern route, across the top of the Red Sea, and the southern route, across the sea's southern end; and the present weight of evidence, at least in the geneticists' eyes, favors a single exodus via the southern route.
In tracing the movements of the first modern humans across the globe, geneticists' maps show neat arrows stretching from eastern Africa to India, Australia or Japan, and the arrows unavoidably give the impression that the emigrants were purposefully traveling to these distant endpoints. But of course they were not—they had no maps and no idea of what lay at the end of their journey. In fact, it's doubtful they they were on a journey at all. For foraging people, short journeys may be routine but long distance travel, carrying their infants and all necessities, is arduous. Rather than trek determinedly into the unknown, or expose their families to the hazards of exploration for its own sake, it's more likely that the first modern humans to leave Africa behaved as foragers usually do—they moved a short distance and stayed put. After a number of years, as new births swelled the group's size, it would have divided so as to prevent the usual discord that wells up in large foraging populations.
Following such splits, one group would stay put while the other moved on into unclaimed territory. Foragers need a lot of space to support themselves, so in a century—five generations—a hunter-gatherer society might spread over a considerable distance, especially if its members had learned the art of coastal fishing and preferred to stay near the water's edge. Those long distance migrations, in other words, were not made by a single group on a long trek, but were the slow expansion of human populations who took a generation to travel each leg of the journey.
Crossing from Africa to the Arabian peninsula via the Gate of Grief would have required boats. Though archaeologists have found no water craft from this period, people who lived at African sites of the Later Stone Age, which began shortly after 50,000 years ago, could certainly fish, so boat building techniques may well have been familiar to the ancestral human population. If the emigrants left Africa by boat, their descendants may thereafter have moved along coastlines until they reached India.
The coastlines could well have been safer than the interior. Southern Arabia is for the most part an inhospitable desert and would have presented a formidable obstacle to foragers. But from time to time on the geological time scale it enjoys rainy periods. Even within the Pleistocene ice age that gripped the world until 10,000 years ago, there were periods of relative warmth. One, known as oxygen isotope stage 3, peaked around 50,000 years ago. During this warm phase, as well as two earlier ones, southern Arabia was wetter and
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