Passage to India

How can the long ago journey of those first emigrants be traced? Because of the territorial behavior of the first modern humans, rigorously maintained as they invaded the world outside Africa, everyone essentially stayed in place in their new home, except for those at the head of the wave of advance. The world would thus fill up in a rather orderly way. For thousands of years thereafter, people lived and died in the place where they were born. Populations did not mix, except at a local level under the patrilocal system of hunter-gatherer societies.

This conclusion emerges directly from the genealogies of the Y chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA. Men of each branch of the Y chromosome tree are mostly found in a particular geographic region. The same is true for mitochondrial DNA lineages. Some branches of the two trees are confined to a single continent. Others spread over several land masses, but in a way that tracks an orderly movement of population. If the world's population were highly mixed, each of these branches would be found all over the place. Even today, most people in the world still belong to Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA lineages that accurately reflect their continent of origin. Africans south of the Sahara belong to mitochondrial lineages L1, L2 and L3. All the rest of the world belongs to the two daughter lineages of L3 known as M and N.

Lineage M is of particular interest in tracking the exodus from Africa. Silvana Santachiara-Benerecetti of the University of Pavia in Italy has found that M is quite common in people of the southern Arabian peninsula, but is not seen in the Levant.90 This is interesting evidence that the route out of Africa may have led through southern Arabia to India. It is not conclusive, however, because a vigorous Arab slave trade flourished between AD 650 and 1900 and brought many Africans to Arabia. The female slaves, who became integrated into Arab populations, could be the source of the M lineage.91 Since men and women had to spread through the world together, the story told by the Y chromosome's genealogy should match that of the mitochondrial DNA genealogy. The two stories do agree well in general outline, though not yet in every detail. The mutations that generate the Y chromosome's genealogy were discovered more recently and are still under study. Mitochondrial DNA mutates at a faster rate than the Y chromosome and the dates derived for the branch points in its genealogical tree are generally older than those for the Y chromosome's tree. It will take much more work to get dates of the two trees into correct alignment. Besides helping to track the movement of the first modern human emigrants around the globe, the two trees also record that only a small sample of the African population emigrated to the rest of the world, a conclusion also implicit in the fact of a single migration. On the female side, lineages L1 and L2 of the mitochondrial DNA tree remained confined to Africa, at least until modern times; only the M and N daughters of L3 left for the world beyond. On the Y chromosome genealogy, sons A and B of the Y tree never left Africa. Only the group of sons carrying a mutation known as M168 are found outside Africa. Presumably men of the M168 lineage accompanied the M and N lineage women as they and their descendants migrated from Africa to India.

The emigration of modern humans from Africa was not only a watershed in history but also a significant demographic event. The few who left Africa carried only a small subset of the genetic diversity present in the ancestral human population. Genetic diversity refers to the number of alternative versions of each gene—known as alleles to geneticists—that exist in a population; each individual can carry up to two of these alleles, one inherited from each parent. For instance, a region of DNA associated with the insulin gene exists in 22 different versions in African populations, but only three of

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