9 Dec 2011
by Lee Rimmer
The theories about how anatomically modern humans populated the world are hotly-debated. However, genetic and archaeological evidence points towards an initial migration from southwestern Africa over 100,000 years ago, which spread eastwards out of Africa into the Arabian Peninsula, before a small group began a worldwide dispersal around 60,000 years ago along mainly coastal routes. Do the faces of today’s indigenous people around the world still leave traces of these ancient migrations? During the Upper Palaeolithic humans may have looked quite different from their descendants today; nevertheless, a selection of modern male faces and their common Y-chromosome haplogroups provide a speculative look.
Africa to Europe
A 2009 study on African genetics located the origin of modern human migration in south-western Africa, near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola. The site is the homeland of the indigenous San people. Studies show that the San carry some of the most divergent (oldest) Y-chromosome haplogroups, specific sub-groups of A and B , the two earliest branches on the human Y-chromosome tree, suggesting they may be descendents of a population ancestral to all modern humans.
The departure of mankind from Africa involved them crossing the much lower waters of the Red Sea and moving along the green coastlines and interior of Arabia and on to the rest of Eurasia. Supercluster F appeared around 50,000 years ago and is the most common macro-haplogroup outside of Africa with more than 90% of the world’s population.
E3b , G , J , I , R1a , R1b , K and T .
In 2002, the oldest modern human remains in Europe were discovered in Romania. They are 30-40,000 years old and are likely to represent among the first people to have entered the continent. Haplogroup I is a Palaeolithic ‘indigenous European’ marker which originated around 20-25,000 years ago around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum. It arose in descendants of Haplogroup IJ men arriving from the Middle East; IJ is up to 40,000 years old, suggesting that IJ colonists formed the first wave into Europe and the now dominant Haplogroup R1 arrived later. The greatest density of Haplogoup I today is to be found in Bosnia (54%) and Herzegovina (71%).
In 2007, evidence of the earliest human of occupation Germany was discovered in the form of a 35,000 year old figurine of a mammoth. By 25,000 years ago, the Last Glacial Maximum rendered much of Europe uninhabitable; people took refuge in Iberia, the Balkans, the Ukraine and Italy. As the glaciers receded from about 16,000 years ago, Europe began to be slowly repopulated. Haplogroup I appears to diverge from this point onwards and the re-colonisation of Northern Germany is marked by people bearing the I1 and I2b clades.
The earliest traces of human occupation in Norway are found along the coast, where the huge ice shelf melted between 13,000 and 10,000 years ago. The oldest finds are stone tools dating from 10,500 years ago, with dwelling sites dating from about 7,000 years ago. Today Haplogroup I1 occurs at greatest frequency in Scandinavia.
Africa to Australia
Archaeological evidence found in Yemen and Oman has raised the possibility that modern humans were established on the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula as far back as 125,000 years ago when the region was relatively lush and habitable and the Red Sea was shallow enough to be crossed on foot or on a small raft. However, genetic evidence suggests that the group who actually went on to people Eurasia came much later, around 60,000 years ago. They probably followed the same migration route around the coastlines from Africa along Yemen and the sea shores of Oman as climatic conditions dictated.
Any archaeological remains of the coastal migration route around India to South East Asia and Australia are now probably under the sea. However, Virumandi Andithevar, of the Piramalai Kallar community from the Tamil Nadu region of southern India, was identified by the Genographic Project as one of the direct descendants of the first modern human settlers in India. His Y-DNA belongs to Haplogroup C and he carries the M130 marker which defines the first migrants to South East Asia and Australia from the African coast 60,000 years ago; more than half of Australian Aborigines also carry the M130 gene.
Falco: carnets de Voyages
Modern human remains dated to around 37,000 years ago have been found in Sri Lanka. Later remains from as early as 18,000 years ago suggest a direct line of descent to the indigenous Vedda population which inhabits the area today.
The Andaman Islands are thought to be a key stepping stone in the coastal migration towards Southeast Asia, Japan and Australia. Males of the indigenous Onge and Jarawa tribes almost exclusively belong to Haplogroup D , which is also found in Tibet and Japan. However, this is a subclade which has not been seen outside of the Andamans and highlights the genetic isolation of these tribes, for longer than any known ancient population in the world. Their ancestors are thought to have arrived in the islands 55,000 years ago from coastal India as part of the first wave of modern human expansion out of Africa.
The geographical position of the Malay Peninsula made it a main thoroughfare on the first wave of migration south. At that time, the much lower sea levels meant that most of maritime Southeast Asia was one land mass; it is known as the lost continent of Sunda . Archaeological evidence of modern human settlement in Peninsular Malaysia is at least 50,000 years old. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages of Malaysia’s indigenous Orang Asli (meaning ‘original men’ in Malay) tribes are also estimated to be around 50,000 years old.
The oldest modern human remains found in Australia have been dated to around 45,000 years ago. Recent genetic studies suggest that Australia was populated by one single migration from Asia as opposed to several waves. Haplogroup C4 is at a high frequency among Australian Aborigines and it has not been found outside of that continent. The first settlers probably made their way southeast along the coast of Sunda until they reached the straits between Sunda and Sahul, the continental land mass that was made up of present-day Australia and New Guinea. They then made the final leg of the journey by sea. Australian Aborigines are the oldest continuous population outside of Africa, the people who have longest occupied their traditional territory, and are the direct descendants of those first explorers.