Friday, December 11, 2009

252. The Baseline Scenarios -- 28: The Migrants

According to the Out of Africa model of human history, a relatively small group of Homo Sapiens migrated across the Red Sea, possibly at its southernmost point, the Bab el-Mandeb ("Gate of Tears"), some 80,000 to 60,000 years ago. There would have been nothing special about this group whatsoever. They were not the first to have crossed the Red Sea to Asia -- relics of a much earlier migration have been found in what is now Israel. And there may well have been other groups to have made a similar crossing both before and after they did. They would have had no way of knowing they were leaving Africa, and in fact would have had no concept of Africa or even of what a continent is. As far as they were concerned the perilous journey across the water to a shore they could barely make out on the horizon might not have been much different from other such crossings made over various rivers as they journeyed from place to place -- they were, in all likelihood, nomads. If the water was salt instead of fresh, it's not clear what that would have meant to them over and above its drinkability. It's possible that, like the Children of Israel, they crossed over the Red Sea to escape some other people seeking to destroy or enslave them. Or maybe they simply hoped to find better opportunities for hunting, fishing, collecting shellfish and other nutrients. We'll never know.

They had their picture taken, however, though it wasn't developed until tens of thousands of years later. Here it is:

It's a family picture. To enlarge it, right-click and select "Open in New Window." They're the ones roughly in the middle, toward the bottom, in the violet area, under the words "Out of Africa" -- the ones labeled M and N. This picture is somewhat misleading, however. First of all it's ladies only, the men have been excluded. Secondly, it's restricted only to surviving family members, or, to be more precise, those whose lineages have survived all the way to the 20th and 21st centuries. There were undoubtedly many others who could have been represented, some of whom might even have crossed over to Asia before them, but, most geneticists seem convinced that M and N are the only "Out of Africa" families whose lineages survived. Which means that everyone whose ancestors lived outside of Africa is descended from this one small group. The Migrants. What I'll be calling HMP, or "Hypothetical Migrant Population."

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