Deep genealogy

Have you ever wondered whether it would ever be possible to trace our ancestry back all the way to the very first humans? Could we figure out where those first forefathers started, and where they migrated to get us to the starting point of this story?

It has been done, and we know the answers.

In 2009, I participated in National Geographic’s Genographic project. Based on DNA information gathered from around the world, National Geographic has been able to plot the movement of our earliest ancestors as far back as 79,000 years ago. They did this by tracing genetic markers to their various geographic locations where they arose and pinpointing their origins in time. The results that I obtained apply to all males in our line of descent.

We belong to a genetic group called R1b, which is common and even predominant in most of western Europe. Seventy percent of men in southern England belong to this group, and the percentage is as high as ninety percent in parts of Spain and Ireland.

Anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and began moving out of Africa into the rest of the world around 60,000 years ago.

The man who gave rise to the first genetic marker in our lineage probably lived in northeast Africa around 50,000 years ago in the region of the Rift Valley in present-day Ethiopia, Kenya or Tanzania. His descendants became the only lineage to survive outside Africa, making him the common ancestor of every non-African man living today.

During the Ice Age in which Europe was covered by thick layers of ice, Africa suffered drought rather than cold. Around 50,000 years ago the ice sheets of northern Europe began to melt and recede, and a moister climate settled over northern Africa. Parts of the Sahara became savanna, and animals that had been hunted by our ancestor expanded their range into the savanna. The grasslands formed a green corridor of plentiful food. Our ancestor and his descendants followed the good weather and the game along the green corridor, probably close to the coasts. Around the same time, language began developing among humans, and with the added advantage of communication, human intelligence increased markedly. Humans were able to learn from each other where the more habitable areas were. The green corridor led our ancestors into the middle east. Around 40,000 years ago, the climate cooled and became dryer, and the green corridor returned to desert. Return to Africa was no longer possible. Our ancestors followed the great herds of antelopes, buffalo, wooly mammoths and other game across what is now Iran to the steppes of central Asia.

Around 40,000 years ago, in central Asia during the Paleolithic Era, a new genetic lineage arose known as the Eurasian Clan, of which we are a part. Some of the Eurasian Clan moved eastward into the Indian subcontinent. Most North Americans and nearly all east Asians are descended from this Clan, as are most Europeans and Indians.

Around 35,000 years ago, a man was born in central Asia with the next genetic marker in our lineage. His group is called the Central Asian Clan. He and his descendants moved northward into an increasingly hostile climate due to advancing of the last Siberian ice age. They were able to adapt to and survive in the harsh conditions. His resourcefulness and adaptability was critical in a region where no other hominid is known to have lived.

Some 5,000 years later, a group from the rugged Central Asian Clan began to head west toward Europe. Some of the group split off and moved toward the Indian subcontinent. Our ancestors, however, continued on to the west, becoming the first humans to colonize Europe. Since much of Europe was under ice at the time, our ancestors found their way into Spain.

When our ancestors had arrived in Europe, they came into contact with the Neandertals, another homind species, with whom they competed for food. Our ancestors’ better communication and language skills, weapons and resourcefulness gave them an edge over their more primitive competitors, and the Neandertals soon grew extinct. Our ancestors in this period are known as the Aurignacian culture. They made significant innovations in manufacturing tools, standardization of tools, and an increased number of tool types, and they used stone, bone, ivory, antlers and shells as tools. Jewelry and adornments are considered a sign of more complex social organization, and our ancestors made bracelets and pendants of shells, teeth, ivory and carved bone.

Around 20,000 years ago, the ice again retreated north, and our ancestors fanned northward populating western Europe. Today the number of descendants of these people in northern France and the British Isles remains quite high.

One of these European ancestors developed a genetic marker that scientists refer to as “M343,” which is the defining marker of our genetic group. That ancestor of ours and his descendants dominated the human expansion throughout Europe, and they came to be known as the Cro-Magnon. These people are characterized by a blossoming of artistic skills previously unknown. Earlier people had expressed themselves artistically in simple jewelry. The Cro-Magnon are the artists who painted the intricate, magnificent cave paintings in Lascaux, France and other places depicting bison, deer, rhinoceroses and horses, as well as spring molting, hunting and pregnancy. They wove clothing from threads made of plant fibers. They used relatively advanced tools of stone, bone and ivory. They lived in huts made of rocks, clay, animal hides branches and bones.

These Stone-Age artisans were the forebears of Francois Primaut.