Khoisan busy barbecuing grasshoppers

Khoisan people of South Africa were once the most populous humans on Earth

(Read the article on one page)

The Khoisan, an indigenous population in Namibia, may once have comprised the majority of living humans on the planet, for much of the past 150,000 years. The Khoisan population declined about 22,000 years ago and again during the 17th century's European colonialists' incursions into Africa.

The new study by geneticists published in Nature Communications , reviewed by the journal Science, revealed that the Khoisan, now numbering about 100,000, are a genetically diverse group because of a large ancestral population in the distant past.  The name ‘Khoisan’ generally refers to the hunters and herders of a number of ethnic groups that speak a distinctive click language, although it is not the name that the population use for themselves. Historically, there were two groups of peoples in the Khoisan language family, the Khoi Khoi pastoralists or herders, and the San, who were hunters and gatherers. Today, they are known collectively as the Khoisan.

Khoisan, from the series, Once We Were Hunters

Khoisan, from the series, ‘Once We Were Hunters’, that explores the issue of how indigenous people in Africa could and should benefit from the resources they have curated for hundreds of years. Picture by Paul Weinberg. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Adverse climatic conditions in Africa caused by glaciation in the Northern Hemisphere prior to 22,000 years ago reduced human populations, but Southern Africa maintained a good climate, reports Phys.org, which also reviewed the new genetic study. Good weather results in easier living conditions and plentiful food, so populations known collectively as the Khoisan thrived.

Khoisan, people known for their rare click language, may have been the most numerous humans, but they remain genetically distinct from Europeans, Asians and other Africans. Some of these other groups moved out of Africa and populated Europe, Asia and the rest of the planet around the same time that Khoisan people were in the majority, Phys.org says.

"Khoisan hunter-gatherers in Southern Africa always have perceived themselves as the oldest people" said Stephan Schuster, a former Penn State University professor, now at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and a leader of the research team.

Many Khoisan still hunt as they did thousands of years ago. Photo by Paul Weinberg from the series Once we were Hunters

Many Khoisan still hunt as they did thousands of years ago. Photo by Paul Weinberg from the series ‘Once we were Hunters’ ( Wikimedia Commons )

The study looked at 420,000 genetic variants across 1,462 genomes from 48 ethnic groups. “These analyses reveal that Southern African Khoisans are genetically distinct not only from Europeans and Asians, but also from all other Africans,” reports Phys.org.

Previous research has also suggested that Khoisan people may be directly descended from mankind's oldest common paternal ancestors. DNA studies in the 1990s, found that the Y chromosome of San men, one of the indigenous populations making up the Khoisan, share certain patterns of genetic variation that are different from those of all other populations. It was theorized that the San are one of the first populations to have differentiated from the most recent common paternal ancestor of all extant humans, estimated to have lived 60,000 to 90,000 years ago.

Researchers found that through history Khoisan intermarried little with other ethnic groups, which helped preserve their genetic uniqueness.

"This and previous studies show that the Khoisan peoples and the rest of modern humanity shared their most recent common ancestor approximately 150,000 years ago, so it was entirely unexpected to find that this group apparently did not intermarry with non-Khoisan neighbors for many thousand years," said Webb Miller, professor of Bioinformatics at Penn State and a member of the research team, as reported on Phys.org. "The current Khoisan culture and tradition, where marriage occurs either among Khoisan groups or results in female members leaving their tribes after marrying non-Khoisan men, appears to be long-standing."

Member of a Khoisan tribe herding livestock

Member of a Khoisan tribe herding livestock ( Wikimedia Commons )

Khoisan people required men from one clan to marry women from other clans. Khoisan villages consisted of more than 100 people living in cone-shaped huts. The villagers were men from the same clan with their wives and children. Villages were united into groups known as tribes or hordes.

Khoisan-speaking people were decimated by European colonialists, their lands stolen and cultures suppressed. In 2012, South African President Jacob Zuma said the Khoisan suffered the most of any group under European colonialism. "It is important to remember that the Khoisan people were the most brutalized by colonialists who tried to make them extinct, and undermined their language and identity. As a free and democratic South Africa today, we cannot ignore to correct the past," he said, as reported in South African History Online

Comments

The demise of the Khoisan as claimed here is a bit misleading. While the European settlers were the nail in the coffin for the Khoisan, the lion's share ot the work in their extermination was done by the Bantu, who drove them into deserts and mountains to eke out a living in unwanted areas.

That is correct about Bantus though interestingly Europeans settled the Western Cape before Bantus (though after Khoisans) as the Bantu crops wouldn't grow there but Mediterranean ones would.

As for Khoisans a lot of genetic evidence would suggest they were a mix of two or perhaps three populations. One that has been in the region for a long time and one that arrived more recently. The former I imagine is the San and the latter the Khoikhois but it is complicated by intermarriage etc. The earlier population have Y chromosome haplogroup A but the latter have haplogroup B meaning they're closest related to fellow click language speakers the Hadza and Sandawe of Tanzania plus the eastern Pygmies. Possibly there were three migrations as the genetics show signs of an isolated population from 150,000 to 60,000 but then people from east Africa interbred with Southern Africans to form the San population (the earlier southern population is only represented in the female line but lost from the direct male line)

interbred? racist language.

You honestly expect the media ever to report black-on-black crime? Sorry, but it doesn't fit the narrative.

That is actually incorrect. The Khoisan themselves have no history stating that they were (almost) exterminated by other African people. None, whatsoever. This is of course European pseudo-history at its best. It's funny how a people who do not live in Africa itself, profess to know so much about it, even though they (for the most part) know very little.

As for this article, there's no such thing as a click language. The clicks are consonant-clicks, and there are SEVERAL languages that Khoisan people speak, some of which are mutually unintelligible to each other. Some bantu languages have incorporated consonant clicks themselves, like isiZulu & isiXhosa, signifying a symbiotic co-existence, as there would be no point for a conqueror to assimilate the language of his enemy into his own. The western-cape (or pretty much all regions of southern africa) were inhabited when the Europeans landed there, both by bantu speaking peoples and the Khoisan people.

As for this article, it doesn't feature ONE single picture of khoisan peoples (except for the drawing at the top) . Not one. The sheep/goat-herder is an OvaHimba man, and those men wearing the cloaks are East-African. Shoddy work this is.

Thank you Richards. I was just about to go crazy seeing how the people of my country are potrayed to the outside world .

Richards, you write 'as there would be no point for a conqueror to assimilate the language of his enemy into his own' but surely ethnogenesis isn't simply about conqueror and conquered. What is conflict at the time might seem more like assimilation after a couple of centuries. Look at the influence on French of Arabic just a couple of centuries after the conquest of Algeria, but that doesn't mean the conquest didn't happen.

I think that BCS is correct in saying that "the demise of the Koisan is a bit misleading"  I think that which also misleads in this article is that the photo "Member of a Khoisan tribe herding livestock" by his dress he is of the Himba people and not Khoisan. The Khoisan as far as we know did not herd. This, in my view, provides a point of an alternative discussion of the accuracy of this article .   

We, and I, know so little.

I feel humility and have other mixed feelings when I see the food and circumstances which these people survived and thrived upon.

Unless one has been to the Namib and has absorbed with totaly unfettered feeling, we do not have the words to describe the land and the country. The country is hostile and out of phase with the western mind and way of life.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

I struggle with this branch of science because I find it hard to understand how they extrapolate backwards through time to come to these conclusions, fascinating though it is. 

What is clear, particularly with the excellent additional remarks taken into consideration relating to their more recent history, is that they are clearly a people of great resolve and fortitude. Guillaumé's point rings true when one considers how fragmented our western societies have become; the Khoisan live with out any of the basic social and material safeguards we see as vital, but seem vibrant and strong in their sense of identity. 

They extrapolate based on estimates of the frequency of changes in certain chromosomes or alleles.

Whether these estimates produce accurate results, we have no idea, because we have no other dating system to compare it to.  

Same with the estimates of when the Ice Age began.  We actually don't have accurate knowledge on it, despite all kinds of different statements made as fact in articles, like this, which said 22,000 years.

Tom Carberry

Just to update: The bushman as is depicted in this article, no longer exist. There may be a few who still live as they lived many years before the coming of the Bantu and subsequent European but these would be in a very remote part of the Namib/Kalahari desert and would not have had much outside contact.. They have been decimated and have largely assimilated into the current society structures. Very few, if any, roam the desert in a loin cloth. It strikes me that these people must have been pushed to want to live in and survive in such a harsh environment. This desert is real desert. In many areas there is simply no vegetation of any kind.

rbflooringinstall's picture

Leave it to European colonialists to ruin a race of people.

Peace and Love,

Ricky.

I could not get myself to read the text as the photos rather depict Swahilis! What's with the boat?

 

 

I agree with Wynaand. The pictures do not fit the text of the article. What is the boat all about as I have no knowledge of the Bushmen making boats, they were/are desert dwellers although middens have been found at the Namibian coast.

They also never herded cattle they did, much later, "steal" from the European but they didn't see it as stealing, they just saw food and didn't have a concept of ownership.

i further agree with wynaand that if one has a degree of knowledge upon the subject then one is put off reading the text. 

 

 

 

The Bushmen did not herd cattle, but the Khoikhoi people did so, hence, they were the first to trade cattle with the invading Europeans - or do u suggest Europeans came with live stock to southern Africa?

Mark Miller's picture

Hi Mantodea. I re-read what I wrote so many months ago. The article doesn't say Bushmen herderd cattle. Thank you for writing.

 

 

 

Hi Mark. I was responding to GUILLAUMÉ's comment.

Mark Miller's picture

Oops, sorry!

 

 

Hi Mark , That is the local name used by the European settlers , practiaclly used for any indigenous group living a primitive life and basic cultural custom's . But because the Khoisan people defied the odds and lived remotely for many year's as they did undisturbed the name "Bushman" stuck with them. As others even the Bantu started to slowly graduate into a western standard of living isolating themselves from the name "Bushman" .It is safe to say the first and last hunters and gatheres of the desert and Kalahari where the Khoisan people or san people . However it is a offensive to use the word ...Mantodea was talking about the same thing , just using a different name ..I am from Namibia by the way !!!

"so it was entirely unexpected to find that this group apparently did not intermarry with non-Khoisan neighbors for many thousand years,"

 

Especially since human beings interbreed as a normal part of life.  Perhaps more likely, they had no other populations anywhere in the vicinity with whom to breed.

Although I know a little about genetics and have read quite a few articles on the genetics of human origins, I do have a number of questions.

Genetics has found close relationships between various older groups, such as Neanderthal, cro-magnon, and Denisovan.  But despite the fact genetics shows these groups could interbreed, anthropologists and archaelogists refer to them as different species.

By definition if they can interbreed they belong to the same species.

And great apes have DNA close to ours.

What if instead of evolving to the current situation, we mutated from a former human type into various different groups?  That seems more likely to me.

Tom Carberry

johnblack's picture

The best out of the box thought for today Tom! This could be a possibility the way that you present it and in fact I think I have read something similar in Gnostic texts. If I remember correctly they believed that apes and a few other species were a result of devolution that took place when a previous human race mixed with animals and also applied genetic manipulation.

Johnblack do you remember what texts your read that from? The elders say that is exactly what happen Tom as well (devolution)... They say our very first ancestors that ever walked earth had way different bodies than we have now. They were taller, and more genetically and scientifically advanced. They are the ones who build the pyramids of Giza and all other civilizations that existed before 6,100 years ago. They (we) began to downgrade their DNA 50,000 years ago to prepare for the cycle we'rein now... (Actually finishing now). They say every 700,000 years the earth undergoes major catacylisms and the continents are reformed completely. So carbon dating does not account for that and many other factors modern science will never understand, or be given knowledge of (Due to their war on nature & people). But the last 700,000 year cycle ended about 14,000 years ago. I would like to see the Gnostic texts that confirm what the elders say. It's always good to see it written down due to the tribal laws of confidentiality over the 6,000 year period.

johnblack's picture

Hi Michael. I will have to have a look for the exact gnostic text. I have read similar information though from multiple sources including the Theosophical Society and Rosicrucian texts (unfortunately I cannot share the latter).

Here is one book that you can have a look, although it is mostly modern gnostic it is based on gnostic texts:

Gnostic Anthropology: Evolution, Devolution and the Fate of Humanity

 

I love Khoisan tribe.Kind people,people you can trust, strong people and people you can relay on them. I would like to travel as far as Kimberly, upington, Priska and Namibia. I need to know more about Khoisan tribes. As I read their history, it is very interesting and you know axactly where do they come from or originate from.

Desmond Bushula

From an analysis of my X chromosome DNA, it appears that my direct maternal line of descent goes back in time to the Kalahari (or perhaps the Drakensberg escarpment from where the Bantu drove out earlier inhabitants as evidenced by rock paintings they left behind). My known European ancestry goes to six generations in the Northern Cape - Griqualand region. I expected the "Ëve" in my family tree to be Dutch or German but the report on the DNA analysis said that the early ancestor in Africa was of a group that was statistically too small to define. In the interests of science, and for my personal interest I would be happy to collaborate with genuine researchers by contributing the data on my DNA.

From an analysis of my X chromosome DNA, it appears that my direct maternal line of descent goes back in time to the Kalahari (or perhaps the Drakensberg escarpment from where the Bantu drove out earlier inhabitants as evidenced by rock paintings they left behind). My known European ancestry goes to six generations in the Northern Cape - Griqualand region. I expected the "Ëve" in my family tree to be Dutch or German but the report on the DNA analysis said that the early ancestor in Africa was of a group that was statistically too small to define. In the interests of science, and for my personal interest I would be happy to collaborate with genuine researchers by contributing the data on my DNA.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The old packhorse bridge in Carrbridge, Scotland
The oldest surviving packhorse bridge in the Scottish Highlands, the "coffin bridge" at Carrbridge in Inverness remains one of the most significant. Built in 1717, this packhorse bridge is located near the city of Inverness, capital of the Highlands, and was erected in an arch from "tooled rubble…springing from natural rock abutment".

Myths & Legends

Was the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton in Fact the Father of Modern Monotheism?
This passage may read like a passage from the Old Testament of the Bible; but, this is a quote from the Hymn of Aten, a work by Pharaoh Amenhotep IV better known as Akhenaton. This so-called heretic king was the only known Pharaoh in Egyptian history who believed in a monotheistic doctrine when most of the ancient world adhered to polytheism.

Human Origins

Was the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton in Fact the Father of Modern Monotheism?
This passage may read like a passage from the Old Testament of the Bible; but, this is a quote from the Hymn of Aten, a work by Pharaoh Amenhotep IV better known as Akhenaton. This so-called heretic king was the only known Pharaoh in Egyptian history who believed in a monotheistic doctrine when most of the ancient world adhered to polytheism.

Ancient Technology

New Revelations When 3,000-Year-Old Prosthetic Toe is Examined with Cutting Edge Technology
Egyptologists from the University of Basel have discovered details of production techniques and usage of one of the oldest prosthetic devices in history after re-examining it with the help of other experts. The find is nearly 3,000 years old and was discovered in a female burial from the necropolis of Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna close to Luxor, Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article