Sorry European racial “purists,” it turns out your ancestors were African and Middle Eastern
People throughout history have taken pride in their ancestral roots, but new studies of migrations of people into Europe and elsewhere are showing that no one’s heritage is “pure.” Or if humanity’s heritage is pure, if you go back far enough in prehistory, it is purely African.
Sciencemag.com has an article this week reporting on new research into when various peoples ended up in various places around the globe. One example of the racial purity concept is that of people so famous for touting their “racial purity” and being the “master race”—the Nazis of the World War II era. The 20th century Germans’ ancestors came from the south and east in waves thousands of years ago.
If you go back far enough in human prehistory, scientists say, the origins and birthplace of humanity are in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The ancestors of all people living today originated in Africa. Recent studies of DNA have confirmed this theory, which many consider fact and not just theory.
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There has been a lot of controversy over migration studies, reports Ann Gibbons for Sciencemag.com. Migration studies fell out of favor after World War II because of the controversy surrounding Nazi theories of racial purity.
Various peoples left their mark with distinctive artifacts, which used to be how migrations were studied. Now with isotope and DNA analysis, scientists are getting a better picture of how prehistoric peoples moved around the globe. This photo shows the pottery of the Bell Beaker people of central Europe. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The topic is especially pertinent again today with new migrations of refugees into Germany from Syria. Neo-nazis oppose accepting Middle Eastern immigrants because they fear the “purity” of the Aryan “race” will be tainted.
In fact, the German people have no unique genetic heritage to protect. They—and all other Europeans—are already a mishmash, the children of repeated ancient migrations, according to scientists who study ancient human origins. New studies show that almost all indigenous Europeans descend from at least three major migrations in the past 15,000 years, including two from the Middle East. Those migrants swept across Europe, mingled with previous immigrants, and then remixed to create the peoples of today.
Scientists today are studying DNA and isotopes of strontium and other elements in ancient teeth and bones to find out just where various peoples’ ancestors originated. Their conclusion?
“We can falsify this notion that anyone is pure,” population geneticist Lynn Jorde of the University of Utah told Sciencemag.com. Most modern humans “have this incredibly complex history of mixing and mating and migration.”
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Mixed Race World
The Australian Aborigines are one of the few groups whose ancestry is unmixed. Their ancestors settled in Australia in three discrete groups and stayed there for many thousands of years.
New studies show that humans have been wandering around the planet and interbreeding with each other (some even with Neanderthals) since different groups left Africa some 60,000 years ago.
This Science graphic gives a timeline of some of the major human migrations through the ages. (Sciencemag.com)
It’s interesting to note for the Nazi “Aryan race” that European ancestors went from Africa to the Middle East and into Europe about 43,000 years ago. To make clear the implications: Jews, one of the major victims of the Nazi Party, are also from the Mideast.
David Reich, a Harvard University population geneticist, and his team studied DNA in the remains of 51 Asians and Europeans who lived between 7,000 and 45,000 years ago. They concluded ancestors of Europeans settled in two big migrations from the Mideast after Ice Age glaciers retreated, beginning 14,000 and 19,000 years ago. A second big migration, of farmers, occurred about 9,000 years ago from Turkey and Greece.
Illustration of ethnic types from Eurasia. Nordisk Familjebok, 1904 (Public Domain)
“Basically, everybody’s myth is wrong, even the indigenous groups’,” Dr. Reich of Harvard University told Ms. Gibbons of Sciencemag.com.
Ms. Gibbons writes:
As techniques for probing ethnic origins spread, nearly every week brings a new paper testing and often falsifying lore about one ancient culture or another. The Kashmiri of northern India do not seem to be related to Alexander the Great or the lost tribes of Israel. Parsis in Iran and India are not solely of ancient Iranian heritage, having mixed with local Indian women, although Parsi priests do descend chiefly from just two men.
Of course this does not mean that the Irish should not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or that the Chinese should not celebrate the Chinese New Year. After people settled down for a time, national and ethnic identities did develop, and the accomplishments of various peoples are worthy of pride and celebration.
Top image: Image of reconstructed faces of three early humans in profile view. Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
By Mark Miller