The Homeland of Modern Humans

Vanessa Hayes discussing the significance of the region with Headman ǀkun ǀkunta from an extended Ju/’hoansi family. Living within the homeland region of the greater Kalahari of Namibia, Vanessa has been visiting ǀkun and his extended family for over a decade. ǀkun was proudly one of the many participants who donated his mitogenome to this study. (Image: Chris Bennett, Evolving Picture, Sydney, Australia)

A study has concluded that the earliest ancestors of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) emerged in a southern African “homeland” and thrived there for 70,000 years. The breakthrough findings are published in the prestigious journal Nature.

The authors propose that changes in Africa’s climate triggered the first human explorations, which initiated the development of humans’ genetic, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This study provides a window into the first 100,000 years of modern humans’ history.

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DNA as a time capsule

Lead Professor Vanessa Hayes from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney, and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria, said:

In their study, Professor Hayes and her colleagues collected blood samples to establish a comprehensive catalog of modern human’s earliest mitogenomes from the so-called “L0” lineage. Study author and public health Professor Riana Bornman said:

First author Dr. Eva Chan from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, who led the phylogenetic analyses, added:

By combining the L0 lineage timeline with the linguistic, cultural, and geographic distributions of different sublineages, the study authors revealed that 200,000 years ago, the first Homo sapiens sapiens maternal lineage emerged in a “homeland” south of the Greater Zambezi River Basin region, which includes the entire expanse of northern Botswana into Namibia to the west and Zimbabwe to the east.

A homeland perfect for life to thrive

Investigating existing geological, archaeological, and fossil evidence, geologist Dr. Andy Moore, from Rhodes University, revealed that the homeland region once held Africa’s largest ever lake system, Lake Makgadikgadi, saying that:

Modern humans’ first migrations

The authors’ new evolutionary timelines suggest that the ancient wetland ecosystem provided a stable ecological environment for modern humans’ first ancestors to thrive for 70,000 years. Professor Hayes explained:

The authors speculate that the success of this migration was most likely a result of adaptation to marine foraging, which is further supported by extensive archaeological evidence along the southern tip of Africa.

Climate effects

To investigate what may have driven these early human migrations, co-corresponding author Professor Axel Timmermann, Director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, analyzed climate computer model simulations and geological data, which capture Southern Africa’s climate history of the past 250,000 years. He said:

This study uniquely combined the disciplines of genetics, geology, and climatic physics to rewrite our earliest human history.

Provided by: Garvan Institute of Medical Research [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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