Hominid Uno?

Hominid Uno?

New research nails man’s birthplace near the Kalahari Desert. Science continues to trump the dwindling support for creationism or anything anti-evolutionist.

Today’s announcement by Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania that continuing analysis of worldwide human DNA nails the birthplace of modern man near the Kalahari is a much sexier story in the U.S. than elsewhere. And I like that. Sort of like the continuing twisting of the screw of “I gotcha” into the bungled cork ideology of intelligent design, the last and dying religious ideology about hominid creation.

New research puts our birthplace in what is now the Kalahari Desert. Less than 100,000 years later, a few dozen of our surviving ancestors migrated into the Middle East to create modern humanity.

Olduvai Gorge has always been one of my very favorite places on safari. The first picture that I ever had taken in Africa was of myself spreading my arms above Olduvai Gorge in the early 1970s. Not a year has passed since that I haven’t visited it multiple times.

The spectrum of public interest and debate that has accompanied my developing love for the paleontology of Africa is mind boggling. In my career in Africa the science has increased more than anyone could have imagined. But so have the social politics of evolution.

Emerging from the liberal society of the 1960s, evolution was hardly more controversial than gravity. A generation later state legislatures were outlawing it. Science leaped forward while American society uturned back to the Dark Ages.

This was almost exclusively an American phenomenon.

For years, literally generations, paleontologists have postulated that our birthplace had to be in Africa. This wasn’t just because that’s where the vast majority of early hominids were found, but also because diligent (I should say, ‘unrelenting’) science in related areas like geology and chemistry were coming to likewise deductions.

The first real hard scientific evidence came from three pioneering academics in 1987. Publishing somewhat to their peril, they described their discovery of Mitochondrial Eve. Rebecca L. Cann, Mark Stoneking and Allan C. Wilson described a shortcut if blueprint for later, more thorough DNA analysis of where man began.

It was very hard science and that was very hard for much of poorly educated American society to grasp, and easy for fanatics from the pulpit to contest. But for most of us half-educated dimwits, it was extraordinarily exciting.

But it was the human genome project that reenforced “Mitochondrial Eve” in spades. Two scientists from the University of Cambridge used the results appearing in the genome project to conclude in a May, 2007, study that not only did we originate in Africa, but all of us are ancestors of a small band (several dozen, maybe) of modern humans who entered the Middle East from Africa 50,000 years ago.

Toomas Kivisild and Phillip Endicott were not field researchers. They were numbers guys, crunching the data collected by the genome project in their offices in England. It was, as they said, “simple numbers.”

The earliest hominid may be 7 million years old, but they all died off. All of us are related to someone who walked out of Africa into the Middle East only 50,000 years ago.

Now, continuing study of the human genome project has added even more to our understanding of that “first man.” Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania has determined that maybe 100,000 years before that fateful crossing into the Middle East, the ancestors of that small band of humans was formed near the Kalahari Desert. That is when modern man emerged as a mutate from earlier forms of hominids.

That makes us the newest and most youthful of all forms of hominids, probably including the otherwise short-lived Neanderthals. We’re a mere 150,000 years old. Of the as many as 20 other forms of early hominids, none lived for less than a third of a million years.

We’ve got a long way to go to be Hominid Uno. Hope we can make it!