Airing August 30th at 9pm on the National Geographic Channel, “The Human Family Tree” traces the work of Spencer Wells, National Geographic, and IBM’s Genographic Project in piecing together the history of human migration through the study of DNA samples from diverse populations alive today:
“The Genographic Project focuses on the Y chromosome in males, which is handed down intact from father to son, and on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which a mother passes to her offspring. Over generations, small, harmless mutations accumulate on these two snippets of DNA; to Wells and other scientists these genetic markers constitute a history book. As ancient human populations migrated out of Africa, splitting off from each other and entering new lands, they accumulated different patterns of markers that reflect that history. Each individual today retains such a pattern.”
As the below map illustrates, all humans alive today descended from a population from East Africa a mere 200,000 years ago. Considering that the Universe is thought to be 14 billion years old, that the Earth itself is approximately 4.5 billion years old, that mammals are 200 million years old, that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago; 200,00 years is a moment in time in the evolution of the Earth.
The races which some people think are so intrinsic to the diversity of humanity only developed as humans migrated to Europe and Asia 50,000 to 20,000 years ago. The religions which some people believe are so central to their identity are even younger, simply a few thousand years old at most. Even the nations and states which we wage war against one another for are just barely a few hundred years old in most cases.
Our lives of a few decades upon this Earth we live in earnest hopes for some permanence to endure. As said in Ecclesiastes “All is vanity. What profit has a man of all his labor which he takes under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the Earth abides forever”
But what of this life, of this human race, of this Earth, and of this Universe? All our vanities, our emotions, our thoughts, and our memories shall pass in time. My hope is to keep the daily ups and downs in perspective and to enjoy what time we have and be thankful.