Scientists believe humans originated south of Zambezi

Posted on 30 October 2019

A new study published on Monday 28 October in the journal Nature suggests that anatomically modern humans all originated south of the Zambezi River in what would today be Botswana.

The origin of humans can be traced back 200,000 years, yet the geography of humanity’s ‘ancestral homeland’ was relatively unknown, until now.

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

The study explains that Southern Africa is home to contemporary populations whose ancestries represent the ‘earliest branch of human phylogeny’. Researchers analysed mitochondrial DNA of contemporary descendants of the indigenous KhoeSan, from South Africa and Namibia, to determine migratory patterns and a common point of origin.

According to the study, the earliest ancestors of modern humans (Homo sapiens) originated from the northern parts of Botswana in a ‘palaeo-wetland’ in the Makgadikgadi-Okavango region. The early populations ‘sustained homeland occupation’ for about 70,000 years before migrating (quite literally in search of greener pastures, it’s speculated) due to climate changes in the region.

While this paper deals with topics such as evolutionary genetics and climate and earth modelling systems, not all scientific peers in these fields are in agreement with the conjectures made about human origin. One common criticism is that the study only seeks to pinpoint the earliest Southern African ancestors’ geographic origin, despite the fact that the human genome is genetically diverse, and that mitochondrial DNA comprises a mere fraction of the full complement of genetic material.

What many of the authors’ peers do acknowledge, however, is that the study begins to fill in some of the gaps in investigation into human origins, and could serve as an inspiring springboard for further, more complex research into the origin of humans.

Find out more about this study, ‘Human origins in a southern African palaeo-wetland and first migrations’, in the journal Nature:

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