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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Africans Who Conquered the World

Posted by on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 7:57 AM

Ridley Scott's Prometheus imagines the origin of humans to be an experiment conducted by hyper-civilized aliens in some remote part of the galaxy. Enough of this fantasy. It is old and profoundly unscientific. It is old and childishly anthropocentric. If we need to film fantasies, then let them rise like mists from the solid ground of what we really know about the world and our history in it. We all come from Africa. We radiated from this one point. The shaper of the human brain, the most complicated organ known to us, is the African geography, environment, and climate. Nothing like it came out of Europe. To visit Africa is to visit the land of your wonderful intelligence.

A new, comprehensive review of humans' anthropological and genetic records gives the most up-to-date story of the "Out of Africa" expansion that occurred about 45,000 to 60,000 years ago.

This expansion, detailed by three Stanford geneticists, had a dramatic effect on human genetic diversity, which persists in present-day populations. As a small group of modern humans migrated out of Africa into Eurasia and the Americas, their genetic diversity was substantially reduced.


Comments (11) RSS

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God forbid people tell fictional, scientifically inaccurate stories...

While I haven't seen Prometheus, when I have seen this idea used it has been less about WHERE we came from and more about WHY we're here. So I guess Charles should be complaining about "invisible sky daddies" instead of Out-of-Africa denialism.
Posted by digitalwitch on October 23, 2012 at 8:36 AM · Report this
Africa *was* the place to visit intelligence. It's just that they all migrated away a long time ago. Nothing left to see there (otherwise Chuckie would still be there and not carpetbagging his bullshit over here). Even his dear old daddy understood: fuck over our people, then get out.
Posted by Stranger'sWorstNightmare on October 23, 2012 at 8:42 AM · Report this
seandr 3
Even I have trouble wrapping my head around the idea that natural selection combined with random genetic variation could produce such an amazing and unreplicable machine as ourselves. Or bears, for that matter.

It's a bit like contemplating the size of the universe - I understand that's it's infinite, but at the same, I don't really understand.

P.S. You seem to be conflating "genetic diversity" with intelligence or evolutionary fitness. These concepts are orthogonal.
Posted by seandr on October 23, 2012 at 8:51 AM · Report this
According to my college anthropology professor, we all used to live in the jungles of Africa and only moved out onto the savannas once we learned how to cultivate and cook. Tubers like potatoes need to be cooked to be nutritious and provide enough energy to leave the food-rich jungles. Presumably some of us only whitened after we walked north out of Africa. These are some of my favorite truths about evolution because A) they're fascinating and B) I can't imagine how uncomfortable they make right-wingers who already oppose Darwin.
Posted by Lumpmoose on October 23, 2012 at 9:02 AM · Report this
All of the "ancient alien" stories are fundamentally racist, as a way to try to distance ourselves from our own African roots and to deny the historical contributions of people of color. It's no coincidence that aliens building the Egyptian pyramids is an oft used trope in pop culture, while no one would make a movie in which Roman sewers were built by advanced interstellar travelers.
Posted by Zuulabelle on October 23, 2012 at 9:11 AM · Report this
I've never thought of the "Ancient Aliens" series as racist, just generally offensive to the achievement of humanity.

It's much more interesting to see the history of human potential than to assume that we have to be spoon-fed advancements.
Posted by Drew2u on October 23, 2012 at 9:45 AM · Report this
treacle 7
3, look into "epigenetics". Not all variation is 'random'; genetic changes do come with organism response to its environment, and we pass those changes down. We're more responsible for our own evolution that we think, I think.
Posted by treacle on October 23, 2012 at 10:06 AM · Report this
Crediting Africa for shaping our intelligence is like a brilliant Ph.D crediting his pre-school for his success. Important first steps took place there, yes, but the really important things were learned much later. And elsewhere.

The written word? The scientific method? The enlightenment? The industrial revolution? Nothing like them came out of Africa. Sorry, Charlie!
Posted by catsnbanjos on October 23, 2012 at 10:27 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 9
Actually, even today Africans do in fact have much higher genetic (DNA) diversity than other populations, and in fact humans originated on the coast of Africa in a genetic pressure point.

The first cities were in Africa, @8.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 23, 2012 at 10:55 AM · Report this
@sean, not infinite, just incomprehensibly large.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on October 23, 2012 at 12:10 PM · Report this
Beetlecat 11
I don't see how the Prometheus story ("real" myth, or Ridley Scott tale) takes away from the origins of human civilization in Africa. It's pretty clear that they both simply provided the tools/DNA for man to develop from the beasts. There's no inherit racism or geographism involved.

In fact, I think the Scott film simply shows a means of how life originated on Earth. Sure, they also came back to check on us, but only after we did most of the work ourselves.
Posted by Beetlecat on October 23, 2012 at 1:08 PM · Report this

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