Following Human Migrations

Analysis of human DNA has allowed researchers to refine theories about early human migrations such as the “Out of Africa” theory and how humans eventually got to North and South America.

A map shows human migration routes beginning about 100,000 years ago, based on mitochondrial (yellow) and Y-chromosome (blue) DNA evidence collected by the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project and other sources.

Some very well known examples of this type of genomic and mitochondrial DNA work are summarized in the excellent books Journey of Man and Deep Ancestry by Spencer Wells and The Seven Daughters of Eve  and Saxons, Vikings, & Celts by Bryan Sykes.

This type of genetic research is the obvious way to obtain information on human migrations. Yes, I’m implying there is another (less obvious?) way to gather information.

Of mice . . .

Norwegian Mouse, image courtesy George Shuklin

Researchers can use the “companions” we bring along with us when we move. A recent study about mice (Fellow Travelers) is “in press” at the moment at the BioMed Central (BMC) Evolutionary Biology journal. The researchers have documented that mice in Greenland are descended from mice in Norway. The Greenland mice must have come from Norwegian forebears that stowed away on the journey to Greenland. Very nice additional evidence to support the timeline of Viking wanderings.

. . . and lice

Body louse, Pediculus humanus var. corporis. Image courtesy of Scott Camazine

Dr. David Reed has learned about humans by using one of our very close companions. Dr. Reed studies ectoparasites, and has done considerable genomic work in lice. By studying lice, he found that body lice diverged from head lice about 170,000 years ago. Body lice require clothing to hide in. Therefore, according to Reed and his coworkers, clothing must have appeared on humans about 170,000 years ago. In his 2011 paper Reed says

A suite of complex behaviors and technologies associated with the transition of archaic to modern Homo sapiens, including improved clothing, are credited with facilitating the successful expansion of AMH [anatomically modern humans] out of Africa into higher latitudes.

Visit your ancestors

The Smithsonian Natural History Museum has finished a great looking exhibit “The Hall of Human Origins“. From online, it looks like it has the latest info on our human family tree along with some spectacular artwork and sculptures to bring it to life.

Depiction of early humans building a shelter. Image courtesy of Karen Carr Studio.

This is on my list of things to see this summer. I know, I have a big “G” on my forehead. As a good friend of my husband’s once shouted (while standing in a parking lot holding a big-ass trophy we had won at a Star Trek convention), “We may be geeks, but we’re the best geeks!”

I plan to post a review of my trip and let you all know how much fun we had.


About Dr.B.

I teach upper and lower level biology course at CCBC and UMBC.

Posted on March 22, 2012, in Evolution and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Ooo! I’m game for a Smithsonian visit. We haven’t been to DC for about a year, I think. The Space Shuttle Discovery also arrives at the Udvar-Hazy Center in VA. Another “must see” for the summer.

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