While researchers tend to agree that Africa is the birthplace of humans, things are not as clear on what followed next. A recent study tried to settle the dispute after concluding that Egypt was the most important migratory path towards Europe and Asia.
Modern humans started living Africa about 60,000 years ago, but anthropologists kept debating whether they went via Egypt or took the southern route through Ethiopia instead. The dilemma was recently solved, and genetic material provided the answer.
A team of researchers, led by University of Cambridge’s Dr. Luca Pagani, analyzed genetic data coming from six Northest African modern human populations, believed to be among those who started the migration. Dr. Pagani’s team compared the information with what they had on populations residing in Middle East and East Asia.
The results were pretty conclusive, and leaned towards the idea that migration rather followed the path through Egypt rather than through the Horn of Africa. The African DNA was more frequently encountered in the populations living across the Sinai Peninsula and in Middle East than in those who settled east of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. In other words, Egyptians look more like the early humans than Ethiopians do.
“The most exciting consequence of our results is that we draw back the veil that has been hiding an episode in the history of all Eurasians, improving the understanding of billions of people of their evolutionary history,” Dr. Pagani enthusiastically announced. The Cambridge professor claims his study is the first comprehensive genetic analysis on Northeast African populations and should settle the dispute once and for all.
Archeological discoveries point towards the conclusion that the modern humans exodus from Africa happened between 120,000 and 60,000 years ago, but evidence is not so precise on which path they took. In fact, some scientists are already contesting Dr. Pagani’s findings.
Prof. Rasmus Nielsen, with the University of California, Berkeley, believes that genetic analysis alone cannot provide a definitive answer, since the human populations the study focused on have moved around a lot over the past 50,000 years. “It is a very difficult question they are trying to address,” Nielsen argued. “I’m perhaps less optimistic than the authors on the possibility of identifying specific migration routes using present populations.
However, Dr. Pagani indicated that his conclusions only apply to the later migration period and only to the modern humans who eventually settled in Europa and Asia. He suggested things may be different for the early period or for those populations who eventually reached Oceania. So, instead of being the only migration route out of Africa, Egypt was more likely the last stop on the way to Europe.
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