The Great Human Migration

I have being given the task of opening our month of Migrations. So I thought it was only fitting to start with the perhaps most important in a global scale, and genesis of all migrations. This, of course, relates to the moment where our ancestors decided to part from Africa and adventure themselves into the wider world wound 80.000 years ago-some say 70.000/60.0000. This subject has been highly documented, so my post aims to be a general summary of these events. The great thing and that fascinates me about this topic and period in general, is that, even though we have a fair amount of details and records on this, more and more things keep cropping up re-writing what was already known. Anyway, let’s get on to it.

The great migration meant in many ways the world conquest of the Homo Sapiens. I say this because, effectively, by the time this period ends and the Homo Sapiens has settled outside of Africa, the rest of hominid species are in decline, or even extinct. There is still a lot of controversy around the interaction between the Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthal-extinction?integration?reproduction?- but effectively they lost power and were eclipsed by the arrival of the new human kind. This also applies for hominids settled in the Far East, such as reminiscence of Homo Erectus, and similar small bipeds such as those investigated in the island of Flores (Indonesia). One of the main ways scientists have been able to trace this migration process and the routes followed by the people is thanks to DNA- particularly the research on mitochondrial DNA, which traces the matrilinear line to its origins.

However the reasons why the Homo Sapiens left the African continent are still unknown, although many experts suggest it to be related to a climate change or a change in the circumstances and characteristics of their environment. The usual suspect for this fact is conventionally interpreted as the last wave of cold weather produced by the Ice Age. Once the weather became more stable and warmer, Homo Sapiens grew in number again and were in need of new homes- This is like I said, the generally establish theory. It is understood that the movement of people was directed towards the East first, and then to the West. The migration towards the American continent would have taken place around 20.000 to 15.000 years ago, and it would have launched from the Asian continent. Finally, it is assumed that the islands of the Pacific would have been the last points of colonization. The Genographic Project has a very useful diagram about this:

Needless to say that the movement and arrival of the Homo Sapiens to every corner of the world meant drastic changes took place. Now there were new tools and materials being used, and finer craftsmanship allowing for better devices for survival such as better hunting equipment. New ecosystems, which potentially would have remained untouched up until that moment where not being exploited.

Nevertheless, the details of how this migration happen are still a minefield amongst scientists and archaeologists. Different theories try to understand how this incredible movement of people happened. The most supported theory is that the migration trajectory was following the coastal lines, making use of their new tools. However, there are contenders that say this well may have happened through mainland, following river courses and other natural paths. In other cases, such as the migration towards Australia, the routes taken were many and from different points of the Asian continent. It is also suggested that here the Homo Sapiens did interact and more likely than not interbreed with already settled species- not only Neanderthal, but Homo Erectus and Denisovans. Other theories debate if the one group known as Homo Sapiens originated in Africa and then spread, or if they left Africa as a proto-Homo Sapiens and the geographical variations originated. Similar issues occur when surveying the first modern humans in the American continent, and although not enough evidence have been found to prove otherwise, find in the On Your Knees Cave suggest that the occupation of America may have started as early as 40.000 years ago, and before the so-called Clovis hunters crossed through the Bering straight.

The study of migrations is always difficult. It is never straight forward and hardly ever impossible to point the finger out to the first individual in the movement and the direction it took, or the reasons why. I think this first great migration of all set the principle for many more to come throughout history. Moreover, I think it helps us understand that migratory processes take a while, being this thousands of years or decades. And we may never find the answers to all of the questions. However, I hope this highlights that me movement of humans is inherited in our nation, not only a 20th or 21st century occurrence, and that in many ways it is unstoppable. If geographic and physical boundaries didn’t stop ill equip early humans to trespass continents, imagined national borders will not stop the movement of people, regardless of the nature of this migration.

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