Friday, April 25, 2008

Humans on the Brink of Extinction

According to a story on Foxnews, humans neared the brink of extinction a scant 70 000 years ago. According to one of the authors of the study:

"This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history," Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence, said in a statement.

"Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world," he added. "Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA."

Well, that is somewhat melodramatic, if a tad overstated. The story also notes:

The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa, formerly known as Hottentots and Bushmen, who appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago.

The researchers, led by Doron Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel and Saharon Rosset of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and Tel Aviv University, concluded that humans separated into small populations prior to the Stone Age, when they came back together and began to increase in numbers and spread to other areas.

This will probably be news to most archaeologists who have quite a bit of material worldwide from this general time period. It also flies in the face of the fossil remains dated to between 50-90 ky in Europe and the Mediterranean. If those fossils represent only a fraction of the population alive at the time, then there were a bunch more people around than this study would want to admit.

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