Human origins in 2011

By Razib Khan | December 20, 2011 12:14 pm

Interesting piece in LiveScience, What We Learned About Our Human Ancestors in 2011. The author highlights the likelihood of a lot of admixture across very diverged lineages, as well as the nascent “Out of Arabia” hypothesis. This quote from Michael Hammer gets at where we’re “going next”:

“We’ve probably just scratched the surface of what we might find,” Hammer added. “We only looked at a small number of regions of the genome. This coming year, you’ll see a lot of progress made with full genome data. This year, we should be able to confirm what we found and go way beyond that.”

I think the the lowest hanging fruit in terms of “paradigm shift” was the renewed opening to admixture with “archaic” lineages in 2010 and 2011. Before that point it was reasonable for anyone to respond to these hypotheses with a recitation of the “Out of Africa” orthodoxy. Now no longer. If admixture did no occur, then we’re talking about strange results which still need explaining with a novel model (e.g., lots of “structure” in the “Out of Africa” population due to admixture within Africa). But as the low hanging fruit is picked, researchers are now going to spread themselves out throughout the grove, hunting for numerous odds and ends. In all likelihood the picture is going to get complex, but hopefully it will be more accurate.

MORE ABOUT: Human origins
  • Chris the Canadian

    I’m fascinated by what is being found in the human genome and comparing it to our cousins and ancestors. I think archeologists get a bit of tunnel vision when theorizing about human origins. The problem I see is we have so few samples to go by that to make a hypothesis on the origins and progression of humanity from them would be like trying to figure out the diversity of modern humans from bone samples of one family found in Pompeii and the big toe bone of a person found in New York City. When the reality is probably far more complex and far more interrelated than anyone has even pondered. The Out of Africa model isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is likely not the only theory that is relevant.

    I can definately picture the origins of the human species in africa, with a number of ‘Out of Africa” events throughout early hominid history. Homo Erectus, the Australopithecines etc moving out of africa in different millenia and evolving independently or mixing with new groups of hominids as they arrived into the middle east, europe, india and southest asia. I can also see groups of hominids moving to and from africa over the millenia, as climate and temperature changes and resource fluctuations force populations to migrate in search of sustinence. Hominids until modern humans were nomadic after all. Those hominids well adapted to their environment, such as Neanderthal or the Indonesian “Hobbit” people didn’t leave their local habitats because there was no advantage or need for them to. They were well adapted to their environments and were thriving.

    Our history and how we came to be human will likely have stories and realities that we will never uncover completely but every discovery, whether in the field digging up the bones of our long lost ancestors or in the laboratory digging through genomes and finding out who we take after and who we don’t as a species brings us answers and a piece of the story that may have been missing before. That is what makes this field so EXCITING!!!

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ CtC:

    Note though that the “OOA” hypothesis pertains solely to the populations that goes into todays extant population.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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