Out of Africa to Out of Arabia

By Razib Khan | December 20, 2011 3:13 pm

Dienekes and Greg Cochran have been talking about this possibility for a few years. But a combination of archaeological finds and the current unsettled nature of the human evolutionary genomics literature means that “Out of Arabia” is a real possibility (not laugh-out-loud crazy and weird). So I took the liberty of cooking up a new design for the RichardDawkins.net website. Science is about updating our prior assumptions, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. What I wonder: how would the population of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia feel about replacing Ethiopia and Kenya in human evolution documentaries? Addendum: To be clear, this isn’t to say I accept “Out of Arabia” for the origin of most modern humans, including within Africa. Rather, I think it’s not a crazy idea anymore, especially in light of the weird results which imply that West Africans may be genetically closer to non-Africans than to Pygmies and San (and it would make more sense of older uniparental results which imply back-migration from Eurasia into Africa).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Human Evolution
  • Sooli

    So we are all Arabians, not Arabs, to be precise.

  • John Emerson

    Goddamn Garden of Eden again. No good can come of this.

    And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.

  • B

    “They say this is the cradle of civilization. Well, what happens before you start walking and leave the cradle? You take a dump in it!”
    -unknown sergeant, US Army, Iraq 2008

  • Dwight E. Howell

    Some people have a hard time adjusting to just what climate change in the past may mean. Saudi was once a fertile land with a reasonable population as was the Sahara. Human populations have been sucked into and largely driven out of these locations many times.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    The merits of the question aside, that is a pretty awesome looking T-shirt.

  • Glidingpig

    We left Africa and went thru Arabia, wasn’t this the expected path all along? Did they think they crossed the Mediterranean as they left? Yes I have seen stories of crossing gulf on the way.

    I realize evidence is important in these things. But really yall, People move fast, I know, I can do 20 miles a day, with 50 odd pounds of gear on my back, through a completely depleted area that we call wilderness in California. A fit, motivated, lightly laden person could easily do 30 or more miles.

    I have called this before, I will do it again, we left Africa earlier, and faster than anyone has said yet. We moved faster, and spread wider than we believe. It was wetter than when they moved thru too.

  • http://ktwop.wordpress.com/ Krishna Pillai

    Isn’t this all pointing towards an “Out of Africa” pre-Toba and then a later dispersion “Out of Arabia” followed by a re-population of the Indian sub-continent post Toba from the North-West and from the North-East?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    the most extreme scenario as outlined by dienekes is that anatomically modern humans in africa itself may derive predominantly from the arabian population!

  • Justin Giancola

    I’m waiting for out of Azerbaijan myself.

    But seriously, all that Georgia stuff, also a curiosity.

  • Cmdr. Awesome

    @6 I don’t think the maximum locomotive distance that a single human being can move in a straight line is strongly relevant to the rate of which human tribes would move. Tribes probably are not going to just pick up one day and say “Hey, let’s just go as far and as fast as we can…let’s say thattaway.”

    Instead, I suspect populations are going to migrate based on population dynamics and environmental pressures, such as scarceness of game, weather and climate conditions, tribal territory disputes, etc. I’m not a historian or population geneticist but it seems most reasonable to assume that human populations are going to meander slowly along unless they have significantly compelling reason to move.

    And, remember too, the more people you have in a group, the slower that group is going to move. The fittest members of the group may be able to make 30 or 40 kilometers in a day, but the weakest members won’t be able to do that. Factor in time spent at the beginning of each day getting everyone ready to go, and the time spent at the end of the day setting up camp for everyone…suddenly it seems much less likely that a tribe could cover a vast swath of land quickly.

  • John Emerson

    My opinion is that absolute distance isn’t a very important factor. From Paris to Beijing is ~5200 miles. At 5 miles a day (not fast) that’s less than three years. Allow for bad weather, detours, and winter and it might be 10-15 years, which is nothing in historical time.

    Many peoples also send out scouting and foraging parties which travel faster and farther than the whole group could go. From to time they’ll find an ideal location, better than the home location, and start wintering over, etc. Population may have something to do with it, in that an undermanned group couldn’t afford to send anyone out. But higher populations give an increased capacity or power just as much as they give “population pressure”. There’s no reason to assume that moving was reluctant and had to be forced. Furthermore, “population pressure” was a much less significant factor when there was open land. Population pressure occurs when a a group outgrows the limited amount of land it has. In thinly populated early Eurasia, with lots of undeveloped land, the dynamic was different. (And invasions result from population pressure when the the extra population includes a lot of big strong men; in places like Bangla Desh population pressure leads to stunting. Bengal was a regional power, but not an expansionist power like the Turks or the Norse. (Egypt felt enormous population pressure, but they actually bought their military from the Balkan, Caucasian, Slavic, and steppe peoples.)

    A factor that speeds movement is infrastructure — roads, bridges, wells, shelters, feeding stations, etc. One that slows movement is unfriendly populations: either bandits and raiders, or hostile nations protecting monopoly. In the earliest expansion period, neither of these was a factor.

  • dave chamberlin

    One of the reasons I am a loyal reader of this blog is Razib as much as anybody he will cut through the crap of opposing viewpoints and say in so many words “don’t believe the experts who hold such and such opinion, yet, there isn’t enough evidence.” Human evolution fascinates many of us but what do we have? Incredibly scarce fossils, degraded DNA in almost all the ones we have, and stone tools lying around subject to multiple interpretations.
    I have always been inclined to guess as most probable that the modern mind took a very long time to sort itself out after a hybridization event between modern appearing humans out of Africa and archaics out of Asia/Europe. Arabia is the intersection of these three continents so this seems a likely a place as any for the slow leap forward to happen. Why slow? Because the optimum mix of genes from these hybrids would come about as easily as opening a safe without the combination.

  • Ferdinand Linthoe Næshagen

    Sea voyagers.
    What I really should like to know is how our ancestors were as sailors. Given that the gap between East Asia and Australia was at least 160 kilometers, and that the settlers had to arrive in some numbers, how could they get there? Rafts are miserable things, much more exposed to currents.
    And how could the first inhabitants of South America reach Mesa Verde in Chile if they did not have seaworthy craft. The 42,000 year old deep fishing hook is at any rate evidence that our ancestors were not landlubbers. Any suggestions about litterature?
    F.L.N.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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