I dig deeper. Do you know your grandparents (both maternal and paternal)? Do you know where did they come from? Then the next step. Do you know who your great-grandparents were? And their locations? This is probably where most of us will come to a halt. This is most likely our limit of knowledge about our ancestry. Even those of us (in India) who are extremely caste-conscious will not know the "exact" details of our ancestors 10 or 15 generations deep. And beyond that we will be completely clueless. But 10 or 15 generations itself is barely 200 to 300 years. That's not too impressive really. Admit it - we do not know anything about our first ancestors!*
Modern written histroy cannot go beyond 6000 years. Anything beyond that is a dark area where we never venture. Mankind's deeply held secrets lie there, waiting to be unearthed. That's "deep ancestry" - the story of your ancestors when no formal record-keeping happened. Time so remote in the past that the sands of eternity have obscured everything from us.
Good news! It is possible for you to discover your deep ancestry - who were your ancestors tens of thousands of years ago (broadly speaking), and where were they located**. You find that exciting, right?
The National Geographic team started a project (alongwith IBM) about 5 years ago which attempted to re-created the lost threads of the greatest story ever told! This is the Genographic project, that relies on original dna samples collected from volunteers around the world (through a harmless cheek swab, I did one for myself), and then analysing it, and plotting the results on the grand jigsaw puzzle that scientists are fitting tight.
Today, we take the colonisation of the entire planet for granted. We know man has populated every possible geography. But who are we actually? Where do we "really" come from? Who were our first set of parents/ancestors? What were they like? Are we all related? Where did modern man really originate? How did we spread across the world? What routes were taken by our ancestors?
These are maybe the most profound questions you will ever ask.
Fortunately, it is possible to reconstruct this story, and as scientists have gone about doing that, they have discovered how dangerously precarious this journey of modern man was - we could have vanished at any point in time of this journey (at one point, the entire population of mankind was reduced to just 2000!). This story tells us how amazingly hard-skinned and versatile we humans truly have proved to be.
Scientific DNA studies suggest that all humans alive today descended from a group of African ancestors who took the modern form around 200,000 years ago, and who - about 60,000 years ago - began a remarkable journey. A journey of migration in various directions, starting from the heart of the African continent. You and me are the end point of that journey. All of us alive today - 6,50,00,00,000 of us - are end products of this great journey that a few hundred (or a few thousand) began. So that makes all of us relatives.
Some aspects of this story that really fasicnated me
- Luck played a big role in groups of migrating humans' survival
- All men alive today exhibit the same Y chromosome related genetic marker - proving they have descended from the same primordial "scientific Adam"
- All women alive today exhibit the same X chromosome related genetic marker (from mitochondrial roots) - proving they have descended from the same primordial "scientific Eve" ***
- Several geological incidences facilitated mankind's journey through the vast spaces they travelled - for example the land masses connecting several disjointed nations of today were exposed due to ice-age(s) - thereby making walking over them possible (these later submerged under oceans)
- Mankind of today is like a very old tree - there are hundreds of branches but the central stem is the same for all!
Anyone can participate in this grand project. I did, and the results were astonishing. They actually told me about my deep ancestry (30 to 40 thousand years old).^
So keep wondering. These are things one must wonder about. Beautiful questions.
I now declare a competition - the best comment on this blog (received before Wednesday night) wins a fully sponsored dna analysis (that's worth a cool $125 approx.) So do write in.^^
* the first set of human beings who are actually our great-grand parents, that is, we belong to the line that has descended from them.
** Naturally, when we discuss deep ancestry, no one can ever tell you EXACTLY who was your great-grand parent (the one man or one woman, if you will) in a particular generation. Broad generalisations only are possible. Please be generous! We are talking of things that happened 30/40/50 thousand years ago!
*** all this is far more complex that I understand. Refer the links given for actual technicalities.
^ and I am assuming it to be right! Do I have another choice :-)
^^ for more details, refer to https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/index.html. I will sponsor the entire cost .. you do the dna sampling and posting etc. You get the results directly. And by the way, I will be the judge of the "best" comment received before 30.09.2009 runs out. No questions or doubts to be entertained. Thanks for participating.