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The Tides in Us

Recent research identifies where humans appeared first in the African continent. The studies suggest that climate change pushed off the first human migrations. The dispersal started the flowering of genetic, ethnic and cultural diversity of humanity and their populating other regions of the world.

Prof. Vanessa Hayes from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney (1) believes that modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 200 thousand years ago.” There was controversy on the exact location of this appearance and their subsequent dispersal.

Dr Andy Moore, from Rhodes University, has done research on geological, archeological and fossil evidence. Based on this he believes that the location of this ancient homeland coincided with Lake Makgadikgadi. The tectonic acivity in the region had caused the lake drain, leading to the creation of a vast wetland. Such places are considered to be ideal ecosystems for sustaining life, says Dr Moore (2).

To understand what triggered the migration, Prof. Axel Timmermann, Director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, analysed data from computer simulations of climate changes over the past 250 thousand years and geological data for the same period.These studies indicate that the periodic wobble of Earth’s axis changes olar radiation in the Southern Hemisphere, which can cause periodic shifts in rainfall across southern Africa,” says Prof. Timmermann. “These shifts in climate would have opened green, vegetated corridors, first 130 thousand years ago to the northeast, and then around 110 thousand years ago to the southwest, allowing our earliest ancestors to migrate away from the homeland for the first time.” (2)

What we now know is that between 100,000 and 30,000 years ago our early ancestors traveled out of Africa, in four waves across the Arabian Peninsula. In a study published today in Nature (4), researchers report that threats from climate change created environmental conditions that initiated waves of human migration out of Africa with a 20,000 year period. This started around 100,000 years ago. The wave that occurred approximately 50,000 years ago is likely the one that led to the populating of the rest of the world.

Science’s testimony that Homo sapiens left their African homeland two million years ago and dispersed in the world in a great migration leaves a question, which I have raised in the following poem. Why doesn’t humanity feel these bonds?

The tides in us rise to the call of the moon and make us dance to some forgotten tune hark! we say, searching the wind for the voice that spoke to us once in the garden of Eden Lost in the crowds we see those very faces that walked with us during the primal dispersion dragons that spew fire chase us in dreams as we flee down the hill seeking places to hide We tremble on seeing the shape of the beast in the flickering shadows that speckle the night hearts beat in step with the crash of the waves which sing to us songs that we once had remembered Were we not one as we started our journey? why did we break into races and tribes? what in the new worlds we found made us forget that we too had spoken as one before Babel.


1. 2. Eva K F Chan, Axel Timmermann, Benedetta fusco, Vanessa M Hayes, Human origins in a southern African palaeo-wetland and first migrations, November 2019, Nature 575(7781), DOI: 10.1038/s41586–019–1714–1, 3. Axel Timmermann & Tobias Friedrich, Late Pleistocene climate drivers of early human migration, Nature volume 538, pages 92–95 (2016)

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