Monday, July 03, 2006

a humility check

Population geneticists have come to the startling conclusion that all of the world's 6.5 billion people are descended from a common ancestor who lived between five and two thousand years ago, as long ago as the reign of Tutankhamen or as close as the time of Christ.

Steve Olson, who combed over geneological records with help from a statistician and a computer scientist, found that beyond that 5,000 year limit everyone living today has exactly the same set of ancestors. So every person alive during that age is either an ancestor to all 6 billion humans, or has had their line die out.

If you could travel to the year 3,000BC and were to find yourself in any village on Earth, the first person you met would probably be your ancestor. Thus each one of us has ancestors of every kind: the Klansman has African roots; the jihadist is related to the Jews; and the blue-blooded WASP is connected to the most-impoverished 'untouchable' of India, each far more tightly than the other has ever thought.

"No matter the languages we speak or the color of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who labored to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu," Olson and his colleagues wrote in the journal Nature.

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