30 September 2010

In the Footsteps of my Ancestors

Greetings from Eastern Africa!  I have always had a hankering for Africa and I have often wondered if it is because Africa has one of the longest documented histories of human existence.  My Lonely Planet guide book states that the East African section of the Great Rift Valley is popularly considered the ‘Cradle of Humanity’, so it is exciting that my next adventure starts in Kenya. 

But perhaps there is another reason why I feel I have come home.  Just before I left Australia, I took part in the Genographic project that is currently being conducted by National Geographic. 

Trace Your Ancestry with DNA - DNA Ancestry Project

The project traces your original ancestors and documents their path out of Africa.  I sent off a swab of my DNA, and eventually received a map based on my mitochondrial DNA confirming  my maternal ancestors originated from Eastern Africa.(Too hard to download map from the website in Africa).

The map indicates the direction these ancestors followed as they set out from their original homeland in East Africa.  My ancient ancestors headed east, moved across the Arabian Peninsular, and through the Indian subcontinent.  While some of these continued through Asia and on to Australia, my ancestors made it down to Sri Lanka via India.

As mentioned this map is based on the DNA passed on to me by my mom.  It is amazing to know that scientist can now determine the prehistoric movements of my ancestors just by looking at the mutations of the DNA passed on by the women in my family.  (While these women passed on their DNA to their sons as well, they in turn do not pass it on to their offspring).  

National Geographic report that in 1987, population geneticist discovered that all people alive on the planet could trace their maternal lineage back to a woman who lived about 150,000 years ago and who has been named “Mitochondrial Eve”.  While she is not the first female human, (Homo Sapiens evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago), this is the woman from whom it is believed we are all descended!  For a number of reasons, the lineages of the other women went extinct or perhaps they only gave birth to sons.   

I was incredibly excited to realise there is a scientific reason for my feelings of coming home to a continent I have spent so little time in.  I wonder if perhaps one day I will be privileged to spend some extended time on this continent?  Till then, I will be content to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and explore a part of the continent from which we all possibly evolved!

I am about to embark on an overland journey through Eastern Africa that will take me through Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania & Zanzibar, Malawi and Zambia!  We will be camping all the way and I am really looking forward to exploring a part of Africa through which I have never travelled before.

JPEGS 2010 09 23 REST Vultures-55 Like an old gold-panning prospector, you must resign yourself to digging up a lot of sand from which you will later patiently wash out a few minute particles of gold ore.  ~Dorothy Bryant

1 comment:

Nona said...

I'm so glad to see you have started your 'journey within in a journey'. I think I'd personally find it a little overwhelming being there and thinking of mitochondrial eve.