News / Africa

Modern Humans Traced to Southern African Bushmen

Present-day young Botswana Bushmen (file photo)
Present-day young Botswana Bushmen (file photo)
Jessica Berman

A new study traces the origin of modern humans to the primitive Bushmen tribes of southern Africa.  The finding upends a widely-held scientific belief that modern humans originated in east Africa.  

The largest-ever genetic analysis of a remote tribe concludes that the Bushmen of southern Africa are the ancestral source of modern humans.

The study by researchers at Stanford University in California was led by evolutionary geneticist Marcus Feldman. He notes that migrations out of eastern Africa some 60 to 70,000 years ago led to the seeding of modern humans across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

"Who were the ancestors of those Africans?  And I think we’ve proved with the data that the founding people in Africa were these click-speaking Bushmen from the southern part of Africa," said Feldman.

The Bushmen, whose unique spoken language includes a variety of tongue clicks, today number between 50,000 and 100,000 people, most of who live on the flat, dry and scrubby edge of the Kalahari Desert, on the fringes of human society.

Stanford researchers collected saliva specimens from 95 members of the Hadza and Sandawe tribes of Tanzania and the Khomani Bushmen of southern Africa.   From these, scientists obtained 650,000 DNA variations.

The genetic variations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPS, were compared with the DNA of tribal people in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as a group of individuals from Tuscany, Italy.

Scientists found the greatest genetic variation in the Bushmen, according to Feldman, who says as populations emerge, they become less genetically diverse.

Feldman says the finding suggests that the Bushmen are the source of all Homo sapiens, or early humans, dating back some 200,000 years.  That includes those African tribes that migrated out of Africa from Sudan and the East African Highlands of Ethiopia to the rest of the world.

"The statistical analysis that we’ve done suggests that these are the most ancient people on the planet and that the rest of Africa derives from that group," he said.

While their numbers have dwindled to near-extinction levels, Feldman says it’s possible the Bush tribes did not always live in the sub-Saharan desert.  Feldman says they might have been driven there by expansion of the more affluent or aggressive cattle-herding Bantu populations.

A new gene analysis of primitive southern Africa Bush tribes is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs