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Botswana's Historians, Archaeologists Cautious on Study Claiming Human Origins

Is This Where the First Humans Originated?
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Is This Where the First Humans Originated?

MAKGADIKGADI BASIN, BOTSWANA — A recent study tracing the origins of modern human life to Botswana has drawn mixed reactions from experts in the southern African nation.

The report, based on genetics, points to human life emerging around the dry, salty flats of the Makgadikgadi Basin — an area said to have once been a lush wetland.

Local diamond miner Justice Modise is excited about the finding.

"I have always thought there is something special about this place," he said. "Having been there a number of times and looking at the beauty, you can't help but wonder, what started here? I honestly think it's true that life started here."

Earlier archaeological digs point to East Africa as the earliest known origins of humans.

The study in the journal Nature is based on genetic findings rather than archaeological evidence, and University of Botswana history professor Fred Morton raises some caution about the conclusion.

"To me, the argument is a bit suspicious without some kind of additional evidence to support the genetics," he said.

But while there is caution, local archaeologists such as Phillip Segadika say the report should spur further research of the area.

"We are not shocked that the Makgadikgadi will be a potential candidate in talking about the ancient, antiquity of man, because, I mean, the whole of Makgadikgadi is replete with artifacts and archaeological signs, middle Stone Age signs and early Stone Age signs that go as far as 200,000 years back," he said.

While experts debate if human origins were in eastern or southern Africa, the study is already sparking interest among tourists visiting northern Botswana.

"There was an article which says all human beings originate from here," said tourist Lucie Gerber. "For us it is interesting to come here and see that, we all come from one place. I am kind of home."