How humans became humans

At the November meeting of the Ancient History Group David Pashley spoke about DNA. He told us he had read David Reich’s book and found it puzzling and at times not very clear. The book was familiar to at least another one of us, but all of us had talked and thought about the fascinating story of how humans became humans and how the difference between us and our nearest ape relatives is ever so small. David gave us a feel for the various branches of humanoids and showed us their geographical movements and origins. It was in the 70s, he said, that the first genetic assessments were made. These started with mitochondrial DNA. By now approximately 6,000 ancient peoples have been analysed. Neanderthals existed for a time at the same time as homo sapiens, and it is now assumed that they intermingled with each other. David mentioned the Denisovan teeth from 40,000 years ago and Heidelberg man from Spain 400,000 years ago. 10,000 years ago hunters and gatherers spread throughout Europe. It is suggested that farming which followed led to similar DNA in Europe. We discussed the arrival of nomadic tribes from the east, about 5,000 years ago, who rode on horseback. Did they really have such a huge impact on DNA through engagements with farming communities and their women. This story continues to fascinate and we agreed to have further sessions on the subject.

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