Watch Animations Showing How Humans Migrated Across the World Over the Past 60,000 Years

Ex Africa sem­per aliq­uid novi. Attrib­uted to var­i­ous lumi­nar­ies of antiq­ui­ty, that say­ing (the prob­a­ble inspi­ra­tion for Isak Dine­sen’s poem “Ex Africa,” itself the prob­a­ble inspi­ra­tion for her mem­oir Out of Africa, which in turn was loose­ly adapt­ed into Syd­ney Pol­lack­’s Oscar-lav­ished film) trans­lates to “Out of Africa, always some­thing new.” But it’s per­haps more notable that out of Africa came some­thing quite old indeed: humankind itself, which over the past 60,000 years has been spread­ing ever far­ther across the world. You can see how it hap­pened in the Insid­er Sci­ence video above, which ani­mates those 60 mil­len­nia of glob­al migra­tion in less than two and a half min­utes.

For more detail, con­sid­er sup­ple­ment­ing that video with this one from GeoNo­mad, which tracks the out­ward expan­sion of human­i­ty through DNA research. “Sci­en­tif­ic research has shown that the 7.5 bil­lion peo­ple who occu­py the earth today are the descen­dants of a woman who lived 200,000 years ago,” explains its nar­ra­tion.

“Sci­en­tists call her Mito­chon­dr­i­al Eve,” in ref­er­ence to the DNA locat­ed in mito­chon­dria, a type of ener­gy-pro­duc­ing organelle known as “the pow­er­house of the cell.” Both male and female humans pos­sess mito­chon­dr­i­al DNA, of course, but only female mito­chon­dr­i­al DNA pass­es down to off­spring; hence our not talk­ing about a Mito­chon­dr­i­al Adam.

DNA map­ping has allowed us to trace the genet­ic and geo­graph­i­cal his­to­ry of the Mito­chon­dr­i­al Eve’s descen­dants. Some left for oth­er parts of Africa, and oth­ers for what we now know as the Mid­dle East and India. Whether by wan­der­lust or neces­si­ty — and giv­en the har­row­ing con­di­tions implied by their low sur­vival rate, the lat­ter prob­a­bly had more to do with it — cer­tain groups con­tin­ued on to mod­ern-day south­east Asia and Aus­tralia. It was through west­ern Asia that the first humans entered nean­derthal-pop­u­lat­ed Europe as ear­ly as 56,800 years ago. There, some 546 cen­turies lat­er, Ter­ence would write, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”: a dec­la­ra­tion per­haps made in the sus­pi­cion that, when you go back far enough, we’re all one big fam­i­ly.

Relat­ed con­tent:

New Study Finds That Humans Are 33,000 Years Old­er Than We Thought

How Humans Migrat­ed Across The Globe Over 200,000 Years: An Ani­mat­ed Look

Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Mil­lion Years of Human Evo­lu­tion Visu­al­ized in Six Min­utes

The His­to­ry of the World in One Video: Every Year from 200,000 BCE to Today

Hear What the Lan­guage Spo­ken by Our Ances­tors 6,000 Years Ago Might Have Sound­ed Like: A Recon­struc­tion of the Pro­to-Indo-Euro­pean Lan­guage

Cats Migrat­ed to Europe 7,000 Years Ear­li­er Than Once Thought

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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