What have I been doing?

I spent much of the weekend digesting and writing notes on a couple of papers from last week, including the widely-reported Genographic Project paper on the mtDNA of Khoisan and other Africans.

After putting around 5000 words into it, I have decided this is becoming more of a research project than a blog post. It is now possible to build a much more interesting picture of the evolution of Africans continent-wide during the late Middle Stone Age.

This picture does not include many of the elements suggested in the press reports accompanying the paper. In particular, there is no evidence for the proposition that tens of thousands of years of droughts decimated humans down to a small number of tiny bands, which later reunited to conquer the earth. That account goes far outside the science presented in the AJHG paper by Behar and colleagues.

We are working in a wonderful time, when data from many different genetic projects are becoming available to examine the detailed pattern of evolution in parts of the world where archaeology and physical anthropology have been incomplete. But there has been a tendency by many geneticists to exaggerate the weaknesses of traditional artifactual and skeletal evidence. This is manifested in an unwillingness to approach multiple data sources with the idea that they must each be consistent with a single population history.

Since we have not only new genetic evidence, but also new fossil and archaeological evidence coming online, the time may have come for a new synthesis of the prehistory of Africa.