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Safari guide Henrik Hult.
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Safari Patrol:
The cradle of mankind
May 2009
National Geographic runs a programme called the Genographic Project, "seeking to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species by using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world".
  
Those who participate in the programme receive a document, based on the analysis, that describes the routes their forefathers or foremothers followed when migrating out of Africa some 50,000 years ago and onwards.

The document I received said:

"The man who gave rise to the first genetic marker in your lineage probably lived in northeast Africa in the region of the Rift Valley, perhaps in present-day Ethiopia, Kenya or Tanzania, some 31,000 to 79,000 years ago."

Professional safari guide Henrik Hult in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari guide Henrik Hult on
descending from East Africa
This, or the fact that this goes for all non-Africans, wasn't news to me. Yet it felt special. These were hard facts on my own lineage.

Visiting Olduvai Gorge
Olduvai Gorge is an archaeological excavation site in northern Tanzania, situated along the route from the Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti National Park. I have visited the site numerous times when guiding groups of safari-goers in this region, but when returning after receiving my Genographic Project report, I did so with renewed interest. This area may have been the home of my ancestors.

The archaeological finds in the upper soil layer in Olduvai include fossilized remains from humans that lived here some 17,000 years ago. That is too recent to be my ancestors – my lineage had left Africa long before that. But there are also lower and older layers, where remains from older Homo sapiens have been found, as well as from Homo erectus, Homo habilis and Australopithecus boisei, the latter living some two million years ago. These hominid species form a chain that links my DNA data even further into the past.

Tools and footprints
Tools and remains from pre-historic animals have also been found in Olduvai. And in nearby Laetoli, archaeologists have found footprints believed to have been left by another hominid, Australopithecus afarensis, 3.6 million years ago. Those three indviduals that one day walked there, leaving behind their footprints in volcanic ash, may also have been my ancestors.

I try to picture them living there, in those surroundings, in the shadow of the volcanic Ngorongoro Highlands, which have risen out of the plains alongside the evolution of my ancestors. They obviously did well enough in that environment for their genes to survive.

When my forefather left Africa, the world's human population was some 10,000 individuals. That's less than the number of tourists in Tanzania or Kenya any day. Some of these visitors, like me, come to see not only the safari wildlife, but also sites such as Olduvai. Such visits add to the experience of East Africa and to the overall picture of this part of the world. The Rift Valley has been called the cradle of mankind. So visiting is coming home.

More about National Geographic's Genographic Project

 
 
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Page updated 10 May 2009