The Human Race

Why should we teach our kids about the origin of humans, and stop teaching our kids about race?

Scientific studies in our children’s schools are limited, and with more budget cuts, this could further hinder the ability of schools to properly teach students all they need to thrive in today’s society. One area of science that has been grossly over-looked is the field of anthropology. The saying, “How can you know where you are going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?” should be taken to heart when deciding on subjects to teach in our schools. Biology studies the course life has taken from the evolutionary to the structural, but there is little or no attention paid to how humans have moved through time.  In history courses, we have looked at the development of modern societies and international relations, but rarely prehistory. It is important to understand that early civilizations learned to co-exist and to blend their resources, talents and families. Humans thrived not through conflict but through cooperation. We should welcome our children to the wonderful world of Anthropology. 

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Anthropology has uncovered evidence of trade routes, shared resources and skills, and co-habitation among groups. The genetic code tells a very interesting story of where and how our ancestors moved around the world, and this is crucial to understanding why we should be teaching our children about the origin of humans and stop teaching them about race.

Shared Ancestry:

The Roots of Modern Europeans

Around 24,000 years ago, a young boy with brown hair, brown eyes and freckled skin was buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. His DNA links him to the people of Western Europe and the Native Americans of today. Although it was long assumed that people of the Americas descended from Siberian populations that were related to East Asians, this new evidence shows just how interconnected the societies of ancient humans were, and still are.

The remains were examined by Eske Willerslev, an expert in analyzing ancient DNA, and his team at the University of Copenhagen. They were searching for a possible source from populations in Siberia. The researchers extracted DNA from the bone of the child’s upper arm and analyzed the nuclear genome which surprisingly linked the child to both Europeans and Native Americans but not to East Asians. 

Three groups ascended into Europe, the first were hunter-gatherers that arrived 45,000 years ago, followed by farmers from the Near East around 8,000 years ago, and finally a group of nomadic sheepherders, the Yamnaya, from western Russia arrive 3,500 later. 

The mix may have created many new languages and cultural traditions, but what is certain, Europe was no longer the genetically distinct population of hunter-gatherers. It became an infusion of DNA that is common in modern Europeans.

David W. Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College and an author of the Harvard study found that the Yamnaya didn’t just expand west to Europe, they also reached the Siberian culture called the Afanasievo, as indicated by DNA from 4,700 year old skeletons.

From 7,000 to 5,000 years ago, however, hunter-gatherer DNA began turning up in the genes of European farmers. “There’s a breakdown of these cultural barriers, and they mix,”  said Dr. Reich from the Harvard team. 

The Many Routes American Populations

On July of 1996 a skeleton of Kennewick Man is discovered in the shallow waters along the Columbia River. Some 300 bone elements and fragments are unearthed to compose 90% of an adult male skeleton. His descendants diverged and became the Colville, a nomadic tribe primarily around waterways such as the Columbia River, the San Poil River, the Okanogan River, the Snake River and the Wallowa River.

Even more recent studies are showing a possible genetic link between some people of the Brazilian Amazon and the indigenous Australians, New Guineans and other Australasians. David Reich of Harvard, the senior author of a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature, stated that it was “surprising and unexpected, and we weren’t really looking for it.” 

Dr. Reich reported in 2012 that a group he referred to as the First Americans came from Siberia 15,000 or more years ago and were the ancestors of most Native Americans on both continents. New evidence and analysis by Dr. Reich and Dr. Skogland has identified a second group called Population Y. This group is more closely related to the indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders and is believed to arrived sometime during or around the time of the First American group. According to Dr. Reich, a second migration came later that gave rise to a group of Native Americans that included the Chipewyan, Apache and Navajo. The Inuit are decent of a separate, later migration.

Emerging from the region of Africa some 60,000 years ago, leaving behind genetic markers to trace the many routes that reached the farthest of stretches of land. How can we possibly still be routed in racial ignorance? The lack of understanding of the evolution, by design or by accident, allows us to continue in this mindset that will forever hamper our ability to grow and develop as a nation and as humans. Classrooms should be celebrating the cultural differences as a triumph of our ancestors to overcome diversity, not as a poster to continually divide and tear apart our society. Civilizations of the past and present learned to blend their skills and knowledge and become societies that thrived. Is this not why we should be teaching the origins of human civilization and not race. The word “race” sets up a falsehood that seeks to separate us from one another, but our migrational history tells a completely different story. We are the descendants of many; Hunter-gatherers, sheepherders, farmers, and warriors, but we are all descendants of the humans that ventured out of Africa.

Resources; American Anthropolgy Association Outreach Program, Discover Anthropology