When it comes to our roots, most of us think we know where our early ancestors came from the continent if not the country. Most people have clear ideas on their nationality and they see it as a defining part of themselves and their identity. The Genographic Project, launched by National Geographic, IBM and scientist Dr Spencer Wells, seeks to challenge what we think we know about our very distant past – and our very notions of who we are.
Studies of DNA have suggested that all humans today are descended from one group of ancestors who lived about 60,000 years ago in Africa although their migratory routes from Africa to the most far-flung parts of the globe are not clear. A DNA-testing project has just been launched to try and gain more data about the migratory history of the human species and the public is invited to participate.
It will be DNA-testing ‘indigenous’ and traditional people from around the world but it’s also asking the general public to get involved by sending in a DNA swab to be tested in IBM’s labs. To do this you need to buy a Genographic participation kit, which includes project literature and a swab to be taken from inside your mouth but, at $99.95, it doesn’t come cheap.
Who are the ‘Indigenous’ People?
The issue of where we come from was in the news after Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, was challenged on the BBC’s Question Time to define what he meant by the ‘indigenous’ peoples of Britain. As the American playwright and British Museum trustee Bonnie Greer said on the programme, screened on 22 October: the idea of ‘indigenous’ people just doesn’t exist.
Griffin’s attempt at a definition may have had archaeologists ‘tearing their hair out’, as Madeleine Bunting points out in the Guardian, but the Genographic DNA test could provide some interesting clarity on this political question. Would Mr Griffin rethink his party’s policies if it transpired that his own ancestors originated far away from the small island called Britain? It’s worth $99 to find out.
San Diego’s Museum of Man
In San Diego’s Museum of Man, the first Genographic Project exhibit has gone on display. A giant map on the exhibition floor shows migratory patterns around the world, while the exhibition gives a full explanation of how DNA can be used to understand the interconnectedness of the human species.
To mark the exhibit opening, the project director, Dr Spencer Wells, is presenting a public lecture at the Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater at the nearby San Diego Natural History Museum on 11 November at 6:30pm. The lecture is free but booking is required. Call +1 619-239-2001, ext 10 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.