African Creation Myths
DNA Study: Early Humans Interbred
March 7, 2002 - Reuters
A new analysis of DNA evidence offers a new twist on the popular "Out of Africa" theory of human origins: Modern humans interbred with other populations around the world for hundreds of thousands of years rather than replacing them.
Among the study's implications: the genes of people today carry vestiges of genes of Neanderthals and other extinct branches of the human family.
According to the original Out of Africa theory, ancestors to today's human population migrated from Africa 100,000 years ago, and they replaced less modern populations in Europe and Asia.
The new study by population biologist Alan R. Templeton of Washington University in St. Louis suggests instead that there were at least two distinct migrations.
The first wave occurred between 420,000 and 840,000 years ago, he said, and the second between 80,000 and 150,000 years ago.
According to Templeton, the most recent migration, and perhaps both, were not "replacement events."
Rather, he said DNA evidence shows evidence of interbreeding.
Templeton's study appears in this week's Nature journal. While the study offers no original data, it employs a unique statistical method that Templeton argues more reliably traces genetic trails over time.
Templeton was lecturing in Israel and unavailable for comment.
Other scientists said Templeton's conclusions could reconcile the Out of Africa theory with fossil evidence that suggests there was more than one migration wave.
But they were less sure that Templeton's analytical model is entirely accurate.
In a separate review in Nature, Rebecca L. Cann, a molecular biologist at the University of Hawaii, suggested Templeton was "overambitious in the scale of his analysis" and perhaps too eager to contribute to the contentious evolutionary debate.
For his study, Templeton developed a computer program called GEODIS to analyze genetic material taken from thousands of present-day humans around the world.
Templeton's model analyzes DNA from 10 locations in each genetic sample. Previous statistical models that have targeted just one region of DNA _for example mitochondrial DNA that is passed from the mother to subsequent generations. This narrow approach has resulted in incomplete results "with low statistical resolution," he argued.
In her rebuttal, Cann said the new model needs to be independently verified, and its conclusions compared to existing evidence on human origins from archaeology, linguistics and other scientific disciplines.
Fossil challenge to Africa theory
Bone fragments were examined for ancient DNA
January 9, 2001 - BBC
Australian scientists say analysis of the oldest DNA ever taken from skeletal remains challenges the theory that all modern humans can trace their recent ancestry to Africa.
The study is based on the 60,000-year-old so-called Mungo Man skeleton, which was unearthed in New South Wales in 1974, and nine other anatomically modern Australian individuals who lived 8-15,000 years ago.
The Australian National University team looked at the DNA found in the mitochondria of these ancient people's cells. mtDNA, as it is known, is inherited only from females and also mutates - errors appear - at a steady rate, meaning it can be used as a "molecular clock" to investigate human history.
Mungo Man - Discovered at Lake Mungo in far west NSW in 1974 - Had been covered in red ochre during a burial ritual.
His hands were interlocked and positioned over the penis.
Found in same area as cremated remains of female skeleton known by local Aborigines as Mungo Lady.
Recent lab studies of this type have suggested that our most recent common ancestor lived less than 200,000 years ago in Africa.
But the Australian researchers contend that the DNA sequences isolated from Mungo Man's bones show him to have a genetic lineage that is both older and distinct from this line.
Given the undoubted modern appearance of Mungo Man, they argue, major doubt must now be cast on the so-called "Out of Africa" hypothesis in which all living people are said to be descended from a group of modern humans who left their African homeland no earlier than about 120,000 years ago.
"What our evidence shows is that the situation is much more complicated than any of these supporters of Out of Africa would have imagined," lead researcher Dr Alan Thorne said.
Dating has put the age of the Mungo Man remains at between 56,000 and 68,000 years
"They were arguing that because the earliest forms of this particular genetic sequence in living people was found in Africa, that meant that all people must have come from Africa.
"Well, logically, that's not true anymore because we now have an older form of indisputably modern human that comes out of Australia."
Dr Thorne, whose team have published their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a proponent of the alternative, multi-regional explanation for the emergence of modern humans.
This suggests that modern humans arose simultaneously in Africa, Europe and Asia from one of our predecessors, Homo erectus, who left Africa more that 1.5 million years ago.
"Modern humans didn't just come from one area, they came from all areas," Dr Thorne said. "We assert that when people began to leave Africa about two million years ago, they were the ancestors of all modern people and we don't think modern humanity emerged from one place later on.
"We simply say that here we have a form much older than anything found in Africa and there's no evidence that it, or the skeletal anatomy of the fossil that it comes from, ever had anything to do with Africa. In fact, the skeleton looks very much like slightly earlier fossils that we know were in China."
But Out of Africa supporters are not about to let go of their beliefs because of the Australian research. Professor Chris Stringer, from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, said that, given experience with European fossils, there was some doubt over whether DNA analysis of such old samples was reliable. And he said the research community would want to see the work repeated in other labs before major conclusions were drawn from the Australian research.
But even assuming the DNA sequences were correct, Professor Stringer said it could just mean that there was much more genetic diversity in the past than was previously realised.
There is no evidence here that the ancestry of these Australian fossils goes back a million or two million years.
"What it says is that some of that genetic diversity has been lost today," he told BBC News Online. "This sequence could have been in Australia and in Africa. In other words, it might have been in Africa 200,000 years ago, [it] came out with some of the African people and then got lost.
"There is no evidence here that the ancestry of these Australian fossils goes back a million or two million years, which is the multi-regional prediction."
Genetic 'Adam never met Eve'
October 31, 2000 - BBC
The most recent ancestor of all males living today was a man who lived in Africa around 59,000 years ago, according to an international team of researchers.
The scientists from eight countries have drawn up a genetic family tree of mankind by studying variations in the Y chromosome of more than a thousand men from different communities around the world. The Y chromosome is one of the two sex chromosomes (X and Y) which only men carry (women carry two X chromosomes).
The new research confirms the Out of Africa theory that modern humans originated in Africa before slowly spreading across the world.
But the finding raises new questions, not least because our most recent paternal ancestor would have been about 84,000 years younger than our maternal one.
The team believes there is an explanation. They propose that the human genetic blueprint evolved as a mosaic, with different pieces of modern DNA emerging and spreading throughout the human population at different times.
Origins of man
Evidence from the fossil record suggests that modern man originated in Africa about 150,000 years ago, before moving steadily across the globe.
This Out of Africa hypothesis has been confirmed by studies of mitochondrial DNA, the segment of genetic material that is inherited exclusively from the mother.
Based on these studies, our most recent common ancestor is thought to be a woman who lived in Africa some 143,000 years ago, the so-called Mitochondrial Eve.
To find the common paternal ancestor, the team drew up a genetic family tree of mankind. They mapped small variations in the Y chromosomes of 1,062 men in 22 geographical areas, including Pakistan, India, Cambodia, Laos, Australia, New Guinea, America, Mali, Sudan, Ethiopia and Japan.
The new genetic family tree supports the Out of Africa scenario. But it suggests that our most recent paternal ancestor would have been about 84,000 years younger than our maternal one.
Regions of the genome
"You can ultimately trace every female lineage back to a single Mitochondrial Eve who lived in Africa about 150,000 years ago," said Dr Spencer Wells of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford, UK, who was part of the team.
"The Y chromosome we trace again back to Africa but the date is about 80,000 years ago.
He told BBC News Online that the two studies could be reconciled. "There's a different evolutionary history for each region of the genome but they all are consistent in placing the ancestor of all modern humans alive today in Africa."
The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, gives an intriguing insight into the journey of our ancestors across the planet, from eastern Africa into the Middle East, then to southeast and southern Asia, then New Guinea and Australia, and finally to Europe and Central Asia.
Some modern-day men living in what is now Sudan, Ethiopia and southern Africa are believed to be the closest living descendants of the first humans to set out on that great journey tens of thousands of years ago.
According to Yoruba (YOUR-a-bah) mythology, the first
Yoruba kings were the offspring of the creator, Oduduwa
A Yoruba king's crown identifies the status of its
wearer and gives the king the power to interact with the
spirit world in order to benefit his people.
A veil, a large face, and a group of birds are commonly
appear on a Yoruba king's crown.
Long, long ago, Olorun (OH-low-run), the sky god, lowered
a great chain from the heavens to the ancient waters. Down
this chain climbed Oduduwa, Olorun's son. Oduduwa brought
with him a handful of dirt, a special five-toed chicken, and
a palm nut. He threw the dirt upon the ancient waters and
set the chicken on the dirt. The chicken busily scratched
and scattered the dirt until it formed the first dry earth.
In the center of this new world, Oduduwa created the
magnificent Ife (EE-fay) kingdom. He planted the palm nut,
which grew into a proud tree with 16 branches, symbolizing
the 16 sons and grandsons of Oduduwa.
Oduduwa was the first ruler of the kingdom and the father of
all Yoruba. Over time he crowned his 16 sons and grandsons
and sent them off to establish their own great Yoruba
kingdoms. As descendants of the sky god, these first Yoruba
rulers and their direct descendants were divine kings. Only
they could wear special veiled crowns that symbolized their
The Boshongo are a Bantu tribe of Central Africa. In the beginning there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. Still in pain, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars, and then some animals: the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and, finally, some men, one of whom, Yoko Lima was white like Bumba.
The Efik are a Nigerian tribe. The creator, Abassi, created two humans and then decided to not allow them to live on earth. His wife, Atai, persuaded him to let them do so. In order to control the humans, Abassi insisted that they eat all their meals with him, thereby keeping them from growing or hunting food. He also forbade them to procreate. Soon, though, the woman began growing food in the earth, and they stopped showing up to eat with Abassi. Then the man joined his wife in the fields, and before long there were children also. Abassi blamed his wife for the way things had turned out, but she told him she would handle it. She sent to earth death and discord to keep the people in their place.
The Ekoi are a tribe in southern Nigeria. In the beginning there were two gods, Obassi Osaw and Obassi Nsi. The two gods created everything together. Then Obassi Osaw decided to live in the sky and Obassi Nsi decided to live on the earth. The god in the sky gives light and moisture, but also brings drought and storms. The god of the earth nurtures, and takes the people back to him when they die. One day long ago Obassi Osaw made a man and a woman, and placed them upon the earth. They knew nothing so Obassi Nsi taught them about planting and hunting to get food.
Wak was the creator god who lived in the clouds. He kept the vault of the heavens at a distance from the earth and covered it with stars. He was a benefactor and did not punish. When the earth was flat Wak asked man to make his own coffin, and when man did this Wak shut him up in it and pushed it into the ground. For seven years he made fire rain down and the mountains were formed. Then Wak unearthed the coffin and man sprang forth, alive. Man tired of living alone, so Wak took some of his blood, and after four days, the blood became a woman whom the man married. They had 30 children, but the man was ashamed of having so many so he hid 15 of them. Wak then made those hidden children into animals and demons.
The Fans are a Bantu tribe in Africa. In the beginning there was nothing but Nzame. This god is really three: Nzame, Mebere, and Nkwa. It was the Nzame part of the god that created the universe and the earth, and brought life to it. Whle the three parts of Nzame were admiring this creation, it was decided to create a ruler for the earth. So was created the elephant, the leopard, and the monkey, but it was decided that something better had to be created. Between the three of them they made a new creature in their image, and called him Fam (power), and told him to rule the earth. Before long, Fam grew arrogant, he mistreated the animals and stopped worshipping Nzame. Nzame, angered, brought forth thunder and lightning and destroyed everything that was, except Fam, who had been promised immortality. Nzame, in his three aspects, decided to renew the earth and try again. He applied a new layer of earth to the planet, and a tree grew upon it. The tree dropped seeds which grew into more trees. Leaves that dropped from them into the water became fish, those that dropped on land became animals. The old parched earth still lies below this new one, and if one digs deep enough it can be found in the form of coal. Nzame made a new man, one who would know death, and called him Sekume. Sekume fashioned a woman, Mbongwe, from a tree. These people were made with both Gnoul (body) and Nissim (soul). Nissim gives life to Gnoul. When Gnoul dies, Nissim lives on. They produced many children and prospered.
A Rhodesian peoples Maori created the first man, Mwuetsi, who became the moon. Maori gave him a ngona horn filled with ngona oil and told him he would live at the bottom of the waters. Mwuetsi objected and said he wished to live on the land. Maori reluctantly agreed, but said Mwuetsi would give up immortality if he did. After a while Mwuetsi complained of loneliness, so Maori sent him a woman, Massassi (the morning star), to keep him company for two years. Each night they slept on opposite sides of a campfire, until one night Mwuetsi jumped over the flame and touched Massassi with a finger he had moistened with the ngona oil. In the moning Massassi was huge, and soon gave birth to plants and trees until the whole earth was covered by them. At the end of two years Maori took Massassi away. Mwuetsi wept for eight years, at which time Maori sent him another woman, Morongo (the evening star), saying that she could stay for two years. On the first night Mwuetsi touched her with his oiled finger, but she said she was different than Massassi, and that they would have to oil their loins and have intercourse. This they did, this night, and every night thereafter. Every morning Morongo gave birth to the animals of creation. Then she gave birth to human boys and girls, who became full-grown by that very same evening. Maori voiced his disleasure with a fierce storm, and told Mwuetsi he was hastening his death with all this procreation. Morongo, ever the temptress, instructed Mwuetsi to build a door to their habitat so that Maori could not see what they were doing. He did this, and again they slept together. Now in the morning Morongo gave birth to violent animals; snakes, scorpions, lions, etc. One night Morongo told Mwuetsi to have intercourse with his daughters, which he did, thereby fathering the human race.
The Shilluks of the Nile region, for example, tell a story in which humankind is fashioned out of clay. In each region of the world in which the creator traveled, he created humans from the materials available, making some white, others red or brown,
and the Shilluk black.
He then took a piece of earth and gave them arms, eyes, etc. This story says much about their values and culture. In distributing the characteristics to man, he chose first to give them the ability to do work through the use of
their arms and legs.
They were then given the ability to see and taste their food. Finally, they were given speech and hearing with which to entertain oneself ("An African Story"). This shows the value system at work among the Shilluk, that work comes
above all else. It also attempts to explain the differences between men of various races by telling of how they came about.
A West African creation tale explains how two spirit people were accidentally sent down to earth by the sky god. Lonely, the people decided to create children from clay, but feel they must hide them when the sky god comes down. Because they are
hidden in fire, the children soon turn to various shades based on how long they had been exposed to the heat. Over time, these clay children grow up and move to various regions of the earth, ultimately populating it (Fader). Much like that of the Shilluk people, this story serves a two-fold purpose: it explains both the creation of man as well as accounts for the differences among him. This tale shows the West Africans value these differences because they feel that all men are created equal and should be treated as such.
The Boshongo, a central Bantu tribe of the Lunda Cluster, tell a different story. For them, their creator was a man named Bumba who created both the sun and moon along with various creatures before man ("An African Cosmogony"). In the explanation of how each creature created another, one can see the deep relationship between the Boshongo and nature. Because they were the last to be created rather than the first, they are no more important than any other living organism. There is a oneness that exists in their society, for they all work for the betterment of their world.
The Abaluyia, on the other hand, believe that God created man so that the sun would have someone to shine on. He then created plants and animals to provide them with food and gave man woman so that they would have someone with whom to talk. This shows that the Abaluyia are a very self-centered, chauvinistic group. They believe, in essence, that the world was created exclusively to suit the needs of men (and not women) with little regard for any other creature. For the Abaluyia, the world truly does revolve around them.
Despite their differences, these four stories do share the belief that they were created by a god. While they vary in their description of how this occurred and why, they all serve the same purpose. Through their explanation of how this occurred, one can see what they view their place in the world to be. By answering their questions, these stories served as both a comforting basis for the African people and a way of connecting to future generations. As such, these tales of creation are works of truly great literature.
Modimo was the creator. He distributed good things, appeared in the east and belonged to the element water. At the same time he was a destroyer, a terrifying creature responsible for drought, hail, cyclones and earthquakes. When these things happened he appeared in the west and was part of the element fire. Modimo was also sky and light, earth and root. He was unique and singular. He had no ancestors, no past or future. He pervaded the whole of creation. His name was taboo and could be spoken only by priests and seers.
The Ancient One, known as Unkulunkulu, is the Zulu creator. He came from the reeds (uthlanga, means source) and from them he brought forth the people and the cattle. He created everything that is: mountains,streams, snakes, etc. He taught the Zulu how to hunt, how to make fire, and how to grow food. He is considered to be the First Man and is in everything that he created.
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