Tracing Our Human Journey

Have you ever wondered where you came from? I don’t mean in your recent past, I mean the route your ancestors walked as they left Africa – if they ever left Africa – tens of thousands of years ago. How thrilling and eyeopening would it be to see an actual map of the footsteps taken by your forefathers – possibly across the expanse of the globe? Well, I’m going to see mine and I’m telling you about it because you might want to do the same thing.

Lead by researcher Spencer Wells, the Genographic Project is a collaboration between National Geographic researchers, renowned international scientists, and IBM technology. By analyzing participants’ DNA, they are able to locate where that DNA has been since the “first human” who lived some 60,000 years ago in Africa. The first human is believed to be “the single Aftrican ancestor” from whom all humans developed. All humans since that time have left genetic markers along their migration routes and these markers enable researchers to produce the maps.

So how do you participate? Well, for $100 you can buy a DNA collecting kit from National Geographic (here) which is specifically for this project. Inside there are two swabbing kits (think CSI), instructions, and a mail-back envelope. You take two swabs, 8 hours apart, of the insides of your cheeks, plop them into the tubes and mail them back to the project. I just did my first swabbing this morning. So I’ll do another tonight…and then off it goes.

If you’re worried about sending off your DNA, don’t be. The test is totally anonymous. You just have to hold on to the ID number they provide you with so that you can check your results online. Also, they are only using the DNA for this specific study and not to look at genetic health problems or anything of the sort. The only draw back is for women…sorry gals…we have only an X chromosome so we can’t do our paternal ancestry. You can ask your brother or your father to do one to complete both sides of the family. Also, please note that this study does not get as specific as names.

So after I send in my DNA, I’ll keep checking for my map. When I get it I’ll post it here for all to see. I’m so curious to see the results. If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you! If you’d like to read further about the project try these links:

My Human Lineage – Pharyngula
Genographic Test Reveals Darwin’s Ancestry – National Geographic
Human Genome Project – U.S. Department of Energy


17 thoughts on “Tracing Our Human Journey

  1. Wow! Awesome!
    I always wondered if there could be a special machine that can track each of my steps, to get something like a map showing all the streets I’ve walked by during my whole life.
    But this test you share here with us sounds much more interesting.


  2. This is wonderful – and wondrous! And not just because it’s true; it’s also very gratifying to know that we’re part of a large tapestry of life that has been struggling, and migrating, and adapting — and evolving. It staggers the imagination to know that many — if not most — of the genes that make up me, and my children and my wife and my siblings, and everyone else have been winding their way through countless generations of forebears since that “Adam” 60000 years ago.

    To my mind the single most important invention in human history hasn’t even been a thing. It’s the scientific method, and every single invention and discovery in the last 400 years owes its existence to it. It seems to me that participating like you are, Isobel, is also a hat tip to the scientific method, and to the countless scientists since Darwin and Newton and Galileo and Hypatia who have gone out into the world or looked up at the stars and given the truest possible vision of our place in the universe. Kudos to you!!

    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” — Charles Darwin. On the Origin of Species. 1859.

    Just a note to correct National Geographic’s unfortunate use of the term “First Human”. Adam could be more accurately described as “Humanity’s Most Recent Common Ancestor.” Adam had a mommy and a daddy, just like everyone else — he wasn’t the first. I suppose “First Human” sounds good in a magazine article, but I hate giving creationists, who excel at quote mining, any more ammunition to say “Aha! I told you!”


    1. Yes, this is true, Brigand, we don’t want to be giving any advantage to the creationists! Thanks for pointing this out and for your thoughtful comment. Participating is like a nod to science and I’m very glad I did it. Great quote by Darwin!! 🙂


  3. Such a fantastic opportunity even to those of us who place more significance on our own deeds instead of those of our fathers and ancestors.
    I’m intrigued, I must admit, and look forward getting my own kit and running the test.
    Thank you for a very entertaining and enlightening post.


    1. You too, Fantasia! Let us know if you try it! Mine went in the post today so I’ll have to wait a few weeks for the results…I’m really looking forward to it!


  4. That would be an incredible finding! Wow… to track your history as far as humans existed!

    I’ve always wondered, in my post midnight thinking sessions that I never blog about (but should!)… how did it feel to be in the FIRST generation of human beings… as they set out to spread across and out of Africa. Did they really have such a grand goal in mind? Was it only because they felt like exploring, was it for food, or shelter, or climate, or was it something else, much grander, encoded in their genes, revealed to them or they intelligently thought of?!

    People are so obsessed about the future and the now but the past is just INCREDIBLY RICH with storytelling!


    1. Yes, KJ, you should blog about these wonderful thoughts you have. 🙂 Ancestry that far back is fascinating to think about. A DVD in the kit box that I received talked about the Genographic project field work. They spoke to a lot of groups, aborigines connected to the ancient world with a virtually unchanged way of life and a very difficult language to interpret – full of clicks and sounds most languages we know don’t use. They are trying to further understand why the migrations took place and how. You should think about getting the kit. I think you would really enjoy it. Thanks so much for your comment.


  5. Hi Isobel,
    I actually had my DNA tested a few years ago as part of the Genographic Project. It is interesting to see the resulting map. What is even more interesting is that it opens the door to following your more recent ancestry but comparing your results with those of others through site like FamilySearch (they actually do the tests for the Genographic project). Because of this, I am now in contact with someone that created the LaRocque family web site and he is getting tested too so we can compare our results… Cool stuff.


    1. Wow, Richard! We’ll have to talk more about this!! 🙂 That’s neat that you were able to connect with distant relatives due to the results of your DNA map. Thanks so much for your comment!


    2. My status is currently in ‘DNA Analysis’. The next stage is Quality Control and then I get my Results. I told my father (I did my Y chromosome), and he’s quite excited to learn the results too. Later I may do the mitochondrial DNA for my mother’s history.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s