Glimpsing through the prism of prehistory shows the many dispersions of our stock taper to one very old African tribe, roughly 70,000 years ago. Convergent genetic analysis from around the world shows that all Europeans, Asians, North Americans, South Americans and Australian Aboriginals, owe their lives to this group of just 200 or so people.
Courtesy of climate change at around this time, sea levels dropped to such an extent that the tribe were able to cross at the mouth of the Red Sea, a strait known as Bab-el-Mandeb, or The Gate of Grief. This 20-mile gap located between what is now Djbouti and Yemen would have shortened to around 8 miles. Why they left the Horn of Africa and journeyed to the Arabian Peninsula is still unclear – it may have been that Neanderthals drove them out, or possibly others from our own species.
But what we can confidently assume is that they, or more pertinently, we, got very lucky – there are 14 ancestral populations in Africa and only one endured beyond the continent. It’s understood that this survival had little to do with our hunting shrewdness or our gathering prudence and more to do with luck, as the same climate change that trimmed a few miles of the strait and enabled the out-of-Africa exodus, also produced grasslands and freshwater springs in the unknown lands of Arabia.
It doesn’t quite bring about that same tingly feeling of glocalised togetherness that perhaps being a ‘citizen of the world’ offers, but it does impose and possibly recover a grand deference for humanity and its non-rescindable covenant with nature. The idea of the 6.4 billion non-Africans today, descending from the precarious lives of 200 hunter and gatherers, all bargaining with the elements and grisly infant mortality rates, should surely instil one pensive moment of life-affirming tunnel vision.
Or maybe not, maybe the idea of our non-office dwelling ancestors makes you feel a bit dreary or lacking in some way, as if you’re not really living out an ‘authentic’ human experience, with risk, autonomy and a deep sense of community-caused meaning. Or worse, maybe it makes you feel nothing.
But in this era of diametrical persuasions, neo-national exceptionalism and talks of an imminent wave of climate refugees, a historical indifference to our gruelling origins is collectively unhelpful – to appreciate history is to appreciate today.
So in a bromidic bid for further appreciation of how we all got here fussing about how best to conduct ourselves and how best to co-exist with each other without stirring up a patience-induced lesion on the brain, let’s roll it back another 150,000 years from the Gate of Grief trip to the ‘cradle of humankind’ when we all emanated from the first ‘modern’ sapiens in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. It’s possible to source a sort of cosmic oneness from that alone – we’re all in the same boat, insofar as we’re all thrown into being without invitation and saddled with consciousness – we’re a way for the universe to know itself, as Sagan said.