The Human Family Tree is a 90 minute documentary on the current results of the ongoing Genographic Project, which first aired on the National Geographic Channel August 30, 2009. The program, narrated by actor Kevin Bacon and featuring a raft of scholars involved in the project, is a fascinating presentation of what the studies of modern people's genetic structure (DNA) have told us about the ancient migration patterns of our ancestors.

The Genographic Project is a five-year-long (2005-2010) study funded by National Geographic and IBM to collect human DNA from people all over the world, and analyze those data to determine the various general pathways humans took out of Africa.

Human beings evolved in Africa about 160,000 years ago, and lived only in Africa until around 60,000 years ago when we started to emigrate, in little groups, in different directions. There is evidence of a couple of false starts before that—Skhul Cave in Israel and Jwalapuram in India—but they don't seem to have left much DNA evidence among us.

The traces of the migration patterns are found in modern DNA, passed down from mother to sons and daughters (called mitochondrial DNA) and from father to son (Y Chromosome DNA)—remember, women don't have Y chromosomes. The oldest DNA evidence from mitochondrial DNA is Scientific Eve (a.k.a. Mitochondrial Eve), some 160,000 years ago in Africa, and the oldest DNA evidence from Y Chromosome DNA is Scientific Adam, some 60,000 years ago also in Africa. Our two patterns of DNA contain traces of tiny changes in the DNA experienced by our ancient mothers and ancient fathers, and that is what project director Spencer Wells uses to identify our deep ancestors. [Continue Reading]

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