This is the third extract from the BBC programme "Meet your Ancestors / Meet the Izzards" ...
|Central West Africa showing areas where|
pygmy peoples are still found
The first man to whom we are related – that deepest branch of Y chromosome possible to trace our ancestry ... goes to the equatorial forests of West Africa – specifically to the Bakola pygmies found in the Cameroons.
I don’t really want to put you off reading more – but we’re all related to each other via our DNA ... minor blips taking that tree of life in different directions ...
|Banana tree - NB bananas|
grow upside down
... but we are also 98% identical with monkeys and incredibly 40% identical to bananas .... now I know why it takes all sorts to make a world – tiny, local, huge, continental etc etc!!
The first branch split off, recognised via their DNA as the Bakola – who continue to live a late Stone Age existence in the forest. The Bakola are dark skinned pygmies – adapted in size due to the dense vegetation and low ultra-violet light ... this evolutionary adaption is what has helped other branches stay alive through the epochs to the present day.
The male branch driven by curiosity, ability and climate change spread out further north, mastering most of the rest of the habitable parts of Africa.
Our Cameroon link takes us back 142,000 years, but the next step forward of 80,000 years was a pivotal moment in human history ... sometime before 60,000 years ago – the male ancestors of recent man left Africa to populate the rest of the world via the Red Sea.
A small genetic group along with our female ancestor’s line moved further north into the Gulf ... from which there was a population explosion ... difficult to imagine possible by early peoples ... how did they cope with the harsh Arabian Desert we know today?
The DNA markers link these extraordinary developments and tell us our prehistory ... about 50,000 years ago numerous other branches developed in the human family tree, indicating a population explosion of some kind ... from here all of our ancestors, who are not of recent African origin, are to be found.
|Al Ras, Deira, Dubai - mid 1960s|
We can find comparisons in today’s time ... if we look at for instance Dubai today ... there are over 8 million people, yet about 60 years ago Dubai was a desert back-water, when the population was just 70,000 ... but due to the huge technological advances in recent years ... Dubai is a futuristic city forged out of this desert waste-land.
Archaeological evidence appears all over the region, which reflects the technological ingenuity of those very early peoples and the fact that there was a very large shift in climate change.
|A selection of stone age tools|
The desert was environmentally completely different – Arabia was green and fertile ... and this is where huge caches of pre-historic stone tools are being uncovered.
Monsoons cycled the Indian Ocean which then dumped water all over the interior of Arabia ... it was to this flourishing land that our early hunter gatherer ancestors flocked, as it provided all the food and water they needed.
|Oasis in Israel|
70,000 years ago with climate change things started to dry out as the earth was in an early phase of an ice age ... deserts started to form, but humans survived despite being trapped in the interior between impenetrable deserts ...
... it is thought that about 50,000 years ago there was a small period of climate change when the rains came, enabling this early human population to escape out of ‘their desert prison’ ...
|Depiction of Neanderthal|
burial at Kebara
The next male marker appears in Israel – where it is now thought all ancestral human populations came from ... and it is where, in the Kebara Cave, a recent Neanderthal cousin was found to be living 8 million years ago.
Most of us have a percentage of the Neanderthal DNA genome in our make up ... Eddie Izzard has a high proportion at 2.8%, while a very few have 5% ... the rest of us have a smaller percentage.
|1. Gorilla 2. Astralopithecus|
3. Homo erectus 4. Neanderthal
5. Steinheim Skull 6. Eurohominid
About 55,000 years ago Eddie’s father’s line would have encountered a population of Neanderthals, and this is where interbreeding occurred ... giving some of us the anatomically different primitive features we can see today.
Neanderthals were fair and white, the Homo sapiens arriving out of Africa would have had dark hair and dark skins ... so the pre-history Middle Eastern peoples would have been a mixture ...
... the adjustment to colder weather as the population moved north, and the fact there was less sunlight necessitated a lower pigmentation ... leading to our skin colour of today, as well as the ginger hair that can be found ...
... this led Eddie to remark that ‘racism is stupid’ ... to think wars are fought over skin colour – when we’re all the same ... as we originate from that one Bushman woman, those two women who journeyed out of Africa into Arabia, and the West African male line.
During this evolutionary period the Neanderthals blended in with Homo sapiens giving us a lighter skin tone, brown and ginger hair, brown and blue eyes and when the population became too large those curious humans felt the urge to move north ... to new hunting grounds perhaps.
|Early bison - cave art|
They would have been the first humans to colonise central Europe, travelling up the river valleys. As this was 25,000 years ago, it would have been before the peak of the last ice age ... when big game was around ... European bison, mammoth, reindeer etc ...
About 20,000 years ago the next tie up in Eddie’s male line matches approximately 10% of European males today ... this common ancestor was about 700 generations ago ...
... both of his parents’ ancestors survived the last ice age ... the ice sheet coming down as far as London, across south of Denmark, north Germany and on ... while the perma frost extended south as far as the Danube ...
|very early bone needles|
... the perma frost would have pushed any human populations back south to warmer climes ... but it was still about 20 degrees C colder than it is now.
Another tool came to the fore at this time ... early man had furs, but found that using a needle the furs could be turned into wind-proof clothing. The wind chill factor was appalling ... temperatures could plummet because there were fewer trees, so there was less protection against the northerly winds.
|Sami fur skin boots|
The bone needle meant clothes could be made, tents, bags, skin shoes ... etc ... allowing the population branches to survive and spread out ... some along the Danube in a westerly direction, other groups, including Eddie’s ancestors, moved north.
|Sami beaded belt, knife, and|
antler needle case
The ebb and flow of the ice witnessed another defining moment in man’s history ... protection was sought deep within caves, from the glacial cold.
The British Museum has an exhibition on at the moment – I am going to see it tomorrow – on “Ice Age Art – ‘the arrival of the modern mind’” – an exhibition 40,000 years in the making ... the Guardian stating that ‘not even Leonardo surpassed this’.
|British Museum's sculpture advert picture|
Ice Age Art - arrival of the human mind
The art created in the caves the programme showed us was from the Pyrenees ... the Izzard father’s line went north ... but it was surreal being shown these caves having seen a programme on the British Museum’s Ice Age Art exhibition only in early February ...
... apparently (and understandably if we get to think about it) the caves were extremely dark and there would only, on occasions, have been a glow of light ... but for a great deal of the time - the art work done 16 – 15,000 years ago was done through feel, and the vibration of the sound as the cave drawings were made; this series of caves showed many animals meticulously drawn – bison, stag, horse etc. ...
|Horses found in Chauvet cave, France|
By the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, our ancestors had colonised Europe in various directions ...
Eddie’s father’s next significant marker occurred 4 – 3,000 years ago and is to be found in Lower Saxony, northern Germany ... only about ½% of people in England have this marker.
That need for land meant Eddie’s male line crossed over into Britain probably 1,500 years ago ... and a distant relative can be found in Lincolnshire ... however it looks like this particular genetic branch might die out – as his ancestral cousin, his brother and Eddie himself do not have sons.
The Lower Saxony, German connection is where the branch split – with the Izzards moving into Britain probably around 400 AD in the first wave of migrations from an over-resourced northern Europe;
|Eddie Izzard c/o The Guardian|
while the other line at the time of exploration, revolutionary technologies and an ability to cross seas left for the new land of north America in the 1800s – where an ancestral cousin of the Izzards is to be found today.
Eddie’s father lives in Bexhill on the Sussex coast and can trace the Izzard records back to 1650.
|DNA - see Wikipedia|
As more of the science of DNA is revealed we are going to find out so much more about what makes us tick ...
BBC One’s Meet the Izzards – the male line
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories