One human race – the history of a delusion in the media

Isn’t it funny that Out of Africa was trumpeted as a fact for so long by science popularisers, only to be refuted (in its simplistic form) by the demonstration of neanderthal, ‘Denisovan’ and archaic African contributions to the modern human gene pool at the regional level.

Whilst on the other hand the discovery that Y-haploroup B originated outside Africa, and both the established presence of late surviving archaic hominins at Iwo Eluru, Nigeria and the earlier demonstrated appearance of fully modern Homo sapiens phenes (the modern human chin) at Zhirendong, China demolished the bulk of the evidence held to demonstrate a single common African ancestry for modern humans. This doesn’t mean the Out of Africa theory is actually disproven, only that its a lot less well supported than it once was, nonetheless how well supported was the theory in the first place? Here is how geneticists Klyosov and Rozhanskii describe the evidence for the common, recent African ancestor.

“Thanks largely in part to geneticists, the “Out of Africa” concept was popularized during the last two decades, yet it was never directly proven; however, for many specialists its appeal was undeniably convincing. The concept was based primarily on the premise that Africa possesses the highest variability, or variance, of the human DNA and its segments. Set apart, it is not a strong argument because a mix of different DNA lineages also results in a high variability and, as we show below, it is largely what occurs in Africa. Moreover, a genomic gap exists between some Africans and non-Africans, which has also been interpreted as an argument that the latter descended from Africans. A more plausible interpretation might have been that both current Africans and non-Africans descended separately from amore ancient common ancestor, thus forming a proverbial fork. A region where this downstream common ancestor arose would not necessarily be in Africa. In fact, it was never proven that he lived in Africa.”

Of course nowadays the media talks about neanderthal and other admixture, but not long ago it was taboo to mention the possibility in the media without an apologetic tone relating to ideas about race and “racism”. But the multiregionalism of earlier, politically incorrect authors such as Harvard School anthropoloist Carleton Coon never disappeared from physical anthropology, nor did the evidence from the bones themselves. For example the following image from Wolpoff clearly illustrates the similarity of the Chalcolithic Europeoid/Caucasoid (top) and the classic Neanderthal from the Middle Paleolithic of Europe (middle) in comparison to the Herto skull from northeast Africa (bottom), which was described in the literature as Homo sapiens idaltu and proclaimed as close to the most recent common ancestor of all modern human populations.

The following paragraph is from Coon writing in the 1930s, decades before his vindication by the confirmation of neanderthal genes in modern populations or, for that matter, by the genetic confirmation that Neolithic settlers largely replaced the indigenous Mesolithic populations of Europe genetically through a demic expansion.

“At any rate, the main conclusion of this study will be that the present races of Europe are derived from a blend of (A), food-producing peoples from Asia and Africa, of basically Mediterranean racial form, with (B), the descendants of interglacial and glacial food-gatherers, produced in turn by a blending of basic Homo sapiens, related to the remote ancestor of the Mediterraneans, with some non-sapiens species of general Neanderthaloid form. The actions and interactions of environment, selection, migration, and human culture upon the various entities within this amalgam, have produced the white race in its present complexity.”

It should be quite clear to anyone that the media latched onto a speculative Out of Africa theory as a means to downplay differences between modern human races, and that the same media guilty of misrepresenting the idea of race as a ‘myth’ were also spreading a racial myth of their own – the delusion of “one human race”, the only race we’re supposed to talk about.

Not that I support certain infamous ideas of Savalescu and Singer but, if we accept that biological evolution is a fact then we must accept that the category of ‘species’, like that of ‘race’, is an arbitrary taxonomic label placed upon populations that are fluid and unfixed. If there is no fixed essence to allow an either-or definition of the ‘human’, shouldn’t we question the usefulness of such a category in ethics? And if racial concepts can be abused to justify suffering, can’t the same be said of the arbitrary concept of ‘human’ which is used to justify unspeakable forms of cruelty to animals?

Why must human race believers set the terms according to their own questionable pan-anthropocentric morality?

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About skadhitheraverner
I'm a young freelance writer from the UK, with an interest in anthropology, the outdoors and rightist politics.

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