Those of us who accept the evidence for evolution and an Earth that has existed for approximately 4.5 billion years find it frustrating when we debate Biblical Literalists who insist that the Book of Genesis is literally true and that the Bible authoritatively tells us that the Earth is at best no more than 6,000 years old. But the dogmatism that seeks to thwart the advancement of our understanding of the world is not limited to those who try to foist creationism in our schools.
The National Geographic Society, in partnership with IBM, geneticist Spencer Wells, and the Waitt Family Foundation, have launched the Genographic Project. The goal of the project is to collect genetic information from indigenous populations around the world in an attempt to determine where we came from and how we got to where we live today.
As the website for the Project explains:
“The fossil record fixes human origins in Africa, but little is known about the great journey that took Homo sapiens to the far reaches of the Earth. How did we, each of us, end up where we are? Why do we appear in such a wide array of different colors and features?
Such questions are even more amazing in light of genetic evidence that we are all related—descended from a common African ancestor who lived only 60,000 years ago.
Though eons have passed, the full story remains clearly written in our genes—if only we can read it. With your help, we can.
When DNA is passed from one generation to the next, most of it is recombined by the processes that give each of us our individuality.
But some parts of the DNA chain remain largely intact through the generations, altered only occasionally by mutations which become "genetic markers." These markers allow geneticists like Spencer Wells to trace our common evolutionary timeline back through the ages.
"The greatest history book ever written," Wells says, "is the one hidden in our DNA."
Different populations carry distinct markers. Following them through the generations reveals a genetic tree on which today's many diverse branches may be followed ever backward to their common African root.
Our genes allow us to chart the ancient human migrations from Africa across the continents. Through one path, we can see living evidence of an ancient African trek, through India, to populate even isolated Australia.”
Unfortunately, not all indigenous peoples are inclined to cooperate with the Genographic Project, as an article in The New York Times tells us, particularly Native American tribes.
And what is the objection given by members of these tribes?
“What the scientists are trying to prove is that we’re the same as the Pilgrims except we came over several thousand years before,” said Maurice Foxx, chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag. “Why should we give them that openly?”
“Some American Indians trace their suspicions to the experience of the Havasupai Tribe, whose members gave DNA for a diabetes study that University of Arizona researchers later used to link the tribe’s ancestors to Asia. To tribe members raised to believe the Grand Canyon is humanity’s birthplace, the suggestion that their own DNA says otherwise was deeply disturbing.”
In other words, to paraphrase Colonel Nathan Jessup, “They can’t handle the truth!”
American Indians, as the Times article explains, “hold the answer to one of the more notable gaps in the prehistoric migration map. Although most scientists accept that the first Americans came across the Bering Strait land bridge that connected Siberia and Alaska some 20,000 years ago, there is no proof of precisely where those travelers came from, and the route they took south once they arrived.”
It is really sad that Native Americans are refusing to participate in a project that can shed so much light on our past because they place greater value in perpetuating their myths than in learning the truth of their origins.
After I read the Times article, I thought of the Mel Gibson movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. At the end of the movie, the character Savannah Nix is giving “the tell” to a group of human survivors who have returned to Sydney, Australia in the years after the nuclear war that devastated the world.
She says, “This you knows: the years travel fast and time after time I done the tell. But this ain't one body's tell; it's the tell of us all, and you've got to listen it and [re]'member, 'cause what you hears today you gotta tell the birthed tomorrow… Still, in all, every night we does the tell so that we 'member who we was and where we came from.”
I believe the Genographic Project is very important and valuable, because indeed it is “the tell of us all.”