In Africa, a team of researchers has combined linguistic and DNA analysis of African tribes to shed light on the migrations of early humans more than 50,000 years ago.
The study, which has been going on for the past 10 years, is a continuation of an earlier study by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, a geneticist from Standford. During the study, researchers took DNA samples from many remote African tribes, looking at more than 3000 people in 121 population groups. They also compared the results to Europeans and African Americans living in the United States.
By looking at the DNA of the study participants and looking at languages they speak and how they have changed over time, researchers were able to map out the origins of different tribes, showing where their ancestors came from originally. DNA analysis is a great way to discover genetic connections among people, but linguistic analysis often provides a necessary tool to fill in the gaps. The distinctive characteristics of specific language groups can link people across a continent, revealing a common ancestry.
Also, when people migrate, their language is influenced by the language of the areas in which they settle. Borrowed words included in a language can help create a map of the different places the people that speak that language have been, as well as the different groups of people they encountered along the way.
For example, languages with distinctive “clicking” sounds are spoken by tribes spread across the African continent. Researchers think that this language group may be the original language spoken by humans, and DNA analysis confirms that the tribes that speak languages in this group have common ancestors. Based on these migratory patterns, the researchers theorize that modern humans first emerged in southern Africa, near modern-day Namibia, and then began to migrate up to populate the rest of Africa and eventually, the world.