Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Settlement of Europe in Pre-History

I have a lot of stories of historical individuals in my ancestry that I am planning to blog about. However, before I get into these details, I thought I would write some blogs about the big picture.

Since my ancestry is northern European, I will focus more on the history of Europeans – at least to begin with. I will share more details on my DNA ancestry tests in a later blog.

Our species, homo sapiens originated in Africa.  It is believed that there was an early migration out of Africa to the Middle East about 130,000–115,000 years ago which died out, followed by a second migration about 90,000-80,000 years ago.  Part of that migration followed the southern coastline of Asia all the way to Southeast Asia. So the first major peopling of the continents outside of Africa was all along the southern shores of the Asian continent.

There were two major events which then played a big part in human pre-history. The first was the super-eruption of Mt. Toba in Sumatra about 74,000 years ago.  This eruption caused a 6 year nuclear winter and a thousand year ice age, which dramatically reduced the human population down to about 10,000 individuals.  The winds blew volcanic ash westwards covering up to 15 feet thick in places in India and Pakistan.

The second major event I refer to is the Last Glacial Period (the Ice Age).  The last glacial maximum was about 22,000 years ago, which pushed any human populations in the frozen north southwards.  One key point is that since so much water was frozen solid, sea levels were much lower than they are today. England and Ireland were not islands then like they are today but connected to the European continent, so much so that they didn’t even look like peninsulas but rather the western edge of a large continental mass.

Because of the lower sea levels, in southeast Asia there were two large land masses with much of it below water today: Sundaland and Sahul. Most of Sahul included Australia and the island of New Guinea. Sundaland included the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo and huge areas of the continental shelf which is now underwater, but during the ice age this was a large sub-continent. Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East” suggests that the Biblical Eden was in Sundaland and that as the ice melted creating several waves of floods, some inhabitants were able to migrate westward to the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley. These pre-historical events passed down verbally would eventually create the stories recorded in the book of Genesis.

MAP: Europe during its last glaciation, about 20,000 to 70,000 years before present. The Extent of glaciation, sea and lakes have been painted freehand. Source: File: Europe topography map.png, 2 April 2006 by San Jose, based on the Generic Mapping Tools and ETOPO2. Author: Ulamm, 2013-01-30

Meanwhile in Europe as the climate permitted, Europeans who had been living in south European refuges began to migrate up the west coast of a large continent and began settling in what is today’s Cornwall and Ireland before the sea level increased. Thus the settlement of Western Europe very likely began in the far west (Ireland) rather than an overland route through central Europe.  Many of those earliest habitations are likely even lost to archaeologists since they are now under water as the coastline has moved inland. Even some Celtic legends imply the settlement of Ireland came from Spain. I will probably blog at some later time about some of these old legends which with legendary figures in my genealogical database as my (and your) ancestors.

Here are some links to help you learn more about these events:

Here are some books which I may review in future blog posts, from three of my favorite authors concerning ancient DNA ancestry:

  • Stephen Opehnheimer, a British paediatrician, geneticist, and writer
  • Bryan Sykes,  former Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford
  • Spencer Wells, geneticist, anthropologist, author, entrepreneur, adj prof UT-Austin. He led the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project from 2005 to 2015.

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