What Drove Ancient Human Migration? Climate Change via NPR

Many of us know the general story about ancient human migrations within and out of Africa, but few people have understood why people migrated. The answers, scientists suggest, are not that different than why many people are migrating today, climate change.

In 2012, NPR reporter Christopher Joyce explained,

Anthropologists believe early humans evolved in Africa and then moved out from there in successive waves. However, what drove their migrations has been a matter of conjecture.

One new explanation is climate change.

Anthropologist Anders Erikkson of Cambridge University in England says the first few hardy humans who left Africa might’ve gone earlier but couldn’t. Northeastern Africa — the only route to Asia and beyond — was literally a no man’s land.

“The people couldn’t really couldn’t leave,” he says. “The climate was too arid and too hot, so humans were bottled up.”

Eventually, they got out of the bottle — we know that from the trail of fossil bones and stone tools they left behind. And recently, scientists have learned to read genetic mutations in current populations to track where our ancestors went for the past 70,000 years or so.

To this, the Cambridge scientists have now added climate change.

Reflection Questions

  1. What does this story add to our understanding of where humans came from?
  2. Reflect on how these early human migrations have shaped our lives today? Consider, for example, what would have happened if they did not migrate and stayed in one place.
  3. Research stories of today’s climate migrants. What is similar in their stories to the early human migrants described in the story? What is different? What might we gain by comparing past and present stories of climate migration?