ARCHAEOGENETICS, ANCIENT TEXTS, AND THE TOWER OF BABEL MOMENTMay 25, 2011
The picture that archaeogenetics provides is growing stronger that humanity's origins do indeed stem from Africa, with vast migrations across the globe beginning ca. 60,000 years ago:
Now this poses certain problems when one is attempting to reconcile modern science with ancient texts and the attempts of various researchers to use those texts to situate the origins of humanity. I am, of course, referring to the various Mesopotamian texts that seem to indicate some deliberate genetic engineering of humanity long ago by what may best be described as our genetic cousins. For most such researchers, those texts - everything from the Kharsag Tablets to the apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works such as Enoch - indicate the origins of humanity in Mesopotamia, with some researchers, Andrew Collins or the O'Briens for example, even attempting to locate the actual Garden of Eden in the Fertile Crescent area. Additionally, the dispersion of humanity in most of those researchers' views began much more recently than modern genetics will allow.
Such questions I left deliberately unanswered in Genes, Giants, Monsters and Men because I believe that science has yet to learn everything it can that might shed light on the interpretation of these ancient texts. But these recent studies, confirming the "out of Africa" hypothesis, do raise some interesting speculative possibilities. Most ancient legends speak of a "Tower of Babel Moment" of history (if I may be permitted to use that wonderful expression of Leonard Bernstein), when mankind's ancient social unity was broken by whatever means by the gods (and the means vary from culture to culture, including the familiar Biblical and Mesopotamian confounding of the language), and mankind was dispersed over the Earth.
Geneticists are, in their own oblique way, confirming such a "Tower of Babel Moment" by highlighting a particular period of history, ca 60,000-70,000 years ago, when mankind, for whatever reason, began the migration from Africa, more or less splitting whatever primordial cultural unity that existed. If one couples the ancient stories with modern genetics, this means quite simply that the location and time frame of those stories has to be revised not much farther back in time than the pure "textualist" researchers in most cases have advocated, but also that the location for the stories - if one is taking them in a more or less historical sense as containing at least some kernel of historical truth - must be relocated to Africa.
And that means, quite simply, that if there was a "Tower of Babel Moment," or even perhaps a Tower of Babel, that it would be most comfortably - at least as far as modern science might be inclined to view the story (if it views it at all) - in Africa.