World's most ancient race traced in DNA study
By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Friday, 1 May 2009

The San people of
southern Africa, who have lived as hunter-gatherers for thousands of
years, are likely to be the oldest population of humans on Earth,
according to the biggest and most detailed analysis of African DNA. The
San, also known as bushmen, are directly descended from the original
population of early human ancestors who gave rise to all other groups
of Africans and, eventually, to the people who left the continent to
populate other parts of the world.
A study of 121 distinct
populations of modern-day Africans has found that they are all
descended from 14 ancestral populations and that the differences and
similarities of their genes closely follows the differences and
similarities of their spoken languages.
The scientists analysed
the genetic variation within the DNA of more than 3,000 Africans and
found that the San were among the most genetically diverse group,
indicating that they are probably the oldest continuous population of
humans on the continent – and on Earth.
The study, published in
the journal Science, took 10 years of research involving trips to some
of the most remote and dangerous parts of Africa to collect blood
samples. The project found modern Africans had the most diverse DNA of
all racial groups in the world, confirming the idea that Africa is the
birthplace of humanity, said Sarah Tishkoff of the University of
The scientists also found genetic "markers" in the
DNA of the present-day inhabitants of East Africa living near to the
Red Sea, which indicated that they belonged to the same ancestral group
who migrated out of Africa to populate Asia and the rest of the world.
West Africans speaking the Niger-Kordofanian language were found to
share many genetic traits with African-Americans, indicating they were
the ancestors of most of the slaves sent to the New World.
One of
the main findings to emerge was the genetic similarity between groups
who shared similar languages despite living many thousands of miles
from one another. The Sandawe and Hadza of Tanzania shared common
ancestors with the Khoisan speakers of southern Africa: all three
groups speak "click" languages.
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