Benson: Human migration continues today
William H. Benson / Syndicated Columnist
Sixty-thousand years ago, perhaps as few as “a couple of hundred people,” members of the species Homo Sapiens, departed “humanity’s birthplace in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa,” and ventured out of Africa and crossed into Arabia. Some of their progeny walked north into Europe, but others headed east into Asia and down to Australia, or crossed the Bering Sea and walked south into North and South America. Now, after 2,500 generations, human beings claim the Earth.
The National Geographic writer Paul Salopek calls this epic journey “by far our greatest voyage.” He writes that those first African nomads took with them: “complex language, abstract thinking, a compulsion to make art, and a genius for technological innovation.”They thrived everywhere.On occasion, they met up with other species of hominins, such as the “Homo neanderthalensis, Homo floresiensis, and the Denisovans, who weren’t quite like us.” They may have killed off or may have swallowed whole those other species into their own population. Salopek writes that “Outside Africa, modern human populations seem to contain as much as 2.5 percent of Neanderthal DNA.”This year Salopek began a 21,000-mile walk that will retrace man’s first migration.From Africa he will walk north to Turkey, east to Tajikistan, south into India, then north through China, and thereafter he will ferry across the Bering Sea, walk the full length of the west coasts of North and South America, and finish at Tierra del Fuego, Chile’s southern point. He claims he will walk for the next seven years, along with two camels, and you can read of his venture in National Geographic’s December 2013 edition.Human beings migrate. They move. They do so for reasons: wanderlust, the need to see and experience other lands, or because they are driven out of their home, or they see opportunity elsewhere.The Pilgrims and the Puritans fled England because of Archbishop Laud’s persecution of those outside of the Church of England’s good graces and, once settled in New England on the coast of North America, constructed a new Plymouth and a new Boston.So ubiquitous are human beings across planet Earth though that when those English people arrived, there were people already here, the First Peoples or the Native Americans or the Indians, and they resented the Englishmen’s claim upon land that they, these natives, had lived upon for generations.In 1672, an Indian chief named King Philip attacked, terrorized and burned down hundreds of New England towns in order to pry the English from their land. They killed some 10 percent of the English population in New England that year, but through sheer force of will, the English prevailed. It is a fact of human history that displaced peoples feel resentment when driven from their native lands.Once the Europeans arrived on North America’s coast, they bumped into the tribes living there, and once those tribes moved west, they in turn bumped into other tribes. One writer explained that the migration process resembled an opening shot in a game of pool. The cue ball hits the point ball, and all the other balls scatter. The Cheyenne Indians’ ancient home was in the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota, but tribes from the east pushed them onto the Great Plains where they adapted and thrived.In North America, in the 20th century, two groups of people moved from the south to the north. First, numerous families of African-Americans left the fields in the segregated southern states to find work and jobs in the factories in the northern cities, such as in Chicago and Detroit. Then, the citizens of the United States of Mexico crossed the border, and here in the United States of America they found work and homes and opportunities that did not appear in Mexico.Displaced peoples do not take back their ancient homelands, but the one exception is Israel.Zionism succeeded in its goal to restore David and Solomon’s kingdom of ancient Israel in Palestine for the Jewish people. Israel is a miracle, but its dark side is how the Israelis mistreated the Palestinians. Once Israel declared its independence in May 1948, Lydda’s Palestinian citizens fled and settled in Jordan where they exist in miserable settlements, as a people without land and homes.In Palestine or what became Israel, one witnesses the seesaw of human migration.In Syria, the war has precipitated a massive migration into Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. According to the United Nations, “Syrian refugees now total more than 2.1 million, just 300,000 one year ago.” The New York Times reported last week that “government and organizations are quietly preparing for the refugee crisis to last years.”The refugee is the most destitute of all migrants because they migrate not by choice but by necessity.After 60,000 years and 2,500 generations, Homo Sapiens have conquered Earth and adapted to its heat and cold, to its blizzards and tornados, and wherever they settle they fight and struggle to maintain ownership of their land.
Benson is a historian residing in Sterling, Colo., andwrites a bi weekly column for The Dickinson Press.