The Human Family Tree (2009)

National Geographic

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Date Added: 14 years ago.

Documentary Description

On a single day on a single street, with the DNA of just a couple of hundred random people, National Geographic Channel sets out to trace the ancestral footsteps of all humanity. Narrated by Kevin Bacon, The Human Family Tree travels to one of the most diverse corners of the world -- Queens, N.Y. -- to demonstrate how we all share common ancestors who embarked on very different journeys. Regardless of race, nationality or religion, all of us can trace our ancient origin back to the cradle of humanity, East Africa. What did our collective journey look like, and where did it take your specific ancestors? At what point in our past did we first cross paths with the supposed strangers living in our neighborhood? Now, in The Human Family Tree, the people of this quintessential American melting pot find out that their connections go much deeper than a common ZIP code.

To the companion maps to this documentary, please click:

Dr. Spencer Wells is a leading population geneticist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who spearheaded The Genographic Project. As Director, his hope for the project is to capture an invaluable genetic snapshot of humanity before modern-day influences erase it forever. Here, he explains the project to residents of Astoria who are participating in the DNA testing.


How far back do our characteristics and habits trace? What do we know about Modern Humans vs. Neanderthals? Discover our history on Earth.

* Neanderthal skulls were first discovered in Engis, Belgium, in 1829 and in Forbes’ Quarry, Gibraltar, in 1848, both prior to what was considered the “original” discovery in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, Germany, in August 1856 — three years before Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” was published.
* Gorham’s Cave, located near sea level on the steep eastern face of the Rock of Gibraltar, is the last place on the planet where we know Neanderthals lived.
* The gene that leads to red hair and freckles in humans — MC1R — may be found to control the coat colors of wooly mammoths. MC1R is also found in the DNA of Neanderthals, meaning that Neanderthals would also have had red hair.
* Some scientists believe that the Neanderthal diet consisted almost entirely of meat. The theory is that they were not merely scavengers but high-level, predatory carnivores with diets similar to those of other meat-eaters of the same period, such as wolves and lions.
* At Blombos Cave in South Africa, archaeological evidence suggests that ancient humans were engaging in modern human behavior, including abstract thought, far earlier than previously believed. Artifacts include fishing tools, finely crafted bone tools, engraved objects and the possible symbolic use of ochre some 70,000 years ago.
* Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which separates the Arabian Peninsula from Africa at the southern end of the Red Sea, is the possible location for humans’ first departure from Africa. Researchers are currently studying coral platforms to understand what the coastal landscape looked like 60,000 years ago, when this first wave of humans may have left.
* Scientists believe that major changes in skin color can happen in the relatively short evolutionary period of some 100 generations. Notably, skin color can change from both dark to light and light to dark.
* The San people of southern Africa and the Hadzabe of east Africa carry more ancient evolutionary lineages in their DNA than any other people, and exhibit a direct living link to our oldest genetic ancestor, “Scientific Adam. ” The San people’s click languages could be the last remaining tongues similar to the original ones spoken by humans in Africa some 40,000 years ago.
* For nearly all of human history, everyone in the world had brown eyes. Then, scientists believe, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, the mutation that causes blue eyes arose in a single individual born somewhere near the Black Sea.
* During the last ice age, the water levels of the Bering and Chukchi Seas were much lower. The land that is now under water once formed a land bridge that scientists consider to have been the major route for people migrating onto the North American continent.
* At an archaeological site in Paisley Caves, Oregon, scientists have found human coprolites, or fossilized feces, that date back some 14,400 years. They predate the earliest known culture site in Clovis, New Mexico, by 1,000 years.
* Monte Verde is an archaeological site in south-central Chile, where 14,000-year-old bits of seaweed stuck to the blades of ancient stone tools suggest people were already living near the bottom of South America even then. Recently, the Monte Verde site was accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
* An international team of geneticists has made the astonishing discovery that more than 16 million men in central Asia have the same male Y chromosome as the Mongol leader Genghis Khan.
* Some geneticists claim the Hazara people living in Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only populations outside the vicinity of Ghengis Khan’s former empire to carry a Y chromosome with a unique genetic signature prevalent among Khan’s descendents.



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