Genetic Drift

Woman of Willendorf
The earliest art object on record
c. 25,000 years old

A Prehistoric Narrative of Human Exploration

140,000 years ago | Africa

Geneticists tell us that all men alive today are related to one guy (“Y–chromosome Adam”) born about 140,000 years ago. Humans were already thriving in complex social groups by this time. Given a haircut and new clothes, they would be indistinguishable from people you’d see walking down the street today. Technologically speaking, they possessed the secret of fire–building, constructed stone axes, floating rafts, and weather–proof dwellings—all of which would be exceedingly difficult for an uninitiated person today. Although there were many men alive during this time, “Adam’s” male lineage is the only one that has survived to modern day.


75,000 years ago | African Plains

Most men in the world, both in and out of Africa, are descendants of an African man with the genetic marker M42 who lived about 75,000 years ago. The Khoisan people of Southern Africa have been verified
through genetic testing
to be the carriers of the oldest genes among present–day humans.


70,000 years ago | African Great Rift Valley

One of the descendants of M42 was M168. He is the source of all non–African men.


50,000 years ago | Middle East

Over the next two hundred centuries, humans began to explore the lands outside of Africa. About 90% of all non–African men are related to a common ancestor, with the genetic marker M89. This explosion of human exploration was, in part, possible because of the recent development of spoken and gestural language (written language would take another 45,000 years to develop). This moment has been called the “Great Leap Forward.”

45,000 years ago | Southwest Asia

A man with the genetic marker P128 is something of a patriarch. More than half of all non–Africans are related to him. He was born on the outskirts of the Middle East, and is the father of all Eurasians and Native Americans. It was his sons who encountered the Neanderthal tribes of Europe. Within 5,000 years of contact, the Neanderthal went extinct.

35,000 years ago | Central Asia

This is the Paleolithic period of spear hunting and big game. It was in this period that wolves were domesticated into dogs. The split between Native Americans and Eurasians happens sometime after their common ancestor (with genetic marker M45) dies on the open savanna in Central Asia.


25,000 years ago | Indo–Europeans

Most Europeans share a common ancestor with the genetic marker P231. This marker is also found throughout India and the Middle East. This period represents the beginning of “culture” as we understand it. The oldest art piece in the world today was found in present–day Austria, dating from this period.


18,000 years ago | Southern Europe

Descendants with genetic marker M343 distributed widely. 58% of Western Europeans, 43% of Central Europeans, 23% of Saharan Africans, and 6% of Northern Africans all share this same ancestor.


10,000 years ago | Northern Europe

The genetic mutation for blue eyes shows up near the Black Sea (neither blonde nor red hair have just one origin). This is also the era of early cattle domestication and the prevelance of lactose–tolerance among Europeans (i.e. cow milk tolerance became a desireable trait).


5,000 years ago | Writing (Middle East)

History begins about 5,000 years ago, because it was at this time that humans began to record their thoughts in the form of written language.



Just to be clear, this is meant to be a simplisic, visual representation of phenotypical changes due to genetic variation over time. This is not implying that one mutation is “better” or “higher” than another. Nor is this an exhaustive list of phenotypes. For example, it completely ignores the Aboriginal, Asiatic, American Indian, and West African haplotypes. And finally, this list does not mean to reify the problematic notion of “race.” The few photos above represent differing phenotypes due to genetic drift—not distinct races. So, please don’t read more into this page than what is intended. None of the above geographically–arranged phenotypes is higher or lower than another. To suggest otherwise would be both unscientific and completely unethical.