Races Are Basically Identical

The Kingston Trio’s lyrics in “The Merry Minuet” still carry meaning today.

“They’re rioting in Africa. They’re starving in Spain. There’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain. The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans. The Germans hate the Poles. Italians hate Yugoslavs. South Africans hate the Dutch. And I don’t like anybody very much. But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud for man’s been endowed with a mushroom shaped cloud. And we know for certain that some lovely day, someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away. They’re rioting in Africa. There’s strife in Iran. What nature doesn’t do to us will be done by our fellow man.”

The most interesting thing about Homo sapiens sapiens is that we think we are better than our fellow man.  And yet, we are basically identical.  Even though no two humans are genetically identical, human genetic variation is estimated to be about 0.5%.  In effect, there is 99.5% similarity among the different races of Homo sapiens sapiens throughout the world.

Some of the pigmentation differences occur because of location of races.  Darker pigmentation will develop in races that are closer to the equator.  It is the body’s natural genetic selection to protect future generations from the hot burning sun.  If we transported European races to the equator, within about 10,000 years, the pigmentation would be very dark in those races.

Human genetic diversity in Homo sapiens decreases as we get further away from Africa, which supports the “bottleneck” theory.  The likely origin of modern human migration is in southwestern Africa, near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola with the exit point out of Africa as being in East Africa.

A supermassive volcanic eruption at Lake Toba in Indonesia about 75,000 years ago created a volcanic winter, resulting in a temperature drop of about 5 degrees which may have started the last glacial period.  But, at a minimum, it resulted in a cold climate for a milleneum, triggering destruction of vegetation and corresponding wildlife from severe drought and cold weather.  This cold period decimated the human populations existing at that time since the early hunter-gatherers had not developed emergency storage systems.  They basically starved.  A century after the eruption, only 3,000 to 10,000 of our species were able to survive.  Scientists believe that there were only about 1,000 breeding pairs about 70,000 years ago.  This is an estimate of our ancestors, not the total human population.  There were isolated populations that eventually died out without descendants.

This bottleneck theory makes sense because there is very little difference in genetic variation among races in the world.  The area where scientists find the greatest genetic diversity is in Africa, which makes sense because that is where Homo sapiens sapiens originated.

There are similar bottlenecks for other mammals during this same time.  The eruption of Toba may have caused populations of chimpanzee, orangutans, gorilla, cheetah, and tiger to decrease so that their genetic variation is similarly low like our species.

It is not known where human populations were living at the time of the eruption, but scientists believe that most of the survivors lived in Africa, whose descendants would go on and repopulated the world.  The major migrations out of Africa are estimated to be about 60,000 to 70,000 years ago based on an analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which would support the bottleneck theory based on the Toba eruption.

So since we are so much alike, why do we dislike each other based on such small differences?  That answer is reserved for another discussion.

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