Professor Rebecca Ackermann, from the Department of Archaeology at UCT, was named as one of their Women Changing South Africa.

A new study claiming that our earliest ancestors come from a specific area in southern Africa and not Eastern Africa as previously thought received strong criticism on Tuesday.

“I was shocked by this study and think it was quite irresponsible,” Professor Rebecca Ackermann of the Human Evolution Research Institute (HERI) in Cape Town, South Africa, said.

She said the HERI directors agree that the sweeping statements in the study could not be made about the “incredibly complex evolution of our species” from studying such a small part of it.

The study, led by Professor Vanessa Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, and published in the peer-reviewed Nature journal on Monday, used mitochondrial DNA – genetic information passed down the female line – to reach its conclusions.


The team said in a statement that it used blood samples from people in Namibia and South Africa and combined the DNA with cultural and geographical data to show that “the first homo sapiens’ maternal lineage emerged in a homeland south of the Greater Zambezi River Basin region.”

This includes northern Botswana and parts of Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Ackermann, however, says: “The research is too unsophisticated and narrow and there is not one anthropologist or archaeologist on the team,” adding that diversity makes for better science.

Other scientists concurred, with Professor Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum in London tweeting: “Like so many studies that concentrate on one small bit of the genome, or one region, or one stone tool industry, or one ‘critical’ fossil, it cannot capture the full complexity of our mosaic origins, once other data are considered.”

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