Chapter 7The Far Continents

The final regions to be covered are the two continents furthest removed from our homes in Africa: Latin America and Australia. Latin America was the last continent to be colonized by the out-of- Africa movement, about 20,000 years ago. Australia, surprisingly, was populated about 65,000 years ago—a good 25,000 years or so before either Europe or the Far East were peopled by modern humans. Sadly, because of the near extinction of the indigenous Australian population, the cultural DNA of the continent is derived from migrations that started no more than 250 years ago. Both continents therefore represent new worlds in different ways.

Latin America—The Ever-Changing Melting Pot

Evidence suggests that modern humans made it to South America between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago. Findings in Montverde, Chile, support the presence of people on the continent some 15,000 years ago or so. Both mitochondrial and Y-chromosome analysis indicates that humans took the hard way into Latin America, crossing the Bering Strait into Alaska, then gradually working their way down the North American continent into Central and South America. Interestingly, there is greater genetic diversity in South America than in pre-colonial North American native populations. The most plausible explanation for this is that the ice age that occurred some 20,000 years ago pushed people south, but smaller groups survived in isolated warmer enclaves such as Beringia, an area covering parts ...

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