Crossing the equator again

April 14, 2011

Winter is approaching. After 5 months and one day south of the equator it is time to migrate north and find some spring.

We’ve had a great stay with Sharon and Warwick and we’re very grateful for the hospitality they have shown us.

Peter is participating in the rabbit hat competition in his class, an Easter tradition. Here he is with his entry:

IMG 6899cropTreated

Before making our good-byes I took the traditional family photo of our Australian friends. I have taken several others over the years on my work-related visits to Brisbane. Here are some of them.

May 2002:


April 2003:


August 2004:


January 2007:


And here is the April 2011 version of the family:

IMG 6902

We first flew to Sydney in a 767:

IMG 6906

On a map of Australia Brisbane and Sydney look very close. I remember hearing about someone who worked for a few weeks in Brisbane. He wanted to take a weekend trip to Sydney and jumped into the car on a Friday. He realized his error when he came to the first sign on the highway which said  “Sydney 1000 km” and turned back.

We got some more great views of the Australian landscape. Close to Sydney we saw this submerged valley system. If you look closely in the bottom right corner you can see the man-made dam which holds back the massive amount of water:

IMG 6912

To help you out I have zoomed in and adjusted contrast and colors:

IMG 6912crop

Using a guesstimated flight path and the time stamp of the photo it was relatively easy to find the dam in Google Earth. What you are seeing is the Mangrove Creek Dam. The artificial lake it creates serves as the water supply for over a quarter million residents of the Central Coast north of Sydney. It has a storage capacity of 190 gigaliters. That’s a lot of H2O.

Closer to Sydney (well, 5 minutes according to the photo timestamps) we started to see some of the waterways that lead to the ocean and the many boats on them:

IMG 6914

Again, Google Earth helped me find out that this is Bobbin Head Marina

On our approach we also got a great view of Manly. You can see the ferry terminal at the bottom and the streets that brings you directly to the famous Manly beach:

IMG 6916


IMG 6916crop

Cool, eh?

I promised you I would talk about how the Aboriginals arrived in Australia some 50 000 years ago. I guess I’d better get to it before we leave the continent.

The history of human migration is stellar entertainment. What I find really fascinating is how much knowledge we now have about our origins and migration out of Africa.

Previously archeology and language research were the main sources of information we had about mankind´s development and early migration.

Archeology gives us patches of the human migration story. Development of tool production and art styles together with dating methods, using decay times of radioactive isotopes, has made it possible to get a sketchy view of human migration.

Language research gives us more information. By measuring differences between related languages it is possible to trace human migration patterns and also estimate the time related languages have diverged from a common language.

Linguists search for the area with the largest diversity within a language group to find it’s origins. Diversity indicates that a language group has had more time to evolve and change in that location.

One of the classic examples of linguistics giving information about human migration is in the case of the Polynesians. All languages spoken by Polynesians in the Pacific are related and classified as Malayo-Polynesian, a subgroup of the Austronesian languages. The languages spoken on the Pacific islands are relatively close, pointing to a recent and rapid settling of the Pacific.

Guess what? The only place Austronesian languages, except Malayo-Polynesian, are found, are on Taiwan. Indigenous people there speak a whooping 26 different languages in 9 different Austronesian language groups. The 10th Austronesian language group is the Malayo-Polynesian group.

Thus, we can conclude that Polynesians originated from Taiwan, and that they took the language of their group with them. Archeological data support this conclusion.

In the 1990s a new science entered the scene: genetics. This third source of information has given us a an amazing new and accurate view on human migration history.

The most important source of genetic data is DNA analysis of indigenous peoples around the world, peoples who have stayed roughly in the same place over the last few millennia.

Your DNA consists mostly of a mix of genes from you mother and father. The mixing makes it hard to trace your ancestry, since there is no way to know which genes come from which parent (unless you also analyze their genes). However, there are identifiable pieces of DNA which are inherited directly from only one parent. Men get their Y chromosome directly from their father and everyone gets their mitochondrial DNA directly from their mother. Studying these we can trace paternal and maternal lineages directly knowing that any differences are based on mutations and not mixing of genes. Since mutations tend to appear on the average with a constant rate, it is possible to calculate when different humans had a common ancestor and thus the time it took for humanity to migrate from one place to another.

We now know that humans first appeared in Africa, somewhere near the Horn of Africa, roughly 200 000 years ago. Everyone alive today has a common ancestor in a single female who lived about 200 000 years ago. She has been nicknamed Mitochondrial Eve. On the paternal side our common ancestor, Y Chromosomal Adam, lived in Africa about 100 000 years ago. If you think it is confusing that they were not a couple living at the same time, take a look here.

About 80 to 60 thousand years ago a small group of humans, possibly only about 100 individuals, crossed the Red Sea from Africa. They were probably hungry and looking for food.

All people originating from outside Africa are descendants of that small group. Isn’t that something? A mere 80k-60k years of evolution separate Caucasians, Chinese, Australian Aboriginals, Polynesians, American Indians, Inuits etc. We are more alike than many think.

Australia was populated about 50 000 years ago, long before Europe was populated. The group crossing the Red Sea from Africa were beachcombers. They lived off shells, fish and other food they could find on a beach. As soon as they had depleted the local food supply they would move on. They followed the coastline, rather than venture inland. Humanity slowly moved around the Arabian peninsula, then further east and around India, eventually reaching the coast of modern day Malaysia. Most of Indonesia was a single land mass then, due to low sea levels. When humanity reached the end of the land mass they could island hop, and then, yeah, what then?

The logical continuation is to island hop over to New Guinea and then just walk over to Australia, there was a land bridge back then. However archeological data has shown that they could have come over from Timor. If so, they would have had to have ocean-crossing boats at least 50 000 years ago. The debate about where they crossed went on for decades.

I love it when new science throws hard facts on the table and proves one theory and disproves another. Genetic analysis has clearly shown that the indigenous peoples of New Guinea and Australia have a common ancestor and share genes with indigenous people in Indonesia. They also show that all new mutations found in New Guinea are not found in Australia and vice versa. The Australian Aboriginals came from Timor. End of debate. 50 000 years ago people crossed the Timor Sea in ocean crossing boats. They couldn’t see the other side when they left, but had probably seen migrating birds heading outwards. DNA analysis has shown that the earliest proven human usage of ocean crossing boats happened 50 000 years ago. Now, isn’t that cool?

The different human genetic lineages have been named with letters of the alphabet.

My favorite genetic group is what is known as mtDNA haplogroup X. Group X can today only be found in Europe/The Middle East and North Eastern North America. The highest concentrations are found among the Druze in the Middle East (27%) and the Alonquian peoples (including the Sioux and the Cree) in North Eastern North America (up to 25%). There are also some pockets elsewhere, e.g. on the Scottish Orkney Islands (7% of the population). A few individuals have also been found in Siberia, giving an important clue to the group’s origin.

From what we know now, group X probably appeared in Siberia 30 000 years ago. There they split up about 20 000 years ago. One part of them moved westwards and became settlers in Europe. The other part moved eastwards, crossed the Behring land bridge and eventually settled in North America. Cool, eh?

Intense research is being done in the field of human migration and new data is being gathered as you read this. National Geographic has had a really interesting project running for years where you can contribute your own DNA. A cool interactive presentation of human migration can be found here. It was made in 2003 but gives you a very good picture of our fascinating migration history. Take a few minutes to watch it, it’s well worth the time.

Now, where was I?

Oh yeah, our voyage.

Our next flight would bring us much closer to home. We flew good old BA10, but jumped plane in Bangkok:

IMG 6923

I never got an opportunity to get a photo of the plane from the outside. Fear not Marius, I refuse to give up after having come this far. Here is a photo of the interior of the 747-400 (3+4+3 in economy):

IMG 6926

Flight timing was not optimal. We left Sydney at almost 5 pm and arrived in Bangkok at 11pm local time after a flight of over 9 hours. We told the kids they should try not to sleep, so they would be able to sleep on arrival. The boys took the challenge, but Iseline slept for quite a while and was a complete zombie on arrival. Luckily she had more sleep in her and we all crashed at our hotel close to the airport in Bangkok and got a good nights sleep. Tomorrow Koh Chang awaits us.






Comments are closed.