Recreate the Research


Where did I come from?

The question of human origins is perennial, and all cultures have developed answers. Science has provided answers to many questions regarding the timing and location of human origins, the events leading to that origin and the subsequent changes in human culture.

In the 1980s, Allan Wilson and his colleagues made major contributions to our growing knowledge of human origin and history. His research group was one of the first to apply genetic methods to analysing questions of human evolution and origins. Here we investigate his landmark work on identifying the geographical location of the persons from which all modern humans are descended.

You can play a part too. Here we provide some of Wilson's data sets and results for you to analyze and interpret. By Recreating the Research you will gain a better understanding of the science and appreciation of the significance of this work.

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Outline
  1. The state of knowledge in the early 1980s was based on archaeological studies. Ancient human (Homo erectus) fossil remains were known from many places in the Old World, including northeastern Asia, Indonesia, Europe and Africa. Anatomically modern human fossils had been found throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australia. There were two hypotheses about the origins of modern humans.
  2. Wilson attempted to answer the question of human origins with genetics. The two hypotheses give different predictions of the evolutionary relationships among people from different geographical regions.
  3. His first study used variation in the mitochondrial genome to estimate the evolutionary relationships among human populations.
  4. You can view the results of this study. What do they mean? Here you need to think about whether the results give support to one hypothesis or the other.
  5. The conclusions of this study were very significant. They were very controversial and received strong criticism.
  6. Wilson's reaction to the criticism was to repeat the experiment, but with different methods and samples.
  7. You can use Wilson's dataset to recreate this study. Did the second analysis strengthen or weaken the conclusions reached earlier? Did it give us a better understanding of our origins?
  8. The second study corroborated the first. Together these studies overturned our ideas of the past and inspired scientists to tackle a wide range of problems. Members of the Allan Wilson Centre have taken a leading role in many such studies.

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