The Corner


Wild stuff , if true:

Roots of human family tree are shallow

Whoever it was probably lived a few thousand years ago, somewhere in East Asia — Taiwan, Malaysia and Siberia all are likely locations. He — or she — did nothing more remarkable than be born, live, have children and die.

Yet this was the ancestor of every person now living on Earth — the last person in history whose family tree branches out to touch all 6.5 billion people on the planet today.

That means everybody on Earth descends from somebody who was around as recently as the reign of Tutankhamen, maybe even during the Golden Age of ancient Greece. There’s even a chance that our last shared ancestor lived at the time of Christ.

“It’s a mathematical certainty that that person existed,” said Steve Olson, whose 2002 book “Mapping Human History” traces the history of the species since its origins in Africa more than 100,000 years ago.

It is human nature to wonder about our ancestors — who they were, where they lived, what they were like. People trace their genealogy, collect antiques and visit historical sites hoping to capture just a glimpse of those who came before, to locate themselves in the sweep of history and position themselves in the web of human existence.

But few people realize just how intricately that web connects them not just to people living on the planet today, but to everyone who ever lived.

With the help of a statistician, a computer scientist and a supercomputer, Olson has calculated just how interconnected the human family tree is. You would have to go back in time only 2,000 to 5,000 years — and probably on the low side of that range — to find somebody who could count every person alive today as a descendant.

Update: This reader puts his finger on what bothered me about this story: 

  I call shenanigans on that one. Not every Pacific Islander, American Indian,

or dozens of other geographically isolated peoples have interbreed with

someone from Eurasia/Africa since whenever this guy claims.

So he is saying, somehow in the last 5,000 years, someone from

Eurasia/Africa made it into the middle of the Amazon and/or New Guinea to

connect those groups to the rest of the descendants of this mythical


This is hogwash, it’s some stats camp fantasy. For example, there is

evidence of American Indians here in the Americas as far back as 50,000 BC,

so for tens of thousands of years we have geographical isolation, not to

mention the Aboriginal people of Australia or Ainu of northern Japan and/or

Koreans who are also geographically isolated and homogenous for the most


I imagine this will be ripped apart when peer reviewed.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The McCabe Firing

I found this run-down over at Lawfare (agnostic on the merits, but rightfully harsh about Trump’s public dumping on McCabe) helpful, especially this section on the professionals who recommended his dismissal: The FBI takes telling the truth extremely seriously: “lack of candor” from employees is a ... Read More
Law & the Courts

One More Point on McCabe . . .

One point to add to Jonathan Turley’s column about Andrew McCabe, and the glaring double standard of whether an FBI official will face obstruction-of-justice charges if he’s caught lying to an FBI internal investigation. In 2015, McCabe's wife Jill ran for a state senate seat in Virginia and received ... Read More
Politics & Policy

‘We Will Reduce Abortion’

Conor Lamb’s success has revived interest in “I’m personally opposed, but.” It’s a rhetorical convention — a cliché, really — that many Catholic Democrats have resorted to ever since Mario Cuomo popularized it with his speech at Notre Dame in 1984, as Alexandra DeSanctis explained a few days ... Read More


In a recent issue, we published a piece on Dante Della Terza, the great Dante scholar at Harvard (now in his nineties). Today, we have an expanded version on the homepage. After the magazine piece was published, I heard from Mark Helprin, the novelist, military analyst, and political writer. I had no idea he had ... Read More

The Pope Francis Challenge

An unforced error from a Vatican communications office the other day drove me a little something like crazy. The nature of the unforced error is that it is wholly unnecessary and typically distracting. And so it was. Days before, as the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s election as pope was approaching, a ... Read More