The distant relatives…


I listened to a discussion on the radio this morning in which Adam Rutherford made a rather startling statement. It went something like this;

We each have two parents, four grandparents, 8 great parents, 16 great great grand parents and so on… so it is that the genetic ties that bind us backwards towards our ancestors reach outwards into ever greater numbers.

At a certain point however, the mighty family tree that roots us all collapses in on itself. It can not stretch into ever greater diversity because the numbers of humans are finite- the more so as we go back into history. Mathematics dictates that at some level, all of our family trees must entangle.

The startling point made by Adam Rutherford was that this shared family connection is not a feature of some distant pre-history, when we all shared a cave, or were cast out from a garden. The tangling actually takes place around 600 years ago.

At that point, if you draw a line through all European family trees they will intersect. It is not that we do not all carry slightly different strands of genomes from all over the place, just that the individual mixture is far less significant than the shared whole.

Quite literally, we are all part of one family.

What is it that forces us towards exclusivity? Perhaps this is mathematics also- that we simply can not hold in our minds the countless twists and turns in our inherited DNA.

It is like trying to count the grains of sand on a beach

Or giving name to each and every one of the migrants who mass at our borders.

Who wash up on Mediterranean shores.

Whose hope filled hovels we clear in the name of sanitisation and order.

The distant relatives are coming to visit. How inconvenient. But no matter how much we pretend them to be something ‘other’, it remains a fact encoded into our very DNA that they are not.

They are we.

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