By Thomas Mützelburg
Migration has been with us for thousands of years – in fact, it was a major driving force in human evolution and throughout human history. The first modern humans, homo sapiens, started to migrate from Africa to other parts of the world as early as 100,000 years ago.
When Homo sapiens arrived in the Middle East and Asia, he wasn’t alone. An older hominid species, Homo erectus, which had evolved around two million years ago, already populated many parts of the world. In Europe, where homo sapiens arrived around 45,000 years ago, he encountered a more recent hominid species, the Neanderthal.
Prof. Gerhard Weber: How we found out that Homo Sapiens arrived in Europe already 45,000 years ago.
This raises the interesting question, one that Migrant Story will attempt to shed light on for contemporary migrant’s communities: what was the relationship between the Homo sapiens’ migrant community and the “indigenous” population? Was there conflict, or collaboration, or did the relatively small groups just ignore each other in the vast expanses?
Prof. Gerhard Weber: Homo Sapiens could have met Neanderthaler in Isreal.
Archaeological evidence shows that Homo erectus went extinct around 70,000 years ago. The Neanderthal shared his fate some 40,000 years later. Were Homo sapiens the culprit? There is no evidence to suggest any conflict, it suggests instead that Homo sapiens were just more adaptable to new environments and techniques. Recent genetic research even shows that some Neanderthals had offspring with our far more numerous ancestors and were thus absorbed into our gene pool.
In any case, the migration of Homo sapiens fuelled a learning process that eventually led to the creation of new tools and hunting techniques as well as the invention of clothing, and the beginning of agriculture and keeping of livestock. For our species, this is a phenomenal success because it laid the basis for all modern societies and enabled humans to spread to most climate zones of the planet.
The role of migration in human evolution.
Even after the stone age, migration was the root cause of virtually every major societal change. Often the effects of migration were positive: by enabling new technologies and cultures to spread. Bread or the technology of casting bronze, for example, found their way from the Middle East to other parts of the world along migration routes. The first population centres and trade routes emerged.
Of course sometimes migration also led straight to catastrophe. The Cimbri and Teutons, for example, Northern European tribes that migrated (not always peacefully) southward into the Roman Empire to be destroyed by Roman troops around 100 B.C.E. A few centuries later, another southward mass migration of northern European tribes is thought to have played a significant role in Rome’s downfall.
Migration continued unabated in the medieval period, with more Germanic tribes including the Lombards moving to Italy or the Angles and Saxons to the British Isles. Vikings from Scandinavia raided all over Europe and eventually settled in Northern France, the British Isles and elsewhere.
Later in the period of European colonialism from the 16th century, indigenous cultures on the American continent were destroyed or marginalised in the process of conquista (in the South) and European settlers (in the North).
The motives for migration have not changed much over time: to find a better home for oneself and one’s offspring. And in the 21st century C.E., where man-made climate is likely to render parts of the planet uninhabitable, migrational pressures are sure to increase. When discussing today’s migrants, let’s keep in mind that – in the end, we are all migrants.