Harvard University has created an interactive map which illustrates the ethnic diversity within the African continent. The map is based on data from a 2001 book edited by anthropologist Marc Leo Felix.
I have spent hours playing around with this map. The amount of data it contains is simply staggering.
This map highlights points that I have made over the years: understanding the dispersal of human DNA within Africa is complicated.
Each color on the map roughly corresponds to an ethnic group that constitutes the majority within a region, based on how people self-identify. Ethnicity is notoriously difficult to measure and demarcate — everyone sees their own ethnic identity a little differently . The results roughly correspond to a 1959 ethnography by anthropologist George Murdock, as well as a 2002 Harvard Institute study on ethnic diversity.
For me, one key issue remains. The migration and dispersal of ancient humans within Africa is nowhere near as well understood or studied as the dispersal of ancient humans from Africa around the globe. Science knows more about how humans migrated from the eastern Horn of Africa to Ireland than it does about how humans migrated from East Africa to Africa’s western coast.
One of indications of this is inherent within the interactive map itself. The different African ethnicities are defined by language groups (i.e. Bantu speaking, Chadic speaking, Cushtic speaking, etc). It’s like saying the Normans of France, the Cornish, the Irish and the Scots are the same ethnic group because they are historically Celtic speaking people of northwestern Europe. Or that all Arabic speaking peoples are the same because they share the same language.
However, this map project is an impressive start. If, at the very least, you come away with a sense of just how diverse the different peoples of Africa are, thee map has succeeded in its main aim. It can also give the growing number of African Americans taking DNA tests insights into the regions of Africa they are genetically connected to.
You can read more about this project, and access the interactive map, via the following article: Fisher, Max, 2015. A fascinating color-coded map of Africa’s diversity, Vox. http://www.vox.com/2015/11/10/9698574/africa-diversity-map
You can read my previous posts about African genetics & African American genetic genealogy here: https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/tag/african-dna/