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3.1: Migration and Geography- A (Very) Brief History

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    For most of human history, people did not move very far away from where they were born. Migration (a permanent move to a new location) over long distances was so dangerous, unpredictable, and risky that humans remained in a relatively small area of Eastern Africa until only about 65,000 years ago. At that time, some brave soul (or most likely many) set off on an adventure that would take tens of thousands of years to complete – the mass movement of humans to all corners of the ecumene (inhabited areas of earth). Scientists continue to disagree about the specific time periods (some studies suggest that the big move started 120,000 years ago!) and reasons that our ancestors finally decided to take flight, but significant evidence suggests that periodic climate change may have played a major role. The earliest evidence of human remains in the North America dates to approximately 13,000 years ago, when humans are hypothesized to have crossed an ice bridge from Eastern Russia into Alaska during the last Ice Age, before spending the next several thousand years spreading throughout North and South America and The Caribbean. Regardless of the time period, modern humans have been on the move for a very long time—a trend that has accelerated in recent years owing to cheap transportation and easier access to information by potential migrants.

    Migration is also central to the formation of the world’s largest religions. The spread of Christianity, for example, was facilitated by the massive movement of people within the Roman Empire along well-traveled transportation routes connecting modern Israel and Palestine with Turkey, Greece, Italy, and other parts of the empire where new ideas, cultures and beliefs were shared. Many of the most significant stories from Christianity and Judaism recount the experience of “foreigners” (sojourners) who are traveling to new lands. Similarly, Islam’s prophet migrated from his city of birth, Mecca, to Medina in the seventh century, and religious ideas were spread as soldiers, merchants, and traders moved across North Africa and eventually into Europe and to Southeast Asia. Migration, in many ways, has been the most impactful of all human activities on the planet. Had humans never taken the journey, we all would still be in East Africa, just daydreaming about the rest of the earth! To learn more about humans’ earliest journeys, you can click the link below:

    This page titled 3.1: Migration and Geography- A (Very) Brief History is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by David Dorrel & Joseph P. Henderson (University of North Georgia Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.