I began this series of posts saying that I had discovered that there was an 80% chance that I was descended from Narmes, the first pharaoh of a united Egypt. As subsequent posts have indicated, I arrived at this, not by any detailed investigative work in tracking my lineage, but by depending upon the analysis of Douglas L. T. Rohde, Steve Olson, and Joseph T. Chang and published in the journal Nature.
After reading that paper, I became curious about who lived around the time of the identical ancestors and looked around to see if there was a named individual. I knew that writing was discovered around 5,000 years ago, so the time of the IA (identical ancestors) coincided roughly with the time that written records were starting to be kept. So there was a chance that there was a reliable contemporaneous written record of some person from the time of the IA. The chances were also great that the person whose life was recorded was likely to have been a big shot, a king or some such, whom people considered important enough to write about, on tombs and so forth.
I started investigating about who was the earliest named person we knew for sure existed. This ruled out characters from religious books like the Bible because those were written much more recently (around 900 BCE and later) and depended too much on legends and oral traditions that made them unreliable as history.
Marc Abramiuk of the Anthropology department at Case Western Reserve University suggested Narmes as a likely candidate for the honor of being the earliest known and named human being, and since he fitted into the IA period, I claimed that there is an 80% chance that he is my direct ancestor. (If any of you know of other named people who are candidates for the earliest known and recorded human being, please let me know. This is one genealogy search we can all contribute to, since every person we find from that time is likely to be the ancestor of all of us.)
Of course, there is no distinction to the claim that Narmes is my ancestor, since if that is the case, then he is also the ancestor of every other person currently alive. But that’s fine by me. I don’t want or need exclusive rights to him since having a famous ancestor confers no credit to me. Thinking that we are special simply because we belong to some particular group or are related to some particular individual is a symptom of tribal thinking.
Since I started on this study, I have become curious about the people who lived long ago and a bit surprised at how soon the track goes cold. The origins of written language pretty much sets the upper bound for reliable knowledge. If you think about it, given the vast ages of the Earth and the human beings that inhabit it, it is humbling to think of how little direct information have about our origins in terms of actual historical figures and recorded history, and how amazing it is that we have been able to figure out so much about the deep past using the tools of research and analysis.
This is the power of science, that we can use it to painstakingly reconstruct so much of our distant past by building carefully on what we know from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. That interconnected web of knowledge serves as a filter that allows a lot of the guesswork and speculation and myths about our past to drain away, and leaves behind precious nuggets of hard knowledge.
In the next post in this evolution series, I will look at what we find when we go even further back in time.