This month, National Geographic launched the genographic project, aimed at tracing human migration patterns using DNA. If successful, it would be a fantastic addition to our knowledge of human history. Unfortunately, it seems some people would rather not understand their own origins:
Dr Paul Reynolds of Auckland University's Maori research centre, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, urged Maori to boycott the project because it implied that people's origins could be traced in their genes.
"This type of research is colonisation as usual," he said.
"Indigenous people will be saying we already have our stories about our origins, so we don't need a scientific rationale to justify our origins.
But while we have stories, it's nice to have confirmation. The only reason for opposing investigating those stories (whether through archeology or genetics) is because you know that those stories are untrue. But then if you know they are untrue, why believe them?
As for Dr Reynolds' first comment, the fact is that people's origins can be traced through their genes. Paternity tests are an obvious example. But it goes deeper than that. There are chunks of DNA which are stable between generations (being shared by both parents), which are altered only occasionally by mutatations. These mutations can be used both as genetic markers and as a kind of clock. With a lot of samples, we can find out how populations of the human species are related to one another, and trace the entire human family tree. And that's ultimately what this project is about: tracing humanity's whakapapa. Why would anyone be opposed to that?