Other Talks in the Series: Human Population Genetics II

The case study of genetic admixture between the so-called Pygmy and non-Pygmy populations from Central Africa.
So, the origin of human Pygmies, let me remind you what they are. The word Pygmy itself is an ancient Greek word, derives from the word Pygmaios, which is a measure of small size, a cubit, which is the distance from the elbow to the wrist. This word was first chosen to designate an anthropomorphic population in ancient Greece in the 8th century BC in Homer in his Iliad. You can read the first verse of the third song of the Iliad, and Homer describes there that the Trojans invade the plain and to go and fight against the Achaens just like migrating cranes are falling onto the people, Pygmies, living somewhere overseas. And that's it. Full stop. So classically, Pygmies are people of short stature at war with migrating cranes and living somewhere overseas, as you can see in this antique vase illustration. Whenever you see an antique vase with someone, an anthropomorphic figure, whatever its shape, color or attributes, which is helmets or shield in this case, if it's at war with a bird roughly the same size he is, he is classically a Pygmy. And believe me, if you start looking for them in museums, you will see a lot of these guys.
You have to wait more than 20 centuries for someone to actually claim that they found the mythical Pygmy population of Homer. Marco Polo, in his Book of Wonders is often describing that he is looking for the mythical pygmies of Homer, obviously not finding them, but often reporting the words of someone telling him, "Yeah, okay. They're not here, but I know that they are over there." You can also see in maps from the 16th century and on, a number of annotations and drawings, and you will always find the Pygmies on the edge of the known world. You can find them in Canada. You can find them basically everywhere that European travelers have not visited yet. And in the middle of the 19th century, independently, in two regions of the Congo Basin in Central Africa, Paul du Chailu was an American citizen traveling through Gabon, and Georg Schweinfurth, who was a German botanist traveling in northeastern DRC, met, in their travels, short-stature population and claimed that they had found the mythical Pygmies of Homer. These findings, and the book they wrote, made gigantic successes in Europe that has been looking for the famous Pygmies of Homer all their life. Obviously, these people were not at war with birds, but they were exhibiting, at least in their eyes, a particularly short stature. So from there on, numerous travelers traveling through the Congo Basin met short stature populations and named them Pygmies in reference to Homer's mythological population of short stature. For instance, the Twa population in western DRC was named Pygmy by the traveler Stanley going up the Congo in the late 19th century. And over the course of the rest of the 19th century, more than 20 populations throughout the Congo Basin have been labeled Pygmies by European travelers. What is important to remember here, I present to you a map of these populations that were historically called Pygmies, but there are a lot of other ethnic groups in Central Africa and the Congo Basin living even in the same areas that have not been labeled Pygmies by the travelers that were, in their eyes, not exhibiting a particularly short stature or something like that.