In Search of Eden

On a group of islands in the Bay of Bengal near India live a group of tribes so remote that some of them have never come face to face with Modern man. To the Ends of the Earth goes to the Andaman Islands with biochemist Dr Erika Hagelberg to make contact with these tribes in an attempt to solve the mystery of where they came from. Isolated for over 40,000 years these people may hold the key to the very origins of Man. In exclusive footage of the rarely filmed Andaman Islanders we get a glimpse of how we may have once been, the day Modern Man left Africa to colonise the rest of the globe. Dr Erika Hagelberg knows more about the Andamanese than anyone else alive yet she has never met them. Last year she shocked the world by revealing that this tiny group of people living in the Bay of Bengal were not victims of slave ship wrecks nor cannibals who had lived on the islands since the times of Marco Polo. Using the latest genetic techniques Hagelberg proved that the Andamans were Paleolithic hunter-gatherers who had been isolated on the islands for almost 50,000 years. What's more they are of African descent, a fact which lends credence to the theory that Homo Sapiens came out of Africa just before that time.

To test these theories Erika has travelled to the Andamans to meet the Indian scientists she has been collaborating with, as well as the Andaman peoples themselves. In the process she has discovered something even more surprising - the islanders have a gene more ancient than the African one. In fact it is an ancient Asian gene - now almost extinct. If Hagelberg is right this will mean that Homo Sapiens did not come out of Africa but that they evolved in situ around the world. Can she prove her controversial theories and will she ever meet the Andamans?

To test her theories and gather crucial evidence, Hagelberg joins up with Indian scientist Dr. Lalji Singh who was also studying the tribes. But once on the islands, local officials blocked their paths. But Dr Hagelberg discovers that the islanders were not only very closely related to African tribes, but that they had been living in isolation for up to 100,000 years. So they were seemingly a relic population of one of the first groups of modern humans to leave Africa Paleolithic, or pre-Neolithic people, with a Stone Age culture.

At a crucial meeting in the Andamans, Hagelberg learns that the Y chromosomes have shown up an ancient Asian marker which is even older than the African markers. It is a startling finding. Lalji Singh argues that this discovery could change our view of human evolution completely, providing evidence to shake the "Out of Africa" theory to its foundation. Perhaps humans did NOT evolve in Africa, but elsewhere, in Asia perhaps? Dr. Hagelberg is more conservative, suggesting that modern humans bred with early, archaic humans, who emerged from Africa nearly two million years ago. Without more DNA, from stable, living sources, the answers will be hard to find.

We also learn that the Andamen islanders are in a state of crisis; like other governments, the Indian has always been uneasy about the 'right' approach to the treatment of the "tribals" as they are called. The islanders have fared badly with the invasion of their world by first the British, and more recently the indigenous people and taking their land. With an opportunity to share the world of the pre-Neolithic people and to understand our own origins, these investigations encounter a political and ethical struggle which is taking place right now.

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 60 minutes (approx)