Carl Zimmer's weekly science report in the New York Times today (here) discusses 3 articles that appear in this week's Nature. Each of the papers studies human DNA amongst ethnic peoples around the world and together they reinforce a standard narrative: While Africans have been leading separate lives for as much as 200,000 years, the peoples of all the other continents trace to a single exodus from Africa 50 to 80 thousand years ago. Some of the people from that departure eventually encountered other Homo groups whose ancestors left Africa much earlier and mixed with them, but in every case the newcomers replaced the local people.
For this blog, the critical groups are those that stayed in Africa, notably, the KhoiSan, the so called Kalahari Bushmen, who speak a distinctive click language. That is they have a series of unusual consonants made by sucking air simultaneously from two points in the mouth. Zimmer reports, "the ancestors of the KhoiSan, hunter-gatherers living today in southern Africa, began to split off from other living humans about 200,000 years ago and were fully isolated by 100,000 years ago. That finding hints that our ancestors already had evolved behaviors seen in living humans, such as language, 200,000 years ago."
There is good anatomical and cultural evidence that language is much older than 200,000 years, since Neanderthals are very likely to have had language of some kind. But the archaeological argument that language must be new is not tenable. The genetic and anatomical evidence cannot sustain the once popular argument that language and the African departure took place at around the same time.