MY IN­NER CAVE­MAN

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - POPULAR CULTURE - IAN HENSCHKE

IN LATE 2012 I met a re­mark­able and sur­pris­ing woman. Her name was Lily Brett. She is a for­mer rock and roll jour­nal­ist turned au­thor. She’d just writ­ten a thinly dis­guised au­to­bi­og­ra­phy called Lola Ben­sky. It’s set in 1967 and about a young Jewish Aus­tralian rock re­porter, who, like the au­thor, has Auschwitz sur­vivor par­ents. Lola, like Lily, also goes to Europe and in­ter­views the world’s big­gest rock stars: Hen­drix, Jag­ger, Jo­plin, Mor­ri­son etc.

But the sur­prise on meet­ing Lily Brett was as a re­sult of a play on words. As we shook hands I said I was look­ing for­ward to say­ing: “I’m Ian Henschke. My guest is Lily Brett who’s writ­ten a book called Lola Ben­sky.” She laughed and held on to my hand and said “Henschke is the Yid­dish word for glove.” I told her I had never heard this be­fore. “Yes,” she said, “Henschke is a good Yid­dish name.”

Now for some­one who’s been told all his life he is de­scended from pi­o­neer­ing Lutheran stock it was quite a shock. My full name is Ian Martin Henschke. The Martin was cho­sen by my grand­fa­ther who wanted it to be a re­minder of the great protes­tant re­former Martin Luther and also a re­minder of his fa­ther who was Martin. Martin’s fa­ther was also Jo­han Martin, a man who mi­grated here with his brother in 1841. We were told they did this to avoid per­se­cu­tion be­cause of their un­bend­ing faith.

I then dis­cov­ered there are Hen­schkes who per­ished in Auschwitz. The only sur­viv­ing mem­bers of that fam­ily lived in Is­rael. One es­caped in 1932 and his cousin es­caped in 1936. His name was Martin Henschke.

When I met Pro­fes­sor Alan Cooper from the Cen­tre for An­cient DNA at the Univer­sity of Ade­laide I asked if there was a way you could have your DNA tested for Jewish an­ces­try. He rec­om­mended Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Geno 2.0. So far more than 600,000 peo­ple have paid around $150 to have a test kit sent to them. They’ve swabbed their cheeks, sent off spec­i­mens and a few weeks later they’ve got a story that goes back not hun­dreds but more than a hun­dred thou­sand years.

For me, the re­mark­able find­ing wasn’t just the ap­pear­ance of the Jewish Ashke­nazi Le­vite lin­eage on my pa­ter­nal DNA and a sim­i­lar link on my ma­ter­nal line, it was the whole story of my an­ces­try go­ing back 3000 gen­er­a­tions to an ances­tor in Africa linked to the Ma­sai. I have Asian an­ces­try as well. There is a gene that shows I’m linked to the Hmong peo­ple of the lower Hi­malayas. But the real sur­prise were the an­cient an­ces­tors who are ac­tu­ally dif­fer­ent hu­man species! I am part Ne­an­derthal and part Deniso­van. And quite a size­able part too. A bit over one twen­ti­eth of me is from th­ese two hu­man-like crea­tures.

I can now sing “I’m a Ne­an­derthal Man” and re­ally mean it! But se­ri­ously, he was a creature who we thought died out but now know co-ex­isted with Homo sapi­ens and in­ter­bred. Ne­an­derthals died out com­pletely in Europe and the Mid­dle East about 30,000 years ago.

My DNA also con­tains Deniso­van, a re­cently dis­cov­ered homi­noid that once lived in Asia. Just six years ago pa­le­oan­thro­pol­o­gists were ex­ca­vat­ing a cave in Rus­sia and un­cov­ered the re­mains of an adult and a young girl who lived 40,000 years ago. They were able to ex­tract enough us­able DNA to show this homi­noid was ge­net­i­cally dif­fer­ent from us to be classed as a sep­a­rate species.

From a chance remark about the mean­ing of my name I’ve now gone on a jour­ney in time and dis­cov­ered the il­log­i­cal­ity of racism. If I go far enough back, I am an African. I also have an­ces­tors from Asia, Cen­tral Asia, the Mid­dle East, North­ern Europe and Western Europe. I have an­ces­tors who link me to the homi­noid crea­tures that split away from a common ape re­lated ances­tor even fur­ther back.

When you do this DNA test you re­alise how much we have in common. We are all in the fam­ily of hu­mankind. It’s made me re­alise my Barossa pi­o­neer­ing an­ces­tors may well have been Jews who were per­se­cuted and so con­verted to Lutheranism and then es­caped as re­li­gious refugees to South Aus­tralia. A cen­tury later those that didn’t con­vert were gassed and those that weren’t es­caped to Is­rael. We are blessed to live here in peace. Let’s keep it that way. Hear Ian Henschke on ABC ra­dio 891 week­days from 9am-11am or follow him on Twit­ter @IanHen­schke

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