The excavation of Herculaneum, 18th century print
He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces – hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared and yet all seemed to be there at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha . . . He saw the face of a fish, of a carp, with tremendous painfully opened mouth, a dying fish with dimmed eyes. He saw the face of a newly born child, red and full of wrinkles, ready to cry . . .He saw all these forms and faces in a thousand relationships to each other, all helping each other, loving, hating and destroying each other and become newly born. Each one was mortal, a passionate, painful example of all that is transitory. Yet none of them died, they only changed, were always reborn, continually had a new face: only time stood between one face and another (quoted by Olson [p. 238], from Hesse’s Siddharta)
Dear friends and readers,
I’ve been meaning for several (!) years to make sense of my lecture notes on Steve Olson’s important Mapping Human History, old subtitle: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, new subtitle: Discovering the Past Through our Genes. Recipient of an award as “Best Science Book of the Year” (by Discover), it’s been reprinted at least twice, and is an important book because it is a popularization. Linda Vigilant reviewed it favorably, “Moving and Mixing,” Science, New Series, 297 (August 2002):775.
Steve Olson means to replace myth with scientifically found realities and documents to understand how we come to look the way we do, live the way we do, live where we do. His story is intertwined with cases based on the scientific method. His sources are centraally genetic studies of people today, archaeology, geology, linguistics; then fossils, digs, and written history. Animal studies too: Leakey, Goodall, Fosse, Gildikas (gorillas, orangutangs and chimpanzees). We are on a branch of a candelebra, a fourth primate (pp. 19-20).
Olson’s a brave book; he wants to get us talking about what people avoid talking about but what skews and poisons our world today. He will tell story of how a small group of anatomically modern humans (us) emerged in Northeast Africa, and how they moved into the Middle East, across to Australia; moved up into Europe; how they also made their way down the Americas (pp. 2-5)
We used to be dependent solely on archaeology and extrapolations out of Darwin’s theory of natural selection; now we have the DNA record to study, our genes. Problem is people can attribute to labels they get about their ethnic group an intense importance.
First of all is there a genetic base for race? This question is made difficult to answer because of all the baggage that surrounds it. People fear discussing it thinking it could lead to harmful discrimination. The truth is the discrimination is already there. It’s Olson’s argument that silence doesn’t help. Research shows that human groups are closely interrelated in all but superficial ways and our cultural differences do not come from biology but history (pp. 5-6).
It’s his strategy to demonstrate that there is no genetic base for race; that the salient features we pay attention to are tiny and not very important (texture of hair for example, color of eye). All the people on the earth have mitochondria which can be traced back to a single woman living about 150 to 200,000 years ago in Northeastern Africa.
Race not a useful category. A group of nucleotides on several chromosomes responsible for the physical features people make so much of (hair quality, skin color, noses); these form types called haplogroups; artificial and small, but systems of power, wealth, prestige built out of these today. Hierarchies have no basis.
All of us can trace back to one recent common ancestor. Important to remember that she was not the only woman alive; there were others. If we trace our mitochondria back she is our most recent common ancestor with respect to matrilineal descent in a central fueling of the way our cells work. People may look different, but the genetic basis of our functioning, everything central and basic about is is the same.
We look different because of sequences of nucleotides on some of our chromosomes; these sequences are called haplotypes and peoples who have them are in the same haplogroups or races (pp. 34-35).
Darwin in a nutshell (p 41), first full paragraph. By chance a gene mutates and produces a tiny change in genes or chromosome; most of the time it is meaningless; once in a while the mutation is lethal (miscarriage, which is common) but occasionally useful. That trait is carried on and after a while becomes one of the salient expected characteristics of a group. Better word for it is local adaptation. We as humans have been practicing artificial selection for thousands of years — to make specific breeds of horses, of flowers, of fruits, of dogs. Well natural forces do this too. Natural forces do not favor individuals; over course of time produce different species.
Three large categories in among native born US citizens: Asian-Americans, European-Americans, and African-Americans.
IBig story: lots of sex (p. 6). We have to be careful with this information as it can be used for cruelty and cause suffering.
One chapter of Olson’s book is on the development of languages. He discusses 19 Major Languages which correspond to areas and migrations of people across the earth; that’s what our hour long NOVA film will about. The theories behind what we study in language are speculative but they reinforce and substantiate what the archeological and historical records tell us.
Chapter One: End of Evolution — for now. The earth has remained more or less the same for a long time; it’s changes in our atmosphere that might force changes in us (p 11).
Opens up with going over the basics through telling the story of Bushmen of Africa. Bushman have endured much prejudice. Groups of people use many factors to justify their systems of privilege and power: one of these is visual; it is by no means the only one. Power comes from technology as well as cultural development of group and its aggression, individuals in given niches networking with others: so class which includes access to education and jobs ad today control of public media, and money are central too.
Studying genetics of today’s human beings in conjunction with archaeology, geology, astronomy, chemistry enables us to outline a general history of the human species before we began to write.
At one point Olsen uses a neat metaphor of human beings as a pack of cards as in Alice in Wonderland (p 38). Homo sapiens emerged once (like all species) again — where we turn up alas other species around us become extinct and we begin to take over. In Africa; the species of homo we represent was finally successful against the others (neandertals and homo erectus were around coterminously — without a margin of say 50,000 years we find fossils and DNA evidence) and spread. He tells you to imagine a pack of cards, and the 6s, 7, and 8s left across Asia; a little later another group of cards, maybe new variants after they left of 2s,, 3s and 4s traveled upward into the Mediterranean and further north. But they didn’t just fan out; they fanned back; they went all around, and they endlessly repeatedly mated. They did not set forth as in an expedition, but moved planlessly living by foraging and hunting.
Common pictures in textbooks misleading (p. 19. pp. 20-21) Imagine an upside down candelabra, chandelier. Really a continual branching off.
Neodarwinism: correction of Darwin: punctuated equilibrium (p. 21). Newer species come from rich center. Various mechanisms inhibit free procreation: geography the main one, p. 22. In more recent times social norms keep peoples apart but not that much
Theory first broached in 1930s by Louis Leakey and his associated; Richard Leakey, his son, in 1967, discovered oldest known fossil in Ethiopia, p. 23. 130,000 years ago. But not until geneticists got into the act was there more persuasive demonstrable scientific or concrete evidence for us being one family which came out of Africa (p 4). 7,500 generations (Put on board row of women’s name and stress how those who have children have their mitrochondria die out.
Mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam. If a man doesn’t have sons, his Y chromosomes die with him. My husband has no sons; his Y chromosomes will die with him. My father had no sons. You can do arithmetic to get number down to 86,000 individuals are source in a candelabra (p. 27). Do you want your Y chromosome to carry on or your specific chemistry in your mitochondrial DNA; put that way such impulses seem silly
This is a book which attempts in ordinary and common sense language to introduce the reader to the latest developments in an exciting area of science which impinges on our world and self-images today. Olsen is a commercially successful science writer.
Harder concepts in Chapter one: A. Mitochondrial DNA, fuel of cells which does not combine with others, inherited directly (p. 24-25). You trace this mitochondria. Men inherit a Y chromosome that women don’t; it does not combine so they trace that back in men (pp 26-27). Coalescence ia tracing back lines through previous ancestors.
A segregated bus-stop
Chapter Two begins as several of the chapters do with the story of someone or a place (Stonehenge) or a puzzle (a fossil found which doesn’t make sense because it’s not supposed to be there). Here we have someone whose life has been maimed and shaped by human attitudes towards phenotypes (p. 32).
Chapters begin with a story, a character, an incident, an evocation description, a puzzle. Three begins with description of diversity in Washington DC (p 54). Chapter Four begins archaeology proper with a dig at Skhul near where both neandertals and homo sapiens remains found were (p 73), Chapter 5 (p. 90) opens on Jericho. DC remarkably diverse.
From talking of diversity he moves to how genetic differences remain localized in groups (p 33): mating is not at random; not only geography and migrations, but idea that some physical features are preferable to others. Practices excluding people. Sometimes sexual salient characteristics can get out of hand: antlers on deers are dangerous; male peacocks would be better off without that fan
How mutation changes in nucleotide sequence appear and spread. Most of the time they go nowhere (p. 36) You can study these mutations for genetic and migration history.
Point of chapter is groupings are result of culture not biology. Write that on board. They are continually mixing nonetheless. We are connected tightly to the past (pp. 47ff), but people who trace genealogy to find kings and queens or other individuals in their genealogical past are absurd. Your great-great-great grandmother was someone else’s great-great-great cousin, once removed. Key is there were far fewer people at one time; sudden exponential growth of people (pp 44-46)
Second part of chapter on immediate history of African, diaspora there, and some cultural legacies; movements of 3 groups of peoples: Bushmen, the Forest Dwellers, Central Africans also called Bantu speakers.
Group of DC students photographed off campus
Chapter Three. African Diaspora and Genetic Unity: same idea now brought out in specifics studying mutations (p 54).
Opens on diversity in DC and says given continual movements of people, the strength of racial prejudice perplexing. People moved between continents a great deal once trade routes and slavery particularly developed.
They have no scientific basis. I see it as rationales for power and fear. Set up elaborate systems of control and privilege is the way Olson puts it at the close of the chapter (p 69).
History of slavery: back to beginnings of recorded history (so too pressing for armies, exploitation of women, demands for infanticide in subsidence tribes). Why did Africa became central place for taking people into slavery (p 57): people could make more money selling someone than farming. Diaspora of Africans comes from slavery routes.
Olson does use muffled language: “momentum difficult to reverse” (p 57). Medley of of peoples in middle east and “old world,” where slavery strong until mid 19th century social habits and customs insisted on separation (p 60).
Laws against intermarriage continued in the south until 1960s.
He takes up issue of IQ. Intelligence has many complicated sources: interaction of many genes and of environment. Not a straight inheritance like color of eyes. No single mechanism (p. 64). Goes back to environment and evidence shows this (p 62)
Genetic history of group the result of the dangers of the places they lived in: these insect and bacteria, viruses are deadly (pp. 65-69). Why sickle cell anemia spread, Tay Sachs disease. The mutation which protected you from malaria also comes with a deformed cell that left you susceptible to anemia.
Africans homeland of all people had greater variety. Searches back to origin of one mututation, BRCA1. Much of this comes from mathematical computers studies using information fed in from people living today.
Chapter Four. Encounters with Others and Agriculture, Civilization and Emergence of ethnicity (p 75). Very important changes happened when human being settled down to cultivate land.
Encounters with the Other a strong chapter: on neandertals and how they lived in the same spot as homo sapiens within 45000 year period (p 73). Find in skhul and examination suggests that neanderthals occupied a single site before and after homo sapiens (p 74)
Many questions: how are they related? what were their interactions? DNA mitochondrial study suggests no current human beings have any Neandertal ancestors. Genetically separate; no interbreeding which lead to reproduction. He says this a mystery (p. 83). Animals from different species can mate; in some cases the offspring not fertile.
A great book on the subject listed in bibliography: Trinkaus, Erik and Pat Shipman. The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind. Olson trying to cover a lot tells what he can. Complaints of reviewers were he is superficial, but he is writing for common reader who he assumes knows little. He is a popularizer, a condenser. Important role for writer.
B. History of what we know about Neanderthals: 1856 quarry. Much found out as soon as we begin to have a theory to look for it. Before Darwin. Others working on the same area at the same time (p 76). Kring” super-delicate studies of DNA from, Neanderthal (p 80). DNA from ancient fossils of moderns similar to DNA of people today, much closer than to neanderthal presumed living in same era.
We are different species from them (p 83)
Why did we replace them? The usual hypothesis is we more more cunning. They had bigger brains than us; they buried their dead. No sense of different life style going on. Records left by homo sapiens show they used symbols: they drew; when they travel they leave tools behind; we think they talked, developed language (pp. 68-88).
Slow development of language is what he suggests with other social networks. Language then creates consciousness and then you can remember more easily, and teach something you know; people inherit culture. He doesn’t emphasize this enough: people inherit culture. You and I don’t know how to build buildings, but we grow up in an environment where over thousands of years others have learned and they pass this knowledge on. Birds can’t do that. Dogs can’t.
Chapter Five. Agriculture, Civilization, Emergence of Ethnic groups (p 90). In this chapter he begins with a place: modern day Jericho. Under a pile of rubble is the evidence of an ancient city; there was a siege (typical kind of warfare until the mid-19th century) which was recorded in mythic stories in the Bible (p. 91)
Since then there have been shown to be gaps in the record which suggest the history of the Jews in Jerusalem in the Bible may be fundamentally untrue — if so, let us hope it does not get abroad. It hasn’t much. Digging the Dirt by Jennifer Wallace.
He uses this as an opportunity to discuss the development of agricultural ways of life, and this leads to an explanation of tribal relationships, loyalties and cohorts. Hunter gatherers organize themselves into bands (a few closely related families, 10 to 50 people); bands organize themselves into larger units particularly when they stay still: called tribes. Several hundred members. People married within their tribe. It was at this time the physical differences between haplogroups arose (p. 95).
B. Kathleen Kenyon’s work (p 96).
Around 12,000 people began to farm (P. 96): stay still you acquire more stuff (p 96). It’s a harder way of life. Requires discipline, planning, daily work, but it can support more people in expected comfort. Why did this happen? Arose independently in each region. Can be seen in different plant life (artificial selection), different crops.
Lots of reasons obvious to us (I hope) but population growth was a factor, the end of the Ice Age coincides; greater social complexity emerges. Occurred independently in different places — it seems to me places conducive to agriculture like the Mediterranean basin. Also arose in more difficult to farm areas, but not the really hard ones — down in the arctic, in the desert (Australia and Africa are places with huge major deserts).
More DNA created; society becomes diverse groups doing different tasks. More cooperation, and more wars. Also more diseases (pp. 100-5).
We see cities and begin to recognize worlds not that different from our own: lacking our strong technological base.
At end of chapter he demonstrates that ethnic groups are larger than tribes once were, but analogous. Writing emerges; population grows. Ties to larger institutions, create allegiance by metaphor: king is father of group. Ethnic groups are not biological; they are cultural.
Greater social complexity and diverse narrow roles is what makes for what we call sophisticated civilization (p 104). Meanwhile people maintain ties with family group and small bands and tribes within bigger group.
Chapter Seven. The Great Migration (by water) To Asia and Beyond (p 123). Asia and Australia: Middle East and Europeans Begins with a little anecdote. Bones in Tarim Basin, China. People with European features in long-established communities. Causes great controversy (p 124-2)5
In this chapter we find is great mixture of Asian and European genetic heritage in this part of China. A Mixing of haplotypes. Story of Li Jin (p. 126). Nationalists enlisting pseudo-science to justify their aims (p. 130).
If there are people with European features, that means ultimately an African heritage. Asian population does not want to believe this. Much preferable to think they came from Peking man, a homo erectus fossil found in Beijing. Erect a myth around it. People who publicly present different information at risk of losing job; even in some countries, going to prison.
Many scientists stick to older myths because it’s more convenient (furthers their careers) (p 130). Some northern Chinese people don’t want to hear they are descended from some group of people they consider inferior to themselves.
Evidence suggests that from coast of Yemen humankind spread out (p 127). Water-born migration. Expansion over many generations (p 128). From Australia spread again, p 129. Water was central way of travel in early Modern Europe (many records at that time); leaves no evidence.
About 65,000 years ago a number of huge Australian animals became extinct: sure evidence of our presence. Are aborigines or other Australians different: no. Same DNA as is found in other peoples in Asia (p 130) What about bones in and across Asia: again the same DNA (p. 131).
Why did people slowly move: weather, technological change, internal pressures. Local struggles for pre-eminence within a group. Hunting and gatherine (mostly gathering) keeps people on the move for food.
He provides maps (p 135). Genetic heritage of groups of people from Yemen to New Guinea shows African heritage.
Stonehenge; early 19th century sketch by John Constable
Chapter Nine: Who are the Europeans (p 157). egins with Stonehenge. Very ancient and built before Druids at the time the trauma of switching from hunting and gathering to farming. Neolithic monument.
Modern humans living in Europe for almost 35,000 years. Neandertal had been there before. New comers had much better tools and art (p. 160). Why did they develop technology that was elaborate? One of Europe’s advantages is mild climate and good soil. Forests, plains, animals, good for agriculture. Terrain divides people so nations develop (p 161)
Digression. Where does term Caucasian come from? Why are people of European genetic heritage called Caucasian in the older racial categories. Why name this large haplogroup (to use the modern term) after a small mountain range
straddling Europe and Georgia? From Stephen Jay Gould, “The Geometer of Race,” published in Discover (November 1994), 65-69, explains why.
The label was invented by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German enlightenment professor (referred to later in the book) A section of his doctoral dissertation to the medical faculty of Gottingen in 1775. Blumenbach’s way of dividing humanity followed Linnaeus’s categories, but in a way that ranked the groups of humanity. Linnaeus had divided human beings into four categories based on geography so there was Europeus, Asiaticus, Americanus, and Afer. He did not rank one physical type of person and their culture above another — though the way he described the different peoples did implicitly value the Europeus above the others.
The term “Caucasian” came from his idea that all humanity first emerged from this part of central Europe and as people spread out through climate, geography, and change of culture they evolved into different looks. Ancient bones were found there at the time (as they have been found since recorded time). He lived near that area.
Gould stresses that although Blumenbach’s taxonomy has been used for racist purposes, Blumenbach was himself someone who worked for the abolition of slavery and, unlike other scientists of this and later periods, did not think that the different race of mankind were fundamentally different or created at different times. Blumenbach was one of those scientists who argued for the fundamental unity of mankind. He wrote that he regarded the aesthetics he turned to as superficial; but he did use such categories and he also characterized the cultures of the different peoples with terms that (like Linnaeus) valued one over the other, and what he wrote was taken over and used invidiously.
Blumenbach’s nomenclature was very influential as his book was among the first in a period when not much published and intellectual world small: from his treatise we also get the terms Mongolian (for Asian people), Ethiopian (for African), Malaysian (for South Pacific).
The crisis of the ice age 29,000 years ago; people retreated to warmer areas, (p 162). Crowded. They returned and could not survive on hunting and gathering so turned to farming gradually.
Olson comes to Luca Cavalli Sforza: central figure in this story. A professor of genetics at Stanford University. He originally studied medicine (so did Darwin). Began again with bacterial genetics. He studied genetic drift in small population using parish records in Ital (p 165). He studied blood groups and sequences of nucleotides in this small area.
Blood type is a significant marker. I have A positive blood, very common for Slavish people; both of my daughters have the same (I know this from stays in hospital). So despite how I may look or my name I’m not western European (or Anglo) but Eastern European; I don’t know anything about my mitochondrial DNA but since it comes from my mother who is Jewish and I know a little of her family’s history (very late 19th century) I can say I also have recent Middle Eastern heritage.
My husband who you saw here has type 0 positive blood. Very common Western European; majority of people in British Isles have type 0 positive blood. Sailor background. Back to Celts. But will have come from Middle Eastern migration originally, just much longer ago.
One small group not enough. Cavalli-Sforza Widened out to Europe where protein data was more complete and he could get access (p 166). At first the reaction negative: no one likes new ideas much. What happened was later more sophisticated testing of mitochondrial DNA and further development of testing of archaeological and genetic evidence proved Cavalli-Sforza’s theory (more or less.
People also studying agricultural history, patterns of transmission. Agriculture the result of migrating peoples not migrating ideas. p. 169. Developed independently in different areas. Vast stone edifices came from complex social organizations which formed during farming. Farming triggered an immense social transformation (p. 171). People now changing their environment seriously. Nowadays we have vast cities.
While Cavalli Sforza doing his studies in Italy, in California, the mitochondrial and Y chromosome studies developed. Stanley Cohen and Herman Boyer. Every European can trace his or her mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome to a pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer in middle east. Mixing is rule not exception. They look at tiny locations on Y chromosome — which also does not combine
Chapter Eleven: The settlement of The Americas. A controversial topic. Written records start somewhat later than those for Easten hemisphere. Less to go on. It also involves telling truths about groups of people who were mostly exterminated or badly abused and exploited (native people, mistakenly called Indians by Columbus).
B. He begins with Kennewick Man’s great antiquity. European features. Not only do people not want to know. They don’t want to know for reasons that go beyond pride and “false consciousness:” medical records, can and will be used against them. This information will not be used for their benefit.
Back to ideas of ownership. Then again who owns a particular corpse? What is this idea that a particular group of people alive today own some ancient keleton? If this particular group of people have the same DNA as that skelton, it seems that it’s an organization with its
particular members who are acting on “their” behalf. But are they?
Consider how the laws of burying people give funeral parlors great power over nuclear families. In this case the laws have been made by people protecting the funeral industry and various church hierarchies.
Theories. Three large families of languages encourage notion of three waves of migration. In this case study of language intersects with study of archealogy and DNA and genetic evidence. Basically we have successive waves of Asian immigrants; the question is when. Recent evidence suggests that people were in the Western Hemisphere well before the appearance of Clovis points (leaf-shaped arrowhead with concave base) (p. 199).
Notion of crossing Siberia very old: goes back to 1589 (p 195). Problem is there is little evidence besides these Clovis points to trace (p 197).
So again we turn to DNA, mitochondrial DNA and look at language groups (p 197) and map (p. 145). A three wave model emerges (also from studying teeth) but there are problems. Earlier studies in 1930s: by Douglas Wallace who was, as many do, studying for pragmatic reasons: looking for cures for diseases (pp. 200-201). He did find distinct patterns in people’s mutations, p 201 Mitochondrial Haplogroup X seems to descend from a much older group of Europeans, p. 203, not modern one (myths about Lief Erickson when I was young) but ancient, thousands of years ago.
Bizarre hypotheses: people from another plant, p 204.
Perhaps there was a much earlier pathway, one which lasted some 5,000 years (p 205). Note you need a long time because we are talking about aimless wandering here. It seems to me there were a number of migrations from different areas of Asia.
When we study scientific evidence, it doesn’t help social problems very much, (p 207, Feynman says the same). Important point: our genetic connectedness, the terrible history of group oppressions and exploitations still going on today cannot be addressed honesty without beginning with the realities insofar as we can find them out.
Root cause is money and class: but money and class are erected and justified on ethnicities, race, and gender.
For rest of book, see comments.
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