Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

A groundbreaking book about how technological advances in genomics and the extraction of ancient DNA have profoundly changed our understanding of human prehistory while resolving many long-standing controversies.Massive technological innovations now allow scientists to extract and analyze ancient DNA as never before, and it has become clear--in part from David Reich's own...

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Title:Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
Author:David Reich
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Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past Reviews

  • Jayesh

    This was a fantastic condensation of modern research on genomics and it's effect on our understanding of anthropology and history. Really, what is it with biologists that they are able to write these books understandable to a relatively lay audience without hiding

    detail about how the scientists go about doing their research and draw conclusions:

    This was a fantastic condensation of modern research on genomics and it's effect on our understanding of anthropology and history. Really, what is it with biologists that they are able to write these books understandable to a relatively lay audience without hiding

    detail about how the scientists go about doing their research and draw conclusions:

    Not that some details

    hidden. Like use of Principal Component Analysis and other statistical techniques and how they get around problems with these techniques is mostly elided. Still it was fun learning about things Four Population Tests to identify likely common ancestors and how they group current and past populations of people.

    The weakest parts of the book are when Reich is trying to walk the tight rope of modern connections between race, behavior and genetics. Which is understandable, because it is a difficult topic. But his bad arguments don't do well for the values he wants to espouse. There is a lot of is vs. ought confusion, with no consistency. This is especially egregious in Chapter 11. Why do I need to be reminded of treating individuals as individuals, just because we find something about group averages. There's something to be said about Nietzsche, that he was correct to claim that trying to derive all our values from objective truth is not ideal, to say the least. But an interesting quote:

    Anyway the book is a lot of fun. One of the funniest parts was about them finding proof for West Eurasian ancestry of large parts of South Asian population:

    So to get around this:

    And for the rest of the chapter, he deadpan goes on using the ANI-ASI terminology.

    Finally, no one comes out looking good when you go far back in time. And we are mixes all the way down.

  • Biafra

    Due to Goodreads limits, this review is cropped. The full review can be found at

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    Due to Goodreads limits, this review is cropped. The full review can be found at

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    DNA vs Archeology

    Estimating the past from genomic data.

    Good illustration of why whole genome analysis can be very useful.

    Example of principal component analysis to reduce many genetic variations across groups into a single, easy to read graph.

    Text has many simple illustrations that help get scientific points across.

    Different statistics for admixture from

    . Reich could have included a paragraph or two on comparison between methods.

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    Full review:

    .

  • Lois Bujold

    This was the book that I wanted the last book I read on the topic to be. Concentrates on the science, lucidly written, although probably best not read when one is too fatigued or sleepy. Its explanations seem as simple as possible but no simpler, which I appreciate. This is a round-up of the most recent (as of about the end of 2017) science of ancient DNA by one of the scientists working on the subject. It's such a fast-moving field right now (faster than print publishing, to be sure) even a yea

    This was the book that I wanted the last book I read on the topic to be. Concentrates on the science, lucidly written, although probably best not read when one is too fatigued or sleepy. Its explanations seem as simple as possible but no simpler, which I appreciate. This is a round-up of the most recent (as of about the end of 2017) science of ancient DNA by one of the scientists working on the subject. It's such a fast-moving field right now (faster than print publishing, to be sure) even a year will make a difference, and as a sort of science camp-follower, I look forward to trying to keep up.

    I found the work reported on India and Asia to be especially interesting, as it was new to me. (I'd already read Paabo's book on the Neanderthal work, also highly recommended.

    )

    Highly recommended, although read it soon, rather like eating your ice cream before it melts.

    Ta, L.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    Traces the general history of humanity from its origins in Africa and the subsequent lineages that went to Europe, South Asia, East Asia, Australasia, The Americas and subsequent African lineages as they changed in the genetic record up to the present. Also covers the detective story behind the discoveries in DNA research which has given us a way more complete history than the archeological record. Tells the varied stories of humanity.

  • Mehrsa

    Such fascinating science and research on ancient DNA. I also really loved all the research about the Iranian Nomad populations that are basically the tribe that took over Europe because those are my people (kind of because there was a lot of mixing). It was also stunning to see how inequality and male domination affected genetics. Basically a few really powerful men who spread their DNA far and wide. Women obviously can't have too many children, but also history seems to be just conquering armie

    Such fascinating science and research on ancient DNA. I also really loved all the research about the Iranian Nomad populations that are basically the tribe that took over Europe because those are my people (kind of because there was a lot of mixing). It was also stunning to see how inequality and male domination affected genetics. Basically a few really powerful men who spread their DNA far and wide. Women obviously can't have too many children, but also history seems to be just conquering armies of men spreading their seeds over conquered populations of women.

    He also talks at the end about race differences and how we should be prepared to deal with what advanced DNA science will have to say about that. I think he's a bit more confident than his data can take him. I think the DNA stuff is obviously clear to him, but he's not an IQ scientist and I think most people who study cognitive testing believe that it is far from being scientifically rigorous or rooted in genetic differences. In other words, we haven't been able to separate genetics from environment when it comes to cognitive ability. Reich may be confident he can parse out modern races from their DNA, but I do worry about trying to plot races on cognitive factors. By all means, we should look at diseases and all sorts of stuff that have clear genetic variants, but before we start talking about intelligence, we better make sure the science on that is air tight.

  • Clif Hostetler

    This book offers readers a description about the human past that has been made possible by recent technological advances in genome research. By comparing whole genomes' worth of DNA from ancient humans of various degrees of antiquity together with the data analysis power of modern computers, a picture of ancient human history has emerged that is filled with multiple migrations by varied branches of the human ancestral family.

    The picture that is emerging consists of so many past migrations and m

    This book offers readers a description about the human past that has been made possible by recent technological advances in genome research. By comparing whole genomes' worth of DNA from ancient humans of various degrees of antiquity together with the data analysis power of modern computers, a picture of ancient human history has emerged that is filled with multiple migrations by varied branches of the human ancestral family.

    The picture that is emerging consists of so many past migrations and mixtures of past populations that it's difficult to know how to give a sense of its complexity in this review. This is compounded by the author's statement that there's an avalanche of new genome data pouring into the field faster than if can be assimilated. The author predicts that the complexity of past human history will become increasingly developed in detail and complexity. The following items highlighted by this review are simply those portions that impressed me as being particularly interesting.

    The variation in human forms varied much more widely 50,000 years ago than it does today. There were at that time alive on earth four major forms of humans. In addition to modern humans there were

    ,

    and

    (a.k.a Hobbits). The Homo-floresiensis were isolated on the Island of Flores, Indonesia and may have been descendants of

    and did not mix with modern humans. However, there was intermixing of Neanderthals and Denisovans with modern humans as late as 50,000± years ago. Almost all non-

    alive today carry traces of this ancestry in their DNA.

    The contribution of European American

    to the average genetic makeup of present-day African Americans is about four times higher than that of European American

    (38 percent versus 10 percent). This difference is determined by comparing the differences between

    and

    DNA. This "sex bias" in some human ancestries is evidence of an imbalance in social power between human classes during past history. A similar difference is found in south Asian DNA which is indicative of a past migration or invasion from the

    . It's interesting how past human sexual behavior, sometimes many years in the past, can be determined by this sort of analysis.

    Native Americans are more closely related to Europeans than to East Asians. How can this be if the ancestral native Americans came to North America via the

    crossing which is in northeast Asia? The answer lies in the past existence of a "ghost population" of "ancient north Eurasians" that contributed to the genome or both northern Europeans and Native Americans, but not present-day Han Chinese.

    The term "ghost population" is used to describe a population that can be inferred to have existed in the past using statistical reconstruction but that no longer exists in unmixed form. And indeed the bones found in a south-central Siberian grave dating from around 24,000 years ago match the predicted genome of "ancient north Eurasians." The following graphic illustrates the "four population ancestral analysis" that illustrates how the existence of "ancient north Eurasians" was determined.

    It's interesting to note from the above illustration that today's Sardinians are the closest relatives to ancestral Europeans because the mixing with north Eurasians didn't reach them.

    Also of interest from the above illustration is the fact that modern human/Neanderthal mixing occurred with the "ancestral non-Africans" but not with the "predicted ghost population" of ancient north Eurasia. Consequently, present day Han Chinese have a higher percentage of Neanderthal markers in their DNA than present day northern Europeans (4% vs. 2%). This is counter intuitive since the mixing between modern humans and Neanderthal occurred in Europe and the Middle East.

    The book contains a chapter which discusses some of the controversies caused by the recent advances in genome research. One subject discussed is the refusal of some Native American tribes to allow bones of their ancestors be analyzed. This has developed from a long history of scientists who have shown disrespect to this ethnic group. The author sees this as an unfortunate situation which he hopes can be resolved with time and improved trust between the two sides.

    Another issue discussed is the problem with those who object to any analysis of differences between human groups because it gives fuel to racists. The author believes that enforcement of artificial political correctness on genome research would allow those of a paranoid disposition to claim that the scientfic community is hiding the "truth." He says it is best to have an open an transparent discussion of genome differences between racial groups.

    The following is a link (not from the book) to an article about an archeological excavation of a grave of a human who was a mixture of Neanderthal and Denisovan, but not modern human.

    The following is not from this book. It's a link to an excerpt from

    by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans. I found of particular interest the quote, "There are almost no examples of Neanderthal cavities. Paleolithic and Mesolithic human skulls are almost devoid of cavities."

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  • Chrisl

    A perception changing book ... but it contained too much information for my attention capacity. Less than 300 pages of text, but seemed longer. Did a lot of skimming. If I had purchased it, rather than borrowing, it would be read it segments with underlining and marginal comments, and would likely be re-visited multiple times ... amazing science.

    Tagged it Dewey 500s, for applied science. Library of Congress catalogs it 572 for human genetics.

    "Contents ...

    Part I - The Deep History of Our Species

    A perception changing book ... but it contained too much information for my attention capacity. Less than 300 pages of text, but seemed longer. Did a lot of skimming. If I had purchased it, rather than borrowing, it would be read it segments with underlining and marginal comments, and would likely be re-visited multiple times ... amazing science.

    Tagged it Dewey 500s, for applied science. Library of Congress catalogs it 572 for human genetics.

    "Contents ...

    Part I - The Deep History of Our Species

    1. How the Genome Explains Who We Are

    2. Encounters with Neanderthals

    3. Ancient DNA Opens the Floodgates" (This chapter was where book caught my attention.)

    Part II - How We Got to Where We Are Today

    4. Humanity's Ghosts (Most significant section for me ... multiple new concepts and facts.)

    5. The Making of Modern Europe

    6. The Collision That Formed India

    7. In Search of Native American Ancestors

    8. The Genomic Origins of East Asians

    9. Rejoining Africa to the Human Story

    Part III - The Disruptive Genome

    10. The Genomics of Inequality

    11. The Genomics of Race and Identity

    12. The Future of Ancient DNA

    ***

    Quotes

    page 50 - "At the conclusion of the Neanderthal genome project, I am still amazed by the surprises we encountered ... As we continue to do genetic work, we keep encountering more and more patterns that reflect the extraordinary impact this interbreeding has had on the genomes of people living today.

    ... "Were the Neanderthals the only archaic humans who interbred with our ancestors? Or were there other major hybridizations in our past?" (The test I took revealed a 4% Neanderthal components to my genetics.)

    Page 59 - "The Denisova discovery proved that interbreeding between archaic and modern humans during the migration of modern humans from Africa and the Near East was not a freak event. So far, DNA from two archaic human populations--Neanderthals and Denisovans--has been sequenced, and in both cases, the data made it possible to detect hybridization ... that had been previously unknown. I would not be surprised if DNA sequenced from the next newly discovered archaic population will also point to a previously unknown hybridization event."

    Page 62 - " ... the archaic people who interbred with the ancestors of New Guineans were not close relative of the Siberian Denisovans. When we examined the genomes of present-day New Guineans and Australians ... we discovered ... a population split that occurred 400,000 to 280,000 years ago. This meant that the ancestors of the Siberian Denisovans separated from the Denisovan lineage that contributed ancestry to New Guineans two-thirds of the way back to the separation of the ancestors of Denisovans from Neanderthals.

    ... "Most likely there are other Denisovan populations as well that we haven't sampled at all. Maybe we should even consider Neanderthals as part of this broad Denisonvan family.

    Page 95 - "The high differentiation of human populations in the Near East ten thousand years ago was a specific instance of a broader pattern across the vast region of West Eurasia ... there were at least four major populations ... farmers of the Fertile Crescent, the farmers of Iran, the hunter-gatherers of central and western Europe, and the hunter-gatherers of eastern Europe. All these populations differed from one another as much as Europeans differ from East Asians today. Scholars ... had they lived ten thousand years ago, would have categorized these groups as 'races,' even though nome of these groups survives in unmixed form today."

    ... "The fusion of these highly different populations into today's West Eurasians is vividly evident in what might be considered the classic northern European look: blue eyes, light skin, and blond hair. Analysis of ancient DNA data shows that western European hunter-gatherers around eight thousand years ago had blue eyes but dark skin and dark hair, a combination that is rare today. The first farmers of Europe mostly had light skin but dark hair and brown eyes--thus light skin in Europe largely owes its origins to migrating farmers. The earliest known example of the classic European blond hair mutation is in an Ancient North Eurasian from the Lake Baikal region of eastern Siberia from seventeen thousand years ago. The hundreds of millions of copies of this mutation in central and western Europe today likely derive from a massive migration into the region of people bearing Ancient North Eurasian ancestry, an event that is related in the next chapter.

    "Surprisingly, the ancient DNA revolution, through its discovery of the pervasiveness of ghost populations and their mixture, is fueling a critique of race ... By demonstrating that the genetic fault lines in West Eurasia between ten thousand and four thousand years ago were entirely different from today's, the ancient DNA revolution has shown that today's classification do not reflect fundamental 'pure' units of biology. Instead, today's divisions are recent phenomena ..."

    Page 156 - "If there is anything that scholars studying the history of humans in the Americas agree on, it is that the span of human occupation of the New World has been the blink of an eye relative to the extraordinary length of human occupation of Africa and Eurasia. ... It took until the last ice age for Siberia's northeastern corner to be visited by people with the skills and technology needed to survive there ... Once there, the migrants were able to survive, but they still could not travel south, at least by land, as they were blocked by a wall of glacial ice ... (Some surprised the author did not reference the Beringian Standstill Hypothesis

    In his chapter on Native American Ancestors, Reich explains the limits placed on research the beliefs of contemporary 'Native American." (See Dewar's Bones for perspective

    page 171 - "The first genome-scale study of Native American population history came in 2012, when my laboratory published data on fifty-two diverse populations. A major limitation of the study was that we had no samples at all from the lower forth-eight states of the United States because of anxieties about genetic research on Native Americans ...

    "Most of the individuals we studied derived small fractions of their genomes from African or European ancestors in their genomes ... especially in Canada, all the individuals we sampled had at least some non-Native American ancestry.

    " ... For forty-seven of the fifty-two populations, we could not detect differences in their relatedness to Asians. This suggested to us that the vast majority of Native Americans today; including all those from Mexico southward, as well as populations from eastern Canada, descend from a single common lineage. (Five remaining populations, all from the Arctic or the Pacific Northwest coast of Alaska and Canada, also had evidence of ancestry from different lineages.) Thus the extraordinary physical differences among Native American groups today are due to evolution since splitting from a common ancestral population, not to immigration from different sources in Eurasia.

    Page 176 - "Population Y - The next card dealt from the genetic deck was a complete surprise--at least to us geneticists.

    " ... an approximately 11,500-year-old skeleton ... found in Brazil ... more similar to those of indigenous peoples from Australia and New Guinea than to ... Native Americans. ...

    "These claims are controversial. ... The experience of Kennewick Man, whose skeleton has morphological affinities to those of Pacific Rim populations but genetically is derived entirely from the same ancestral population as other Native Americans, serves as a great warning--an object lesson about the danger of interpreting morphology as strong evidence of population relationships.

    "Nevertheless ... If there were ancient people on the continent who were displaced by First Americans, they may have mixed with the ancestors of present-day populations, leaving some statistical signal in the genomes of people living today.

    ... "He found two Native American populations, both from the Amazon region of Brazil, that are more closely related to Australasians than to other world populations. ... He estimated that the proportion of ancient ancestry in these populations was small--1 to 6 percent--with the rest being consistent with First American ancestry.

    ... "It really looked like evidence of a migration into the Americas of an ancient population more closely related to Australians, New Guineans, and Andamanese than to present-day Siberians. We concluded that we had found evidence of a 'ghost' population: a population that no longer exists in unmixed form. We called this 'Population Y' ...

    ***

    Adding comments - In my fantasy world, I have played with a novel about a paddling route that might have existed, following the kayak route of the kelp highway across the north pacific as the end of the last glacial maximum.

    For fun, what if humans had developed a connection between a possible civilization on Sunda to the new world, and what if paddlers, perhaps Jomon anjins, returned from the new world to report their findings?

    Quote from page 184 - "A second genetic revelation about Native American population history is clearest in the Chukchi, a population of far northeastern Siberia that speaks a language unrelated to any spoken in the Americas. My analyses revealed that the Chukchi harbor around 40 percent First American ancestry due to backflow from America to Asia. ... the genetic data clarify that the affinity is due to back-migration, as the Chucki are more closely related to some populations of entirely First American ancestry than to others, a finding that can only be explained if a sublineage of First Americans that originated well after the initial diversification of First American lineages in North America migrated back to Asia. The explanation for this observation is that the Eskimo-Aleut speakerswho established themselves in North America mixed heavily with local Native Americans (who contributed about half their ancestry) and then took their successful way of life back through the Arctic with them to Siberia ... a type of finding that is difficult to prove with archaeology--is the kind of surprise that genetics is in a unique position to deliver."

  • Alison

    . This book has many very, very good qualities. It is, without doubt, the best modern summary of ancient genome research and how it is transforming our understanding of the past available. However, i

    . This book has many very, very good qualities. It is, without doubt, the best modern summary of ancient genome research and how it is transforming our understanding of the past available. However, it also carries some very deep, and dangerous, flaws. Reich is so keen to move us forward with new techniques that he tramples past cultural, sociological and anthropological scholarship that helps us to understand how we create narratives and guard against bias. In doing so, his book reinforces destructive ideas about race; human cognition and psychology and class and power. Perhaps ironically, in seeking to free us from antiquated scholarship, Reich plays straight back into dominant narratives that have explained - and justified - racial inequality for centuries.

    In many ways these are small flaws, affecting a few chapters at the end. But Reich has created a narrative around this in which he is a hero taking on the idiocy of political correctness, which makes it impossible not to treat this discussion as the center of the book. And as Reich says above, these newcomers to the field of human origins wield enormous influence, which brings with it responsibility for rounded scholarship.

    It has taken me a month to write this damn review (long time to have a tab open!) in part because Reich sets us such a trap for the critic: he consistently argues that those critiquing his view of race are motivated by trying to shut the discussion down. People like me are anti-evidence, and unless you are going to argue with him over the sequencing techniques, then the criticism is irrelevant. As it happens, I agree strongly, as do very many who think he is wrong, with the need to have evidence-based discussion about race, gender, intellect, cognition and human origins. Especially given the rise of overt racism, and the flock of racist men to blogs and discussion forums around genetic prehistory. So it has been important to me to ensure that it is clear that my objections are not to having a conversation, they are to his conclusions, and the way he has framed the debate, and most of all, what he overlooks.

    Now, Reich argues that he is countering racism: his book strips back the stupid claim that 'races' have existed for any significant fraction of human existence, and gives huge weight - as does all modern genetic work - to understanding that our ancestors mingled, migrated and procreated much more expansively than we had previously assumed. Our modern 'populations' have existed for not much more than 5000 years in most cases. (This itself shows what we mean - many populations actually have been relatively distinct for longer than that, the San, Australia's Aboriginal groups, Native Americans - but they don't correspond to our race ideas, which lump all Africans together, all Oceanic groups together etc - really, it is the inhabitants of Eurasia who have mingled incessantly, creating the populations who tend to hold social, economic and political power in our current world) Multiculturalism has been a consistent feature of human societies, and yes, conflict is as much a part of that condition as harmony: this is part of who we are, in all our glorious complexity. But the fact that Reich doesn't think he is making racist assumptions doesn't change two big errors: his argument that cognitive differences could exist between "large population groups" (i.e.: races) and his infuriating and frankly petulant dismissal of First Nations concerns around genetic research.

    On the first: to start, Reich is not in the majority in thinking that large populations are the most effective way to look at genetic difference - he himself outlines his differences with Svante Paabo in the book, although he talks down the support that remains for Paabo's view that clines is a more enlightening slice. He admirably starts by pointing out that race, as we think we understand, has been largely debunked. He attempts to distinguish himself from the rubbish spouted by journalist Nicholas Wade, and the prejudice of James Watson. But as the book progresses, he focuses increasingly on the possibility of differences which have evolved over the last 5000 years, providing markers between populations - despite the fact he presents no evidence for this. In the end, he seems to be warning that they might be right about some things, attacking his colleagues for using truisms like, there is more genetic variation within population groups than between them (this is, by the way, simply true) instead, presumably, of focusing on those differences which can be found. The fact that there is plenty of scholarship on those differences, such as skin colour, height and susceptibility to disease, doesn't count of course, because really what Reich is getting at is cognitive, personality and the "real" question of intelligence. Who is, after all, the most human? the fact we have little idea in any form of scholarship of what that actually means doesn't slow him down at all. And honestly, it should.

    On the IQ: look, there are many great articles on this already on the Interwebz. Start with

    . The issue here isn't that genetics doesn't predict the possibility of natural selection causing complex differences between populations (the only argument that Reich addresses in the book, and one which he says comes from political correctness, adding insult to disagreement); the issue is that the

    of modern society is that these differences do exist, when there is no untainted evidence for it. Mitchell in this link accepts the IQ test as a measure of intelligence - but many, many scientists do not. We have

    , in fact, that

    and

    : much of this research is centered on

    . This is why the one main significant study into IQ and genetics - which Reich makes much of - focused on a very uniform genetic population in a country with tiny economic and social inequality, and even then the implications of its results have been widely challenged.

    Reich's own research on earlier periods challenges the simple search genetics has for the unlocking nature of consciousness and humanity. He points out that despite large resources, there simply doesn't seem to be evidence that genetic adaptation closely precedes leaps in human development. This is not a surprise to evolutionary biologists, who have known for some time that our capacity to learn and create social structures which then shape our individual cognitive development is our strongest adaptation; that our closest primate relatives have genetic capacity for language and tool use, as well as often superior memory and recall. But the key lesson here: that we have an extreme ability to socially shape our children and hence create ourselves should also result in an understanding that we ourselves, us scientists, are also created and shaped by the societies that created us, is one Reich usually doesn't appreciate the impact of.

    In one rather infuriating section he comments that we should take the same approach to race as to gender, throwing out:

    This view, that gender inequality is just a bit of thorny issue society is working through, that most people accept that gendered differences in 'temperament' are 'profound' bears little resemblance to any serious scholarship on either gender, or neuroscience (which consistently finds less and less gendered differences), or for that matter the goddamn zeitgeist at the moment, and summarises Reich's dismissiveness.

    Reich at times shows flashes of insight into how social and biological factors interact: for example noting that genetic predictors in (again, uniform and highly equal society) educational rates may relate to differences in fertility, not cognition, or his wonderful aside that West Africans might not be faster, but just more genetically diverse than others, but when it hasn't been forcefully brought to his attention by a sociologist he met at a dinner party, he seems unaware that what he regards as common knowledge comes from a worldview based on relationships of power and social roles. In this context, his blithe assumption that we can find cognitive differences between populations - despite the complete lack of agreement into how to measure or understand cognition; and an awareness that our "common sense" assumptions are largely shaped by our social environment - is an infuriating result of isolating hard science from the social sciences and humanities.

    Nowhere is this lack of awareness that he has a worldview more evident than in his frustrated complaints about the role of First Nations peoples - particularly in the Americas - in refusing participation in genetic testing. Reich's bewilderment as to why this is even an issue is clear:

    and leads on to hints of wanting to disregard agreements with tribal councils not to proselytise around this research:

    Reich's claim that his research field has not done harm is a little naive. For starters, it involves his version of harm, which excludes the exploitation of genetic material for the primary gain of other groups. It assumes that his post-Enlightenment worldview - in which the search for information is noble, and never dangerous, and in which experimentation is more worthy than spiritual contemplation, is more worthy than differing worldviews which view knowledge without protection, context and responsibility as dangerous. It also ignores the attempts to patent genomic material in the 1990s, and the thirst for profit that US biomedicine is embroiled in, rarely to the benefit of participants. He lauds the work of researchers working with Aboriginal groups in Australia, without realising apparently that this work rests upon recognising that work with genetic material of Aboriginal groups must meet needs the community has identified. That is, it is about listening, respecting and offering resources: none of which is evident in Reich's approach to any of this.

    So, the good bits? Reich loves the pursuit of knowledge and it shows. And while he struggles so much with not recognising he has biases, he is refreshingly free from attaching his ego to particularly theories. He cheerfully admits where genetic research has proven his assumptions wrong, and this makes most of the book a page-turner, able to draw a reader in to rapidly shifting worlds of difference.

    Reich tackles a range of topics here: including the sensitive issue that the genetic evidence indicates we have more female ancestors than male. This process results from bottlenecks, or times where men fathered children on a wide range of women. While Reich clearly fears this will upset modern scholars, it is hardly a surprise to anthropologists well aware that polygynous child rearing is more common than polyandry, and that war and conflict are largely driven male invading forces. His research into the Indian caste system is fascinating, indicating the long-term effectiveness of social separation within an existing community, and providing really interesting takes on the interaction between social structures and genetic ones. The Brahmin caste, he argues, is far from purely different genetic stock, but bears markers of centuries of incestuous procreation and social isolation. I wanted far more on the Southern Route theory, and the role of Austronesian analysis - particularly given a month before the book came out, cave art was dated to 60,000 years in Northern Australia, which, if accurate, comes down solidly in favour of an early Southern route expansion (and Denosovan contact after arrival on the continent - or errors in genetic dating). Reich is well aware that this book is written at a moment in time, and it takes a certain courage to do that, as no doubt many of his current theories will be debunked in coming years. In being that brave, he's given the layperson a fabulous chance to explore a field in flux. It is just such a shame that he chose to mar this with an unsubstantiated argument about possible things people may find into the future, in a way which feeds into racism and sexism.

  • Peter Tillman

    Go-to review is Biafra Ahananou's,

    "This book, even with its flaws, is worth reading for the great overview it gives into the emerging ancient DNA field that could have profound impacts on culture, politics, and science."

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