The main idea of this book is to use author’s own genetic makeup and heritage to review history of human genetic development including movements of people, their mixing, the way humanity arrived to current genetic makeup overall, and specifically Scandinavian people that author belongs to. It seems that the final objective of author is to demonstrate that humans of all races are close to each other and that Scandinavians for example could find as their ancestors people from Middle East who brought in agriculture to the area where it could not possibly originate. The secondary objective seems to be to protect genetics from political correctness by limiting it to analysis of individuals, rather than races and populations.
Introduction: The Funeral
It starts with author attending funerals that caused her to contemplate on genetic makeup of her ancestors.
PART 1: THE HUNTERS
Chapter 1: The Troll Child: 54,000 Years Ago
This is about author’s imaginary first human child born some 54K years ago that was different from normal children of its tribe of pre-humans. Author calls it a troll child because it was supposedly quite different even in appearance.
Chapter 2: Neanderthals in Leipzig
Here author discusses Neanderthals and their input into the human DNA. However, the bulk of chapter is about mitochondrial DNA that allows tracing female lines. Author provides a nice diagram for this:
She traces more specifically DNA by haplogroup and defines that she has group U5.
Chapter 3: The Flute Players; Chapter 4: First on the Scene in Europe
Here author describes her experience at archeological site in Europe dated at 45K. Some artifacts at this site like a flute made out of a bone indicate existence of music. She discusses the reasons for this and hypotheses that it could be explained by need to meet challenges created by Europe’s much colder climate than Africa, so genetic modification leading to need for self-expression helped in it. Author does not go into exploring how exactly it helps, but points out that there is genetic price for artists – increase in occurrence of schizophrenia, so it must be advantage because otherwise these artistic features would not survive.
Chapter 5: Mammoths in Brno
This is about archeological finding related to the human migration from Africa to Europe and encounters of contemporary humans with Neanderthals. One interesting idea is that there was massive climate change due to volcanic activities that decimated Neanderthal population and opened their ecological habitat for humans. In any case, the causes are not clear, but their disappearance about 39K ago seems to be confirmed quite well by archeological research. It is also quite possible that the cause was typical human activities – extermination of competitors for resources. For this author provides a hilarious discussion of the moral responsibility of humans for disappearance of Neanderthals.
Chapter 6: Cro-Magnon
Here author moves to Cro-Magnon – the first anatomically humans found so far. She describes Gravettian culture and museum with finding including sawing needles and other tools. The she links it with DNA data demonstrating her own connection to Ice age:
Chapter 7: The First Dog; Chapter 8: Doggerland;
These two chapters represent somewhat deviation from genetic and cultural history of humans to discuss human long-time companions – dogs and how they became such companions.
Chapter 9: The Ice Age Ends
This is about the end of Ice Age that occurred some 11600 years ago and various challenges it caused for humans. These challenges included change of hunting patterns, since reindeers moved away, massive fields of ice converted into open waters and dividing previously undivided land for example separating American continent. Author discusses recent findings of DNA intermediate between Europeans and Native Americans. Finally, she looks at human cultural changes that allowed more than accommodate to climate change by developing boats and technics for fishing.
Chapter 10: Dark Skin, Blue Eyes
This is about confirmation of out of Africa ideas when DNA shows that currently rare combination of blue eyes and dark skin was actually quite common some 8,000 years ago. She also discusses usual ideas about need for vitamin D causing lightening of skin via evolutionary selection.
Chapter 11: Climate and Forests
This is an interesting discussion about change in vegetation caused by climate change, that lead in turn to change in weapons and hunting technics. Specifically, in dense forest spear is the most optimal weapon, but in open space – bow and arrow is much more useful, and that is what was developed by humans as evidenced by archeological findings.
Chapter 12: Sami?
Sami are ancestral and indigenous northern people somewhat despised by general population, but they actually provided lots of DNA input for contemporary population of Scandinavia. Author discusses this and also their linguistic influence since contemporary populations are just a few thousand years old and therefore quite traceable in language.
Chapter 13: Pottery Makes its Appearance Chapter 14: The Farmers Arrive
This as a brief review of pottery industry development as it could be traced from archeological finding and how it is represented in various areas from Japan to China to Europe and elsewhere. It demonstrates that pottery was not only linked to agriculture, but it actually appeared somewhat before that in form of various small items that could be carried on relatively easy. Interestingly enough, it seems to have not only utilitarian use, but also artistic and probably religious application.
Chapter 14: Farmers Arrive
This is not that much about general introduction of agriculture, its causes and consequences, as about specific northern attitudes that were somewhat upset by new DNA findings that undermined traditional believes in independent development of somewhat superior humans formed by challenging cold climate. These findings basically indicate that agriculture was not developed indigenously, but rather brought in by immigrants from the South.
PART 2: THE FARMERS
Chapter 15: Syria; Chapter 16: The Boat to Cyprus;
These two chapters are about author’s travel to archeological sites in Middle East where archeologists found the earliest signs of agriculture, specifically facilities for grain stock accumulation, but also interesting side effect – domestication of cats that seems to occur with switch to agriculture and was caused by need to protect grain from mice.
Chapter 17: The First Beer
This is about another type of evidence of agriculture – facilities to produce beer. Author also discusses findings of sheep domestication on Cyprus going back to about 9,500 years BC.
Chapter 18: The Farmers’ Westward Voyagers
Here author discussed traces of farmers movement from Middle East up North to Sardinia, Italy and Spain, which somewhat coincides with genetic mutation allowing to consume lactose.
Chapter 19: The Homes Built on the Graves of the Dead
This is about findings in Anatolia that show clear change in lifestyles to be much more sedentary to the point that homes contained remnants of deceased people. Author also discusses various routes that farmers could use to move up North in Europe.
Chapter 20: Clashes in Pilsen and Mainz
This is the next stop on the movement to north – middle Europe, where author met DNA researches who confirmed genetic changes in population consistent with substitution of hunters with farmers. Similar findings came from isotopic analysis of food consumption.
Chapter 21: Sowing and Sunrise
This is about linear pottery culture in Germany, which started about 7500 years ago. Over 300 yeas people of this culture steadily moved North in Europe. Author also discusses the first traces of wheeled vehicles going back to 5600 years, which together with plow and animals like ox provided for superior productivity of agriculture.
Chapter 22: Farmers Arrive in Skane
Here author looks at the next pottery culture – Funnel Beaker culture that developed from linear. The people of this culture left traces in Scandinavia. She also discusses the question of why farmers moved north and point to a few reason such as superior flint sources up North that supported nearly industrial levels of tools production.
Chapter 23: Otzi the Iceman
This is about nearly perfectly saved frozen remnants of a man from about 5300 years ago that provided lots of information about live style, tools, and DNA of people from this period.
Chapter 24: The Falbygden Area
The next stop is in Sweden where another skeleton was found that provided valuable information about DNA of people who moved into this area. Once again author discusses type of people who brought agriculture to the North and it looks like she really wants them to be dark skinned with clear Middle Eastern origin.
Chapter 25: Hunters’ and Farmers’ Genes
The final chapter in this part is about Hunters versus Farmers, their different live styles, diets, attitude, and DNA. Eventually she presents herself as a sample of the mix with her own mitochondrion DNA pointing to reindeer hunters, while her paternal grandmother’s pointing to Syrian farmers.
PART 3: THE INDO-EUROPEANS
Chapter 26: The First Stallion
This is kind of deviation from the main narrative about European genes. Author moves to Asia to look at horses and people, which lives are linked to them. In the process she moves to linguistic area discussion Indo-European languages and how it reflects movement of people and genes.
Chapter 27: DNA Sequences Provide Links with the East
Correspondingly this chapter moves to genetic specifics of haplogroups and chromosomes and how this genetic material mixed in author’s own inheritance.
Chapter 28: Battleaxes; Chapter 29: Bell Beakers, Celts and Stonehenge; Chapter 30: The Nebra Sky Disc in Halle; Chapter 31: The Rock Engravers; Chapter 32: Iron and the Plague Chapter 33: Am I a Viking?
These several chapters are mainly about material culture that produced various artifacts and how their archeological discoveries demonstrate mixing and movements of diverse people that eventually resulted in current human setting around the Europe.
Chapter 34: The Mothers;
This is a bit of personal narrative about author’s multigenerational mothers who were lucky to survive and reproduce resulting in eventual object of genetic and cultural combination that is the author of this book.
Chapter 3S: The Legacy of Hitler and Stalin The Tree and the spring
The last chapter starts with the story of Soviet murderous rejection of genetics and then somehow moves to pronounce decisive rejection of Nicolas Wade’s book that promotes thesis of genetic dependency of just about everything: average IQ, society prosperity, and even political system on genetic make up of members of the society. It ends with the call for individuals to research their DNA and hopes to avoid Soviet style rejection of genetics this time in the name of political correctness that posit genetic equality of all and ready to affirm this equality by all means necessary.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting review of currently existing research and theories of human genetic development, humanity expansion around the world, and continuing mixing of human and pre-human population. I think that author’s continuing deviation and eventually plunge in the final chapter into ideology and politics is somewhat unfortunate because it brings in unresolvable ideological contradictions about genetics. It comes with typical reference to Hitler who based his murderous ideology on believe in overwhelming role of “blood” in defining characteristics of society as well as less typical reference to Stalin who based his murderous ideology on believe in overwhelming role of “class” and actually killed geneticists who dared to believe that DNA is important. I think that genes are important, play huge, but not defining role in “who we are”, and what kind of society we have. However I do not believe that it makes any more sense to define what is more important Nature or Nurture for formation of humans and their societies than discussion of which leg left or right is more important for process of walking. Let’s just try to fix whatever is not working right. So if it is DNA, let find the way to correct it and if it is environment and society let’s find what is not working and fix it too.