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20210911 – Who we are and How we got here

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present the latest discoveries based on the newly obtained ability to read ancient DNA, even DNA from bones of Neanderthals that were dead for 30,000 years. This ability allowed drastically reassess the history of human migrations, expansion of humans all over the globe, and formation of different human populations. It is also allowed to reassess, at least to some extent role of interbreeding between humans and other humanoids. In addition, other areas of research are presented: the historical narrative that could be extracted from the DNA of currently living people, for example, male/female interactions over time-based on wars and conquests. Another, not precisely, the scientific objective of this book is to protect the author and his research against political correctness attacks because the research results clearly demonstrate that human populations are genetically diverse in many essential areas.

DETAILS:

Introduction
The author begins with reference to “Luca Cavalli-Sforza, the founder of genetic studies of our past.” Then, he describes ideas of past genetic research and provides an original model of historical human movements based on primitive technology of 1993. Finally, the author presents a map based on the technology of 2015:

After that author provides an estimate of accumulated genetic data and discusses how it is massively used:” This book is about the genome revolution in the study of the human past. This revolution consists of the avalanche of discoveries based on data taken from the whole genome—meaning, the entire genome analyzed at once instead of just small stretches of it such as mitochondrial DNA. The revolution has been made far more powerful by the new technologies for extracting whole genomes’ worth of DNA from ancient humans.” The author also describes some key results:” A great surprise that emerges from the genome revolution is that in the relatively recent past, human populations were just as different from each other as they are today, but that the fault lines across populations were almost unrecognizably different from today. DNA extracted from remains of people who lived, say, ten thousand years ago shows that the structure of human populations at that time was qualitatively different. Present-day populations are blends of past populations, which were blends themselves. The African American and Latino populations of the Americas are only the latest in a long line of major population mixtures.”

The author also describes in introduction structure of the book and the objectives that he targets to achieve in each chapter.

Part l: The Deep History of Our Species

This part:” describes how the human genome not only provides all the information that a fertilized human egg needs to develop, but also contains within it the history of our species.”

1: How the Genome Explains Who We Are
This chapter:” argues that the genome revolution has taught us about who we are as humans not by revealing the distinctive features of our biology compared to other animals but by uncovering the history of migrations and population mixtures that formed us.”

2: Encounters with Neanderthals
This chapter:” reveals how the breakthrough technology of ancient DNA provided data from Neanderthals, our big-brained cousins, and showed how they interbred with the ancestors of all modern humans living outside of Africa. The chapter also explains how genetic data can be used to prove that ancient mixture between populations occurred.”

3: Ancient DNA Opens the Floodgates
This chapter:” highlights how ancient DNA can reveal features of the past that no one had anticipated, starting with the discovery of the Denisovans, a previously unknown archaic population that had not been predicted by archaeologists and that mixed with the ancestors of present-day New Guineans. The sequencing of the Denisovan genome unleashed a cavalcade of discoveries of additional archaic populations and mixtures, and demonstrated unequivocally that population mixture is central to human nature.”

Part II: How We Got to Where We Are Today

This part:” is about how the genome revolution and ancient DNA have transformed our understanding of our own particular lineage of modern humans, and it takes readers on a tour around the world with population mixture as a unifying theme.”

4: Humanity’s Ghosts
This chapter:” introduces the idea that we can reconstruct populations that no longer exist in unmixed form based on the bits of genetic material they have left behind in present-day people.”

5: The Making of Modern Europe
This chapter:” explains how Europeans today descend from three highly divergent populations, which came together over the last nine thousand years in a way that archaeologists never anticipated before ancient DNA became available.”

6: The Collision That Formed India
This chapter:” explains how the formation of South Asian populations parallels that of Europeans. In both cases, a mass migration of farmers from the Near East after nine thousand years ago mixed with previously established hunter-gatherers, and then a second mass migration from the Eurasian steppe after five thousand years ago brought a different kind of ancestry and probably Indo-European languages as well.”

Here is the general picture of agricultural expansion:

7: In Search of Native American Ancestors

This chapter:” shows how the analysis of modern and ancient DNA has demonstrated that Native American populations prior to the arrival of Europeans derive ancestry from multiple major pulses of migration from Asia.”

8: The Genomic Origins of East Asians
This chapter:” describes how much of East Asian ancestry derives from major expansions of populations from the Chinese agricultural heartland.”

9: Rejoining Africa to the Human Story
This chapter:” highlights how ancient DNA studies are beginning to peel back the veil on the deep history of the African continent drawn by the great expansions of farmers in the last few thousand years that overran or mixed with previously resident populations.”

Part III: The Disruptive Genome

The last part:” focuses on the implications of the genome revolution for society. It offers some suggestions for how to conceive of our personal place in the world, our connection to the more than seven billion people who live on earth with us, and the even larger numbers of people who inhabit our past and future.”

10: The Genomics of Inequality
This chapter:” shows how ancient DNA studies have revealed the deep history of inequality in social power among populations, between the sexes, and among individuals within a population, based on how that inequality determined success or failure of reproduction.”

The discussion here is mainly about the typical process of mixing of populations when winners-male killed out losers-male and enslaved losers-female, resulting in different levels of genetic diversity between mitochondrial DNA and Y Chromosome:

Based on the genetic evidence, the author concludes that inequality has deep, maybe even biological roots. He expresses hope that:” Evidence of the antiquity of inequality should motivate us to deal in a more sophisticated way with it today, and to behave a little better in our own time.”

11: The Genomics of Race and Identity
Here author:” argues that the orthodoxy that has emerged over the last century—the idea that human populations are all too closely related to each other for there to be substantial average biological differences among them—is no longer sustainable, while also showing that racist pictures of the world that have long been offered as alternatives are even more in conflict with the lessons of the genetic data. The chapter suggests a new way of conceiving the differences among human populations—a way informed by the genome revolution.”

The author basically agrees that there are DNA-based differences between populations and then spends quite a bit of time debating Nicolas Wade’s work that highlights these differences and explains them by different evolutionary paths of these populations. The author accuses Wade of racism, but then states:” So how should we prepare for the likelihood that in the coming years, genetic studies will show that behavioral or cognitive traits are influenced by genetic variation, and that these traits will differ on average across human populations, both with regard to their average and their variation within populations? Even if we do not yet know what those differences will be, we need to come up with a new way of thinking that can accommodate such differences, rather than deny categorically that differences can exist and so find ourselves caught without a strategy once they are found.” The author very reasonably calls to get over racial differences and look at individuals, but then praises racist organizations specializing in African ancestry. The author also hilariously complains that his own population – Ashkenazi Jews are too smart and overstudied, so he announces that he would not spend his lab resources to learn about his own DNA. 

12: The Future of Ancient DNA

This chapter:” is a discussion of what comes next in the genome revolution. It argues that the genome revolution, with the help of ancient DNA, has realized Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s dream, emerging as a tool for investigating past populations that is no less useful than the traditional tools of archaeology and historical linguistics. Ancient DNA and the genome revolution can now answer a previously unresolvable question about the deep past: the question of what happened—how ancient peoples related to each other and how migrations contributed to the changes evident in the archaeological record. Ancient DNA should be liberating to archaeologists because with answers to these questions in reach, archaeologists can get on with investigating what they have always been at least as interested in, which is why the changes occurred”.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an excellent book with lots of valuable data presented in very nice and clear form. I agree with the author that the future of history would include a significant amount of information derived from DNA that could create lots of knowledge of who we humans are, where we came from, and what kind of evolutionary history we have. Moreover, it could be done not only at the population level but also at the level of individuals. I am also with the author in his belief that new tools and obtained data would help drive one last nail in the coffin of racism, but unlike the author, I hope that this would happen to all forms of racism: anti-black, anti-white, and anti-whatever. I also hope that all this staff about inequality would also be put to rest. As far as I am concerned, we all are different, and we all should be equal before the law and in the eyes of others regardless of our ancestry, race, good or bad luck of our ancestors, or whatever. One final thing that I would like to say is about stereotypes. Attempts to forbid and suppress stereotype use are unrealistic and bound to fail because it is a necessary evolutionary tool for survival. The normal process of thinking while encountering somebody else is to use stereotypes for external presentations of individuals and then discard this stereotype as soon as individuals become more familiar. We just need to speed up and automate data extraction for this process as much as possible, so using stereotypes would become redundant


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