Oops, forgot a post title!!!

NaBloPoMo August logo19. Mapping Human History by Steve Olson

This is one of the few ‘popular science’ books from my DH’s collection (he prefers the more academic/technical stuff), but it’s not his field, and it is interesting, about what genetics can tell us (and importantly, what it can’t) about the spread of humans across the world.

One basic premise (which I probably picked up upon because it’s something I’ve long believed and seen evidence for) is that groups and individuals have constantly migrated, and there really aren’t any ‘genetically pure’ (whatever that would really mean) groups of humans who can be put into any ‘race’ or other discrete groups. All the genetic evidence cited in this book for when which groups travelled to which areas of the world is (and must be) an amalgam of genetic markers spread across any given population. Preponderances can be suggestive, but the DNA of individuals can tell us at most about those individuals.

As Olson is also careful to point out, both the science and the analysis of the historical record are under constant development, as was particularly apparent to me when reading in the book (published in 2002) of the lack of evidence for interbreeding (there must be a better word) between Neanderthals and modern humans and about the same time (Spring 2010) reading online news articles about how evidence for just that had been recently provided.

Another area of particular interest to me (and my DH) is how the historical linguistic evidence can be used alongside the genetic. The two types are not synchronous, since our genes are the result of who our parents were, and the language(s) we use the result of the society/ies we live and grow up in. Adoption of children and adults from one social/geographical group to another is nothing new, and political, social and forcible pressure to change the language choices of groups and individuals has unfortunately not stopped either, as yet.

I could go on, but I think I’ll leave it in saying that this is a very interesting book, presenting a fascinating topic.


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