The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
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Resistance to malaria. Blue eyes. Lactose tolerance. What do all of these traits have in common? Every one of them has emerged in the last 10,000 years.
Scientists have long believed that the “great leap forward” that occurred some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago in Europe marked end of significant biological evolution in humans. In this stunningly original account of our evolutionary history, top scholars Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending reject this conventional wisdom and reveal that the human species has undergone a storm of genetic change much more recently. Human evolution in fact accelerated after civilization arose, they contend, and these ongoing changes have played a pivotal role in human history. They argue that biology explains the expansion of the Indo-Europeans, the European conquest of the Americas, and European Jews' rise to intellectual prominence. In each of these cases, the key was recent genetic change: adult milk tolerance in the early Indo-Europeans that allowed for a new way of life, increased disease resistance among the Europeans settling America, and new versions of neurological genes among European Jews.
Ranging across subjects as diverse as human domestication, Neanderthal hybridization, and IQ tests, Cochran and Harpending's analysis demonstrates convincingly that human genetics have changed and can continue to change much more rapidly than scientists have previously believed. A provocative and fascinating new look at human evolution that turns conventional wisdom on its head, The 10,000 Year Explosion reveals the ongoing interplay between culture and biology in the making of the human race.
Where are the peasants with their torches? Cochran and Harpending have given us a serious intellectual commentary that is brightened with entertaining humor and is refreshingly unmarred by the graffiti of political correctness and squirming apologies.
Their agenda appears simply to tell the truth insofar as science now grants room for it to be told. They are so cleanly dedicated to the truth that I am astonished that the usual mob of retarded and incendiary villagers has not yet appeared, torches in hand, to attack them on these Amazon reviews. I suppose they will show up sooner or later.
As for me, it is always a pleasure to read a book that agrees with my own opinions. Because I was once taught that human evolution ceased with the advent of civilization, and that all varieties of humanity were essentially identical, that is what I once believed.
What shook--and then destroyed--that belief was learning about evolutionary processes on other animals. At some point many years ago it seemed blindingly obvious to me that the enormous evolutionary challenges posed to our own species by migrating out of Africa into new environments, and then by the implementation of agriculture, followed by the rise of cities had to impose many strong selective pressures on at least some of our species and cause relatively recent evolution.
I was not long in discovering that this was not equally obvious to everyone. In time, I began to enjoy needling my more liberal friends when they ridiculed the religious right for not believing in evolution. I usually pointed out that they were only giving evolution lip service themselves since they did not accept that evolution was still at work on our own species.
It seems fairly clear that if evolution has had time to create distinct varieties of our species, with variation in every determinable characteristic, from hair, dentition, bone structure and density, metabolism, etc., etc., the only way that one can believe with certainty that mental aptitudes have miraculously remained the same across all varieties of our species (and contrary to the evidence) is, in fact, by the introduction of a miracle, by embracing something like the same supernatural agency that tofu-snacking, hot-tub liberals ridicule the religious right for accepting.
Evolution is truly a beautiful marvel, but it is never supernatural. And it is time to recognize and accept that it is far from finished with us. Cochran and Harpending have done us good service by writing such a clear and forceful commentary on recent human evolution.
Flush with the excitement of new findings The authors piece together evidence from their wide-ranging, largely self-taught fields of expertise to flesh out their thesis that cultural and biological evolution go hand-in-hand. It seems probable that the publicity they got for their article two years ago on Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence convinced them that the time was right for a book. The Jewish piece, relatively little changed, appears as their final chapter.
The findings are new and the book feels a little raw. The authors know that many of their findings are subject to restatement on the basis of further research. One has the feeling that their objective is not to have the final word, but to reframe the argument. Intelligence researchers and others have long contended that there are statistically significant, measurable differences among populations. The essence of the counterargument has been "No, that can't be. There has not been enough time." Cochran and Harpending cite a vast body of evidence to the effect that yes, evolution can create vast differences among populations in the timeframe under discussion. They cite the great variety to be observed among dogs and other animals, and cultivated crops, just within the last century or two. The authors claim that the thesis that there have been no significant evolutionary changes in Homo sapiens over the past 50,000 years is about as likely as dumping a bag full of silver dollars on the floor and observing that they all land on edge. Simply impossible.
They are bold to suggest that interbreeding with Neanderthals may have sparked what they call the "great leap forward" and others refer to as the "Neolithic Revolution." They argue two ways. First, they establish the proximity of Neanderthals and modern humans for about 10,000 years during this timeframe, roughly 40,000 years ago. They point to evidence, admittedly rather meager, that there was cultural exchange between the hominids, and on the basis of what we know about ourselves, if they were that close, they almost inevitably interbred. They then argue by analogy with several better studied examples of introgression - the recombination of breeding groups that had become isolated - to argue that while modern humans coming out of Africa may have been overall superior competitors, it is quite likely that they could have benefited by borrowing a few well adapted genes from the Neanderthals. Whether or not the Neanderthal thesis turns out to be valid, the presentation in itself is very informative.
Harpending and Cochran frequently cite Jared Diamond. Surprisingly, some very prominent people one expects would be sympathetic to their findings are absent from their bibliography, among them Steven Pinker, Luigi Cavalli Sforza, Spencer Wells, Nicholas Wade, and even Philippe Rushton, whom they thank in their forward. They appear more driven to put forward provocative new ideas, and less affected by the fear of being shown to be partially an error.
The authors are extremely aware that they are baiting the bears of political correctness. Their thesis directly challenges the dogma of the American Anthropological Association, which stands behind its resolution that "WHEREAS all human beings are members of one species, Homo sapiens, and WHEREAS, differentiating species into biologically defined "races" has proven meaningless and unscientific as a way of explaining variation (whether in intelligence or other traits), THEREFORE, the American Anthropological Association urges the academy, our political leaders and our communities to affirm, without distraction by mistaken claims of racially determined intelligence, the common stake in assuring equal opportunity, in respecting diversity and in securing a harmonious quality of life for all people.
Keeping their exposure to a minimum, the authors make few observations on the broader implications of their findings. They make the commonsense observation that peoples who have dealt in farming and commerce for many millennia probably evolved skills that give them a competitive advantage. They dryly note that the Amerindians' lack of such historical experience perhaps "... underlies a current wave of discontent with liberal economic policies in South America." There is certainly more to be said, and one suspects the authors would readily tell it in a cocktail party conversation, but it would defeat their purpose to invite imbroglios such as greeted "The Bell Curve." Their objective is to get research pointed in more fruitful directions. As a former member of the American Educational Research Association, I say "Amen." We have spent far too much time, money, and psychic energy time trying to solve insoluble problems because we refuse to examine untenable hypotheses.
The most part prominent scientist to debunk the notions that human populations differ significantly in any fundamental way, and by the way, that IQ testing is meaningless, was the late Stephen Jay Gould. Cochran and Harpending take Gould all on directly on several occasions.
Take this book for what it is, an exposition of exciting new findings and an invitation to apply what we are learning in the field of genetics to bodies of knowledge within other disciplines, among them anthropology, paleontology, psychology, and history. I am sure that their hope is that in the end these studies will be able to enlighten public policy.
A meal of many courses I read *The 10,000 Year Explosion* in one sitting. It's an incredibly dense 300 pages, synthesizing population genetics, classical history, archaeology and paleontology (to name a few fields). But the prose is straightforward and clear. The relatively abstruse nature of some of the intellectual framework means that many readers may encounter population genetics for the first time in their life, but for those who are less than enchanted by algebra these excursions are optional and one can safely "hum through" them and get to the meat.
And there is quite a bit of meat. Many books on human evolution have one main narrative arc; e.g., the Out-of-Africa migration, or the discovery of the Hobbits of Flores. In contrast, works which focus on world events tend to take a broad "peoples & places" vantage point, with little concern for non-human dynamics. As the authors note, *The 10,000 Year Explosion* is actually a work of genetic history, so naturally its purview is broader and its foundation more varied than is normally the case with narratives which attempt to sketch out the shape of human history. In fact, it is fundamentally different than other popular works of genetic history, such as *The Journey of Man* or *The Seven Daughters of Eve*. While those books attempt to infer prehistoric population movements from the patterns of particular genes today, *The 10,000 Year Explosion* aims to give full treatment to the evolutionary power of natural selection in shaping human history. Human migrations may shape genetics, but *The 10,000 Year Explosion* shows how genetics may shape human migrations, how culture may shape genetics, and how genetics may shape culture!
The abstract models which serve as the theory are fleshed out with specific case studies and familiar dynamics. For example, how did the Indo-European language family get to be so geographically expansive? There might be a genetic reason for this having to due with a particular adaptation. *The 10,000 Year Explosion* outlines the possibilities in detail. In a more general vein, the authors offer that agriculture might have sped up evolution, not resulted in its end. This seemingly counterintuitive claim on the face of it is eminently logical upon further inspection, and in fact has some empirical support. Finally, *The 10,000 Year Explosion* puts the spotlight on even relatively recent events. For example, the peculiarities of the genetic history of the Ashkenazi Jews over the past 1,000 years, and the impact of this upon the occupational profiles of the Ashkenazi Jews today.
*The 10,000 Year Explosion* is bursting with ideas big & small. Some of them require a bit of algebra for clarity, but much of it is amenable to common sense aided with illustration. Many of the ideas will have a "Why, that makes total sense!" quality to them, while other claims are of a type that many may find troubling if true. This is a book which will enlighten even if it infuriates....more info
Darwin's History Book The human species, according to Cochran and Harpending, is more interesting and more varied than would be imagined. They point out that the pace of human evolution accelerates linearly with population size (more people means more mutations), and that man has domesticated himself in many of the same ways that he has domesticated his plants and animals. The last 10,000 years really have seen an explosion of evolutionary change. There is the story of how lactose tolerant Indo-Europeans spread milk-drinking with blood and fire, why the Ashkenazi suffer from crippling genetic diseases at an unexpectedly high rate while winning 25% of Nobel Prizes in the last century, and how the Spanish really brought down the Aztecs and the Incas. This book is really the anti-"Guns, Germs, and Steel." The real accidents of history are matters of gene flow and chance mutation. This book compresses an astounding number of ideas into a few short chapters. As with the other reviewer, I was caught up by the active and engaging prose style, causing me to breeze through the book in 2-3 hours....more info
You've got to be kidding This book was fun to read just because much of the speculation in it is so ridiculous. And it is rife with speculation. Bushmen have a hard time adapting to life as shepherds - it must be genetic. Odd, I have the same problem learning Mandarin: Is that genetic too? Tay-Sachs and Gaucher's exist at such high frequencies amongst Jews and everyone knows Jews are smart; heterozygous Jews must be smarter than the rest of us. Oddly, Tay-Sachs heterozygosity hasn't had the same impact on French-Canadians and Cajun populations, which also have high frequencies of the disease alleles, or among the Irish who have very high levels of phenotypic heterzygousity (half the normal enzymatic activity as typical homozygotes). Gaucher's heterozygousity is likely to be advantageous in environments that have frequent outbreaks of influenza and TB (if you're familiar with Pubmed, do some searches to find out how Gaucher's affects the immune system). Just a few years ago the author's of the book were hailing the discovery of a new allele for the microencephlin gene that emerged around 40,000 yrs ago. Since microencephlin is known to have an impact on brain size the emergence of this allele must be one of the reasons Europeans are so smart. Unfortunately, it's now been clearly demonstrated that the allele has no impact on IQ. It's also strange that the authors never mention the Flynn effect (raw IQ scores among populations tend to increase with each passing generation; the Flynn effect has been correlated with urbanization and family literacy). The book is worth reading if you're reasonably well-informed and don't just accept the authors' take on something when they express an opinion. Finally, I've been a biologist for 20 years (with a reasonably extensive background in microbiology, developmental biology and evolutionary biology) and I can't recall a single colleague every suggesting that human evolution came to a grinding halt thousands of years ago. Suggesting such a thing would be silly....more info
PuhLEEZ I'm surprised at the positive reviews this book has gotten and surely expect to get some negative feedback on my critical one, but the truth is what it is. First, a full quarter of the text is taken up with the "theory" (is that what we should call a hypothesis just tossed out with no evidence?) that Neanderthal/Sapiens interbreeding gave a jumpstart to Sapien's cultural progress. Reminds me of an old hypothesis from the 50's that Basque is a holdover Neanderthal language. Who knows? Could be. Who cares? Need some evidence here and there.
Second, do we think that anybody hasn't noticed before that people differ radically in phenotype - at least compared to, say, grey squirrels? Does that mean the species has evolved or that it's a species that's highly adaptable in phenotype? I don't have an axe to grind in this case. I think that to a large extent the boundaries of "species" can be quite fuzzy. We just learned, for instance, that the forest elephant is a different "species" than the plains elephant. Same with "evolved". Humans and all animals are not static, so if you want to say that the species is "evolving", that's OK. But to set up Gould or the Anthropological Society as an enemy to be refuted here is just silly. No one disagrees with the empirical facts. There is a quite legitimate sense in which "we" are the same species as Sapiens of 100,000 yrs ago. (I do wonder at the variability of this animal and wonder if anyone has compared malleable species with more static ones as a general research topic.)
Thirdly, just as in the Neanderthal hypothesis, there's an embarassing amount of pure BS in the author's speculations on socially caused evolution. Their theories on the origin of the state and it's evolutionary consequences are no more than hot air. Are hunter-gatherers really lazy, shareful and impulsive while agriculturalists are selfish, docile and servile (these are all "scientific" words our authors use!)? Give me a break. By the way, since the authors repeat the old saw about huntergather Indians make bad slaves (just too "impetuous",don'tcha know), what kind of culture do they think the West Africans (who are the un-named but implied good slave types) came from?
Oh, yes, and why are the Jews so smart? Why even go into it? "Smart", that's like all those other words they toss around. Let me say again, neither I nor anyone else would deny that social and environmental circumstances cause mental and physical changes in the ongoing generations of humans. But is this is a new and challenging thesis that smacks up against the authors' (and reviewers') bogeyman of political correctness? Of course not. This is commonly called kicking a straw man.
So I'll generously give it two stars because if there's someone who hasn't heard, that person will learn how sicklecell arose and that light skin helps produce vitamin D. Oh, yeah,and Inuits lose less body heat than Ibos. Add that one: I learned it in college fifty years ago, but for some reason they left it out. Otherwise, I'm going to shelve it right up there in my science section beside Gavin Menzie's "1421: The Year China Discovered America".
Seriously, if you are interested in the natural history of the human species, don't make the mistake I did and buy this book. It's pure pop for the Fox News types dressed up in a badly written genetics lingo interspersed with Just So stories. It ain't science.
Fun This is a fun book written by authors with a lively intelligence. Their main thesis is obvious and controversial at the same time: the human race has evolved significantly over the last 10,000 years. They cite both the introduction of agriculture, and the accompanying explosion in population which increases the number of random mutations. Their other important thesis is that the leap forward in human cognitive abilities which others have remarked on, and which took place sometime during the last 100,000 years ago (date is highly controversial), was due to acquisition of some beneficial Neanderthal alleles. While not mentioned, 60% of the Neanderthal genome has been sequenced [...], but it will be a long time before the Neanderthal hypothesis can be confirmed, since we do not even have definitive knowledge as to which genes are most important in distinguishing our cognitive capabilities from chimpanzees, and we haven't sequenced genomes from our distant ancestors.
The discussion of possible Jewish intellectual superiority was particularly good. A small increase in average IQ, e.g. 10 points, can result in a lot more individuals in what were the tails of the distribution. As with many other evolutionary changes discussed, it is simply a matter of selecting for favorable alleles rather than a new mutation; in the Jewish case, circumstances were such that selection only worked on Ashkenazi Jews, not all Jews, and just during the last several centuries. The best example of selection making dramatic changes was the breeding of tame foxes.
The reader should be aware that what the authors portray as facts about human history are often just theories with counter-arguments. I include: that war was the primary check on hunter-gatherer population size; that the first immigrants to North America were responsible for the extermination of the large mammals; that syphilis originated in North America. (For a discussion of pre-European America, Charles C Mann's book is terrific). Also, the authors don't take a lot of time in elaborating on the biology underpinning their efforts, so some general readers may have to take some things on faith.
Poor choice of tone The content is researched well and the book is an easy read. However, I have trouble with the overall tone of the book. It is laced racial undertones that made me cringe. It doesn't help that John Derbyshire, who admits to being a racist and homophobe, wrote the review for the book either.
[...] "I am a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one"
While it is scientifically valid to assert that evolution hasn't stopped, and that agriculture accelerated human evolution, it is the tone that is one again disturbing. The implication once again is asserting that "they" are a more evolved people. It's ironic that they contend that many linguists had tried to place the origin of Indo-European in their own back yard, when their whole book seems to have the very same biases.
Overall some of the science behind their writing is valid, it is however disappointing that such smart people can't shake off their own bigotry. Had they struck a different tone, with the same science, the book would have been more palatable to a wider audience.
The authors are very confident that the Neanderthals interbred with Europeans, and that this interbreeding is what kick-started the European Upper Paleolithic. However this view is hardly supported by, geneticists,anthropologists and archeologists. The latest study by Svante Paabo done in 2009 sequenced A draft Neanderthal Genome. According to their preliminary results, there is no evidence of Neanderthals and modern humans interbreeding. The following articles discuss the current findings
The BBC article "Neanderthals 'distinct from us' "
and a New York Times article "Scientists in Germany Draft Neanderthal Genome"
In short a lot of speculative information is portrayed as factual...more info
Outstanding One of the most thought-provoking and interesting books I have read in many years, casts a new light on modern human history. Highly recommended....more info
This book describes an important explanation for historical events Darwin believed that there were (on average) behavioral differences between the races. Although such a viewpoint is politically incorrect this book indicates that such differences should be expected.
The enviornment of the cold and desolate Gobi Desert differs so dramatically from that of the tropics that it would be surprising that two groups of peoples, each exposed for 10,000 years to these differing enviornments, would not have some differences in the distribution of genes underlying behavioral responses.
PC may hide the truth from the general public, but thank goodness that the truth is out there to be found, thanks to researchers like the authors of this book.
Bringing recent human evolution up to date We all know (or should know) the story. All humans shared common ancestors 100,000 years ago or so. Some migrated out of Africa more recently. All modern people are closely related, with within ethnic group genetic variations that are similar to global human genetic variations.
There are, obviously, differences in physical appearance that have evolved, such as changes in complexion and eye and hair color. Also body shape differences; most skeletons can be typed by race, even though some claim race doesn't exist. Immunological differences make the news: different ethnic groups have different resistances to certain infectious diseases, different susceptibilities to certain genetic diseases, and, in some cases, genetic diseases based on resistance to specific infectious diseases.
The authors of this book take the final step. They suggest we should really believe in evolution, really look at the genetic evidence of evolution, and accept that it occurs constantly and, therefore, even in modern humans.
People spanning out over the planet encountered differing environments, differing pathogens, and different potential food sources. They adapted. And rapid expansion into different environments led to higher than normal rates of adaptation. This is, in a way, a book about human adaptability. Whatever people encountered, they found ways to adapt to; and this included genetic adaptation, not just cultural adaptation. When people encountered different climates, levels of sunlight, food sources, diseases, or whatever, some genetic forms (or alleles) were favored, and spread through populations. And if the environment itself could be transported, it gave a population an advantage that allowed it to spread, even if that meant replacing an existing human population.
Suppose, for example, that early grain growers not only learned to grow grain, they also evolved to digest it more efficiently. That would give them a competitive advantage over another group of people who hadn't so evolved. While it might be possible to learn to grow grain in a generation, an advantage in digesting it would still favor the first population over the second. The authors posit that the adaptation allowing adults to digest milk significantly favored groups that developed it, because cows (and sheep and goats) are quite mobile, and provide a substantial nutritional advantage as milk sources rather than meat sources. (You can only eat a cow once, but you can milk it every day.)
Probably the most controversial section is where the authors address the observed facts that Ashkenazi Jews both suffer from an unusually high incidence of genetic illness, and also score unusually highly, in a mean sense, on intelligence tests. (The authors explain why a modest difference in mean can explain a significant enhancement at the high end of the distribution; if a group is 10% smarter on average, it can have several times more members at the highest end in a per capita sense. It will also still have some members who are dumb as rocks, just fewer in a per capita sense. Which is why individual performance can't be assessed based on group statistics.) Their argument is that Ashkenazi Jews were effectively an isolated breeding population for many generations, while at the same time pressed into occupations (related to money lending) that favored strong math skills. Thus the population was, inadvertently, "breed" for intelligence, even at the cost of a few members suffering debilitating genetic diseases. (Evolution is about population adaption, not perfection.) There are certainly many who reject this theory, but their attempts at refutation need to be based more on evidence of flaws in the theory and less on distaste for the theory than has so far been the case.
The book is not without flaws. While the authors' enthusiasm is generally a good thing, there are times when their metaphors and jokes are a bit over the top. This is both jarring and offers unnecessary opportunities for opponents to criticize the book. A harsh editor could have helped with this matter.
Over all, however, it is refreshing to read a book that takes evolution seriously, and follows the possibilities wherever they lead. This book is thought provoking and well worth reading.
So much here I'll be reading it again Obviously, the advent of agriculture was a drastic change in human environment suddenly accelerating human change (evolution). This book makes the additional point (I hadn't noticed before) that the much enlarged population size provided by agriculture enables many new mutations to arise: More population, more mutations, each with the opportunity for exponential explosion into the population. With a population 100 times larger, evolution occurs 100 times faster. Beyond that, the book brings up many anecdotes (just so stories), many of which allow increasing amounts of quantification (hard science!), confirming that people in different environments have evolved differently. Human bio-diversity is real. Changes in humanity are occurring on the historical time scale.
A side point is that many soft-science public intellectuals have chosen to explain humanity in terms that are politically correct, but factually wrong. I welcome people like Cochran and Harpending (or Pinker) for cleaning up the public discourse.
I'll soon be reading the book a second time with pencil and paper in hand to keep track of diverse technical concepts I almost (but not quite) understood.
Ok for those new to the subject, but promises more than it delivers This book disappointed me. I think the central theme, that human evolutionary changes have greatly affected the course of the recent human past, is a valuable area of study. Unfortunately, this book does not really deliver.
For those familiar with the topic (having read the books by Wade or many others, or the columns of Sailor), this book brings little that is new: again malaria resistance, lactose tolerance and Ashkenazi intelligence.
For those new to the topic this book may be a good introduction and may open some eyes.
That said, two things really annoyed me about this book. Firstly, it seems that the authors didn't have a clear or consistent notion of who they were writing for. At times the book was overly simple, expending a number of paragraphs explaining the concept of exponential growth without using the term. At other times they quickly delved into genetics assuming a layman could keep up.
Secondly, some of the comparisons were wildly out of place. The best (or worst) example of this is on page 34 where they compare the lack of Neanderthal burial rituals to "flushing a goldfish down the toilet". These and their attempts at humor really annoyed me a lot.
I give this book 3 stars. The idea is good, the result not so. There are better books out there although someone starting out in the field may find this book worth the read. ...more info
Refutes conventional dogma The most poignant commentary on 10,000 Year Explosion comes from John Derbyshire's praise that is found on the back cover:
"Did human evolution come to a screeching halt 50,00 years ago when Homo Sapiens emerged from Africa, thus ensuring the psychic unity of mankind? Don't be silly, say the authors of this latest addition to the fast emerging discipline of biohistory. In clear prose backed by a wealth of hard data, Cochran and Harpending add a biological dimension to the history of our species and hammer another nail into the coffin lid of 'nothing but culture' anthropology."
Karl Popper claimed that Evolution is not a truly scientific theory since it is not falsifiable, but it is indespensible because it provides a paradigm for all we know in biology. So, the authors of 10,000 Year Explosion have set out to show through a plethora of case studies found in biology, population genetics, and human history that humans have been biologically evolving, rapidly in some cases, in the past few thousand years.
Some of the best cases that have been known for many years is the dramatic change in animals that have been domesticated. Particularly, the work of Dmitri Belyaev in selective breeding the wild Silver Fox to a domesticated and docile fox with spotted fur, floppy ears, and a curly tail in only 40 years!
The book is neither polemical nor technical and is geared toward the general reader. Whether you agree with the authors thesis or not, the book makes for a good read of various topics that are worth exploring in their own right.
There is some good material out that helps drill down to the mechanisms that may be responsible for more rapid evolution of animal species. Nova recently had an interesting documentary on Epigenetics Ghost in Your Genes. Matt Ridley addressed natures influence on genes in his recent book Nature Via Nurture.
The Past Is A Foreign Country Despite the complexity of the subject, "The 10,000 Year Explosion" is clearly written and compellingly argued. The book is devoted to refuting the idea that human evolution stopped 10,000 or 50,000 years ago, as some have argued. Rather, humans are constantly adapting to diseases, cultural innovations, and myriad other changes in the environment. As Cochran and Harpending point out in the Overview to their book, "humans have changed significantly in body and mind over recorded history. Sargon and Imhotep were different from you genetically as well as culturally."
At some level, the idea is plainly correct. Sickle cell anemia, for example, results from an adaptation to malaria. Those who had the gene were more likely to live long enough to have offspring, so the genes that code for malaria resistance are much more frequent in populations originating from areas where malaria has been historically common.
The same principle explains why the New World's inhabitants were almost completely wiped out by diseases imported from the Old World--by some estimates, mortality approached 90% of the pre-1492 population of North America and South America. The denizens of the Old World had been pastoralists and farmers much longer than their New World counterparts, and so had been exposed to a host of nasty diseases that originate from domesticated animals (e.g., smallpox). The farmers who were lucky enough to have a genetic adaptation that could resist the diseases passed the adaptation along to their offspring, and over hundreds or thousands of years the genetic defense swept through the whole population. By the time Columbus reached the New World, he and has compatriots had evolved to resist the Old World's diseases. In the New World, the Native American population had turned to agriculture relatively recently and didn't have the same suite of domesticated animals as the inhabitants of the Old World. Native Americans had evolved no genetic defenses against the diseases brought by the Europeans, and millions died in the space of a few decades. (The tables were turned on the Europeans who ventured into Africa, who were genetically ill-equipped to deal with tropical diseases like malaria.)
Cochran and Harpending's discussion of the Ashkenazim is bound to be more controverial and disturbing. The authors argue that, during the Middle Ages, the Ashkenazi Jews were, for various cultural reasons, a genetically isolated population that could make a living only in certain demanding careers, such as money lending and asset management. All of these occupations rewarded great intellectual ability, so over a period of hundreds of years, the Ashkenazi Jews became smarter on average than other Europeans. (According to the authors, the average IQ of the Ashkenazi Jews is 112, about three quarters of a standard deviation above the European mean.) This pushed the normal distribution of IQ scores among the Ashkenazi to the right, so the Ashkenazi were rewarded with a disproportionate number of geniuses relative to the size of their population. As further support for their hypothesis, the authors point out that the genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs that are associated with the Ashkenazi population seem to be errant expressions of genes that enhance the performance of the brain and central nervous system.
Of course, many of us become very uncomfortable when genetics seems to suggest that one human population might, on average, be more intelligent than another. Arguments about the alleged superiority of one group over another have been used to horrible effect in human history. But the authors are optimists, not racists. Pointing out that there is a unique genetic adaptation among the inhabitants of the village of Limone sul Garda that greatly reduces the risk of coronary disease, the authors argue that "some of the results of history's experiments may even aid us in more ambitious efforts aimed at increasing human life spans and cognitive abilities." Fine up to a point, but we must always be wary of the enthusiasms of those who would twist such hopeful conclusions into an argument for a new form of eugenics.
An entertaining and informative book Although I must admit to some bias since I know one of the authors personally, I found this to be an excellently written and engaging book. Where else can one find quotations from both Joseph Stalin and the American Dairy Council in one book? The explanations of the relevant facts are clear, with sufficient detail to que experts interested in further research, but not so technical as to be intimidating to an average reader. The books thesis is clear and the case is compellingly argued, the most obvious counterarguments are addressed and convinicingly disposed of. Although many in the PC crowd may find the subject uncomfortable, the truth should never be hidden for political reasons. On the whole I highly recommend this book....more info
A take on human evolution The senior author is an academic "expert" on human micro-evolution and related aspects of population genetics. Accordingly, the book offers a useful introduction to a subject and literature that even the professional evolutionary biologist is likely to be unaware. Regarding the specific topics covered, they range from authorative to novel or speculative and then to the outright polemic. The thoughtful reader will see this change "evolving" (intellectual micro-evolution or devolution?) as they read through the book. With this caviat, the book is interesting, stimulating and makes a number of very technical issues fairly accessable to the lay reader....more info
Provocative This provocative book describes many recent genetic changes in humans, primarily those resulting from the switch from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to agricultural lifestyles. Large changes in diets and disease are the simplest causes of change, but the book also describes subtler influences that alter human minds as well.
I had believed that large populations rarely evolve very fast due to the time required for a mutation to spread. This is true for mutations which provide negligible selective advantage, but the book shows that it's plausible that a number of mutations have recently gained a large enough selective advantage that the rate at which they become widespread is only modestly dependent on population size. Also, the book makes a surprising but plausible claim that the larger supply of mutations in large populations can mean large populations evolve faster than small populations.
The book is occasionally not as rigorous as I would like. For instance, the claim that Ashkenazi "must have been exposed to very similar diseases" as their neighbors is false if the diseases were sexually transmitted.
Most of their claims convince me that conventional wisdom underestimates how important human genetic differences compared to cultural differences, but leave plenty of room for doubt about the magnitude of that underestimation.
They provide an interesting counterargument to the claim that differences within human populations are larger than the differences between populations. Their belief that differences between populations are more important seems to rest on little more than gut feelings, but they convince me that the conventional wisdom they're disputing is poorly thought out.
They convinced me to take more seriously the possibility that some Neanderthal genes have had significant effects on human genes, although I still put the odds on that at less than 50 percent....more info
Evolution As An Ongoing Process The authors of this book are professors of anthropology, which might signal to some doubtful potential purchasers that the book will be dry as dust. Nothing could be further from the truth. In about 225 pages, plus extensive notes, glossary, and bibliography, this is a fascinating study of how the development of civilization led to further evolutionary development among human beings.
Most of the time people think of civilization as an end result of evolution, and assume that human beings today are the same as human beings ten or twenty thousand years ago. Not so, according to Cochran and Harpending, who have amassed a wealth of fascinating material to bolster their belief that human evolution has been an ongoing process that was actually intensified by the development of civilization. Among the fascinating stories and examples provided here are an explanation of the spread of lactose-tolerance and its connection to the peopling of the Northern Hemisphere, the development of malaria resistance and of blue eyes, and the different ways Tibetans and Andeans deal with the thin air of their high altitude homes.
The book is written in a light, entertaining style which does not undercut the solid scholarship which supports it. Readers of Jared Diamond will recognize some similar themes, and indeed the authors often mention their indebtedness to some of his ideas, but there is also much fascinating new speculation to enjoy and ponder....more info
High school to college-level collections strong in sociology and biology will find this food for thought Did human evolution come to a sudden halt 50,000 years ago when homo sapiens emerged from Africa? The authors add a biological focus to the question in The 10,000 Year Explosion, rejecting common ideas in favor of the revelation of recent genetic changes the human species has undergone. Human evolution accelerated after civilization arose, they contend: chapters blend human history with biological change to make for a compelling argument for the ongoing evolution of the human race. High school to college-level collections strong in sociology and biology will find this food for thought and solid classroom discussion and debate.
Excellent argument for modern evolution This book presents a well argued and studiously documented case for evolution of human beings in the modern era (8,000 BC up to the present day). The writing is fluid and very engaging. I highly recommend this book, and note that the excellent notes and bibliography enable further exploration for interested readers....more info
Another step forwards in the social science revolution The thesis of this book is that the changing environments encountered by human populations since the original excursion out of Africa ~50,000 years ago - and more recently through the introduction of agriculture, have led to substantial and differential genetic changes in various human populations. Therefore, to understand the deep history of humanity, we need a combined cultural-genetic analysis in which each component couples to the other.
Key ideas include:
* The evolved disease-resistance of Europeans + their diseases effectively destroyed the Amerindian populations of North and South America, which led to a relatively easy colonisation by quite small forces. Compare the European inability to colonise Africa, rich in its own diseases to which the indigenous Africans were far better adapted: *they* didn't die off.
* The spread of the original Indo-European speakers from their Pontic-Caspian Steppe homeland was, the authors argue, driven by a lactose-tolerating mutation which allowed those nomadic invaders to consume milk. This is a far more efficient energy source than slaughtering cattle, supporting five times as many warriors per square kilometre.
* And then the explanation of the superior intelligence (~0.7 std. dev.) of the Ashkenazi Jews due to strong selective pressure in their taxation, money lending and management niche over the last thousand years in northern Europe ... and the price in genetic diseases of the nervous system they pay for their IQ-boosting mutations.
I suspect the enemies of applying evolutionary theory to human development will have to die-off before the paradigm gets decisively shifted, but to an honest evolutionist, the approach of this book cannot be faulted.
We are at the earliest stages of differential genetic analysis, and I expect that the bubbling ideas and historical scenarios outlined in such a clear and entertaining way in this book will be substantially developed and refined in the coming years....more info