59 replies
  1. Zirc says:

    One quibble. I read both papers you link to. Unlike you, I found the paper at the second link to be much more readable than the paper at the first. Regardless, an interesting subject and the links were well worth the time I took to read them.


    • ducktree says:

      Ditto . . . I much enjoyed the second link as approachable from my puny perspective. Though the graphics and dissertations in the first link were appreciated.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Well, probably because I got them in backwards. I’ll fix it. I am glad you clicked through and that you enjoyed the papers.

  2. MattyG says:

    Thanks for the two links. Paleontolgy has always been an interest of mine and I enjoy trying to stay abreast of the news – developments, discoveries, fresh interpretation of the (often) scant fossile record, archologic finds and the like. We post-ice age humans (going back say 9,000 -12,000 years are just a drop in the bucket…

  3. Jharp says:

    I found a 5,000 to 7,000 year old spear point on my Dad’s farm in Ohio about 30 years ago.

    So cool.

    I often have wondered what the dude who lost it looked like.

  4. Alda Earnest Goodpeople says:

    Always a good read Ed Walker, and on quality par with Marcy Wheeler, but in a totally different light, though heavy credit to Marcy Wheeler for the volume of her substantive posts.

    If you are interested in this line of research, do check out the difference between the Denisovans and the Neanderthals, which I believe is in fact at the heart of the “race wars” or Active Measures campaigns to divide to conquer.

    The following link is a map based on Denisovan research put together by UCLA and Harvard, https://s3.amazonaws.com/cms.ipressroom.com/173/files/20162/56f9538f6eafb53f2900136f_Denisovan+map/Denisovan+map_55bc5a54-7510-4cdc-8f3d-388296954a92-prv.jpg, which illustrates the largest admixing difference between humans, which really needs to be looked at side-by-side with the map of the neanderthals, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Europe_relief_laea_location_map.jpg, and with the map of human migration based on genes analysis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human#/media/File:Early_migrations_mercator.svg. Note that the Roman Empire region is more-or-less void of Denisovans, which otherwise cover the Earth.

    The executive view of all of the same reads as follows, there were fundamentally five tribes that came out of Africa, and three of them remained, while two of them left for the Middle East. The second of these two branches to the Middle East populated Southeastern Asia down to Australia, where the greatest distribution of Denisovan genes are found and along that path. The people of the Middle East then populated the Far East and then Europe.

    The fundamental difference between the late “proto-Roman Empire tribe” or Europeans is that the Denisovans did not admix with this “proto-Roman Empire tribe”, and so the “proto-Roman Empire tribe” or Caucasians are largely thought of an admix of two humanoids, the Heidelbergensis and Neanderthals, whereas all other indigenous groups on Earth (except for the purist three African tribes that stayed in Africa), are an admix of three humanoids, the Heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. To my understanding as a former molecular biologist and geneticist and medical researcher at Stanford (one floor up from National Genographic’s Spencer Wells and his Y chromosome studies), this forms the basis of the false white nationalism movement, and the general racism of the white tribe against all other colored tribes.

    The reason I specify that the white nationalism or Active Measures movement is false, is that it is literally impossible to breed out, dilute, and/or eliminate white animals, a function of genetic mutations in close to 100 genes, each of which can cause albinism, or white skin, light hair, and light eyes. This in part explains why there are white lobsters, sheep, birds, fish, foxes, wolves, cats, zebras, bugs, et cetera.

    The last time I checked the natural rate of human albinism was on the order of 1/5000 to 1/20000 births, which again means that the end of all white people is a false narrative meant to divide and conquer. Caucasians were late on the scene, and so there’s more of everyone else is the short of it.

    It is also important to note that genetic studies reveal all humans are African, and any line drawn in the sand that I’m this and you’re that is truly arbitrary. Said differently, each of us needs to embrace our inner African, African heritage, and African culture.

    Last, food for thought, and I’m saying this as someone who looks Caucasian (and in the context that in genetics, the term race is considered “deceiving”, because there are over 6000 different genetic ethnicities) — it isn’t that Europeans are more evolved, as in fact they are less evolved than American Indians, but that they are more mutated — which probably explains a thing or two.

    Those three tribes that stayed in Africa are from a certain perspective a more pure or less mutated human, but certainly admixed also as Ed specified, and so naturally the opposite narrative was spun, they were put in cages, forced to be exploited as slaves, and now the white invaders who brought them to an Asian America feel entitled to abuse both Africans (the first people) and Asians (the first Americans).

    Literally and figuratively, that’s rich.

    [What? At any rate there were a lot of excess electrons burned in that long comment; brevity is your friend. / bmaz]

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I would say the science is irrelevant to the racist argument, not the basis for it. Racist fundamentalists are not engaged in a scientific debate. They are abusing the language of science to make a social and political argument, in the manner of Social Darwinism.

      • puzzled scottish person says:

        As I understand it,there is no genetic basis for racism, in that there are genetic variants which are more common in certain parts of the world but nobody has ever identified a gene for ‘whiteness’ or ‘blackness’ or ‘redness’ or any such thing. Something as simple as how tall we are involves dozens, maybe hundreds, of genes acting together (and/or antagonistically) with each other). Throw in diet and environment and it all gets very messy and complicated.

        Which is to say, race is a social construct. As Ducktree says below, we are all one. I’m not religious but I do think Jesus had a point about us all loving each other. It’s the only way forward if we want to make something out of the opportunities the planet offers us other than eating each other alive.

        Which might sound depressing, but I have hope really :-).

    • CCM says:

      Data on skin color from more than a few thousand years ago is non-existent. One data point we do know is from bogs in the British Isles, it is known the early inhabitants were dark brown. Does not go along with the proto-tribal thesis.
      Also albinism is a mutation where no melanin is made, caucasions do make melanin, just not as much and it is inducible by UV energy. The “white race” and albinism are unrelated.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I think much of that skin coloration can be explained by the tannins in the peat bogs in which the remains were preserved.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Regarding immigrants from the Beaker culture, the Guardian article suggests something different:

            Following the Beaker spread, there was a population in Britain that for the first time had ancestry and skin and eye pigmentation similar to the majority of Britons today.”

            The second article supports your thesis, but concerns a detailed analysis of a single specimen, compared to the first article, which involved analyses of some 400 remains, about 155 of which were found in Britain.

            The Cheddar Gorge remains came from a population that predated the Beaker people by 5000 years. The DNA of the Beaker culture immigrants displaced 90% of the DNA of the preexisting population.

            • Rayne says:

              The mention of light-eyed, dark-skinned Mesolithic people mentioned here in relation to linear pottery culture (LBK) people:

              LBK people had an average body height of 166.6 cm for men (ranging from 156.5 to 175.5 cm) and 158 cm for women, considerably shorter than Mesolithic Europeans of the same period. Ancient DNA tests have shown that LBK people had fair skin, brown eyes and dark hair, while Mesolithic Europeans had darker skin, dark hair, but blue eyes. Both groups were lactose intolerant.

              [source: https://www.eupedia.com/genetics/linear_pottery_culture.shtml%5D

              Bell Beaker people came not across the European continent from east to west as LBK did (and later Corded Ware culture (CWC) did) but along the west of Europe, from the Mediterranean and Northern Africa along the Iberian peninsula northward. BBC and CWC were contemporaneous and intermixed.

              But LBK and CWC both arose from the region from which Scythians came. One might ask what is “fair skin” when their progenitors came from Iran/Turkey/western Asia.

      • Artemesia says:

        Exactly. Being ‘white’ has nothing to do with albinism. It is natural selection related to vitamin D needs such that those in less well sunlit climes became lighter. White people don’t lack melanin, they just have less of it in their skin whereas those in warmer clime select for it to provide sun protection.

        And do we know what color those peat bog mummies were? They are stained brown by the bogs — what they looked like before death is anyone’s guess. Is there DNA evidence to suggest they were brown?

    • Ed Walker says:

      Here’s a short piece on Denisovans and interbreeding with H. Sapiens Sapiens. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2163910-our-ancestors-mated-with-the-mystery-denisovan-people-twice/

      The fact that we share DNA with other species shows that we interbred with them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we share any of their characteristics. This is from the second Link above, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169534718301174:

      Researchers have recovered short fragments of mitochondrial DNA from the humerus of the Neanderthal type specimen (Krings et al. 1997, 1999). The fossil sequence falls well outside the range of variation of a diverse sample of modern humans. Researchers suggest that Neanderthals would have been unlikely to have made any contribution to the modern human gene pool and they estimate this amount of difference points to 550–690 kyr of separation. Subsequently, mtDNA has been recovered at other Neanderthal sites, including from rib fragments of a child’s skeleton at Mezmaiskaya (Ovchinnikov et al. 2000) from several individuals from Vindija (Krings et al. 2000). As of November 2007, sequences are known from 13 Neanderthal specimens from sites in Western Europe and the Caucasus. The latest Neanderthal fossils to yield mtDNA are the left femur of the Teshik-Tash Neanderthal from Uzbekistan, and from the femur of the subadult individual from Okladnikov, a site in the Altai Mountains in Western Asia (Krause et al. 2007). The differences among the fossil mtDNA fragments known up until 2002 are similar to the differences between any three randomly selected African modern humans, but the differences between the mtDNA recovered from Neanderthals and the mtDNA of modern humans is substantial and significant (Knight, 2003).

      • Rob Z says:

        The amount of Neanderthal genome present in a single individual is small. The web will tell you that 20-40% of the entire Neanderthal genome is still out there in the cells of living people. Those genes are presumably still active and doing pretty much what they did in the original Neanderthal biology.

  5. skua says:

    The relationship between group size and food density in the environment continued through to longer periods such as multi-year droughts with band size decreasing further, with increased dispersion, as food became scarcer, at least AIUI, for pre-colonisation Australian Aboriginals.

  6. d4v1d says:

    Having read the work in its entirety, I have concluded that Ed Walker is far more readable! The prosody is dense and at times recursive – though that, to be sure, is the authors’ point: late human prehistory is anything but linear (ie, “progressive’).

    I found myself looking for illumination on geographic, geologic, and linguistic influences but there was not nearly as much on those topics as I had hoped. The modest amounts that were included were revelatory, and sent me down some rabbit holes that turned out to be gold mines.

    I’m reading Ed’s reviews on this work with fascination.

  7. DrDoom says:

    I am a geneticist and have some related expertise. The problem with paleontology and much evolutionary biology based on it is that it relies much too heavily on morphology. The problem with population genetics models is that they are based on assumptions that are often wrong. Panmixia, for example. The problem with language and culture is that they readily cross kinship groups or larger agglomerations of people.
    I’ve done a lot of work with lab mice, of which there are hundreds of inbred lines and thousands of genetically engineered variants. The inbred lines were started from weird, mutant mice that European explorers and traders brought back from all over the world to feed a fashion for “fancy mice” among highborn ladies. Ones that had movement disorders were particularly prized. They were interbred and then re-separated into new combinations, like shuffling a deck of cards and then dealing hands. About 40 years ago, there was a very high profile paper that claimed that the rate of evolution in lab mice was much higher than in other species. They had overlooked the genetic variation introduced by interbreeding mice that had been obtained from genetically isolated populations. These authors, and particularly those of the first cited paper, address the immense challenge of distinguishing alternative population structures for early humans.

  8. RacerX says:

    Thanks for the interesting & timely article! Herschel Walker and other evolution-doubters would do well to read it.

    Walker: “At one time, science said man came from apes, did it not?…If that is true, why are there still apes? Think about it…”

    “At one time,” Mr. Walker?


    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The football equivalent of pugilistic dementia, perhaps. Herschel certainly has forgotten whatever he knew of evolution. He’s also repeating a common ploy used by the anti-science – and racist – fundamentalist right: using word games to dispute science rather than better science. That doesn’t mean he designed the approach, merely that he’s using it.

  9. Ten Bears says:

    As good a story as any other, I suppose. Still stumbling around, though, megalithic structures, state irrigation, and other … oddities. This is one time where I find agnostic appropriate, not cowardice: we simply do not know.

    The way we’re treating the thin layer of no longer potentially toxic gasses we live in enveloping the only ball of rock we know of we can live on, we’re not gonna’ know. Maybe some future iteration. Maybe …

  10. picklefactory says:

    Thank you for continuing to discuss this. I read it the same month it came out and I’ve thought about it nearly every day since then.

  11. earthworm says:

    DOEv sits on my table, bookmarked at Wicked Liberty, while i am gobsmacked by current events and modern primitivism. (is that an insult to earlier humans? who are we? supposedly thinking beings….)

    • Ed Walker says:

      I’m gobsmacked too. But I don’t have any useful thoughts on current events in Ukraine or DC beyond the most obvious: a) that rich and powerful people don’t care who dies in their search for domination and control, and b) that young soldiers, mostly men, are willing to die for outcomes that make no difference in their lives.

      This is what I can contribute to what I hope will be a better future, so I just keep on.

      • Rayne says:

        Many of those young Russian men weren’t willing to die; they were railroaded into this war as conscripts or police who were told they were on an exercise. Many of the young men were also participating as conscripts or regular army because it ensured them access to a basic government-issued apartment they couldn’t otherwise get.

  12. Boomheist says:

    I read this thick book avidly as someone who has some training in the field of biology and genetics and following three years of deep research into human evolution, origins, and ice age adaptations. In the end I concluded the book was wonderfully written, impressively footnoted, and totally ridiculous. It seemed an effort to reframe scattered ancient evidence to support the thesis that earlier humans somehow chose non aggressive, non hierarchical structures, based mainly on the lack of finding big structures and works. What was good about the book was recognizing that Native American governance, much used by the Founders when writing the Constitution based on the Iroquois Confederacy, was sophisticated and elegant, but this was something I was taught over 60 years ago in Massachusetts and not something new. Racists will use anything they can to support their views, scientific or not, but this is true of anti-racists as well. For example, Homo Erectus, the most successful hominid to date in history (1.8 million years ago to maybe as recently as 100,000 years ago) spread all over the world (except possibly the Americas, and even this can be challenged based on Louis Leakey’s declaration about cobbles in California before he died) and for a brief time there was a thesis that the different human “types” arose from Erectus long long ago, with occasional interbreeding among types, such that today’s types or tribes or races came up from a distant ancestor separately. But this led at once to people being afraid such an argument might support racist conclusions, and it was immediately replaced with the view that we all came from one woman in Africa some 120,000 years ago, Lucy. Every year there is new evidence supporting shifts in whatever narrative rules, but what seems clear is that different hominids, when coexistent on the planet, interbred; ie were the same species probably since Erectus rose. It also seems clear – but this is now being challenged – that while ancient homo sapiens was, anatomically, the same as “modern” humans, something changed in the wiring of the brain and system such that new behaviors rose around 100,000 years ago with a huge change say 70,000 years ago. It also seems clear that these ancient humans were good seafarers, way back when, at least 80,000 years ago, meaning they could travel the coast around the great ice, and hence were quite capable of extending their genes everywhere, many times. Finally, the entire period of human development has occurred coincident with the ice age period, two million years of a great ice advance every 100,000 years or so, with many advances and retreats in between, but with the overall earth temperature cooler and harsher than during the warm interglacials, of which we are now 10,000 years into today, meaning, we evolved during nearly constant climate changes far greater than that happening now.

    • Rayne says:

      Welcome to emptywheel. In the future please break long stretches of text into smaller paragraphs. 100-300 words comments are optimum for uptake and readability. A single paragraph at 479 words is difficult for readers on mobile devices. Thank you.

    • crookedbowboy says:

      > …wonderfully written, impressively footnoted, and totally ridiculous.
      > It seemed an effort to reframe scattered ancient evidence to support
      > the thesis that earlier humans somehow chose non aggressive, non
      > hierarchical structures, based mainly on the lack of finding big
      > structures and works.

      I take issue with “totally ridiculous”, and hope to convince you otherwise – it seems to me that you missed their point that the archaeological evidence for hierarchy in cultures is very well-understood, and undeniable when it appears, and not based on conjecture. (This was news to me, but it is apparently something you learn in Archaeology 101, and maybe they took it too much for granted.)

      They found that evidence missing in many cases, *and* in fact strong positive evidence of non-hierarchical cultures, for example, the urban structures of Teotihuacan. Another good counter-example to your observation is one that dates from before the introduction of intensive agriculture and hierarchy – you might want to check out what we know now about Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.

      In any case, the authors are very clear that there is, by now, much evidence that there was a *very* wide range of choices made about how to organize large groups of humans in that distant period from 80K years ago up to “recorded history”. This refutes what our poorly-supported dogma says happened – that all of us were hunter gatherers until we invented agriculture, which inevitably led to hierarchy, priests, standing armies, etc, and now we are stuck with them.

      The authors are also pretty clear about a goal of the book – that learning about all the new evidence we have about pre-history should help us feel less “stuck” with the stupidities of current human affairs.

    • madwand says:

      You say “It also seems clear that these ancient humans were good seafarers, way back when, at least 80,000 years ago, meaning they could travel the coast around the great ice, and hence were quite capable of extending their genes everywhere, many times.” I kind of think that also.

      As far as the Americas go, there are two main theories of populating, one being the Ice Free Route between the Laurentian and Cordillerian Ice Sheets, and the other being the Coastal Route, which evidence for most likely lies under water off the Pacific coast. If the dating evidence for the footprints in New Mexico hold up


      at 23,000 years BP then that would currently be the earliest evidence of humans in the Americas. There are a number of other sites like Monte Verde in Chile or Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pa that have dates which are older than the Clovis First Model, now considered by many to be outdated. The book “Across Atlantic Ice” posits an Atlantic crossing during the ice age, however no genetic data currently found supports this. Geneticist Jennifer Raff in her book “Origins, a Genetic History of the Americas” theorizes a colonization by Arctic peoples across the top of Canada and then down the east coast of America and a great deal of that would have been by boat. They all try to answer “How and when did they get there”?

      So if the 23,000 date holds up that might mean boaters got here a lot earlier than we thought. Australia was most likely populated by modern humans around 55,000 years ago and they had to go over some water. In the scientific paper anthology, Paleoamerican Odyssey (Peopling of the Americas”. Edited by Kelly Graf, the first paper deals with “Occupying New Lands: Global Migrations and Cultural Diversification with Particular Reference to Australia”. A second paper deals with the Yana Complex in Western Beringia now northern Siberia which was populated around 30,000 years ago. And on it goes by a lot of well respected scientists and it all sheds light and speculation and pushes back the earliest possible colonization date even further. But I rather suspect that there are some scientists who go out on a limb and those who don’t and a lot of resistance to new ideas and dates. “The First Americans” by James Adovasio about Meadowcroft Rock Shelter is a good case in point. They went down multiple layers and found multiple artifacts and the dates kept coming back 4000 years before anyone was supposed to be in the Americas. Back then when you walked out of the rock shelter in the morning and looked north you would have seen the mountain of ice and wondered what type of world you lived in.

  13. jaango1 says:

    St. Patrick’s Day is another exemplar of both “science” and “non-science.”

    And this comes in the form or format for “Staying Alive.” And when religion is added into this mix, the Universality for Staying Alive is the designated complement to GOD. Thus this “He” is appropriately named and as “Her” is the Indigenously recognized GOD also known as “Staying Alive.”

    In closing, I too am expecting that a “Smarty” will provide me with either the scientific or non-scientific “advice” for what I must do today to enjoy St Paddy’s Day.

  14. Tburler says:

    The last passage reminds me of my own made up story about early humans, that women achieved consciousness thousands of years before men, that this is reflected in the A&E myth (and others) and that the foundation of human culture was warped by the overcompensation of men ashamed that they took so long to catch up.

    And no, I don’t expect anyone to take this idea seriously, though it has a certain fit.

    • Ed Walker says:

      LOL. My personal creation:
      Our ancestors were living in a cliff dwelling, an abri, in Southern France. A tremendous thunderstorm comes along. Some of the people are huddled in the back of the abri with a Shaman telling them that the gods are angry. The rest are at the front of the abri, watching, pointing, laughing, and shouting that was a good one!

  15. skua says:

    There is another large body of evidence about our <1000k ancestors which may be better made explicit.
    That being the absence in the geologic/archaeologic record of specific artifacts – fireplaces, fired pottery, worked metal, art on rock, the wheel, …
    These apparent absences form strong boundaries inside which all sound narratives about these people live.

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    RIP, Sir Guthrie Featherstone, QC, MP, High Court judge, senior barrister, and one-time Head of Chambers for Horace Rumpole.

    The multi-talented Peter Bowles (1936-2022) was a fixture in British film and television for over half a century, especially during the 1970s and ’80s. Other roles known to American viewers would be in, To the Manor Born, with Penelope Keith, and the Irish R.M. It’s been said that old QCs never die, they just lose their briefs.

Comments are closed.