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The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution Hardcover – January 27, 2009
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Arguing that human genetic evolution is still ongoing, physicist-turned-evolutionary biologist Cochran and anthropologist Harpending marshal evidence for dramatic genetic change in the (geologically) recent past, particularly since the invention of agriculture. Unfortunately, much of their argument-including the origin of modern humans, agriculture, and Indo-Europeans-tends to neglect archaeological and geological evidence; readers should keep in mind that assumed time frames, like the age of the human species, are minimums at best and serious underestimates at worst. That said, there is much here to recommend, including the authors' unique approach to the question of modern human-Neanderthal interbreeding, and their discussion of the genetic pressures on Ashkenazi Jews over the past 1,000 years, both based solidly in fact. They also provide clear explanations for tricky concepts like gene flow and haplotypes, and their arguments are intriguing throughout. Though lapses in their case won't be obvious to the untrained eye, it's clear that this lively, informative text is not meant to deceive (abundant references and a glossary also help) but to provoke thought, debate and possibly wonder.
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Cochran and Harpending dispute the late Stephen Jay Gould’s assertion that civilization was “built with the same body and brain” Homo sapiens has had for 40,000 years. Humanity has been evolving very dramatically for the last 10,000 years, they say, spurred by the very civilizational forces launched by that evolution. They initially retreat, however, to Gould’s 40,000-year benchmark to consider how H. sapiens replaced H. neanderthalensis and to argue for genetic mixing such that modern humans got from Neanderthals the innovative capacity for civilization. Later, agricultural life created problems necessitating adaptations, most importantly to disease and diet, that persist to this day among inheritors of the populations that made them. Lighter skin and eye color arose from other genetic reactions to environmental challenges, and less immediately obvious changes further discriminated discrete populations, as recently as late-eighteenth-century Ashkenazi Jews, among whom intelligence burgeoned in, Cochran and Harpending contend, adaptive response to social pressure. A most intriguing deposition, without a trace of ethnic or racial advocacy, though directed against the proposition that “we’re all the same.” --Ray Olson
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The book's title suggests that the book focuses on the period of time about 10,000 years ago and that is correct. However before going there, the authors address an earlier period and present their startling take on why it happened. The period is around 30-40,000 years ago and is often referred to as the Great Leap Forward. There was an extraordinary change in human behavior during this period. Innovation for the first time had suddenly become part of very human activity. One example is a proliferation of polychromatic cave art depicting animals, which to us are now long extinct. Other examples are: sculptures (fertility goddesses), music instruments ( bone flutes), jewelry, and improved tools and weapons. The authors believe that the spark for this creative surge may have been the secondary result of an injection of new and different genes into our genome. Those new genes came from interbreeding with Neanderthals. The fact that interbreeding occurred is argued for by the authors, but it is not clear to me that they were aware that Paabo Svante had concurrent to their book, developed procedures for restoring ancient DNA and had decoded nuclear Neanderthal DNA. He proved interbreeding to be true.
The authors then turn their attention to the period 10,000 years ago when humans invented agriculture, which gradually displaced the hunter-gatherer way of life throughout much of the world. Agriculture was a mixed blessing for these early farmers. It made a huge difference in the availability of food, but that benefit came at a heavy price. Unlike the healthy diet of the hunter-gatherer, early farm crops were inadequate in nourishment. Stated more precisely, human bodies had not yet adapted to these new foods. Moreover, disease became a stressor for the farming communities. Human and animal waste made its way into drinking water and living in close proximity to domesticated animals allowed animal diseases to crossover to humans. As agriculture allowed for larger populations and the idea spread throughout the world, it left fossil evidence that humans had become far less healthy compared to hunter-gatherer cultures. When a species is confronted by life-or-death stressors, superior genes are passed forward into future generations whereas inferior genes are eliminated. In other words, the strong live and have offspring whereas the weak die and do not. Favorable mutations allow for genetic adaptations to be made. Just consider how superior our immune systems are compared to the Indians of both North and South America to Europeans diseases like measles, whooping cough, mumps, etc. They are non-fatal childhood diseases to us, whereas they were exterminating diseases to the Amerindians. Perhaps ninety percent of the Amerindians were killed by such diseases. The earliest farmers in the Fertile Crescent were in the vulnerable condition as the Amerindians until generations of evolutionary adaptation produced protection.
The authors made an argument that I found to be breathtaking; namely that evolutionary change is accelerated by a larger population size. Mutations are the change agents in evolution, but mutations are extremely rare. Either a mistake is made in the sexual reproduction process or cosmic rays change the code of a nucleotide. However as population size increases, the occurrence of mutations increases too. The agricultural revolution increased food production and allowed the population to rapidly expand. Since then, innovation after innovation has accelerated the control humans have over their lives. Today the world population is at 7.4 billion people. The number of favorable mutations occurring worldwide must be mind-boggling. Many of these genetic changes affect mental capability. The more useful the genetic change is, the faster it will spread through the population. It appears that we have not stopped evolving, we are evolving faster and faster.
Ralph D. Hermansen, March 27, 2016
The 10,000 Year Explosion is a fascinating book about human evolution. It's main focus is to illustrate how humans have evolved much more recently than most scientists believed. This interesting book also reveals what factors lead to human evolution. The book is composed of following seven chapters: 1. Overview: Conventional Wisdom, 2. The Neanderthal Within, 3. Agriculture: The Big Change, 4. Consequences of Agriculture, 5. Gene Flow, 6. Expansions, 7. Medieval Evolution: How the Ashkenazi Jews Got Their Smarts.
1. Fun, enjoyable, well written, interesting book about human evolution suited for the masses.
2. So much interesting knowledge throughout this wonderful book. Did you know that elephants shrank dramatically over the past 5,000 years, from an original height of 12 feet to as little as 3 feet. You do now.
3. The book provides many excellent examples of proof of recent human evolution.
4. Evolutionary genetics presented in a practical accessible manner. I'm in awe of human evolution, fascinating!
5. You don't need to believe in human evolution but you will most certainly have to accept it!
6. Great illustrations in the book. I understand you don't buy a book about evolution for the pictures but it is always refreshing to break up the monotony once in a while with a topic-appropriate illustration.
7. Some of the suggestions made in this book have actually been supported with even more concrete evidence by recent findings, such as our Neanderthal ancestry.
8. Interesting facts and tidbits about dogs.
9. The notion "of you are what you eat"...is taken to overdrive in this book. The advent of agriculture propelled human evolution, not to mention a huge population boom.
10. It's amazing how DNA captures our ancestry. Researchers use mtDNA and Y-chromosome data to make determinations about our ancestry. Genetic history has never been this accessible.
11. I learned so much about genetics. I wish I can go back and change my major. There is a great topic on how gene flows.
12. Languages in Europe and India had a common origin, who knew? I do now.
13. Milk it does a body good...
14. Also a very interesting topic on the intellectual prominence of Ashkenazi Jews.
15. If you enjoy this book half as much as I did, you will have enjoyed it indeed.
1. Some comments made in the book appear to be more speculative more than scientific. As an example, I find the notion that many scientists believe that human evolution has come to a halt, too speculative with no real data to substantiate it. Socially caused evolution also appears to be somewhat speculative in spite of the fact that I tend to agree with the hypothesis. More scientific backing would be warranted.
In summary, "The 10,000 Year Explosion" is an excellent, accessible book for the human evolutionist, in all of us. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it was fun and educational. I also recommend the following books on evolution: "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry Coyne (my favorite book on this topic), "Your Inner Fish..." by Neil Shubin, "The Making of the Fittest" by Sean B. Carroll, "What Evolution Is" by Ernst Mayr, "Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution" by Nick Lane and of course you have your pick of books from the master Richard Dawkins his most recent book on evolution is "The Greatest Show on Earth".