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The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution Paperback – October 19, 2010
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"Did human evolution come to a screeching halt fifty thousand 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."
Bruce G. Charlton, MD; Professor of Theoretical Medicine, University of Buckingham, Editor in Chief of Medical Hypotheses
The 10,000 Year Explosion offers scientists and historians a new and fertile direction for future research, and provides the general public with a better explanation of the past, present, and future of human beings.... I was motivated to read the entire book in a single marathon session.”
John Hawks, author of Human Evolution
For years, human geneticists have been uncovering a picture of human evolution. But now, Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending are encouraging us to 'fast forward' the discussion."
A most intriguing deposition, without a trace of ethnic or racial advocacy, though directed against the proposition that we're all the same.'"
There is much here to recommend…and their arguments are intriguing throughout…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.”
Wall Street Journal
Important and fascinating…the provocative ideas in The 10,000 Year Explosion must be taken seriously by anyone who wants to understand human origins and humanity's future.”
The 10,000 Year Explosion would be important even if it were only about population genetics and evolutionary biology, but Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending…have written something more. This book is a manifesto for and an example of a new kind of history, a biological history, and not just of the prehistoric era.”
The evidence the authors present builds an overwhelming case that natural selection has recently acted strongly on us and may be continuing unabated.”
About the Author
Henry Harpending holds the Thomas Chair as Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. A field anthropologist and population geneticist, he helped develop the Out of Africa” theory of human origins. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending's research has been featured in the New York Times, The Economist, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, Atlantic Monthly, Science, Seed, and more.
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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
Cochran and Harpending provide a much-needed antidote to this completely inaccurate view of human biology and history. They make a strong case that far from cultural evolution circumventing the forces of natural selection and biological evolution, cultural changes serve as a powerful impetus for genetic changes in human populations. Obvious examples include the independent origins of adult lactose tolerance among cattle herding peoples in both Africa and the Middle East. Less obvious but nonetheless compelling examples include potentially strong selective pressures leading to changes in cognitive and personality traits as a result of sociocultural circumstances. In a sense, none of these findings should come as a great surprise, since human society and culture obviously creates the environment in which people differentially survive and reproduce, implying that the forces of natural selection have been and remain as active as ever.
I hope that Cochran and Harpending's book is widely read (particularly by social scientists and the general public) and helps to refute the stubbornly held view that only culture and environment matter as the driving forces of modern human history..
One thing that is certain is that evolution never ceases and can occur quite rapidly. Clearly people evolving within the context of civilization are going to be exposed to different selective pressures than those who do not. People whose ancestors evolved within advanced civilizations are, in essence, selected to be civilized, whereas those whose ancestors did not, are not. This simple concept goes a long way towards explaining the state of the world as it is today.