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The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 27, 2009
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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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There is one thing I can't stomach in a science book and that's arguments along the lines of "because if moderns and Neanderthals lived near each other, its obvious that they cross bred and all the amazing advances that might date from around that time must stem from that. That's all the proof I need - and even though you can't see the genetic evidence, I can tell you why you shouldn't see it as well! See I must be right. Its obvious. I mean humans have relations with sheep so of course they'll have relations with Neanderthals. And that's why we have culture.".
Sadly, that was one of the authors' better arguments. I get the feeling they are too close to their idea and are unable to see the huge holes in their logic. What makes their mistakes worse is their presentation - they tend to put down views from the other side. Also not really good science. I also took mild offense at their put downs over archeology and anthropology. Again, there are times when those two fields deserve criticism - but this was not one of them.
Oh there is one other fatal flaw in the book and that's the central premise. To my knowledge, there are only a handful of self respecting scientist who would argue that the human race is no longer evolving. In fact I think I'm only heard this claim on some late night History Channel cast off on Atlantis or Bigfoot.
Its not all bad, there is some interesting, glossy overviews of heavily trodden genetic topics, like the Ashkenazim however I don't think the book is the best introduction to population genetics out there.
After a conversation with the author in the comments, I also want to add that I feel is mean spirited to those who dare to disagree with him. I gave him the benefit of the doubt on my first read through, however based on his comment to me, and to other low reviews, I've decided that he meant to put in his pointed jabs.
"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.
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
In short, a lot of speculative information is portrayed as factual. 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.
In chapter 2 "The Neanderthal Within" they suggest that Neanderthal and modern humans mated. Even if this was occasional advantageous alleles from this union may have entered the gene pool by the hybridization of the species and increased with time. "In just this way, a tiny bit of Neanderthal ancestry thrown into the mix tens of thousands of years ago could have resulted in many people today, possibly even all modern humans, carrying the advantageous Neanderthal version of some genes." (page 44) They go on to hypothesize that some of these advantageous genes may have led to a creative explosion or leap forward in innovation. This possibly helped modern man 40,000 years ago to populate Europe eventually resulting in the extinction of Neanderthals.
This sure seemed 'out there' against all conventional wisdom at the time the book was published in 2009.
However in the May 6, 2010 edition of Science Green, et al reported that they had sequenced almost all of the Neanderthal genome using bones from three Neanderthals living in Europe 40,000 years ago. They compared this to DNA from five people from France, China, West and South Africa and Papua New Guinea. They found that up to 4% of the DNA of modern man from all regions other than Africa were Neanderthal DNA. Presumably this hybridization happened in the Mid East 60,000 years ago after homo sapiens moved out of africa, but before they dispersed throughout the world.
Whether this was the spark that led to modern man's competitive advantage over Neanderthals remains to be seen. You never know what may be published in the next few years.
Other chapters describe evolutionary changes brought on by agriculture, mutations allowing tolerance of milk/lactose in adults, loss of pigment in northern climates to prevent Vitamin D deficiency, disease resistance aiding the European conquest of the new world and how the Ashkenazi Jews got their smarts.
Many of their contentions are controversial. It will be interesting to see how many withstand the test of time.
It has come to my attention that the authors have in the past promoted the view that genetics play a significant role in determining intelligence, human nature and personality. I do not agree with any theory linking race with intelligence. I find this much to simple a solution to a very complex process.
The author has in the past promoted a 'Pathogenic theory of homosexuality', that a hypothesized pathogen (bacteria or virus) is the environmental cause of sexual orientation. Also ADHD and major psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia have been linked to pathogens. These are sensitive subjects.
This is not a direct criticism of 'The 10,000 year explosion'. The science of genetic anthropology is fascinating, as is this book. Much of the authors theories may withstand the test of time. However I fear it is a slippery slope that may be used by some in a nonscientific way to promote inequalities and prejudice. My concern about this is why I can no longer recommend this book.