Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Greg Cochran, commenting off-the-cuff on why anthropologists are reluctant to believe that technology, DNA, and languages were spread by conquest and conflict, rather than contact and cooperation, despite the abundant evidence dating back decades. He quotes a prominent anthropologist saying "It's really hard for people to learn how to kill other people."
I'm thinking...what am I supposed to do? Demonstrate that that's false? There have been people who have tried to make such arguments. They really believe that. "It's really hard to get people to learn to chop an enemy down in the heat of battle." I don't really think so. I'm pretty sure that this was something people were always pretty good at doing, and if they weren't good they learned about as soon as there was a guy in front of them with a weapon. (Interviewer: You'd think if they did any hunting, that would...) We have cultural problems in understanding the past. Most people who are highly educated in this country - even more so, those who go into the social sciences - never hunted anything in their life, never hung out with anybody who did; it feels strange to them. Now, intellectually they probably know that a lot of people did do this - one hopes - but they don't sound like they really believe it. Real people couldn't have shot a deer, gutted it, drained its blood, cooked it and eaten it. That's just not possible...It's hard for people to believe that anyone wasn't exactly like them.


Sam L. said...

Hasn't studied enough history!!!! Must not have heard of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Hannibal,...World Wars I and II...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Their claim is "That's different, because civilisation, money, and society cause all those wars. Before that, mankind was mostly peaceful except for a few skirmishes."

I sometimes wonder if they think the background music in National Geographic specials about primitive man was actually playing then.

Zachriel said...

Sam L: Must not have heard of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan's y-chromosome (which is shared with his brothers and certain other male relatives) is found in 8% of the population of central Asia. On the other hand, mitochondrial DNA only comes from the mother, so other populations were integrated into the same populations.

While we might point out that the Norseman Rollo left descendants in nearly every royal family in western Europe, turns out we can say the same about thousands of other people. Genes and people mix. That's what they do.

Sam L: Julius Caesar

Note: Caesar claimed descent from Venus through Aeneas.

bs king said...

I think people get similarly confused when we think of historical mating/genetic selection in humans. Everyone seems to jump to "women are attracted to this" or "men like that". We don't tend to get to talk about the "attack the village, kill all the men, take all the women" factor, despite the fact that we know that it happened. The role of violence doesn't stop there either...if a society went to war and half the men died, women had to go with one of the ones who returned. I suspect violence played a much bigger role in our bloodlines than we all think about.

We've so quickly adjusted to everyone having almost 100% freedom to pick their own partners that we seem to forget that this is a fairly recent development. I suspect even the freest woman (or man) a few hundred years ago probably only had about 50% discretion over who they married. Less if you subtract out all the people who died before they reached an age to be considered.

Zachriel said...

bs king: We don't tend to get to talk about the "attack the village, kill all the men, take all the women" factor, despite the fact that we know that it happened.

Taking all the women means that most of the genes from the original population, other than those on the y-chromosome, are absorbed into the new population.

Britain is a case in point. The last major genetic influx to Britain was from the Anglo-Saxons, who mixed but did not supplant the original Britons, while Romans and Vikings left only a small trace. Interestingly, there was an unknown French influx during the Neolithic at the end of the last glacial period. See Leslie et al., The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population, Nature 2015.

bs king said...

Zachriel - I was actually thinking more about the studies that have been done looking at the gender ratio of our ancestors rather than the sort of population spread you mention. Those studies quite specifically look at the y chromosome variability vs the mitochondrial DNA and suggest that we have about twice as many female ancestors as male ancestors.

The impact you mention of the kill men/take women strategy on the y chromosome was exactly the point I was thinking of.

Texan99 said...

Good grief: how much more teachable moment could there be than picking up a hint about someone else's successful strategy in a terrifying, life-threatening situation? I don't pay close attention to strategies for applying eye-liner, but you'd better believe a lesson in how to fend off a mugger gets seared into my memory. Does anyone think raw military recruits, the ones that survive, don't pick up new methods really fast? We learn best when there's most on the line and our primitive emotions are most fully engaged.