Sunday, March 15, 2009

Evolution, genetics and history - New Books In History

The podcast New Books In History begins to state that among biologists it is assumed that mankind has not evolved in the last 60,000 years. I have heard this mentioned on other podcasts as well. NBIH then interviews Gregory Cochran who wrote a book together with Henry Harpending that presents reasons why mankind has continued to develop.

The title of their book is The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution and it sort of puts the common evolutionary logic on its head. Whereas the consensus assumes that since man has captured all corners of the world and with the help of agriculture made himself independent of environment, there is no evolutionary strain towards development in any direction. Cochran tries to show that exactly the development of agriculture in the last 10000 years radically changed the environment of man and with its fundamentally different culture, presented man with totally new parameters of survival, hence with new evolutionary constraints.

He continues to apply this logic onto more smaller levels and groups in a much shorter time span, such as Ashkenazi Jews, who were rather isolated in Europe since the Middle Ages and needed a whole different set of qualities for survival than others. He claims this counts for special features of the group. I wonder whether this isn't taking it too far, since this stretches only over 1000 years and that seems awfully short to me, from the standpoint of evolution. In any case, we need to know more of genetics to get better answers and this goes to show, genetics is going to affect our narratives of history, which is only one reason among many why this podcast issue was a thrilling one to listen to.

More NBIH:
Kees Boterbloem about Jan Struys.

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