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The Last 10,000 Years

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220px-Patrick_Stewart_Met_Opera_2010_Shankbone In the 1990s there was an enormous controversy over a Native American skeleton which was termed “Kennewick Man”. Most of the dispute was rooted in the fact that the morphological characteristics of the remains did not resemble modern indigenous peoples. In fact, the features may have been more European-like, with reconstructions tending toward uncanny resemblances to the actor Patrick Stewart. A new paper in Science purports resolve this question, Late Pleistocene Human Skeleton and mtDNA Link Paleoamericans and Modern Native Americans. Here’s the key section from the abstract:

…This skeleton dates to between 13,000 and 12,000 calendar years ago and has Paleoamerican craniofacial characteristics and a Beringian-derived mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup (D1). Thus, the differences between Paleoamericans and Native Americans probably resulted from in situ evolution rather than separate ancestry.

First, I think the sequencing of the Clovis child actually clinched the model that the Paleo-Indians are the ancestors of modern native people. Instead of one mitochondrial lineage, they had reasonable depth on the whole genome. This paper is really more interesting for the archaeological component. The question to me is why people seem to think that populations couldn’t have evolved in situ over ~10,000 years? This is a matter of priors, how common is morphological transformation, and how fast can it occur?

As it is I think the question in regards to the Paleo-Indians was more straightforward than people wanted to accept. The Ainu of Japan exhibited the same morphological differentiation from other Northeast Asians as the Paleo-Indians, to the point where many posited that they were more closely related to Europeans. Nevertheless even early blood group analysis pinpointed that their nearest relations were other Siberian groups. Morphological patterns are obviously informative. But one reason that they’re interesting is that they vary between populations, and that variation suggests a certain level of evolutionary pliability. One of the ironies of traits which we use to differentiate populations, such as skin color and facial features, is that these might actually have relatively shallow time depth within a given lineage.

• Category: Science • Tags: Native Americans

9 Comments to "The Last 10,000 Years"

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  1. Interesting. This could possibly explain the disappearance of “Polynesian” skull types in Northern China and also the disappearance of Oceanian traits that were present in Neolithic Chinese populations (both north and south).

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  2. I’m glad all this scientific inquiry can be explained with common sense.

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  3. I don’t agree with this analysis, as the most stable genetic aspect of a population – barring a catastrophe – is mtDNA.

    Most of the admixture takes place between invading males and native females. So it’s easy to imagine a scenario where invading males carried a more East Asian appearance, admixed with local females, and the mtDNA would still be the same.

    My current theory is that PaleoAmericans came by boat, bypassing Beringia on the way, and settled the Americas. Later as Beringia sunk, it’s inhabitants with an East Asian phenotype spread out into East Asia and the Americas – giving us today’s pattern.

    In terms of the Ainu, they are most similar genetically to other NE Asians, but look strikingly different – maybe their ancestors the Jomon, like the Oceanians, inherited or absorbed a small amount of archaic DNA, that is almost swamped out by NE Asian DNA, but accounts for their distinctive appearance.

    I’m not saying evolution in situ is impossible, as for instance I note that most Ashkenazi Jews have blue eyes, unlike most middle easterners, this undoubtedly is due to some sort of selection in more recent times.

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  4. most Ashkenazi Jews have blue eyes

    Huh? Arguing from anecdata, my experience as an AJ is that some of us have blue eyes, but it’s not all that common. Do you have any reliable numbers to back up this assertion?

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  5. hm

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  6. “The question to me is why people seem to think that populations couldn’t have evolved in situ over ~10,000 years? This is a matter of priors, how common is morphological transformation, and how fast can it occur?”

    The morphological transformation observed had already run its course by the time of Clovis (ca. 13,000 BCE) at which point the phenotype reached something very close to the modern pre-Columbian form. So, the transformation took place over ~1,000 years, not ~10,000 years. Further, the morphological transformation seems to span all or much of the entire range of the Americas, at least from North to Central America. Remains with Paleoindian morphology pre-Clovis are found over a very large geographic range.

    The evidence we have now as a whole suggests to me that the Paleoindian morphological type may have been associated with growing up and living in the sub-Arctic and entirely environmental in source (e.g. diet based), rather than genetic.

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  7. If you argue for evolution in situ, then Paleoamerindians became more East Asian like over a relatively short period of time. But then you would have to explain how their morphological changes mirrored morphological changes in East Asian at around the same time period, but people’s in other areas under similar conditions did not evolve these changes.

    IMO, the reason East Asian and Amerindian morphology rapidly changes, almost simultaneous, is due to admixture with a third invasive population, likely Beringian.

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  8. Thank you for this link. I had not known about (any of) this (but I note that I was correct in my response since the discussion was about phenotypes rather than genotypes.)

    I don’t know enough about basic genetics to understand how the numbers in your link could be at all stable, i.e., in equilibrium if mating among AJs is random. Assuming that there is a single Brown allele which is dominant and all non-Brown alleles are recessive (you quickly get an idea of the extent of my knowledge) — and that immigration of AJs (or SJs for that matter) to the UK was not correlated with eye color, I would expect Brown eyed Anglo-AJs to have comprised 75% of that population and non-Brown eyed individuals 25%. Is there a short and simple explanation that you (RZ) can make here, or a relatively simple one that you can point me to?

    On a more personal note, the numbers explain the eye color of my mischling* children, with different shades of green/green-brown eyes.

    *Sounds like a critter from Middle Earth.

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  9. Links 5/19/14 | Mike the Mad Biologist
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    […] Pfired isn’t Pfunny The Last 10,000 Years Will Boston And San Francisco Continue To Dominate Biotech Innovation? The Biology and Genetics of […]

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