Ice Age Europeans had some serious drama going on, according to their genomes

Real Game-of-Thrones-type action, spanning tens of thousands of years, according to recent DNA research – Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post

The entire drama of human history is encoded in our DNA.

Where we went. Who we slept with. How we died — or almost did. It’s basically a scientific soap opera, complete with occasional discoveries of long-lost cousins we never knew we had.

Take Ice Age Europe, for example. A new study of genetic material from the period reveals a continent roiling with change.

First, an upstart band of modern humans arrived, slowly pushing their ancient predecessors out of existence. But soon that new lineage was swept aside by a group of big game hunters. For the next 15,000 years, the older community lay in wait in a remote corner of the continent before bursting back onto the scene. The usurpers were overturned, and history barreled forward. And all of this happened against a backdrop of dramatic environmental change — waves of cold and heat that sent glaciers surging back and forth across the continent.

 

When did human beings start wearing clothes?

Interesting discussion on Reddit. Two answers:

Bone needles and scraped skins found in archeological digs suggest we started wearing clothes 100,000 to 500,000 years ago.

Body lice suggest a date of 100,000 years ago. Unlike other primates, human beings have different, but related, kinds of lice: One for the head, and one for the body. Head lice live in hair, and body lice live in clothes. The lice diverged about 100,000 years ago.

What do we know about when humans started wearing clothes? When? Where first?

A hundred thousand years of evolution — and now people can’t wait to get home from work so they can take off their pants.

Nope, this won’t be controversial

New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade’s new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History, lays out the evidence for a genetic basis to race and ethnicity.

The Amazon blurb:

Drawing on startling new evidence from the mapping of the genome, an explosive new account of the genetic basis of race and its role in the human story.

Fewer ideas have been more toxic or harmful than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that humans of different races are biologically different from one another. For this understandable reason, the idea has been banished from polite academic conversation. Arguing that race is more than just a social construct can get a scholar run out of town, or at least off campus, on a rail. Human evolution, the consensus view insists, ended in prehistory.

Inconveniently, as Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance, the consensus view cannot be right. And in fact, we know that populations have changed in the past few thousand years—to be lactose tolerant, for example, and to survive at high altitudes. Race is not a bright-line distinction; by definition it means that the more human populations are kept apart, the more they evolve their own distinct traits under the selective pressure known as Darwinian evolution. For many thousands of years, most human populations stayed where they were and grew distinct, not just in outward appearance but in deeper senses as well.

Wade, the longtime journalist covering genetic advances for The New York Times, draws widely on the work of scientists who have made crucial breakthroughs in establishing the reality of recent human evolution. The most provocative claims in this book involve the genetic basis of human social habits. What we might call middle-class social traits—thrift, docility, nonviolence—have been slowly but surely inculcated genetically within agrarian societies, Wade argues. These “values” obviously had a strong cultural component, but Wade points to evidence that agrarian societies evolved away from hunter-gatherer societies in some crucial respects. Also controversial are his findings regarding the genetic basis of traits we associate with intelligence, such as literacy and numeracy, in certain ethnic populations, including the Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.

Wade believes deeply in the fundamental equality of all human peoples. He also believes that science is best served by pursuing the truth without fear, and if his mission to arrive at a coherent summa of what the new genetic science does and does not tell us about race and human history leads straight into a minefield, then so be it. This will not be the last word on the subject, but it will begin a powerful and overdue conversation.

I loved Wade’s earlier book, Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors., which traces human development from 50,000 years ago to the beginning of recorded history.