Day By Day

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Evidence on the Peopling of the World

In recent decades prehistorians [scholars who investigate the human past before the invention of writing] have had access to a powerful new investigatory tool -- the science of genomics [the study of the human genome]. Through analysis of variations in the DNA of current populations it is possible to infer population movements in the distant past as well as their timing. As with all new technologies scholarly discussions tend to be arcane and jargon ridden and thus inaccessible to the lay reader. And, of course, researchers stretching for significance have a disturbing tendency to overstate the implications of what they have found. How to make sense of it all?

Well, a good place to start is with the latest issue of Current Biology [available online here]. It is one of those special issues dedicated to surveying the latest developments in a specialized field of scholarship. What makes this one particularly interesting to me is that it is edited by one of my personal heroes, Colin Renfrew, one of the most eminent figures in the field of archaeology who for decades now has been attempting to integrate information from genomic studies into our understanding of the archaeological record.

So, if you have any interest in the subject, check this one out. It makes for great bedside reading and it stands as an excellent corrective to some of the more lunatic theories that have been plaguing the popular literature.

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