nhaliday + archaics   34

Who We Are | West Hunter
I’m going to review David Reich’s new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here. Extensively: in a sense I’ve already been doing this for a long time. Probably there will be a podcast. The GoFundMe link is here. You can also send money via Paypal (Use the donate button), or bitcoins to 1Jv4cu1wETM5Xs9unjKbDbCrRF2mrjWXr5. In-kind donations, such as orichalcum or mithril, are always appreciated.

This is the book about the application of ancient DNA to prehistory and history.

height difference between northern and southern europeans: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/29/who-we-are-1/
mixing, genocide of males, etc.: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/29/who-we-are-2-purity-of-essence/
rapid change in polygenic traits (appearance by Kevin Mitchell and funny jab at Brad Delong ("regmonkey")): https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/rapid-change-in-polygenic-traits/
schiz, bipolar, and IQ: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/rapid-change-in-polygenic-traits/#comment-105605
Dan Graur being dumb: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/the-usual-suspects/
prediction of neanderthal mixture and why: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/who-we-are-3-neanderthals/
New Guineans tried to use Denisovan admixture to avoid UN sanctions (by "not being human"): https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/04/who-we-are-4-denisovans/
also some commentary on decline of Out-of-Africa, including:
"Homo Naledi, a small-brained homonin identified from recently discovered fossils in South Africa, appears to have hung around way later that you’d expect (up to 200,000 years ago, maybe later) than would be the case if modern humans had occupied that area back then. To be blunt, we would have eaten them."

Live Not By Lies: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/08/live-not-by-lies/
Next he slams people that suspect that upcoming genetic genetic analysis will, in most cases, confirm traditional stereotypes about race – the way the world actually looks.

The people Reich dumps on are saying perfectly reasonable things. He criticizes Henry Harpending for saying that he’d never seen an African with a hobby. Of course, Henry had actually spent time in Africa, and that’s what he’d seen. The implication is that people in Malthusian farming societies – which Africa was not – were selected to want to work, even where there was no immediate necessity to do so. Thus hobbies, something like a gerbil running in an exercise wheel.

He criticized Nicholas Wade, for saying that different races have different dispositions. Wade’s book wasn’t very good, but of course personality varies by race: Darwin certainly thought so. You can see differences at birth. Cover a baby’s nose with a cloth: Chinese and Navajo babies quietly breathe through their mouth, European and African babies fuss and fight.

Then he attacks Watson, for asking when Reich was going to look at Jewish genetics – the kind that has led to greater-than-average intelligence. Watson was undoubtedly trying to get a rise out of Reich, but it’s a perfectly reasonable question. Ashkenazi Jews are smarter than the average bear and everybody knows it. Selection is the only possible explanation, and the conditions in the Middle ages – white-collar job specialization and a high degree of endogamy, were just what the doctor ordered.

Watson’s a prick, but he’s a great prick, and what he said was correct. Henry was a prince among men, and Nick Wade is a decent guy as well. Reich is totally out of line here: he’s being a dick.

Now Reich may be trying to burnish his anti-racist credentials, which surely need some renewal after having pointing out that race as colloquially used is pretty reasonable, there’s no reason pops can’t be different, people that said otherwise ( like Lewontin, Gould, Montagu, etc. ) were lying, Aryans conquered Europe and India, while we’re tied to the train tracks with scary genetic results coming straight at us. I don’t care: he’s being a weasel, slandering the dead and abusing the obnoxious old genius who laid the foundations of his field. Reich will also get old someday: perhaps he too will someday lose track of all the nonsense he’s supposed to say, or just stop caring. Maybe he already has… I’m pretty sure that Reich does not like lying – which is why he wrote this section of the book (not at all logically necessary for his exposition of the ancient DNA work) but the required complex juggling of lies and truth required to get past the demented gatekeepers of our society may not be his forte. It has been said that if it was discovered that someone in the business was secretly an android, David Reich would be the prime suspect. No Talleyrand he.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/12/who-we-are-6-the-americas/
The population that accounts for the vast majority of Native American ancestry, which we will call Amerinds, came into existence somewhere in northern Asia. It was formed from a mix of Ancient North Eurasians and a population related to the Han Chinese – about 40% ANE and 60% proto-Chinese. Is looks as if most of the paternal ancestry was from the ANE, while almost all of the maternal ancestry was from the proto-Han. [Aryan-Transpacific ?!?] This formation story – ANE boys, East-end girls – is similar to the formation story for the Indo-Europeans.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/18/who-we-are-7-africa/
In some ways, on some questions, learning more from genetics has left us less certain. At this point we really don’t know where anatomically humans originated. Greater genetic variety in sub-Saharan African has been traditionally considered a sign that AMH originated there, but it possible that we originated elsewhere, perhaps in North Africa or the Middle East, and gained extra genetic variation when we moved into sub-Saharan Africa and mixed with various archaic groups that already existed. One consideration is that finding recent archaic admixture in a population may well be a sign that modern humans didn’t arise in that region ( like language substrates) – which makes South Africa and West Africa look less likely. The long-continued existence of homo naledi in South Africa suggests that modern humans may not have been there for all that long – if we had co-existed with homo naledi, they probably wouldn’t lasted long. The oldest known skull that is (probably) AMh was recently found in Morocco, while modern humans remains, already known from about 100,000 years ago in Israel, have recently been found in northern Saudi Arabia.

While work by Nick Patterson suggests that modern humans were formed by a fusion between two long-isolated populations, a bit less than half a million years ago.

So: genomics had made recent history Africa pretty clear. Bantu agriculuralists expanded and replaced hunter-gatherers, farmers and herders from the Middle East settled North Africa, Egypt and northeaat Africa, while Nilotic herdsmen expanded south from the Sudan. There are traces of earlier patterns and peoples, but today, only traces. As for questions back further in time, such as the origins of modern humans – we thought we knew, and now we know we don’t. But that’s progress.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/18/reichs-journey/
David Reich’s professional path must have shaped his perspective on the social sciences. Look at the record. He starts his professional career examining the role of genetics in the elevated prostate cancer risk seen in African-American men. Various social-science fruitcakes oppose him even looking at the question of ancestry ( African vs European). But they were wrong: certain African-origin alleles explain the increased risk. Anthropologists (and human geneticists) were sure (based on nothing) that modern humans hadn’t interbred with Neanderthals – but of course that happened. Anthropologists and archaeologists knew that Gustaf Kossina couldn’t have been right when he said that widespread material culture corresponded to widespread ethnic groups, and that migration was the primary explanation for changes in the archaeological record – but he was right. They knew that the Indo-European languages just couldn’t have been imposed by fire and sword – but Reich’s work proved them wrong. Lots of people – the usual suspects plus Hindu nationalists – were sure that the AIT ( Aryan Invasion Theory) was wrong, but it looks pretty good today.

Some sociologists believed that caste in India was somehow imposed or significantly intensified by the British – but it turns out that most jatis have been almost perfectly endogamous for two thousand years or more…

It may be that Reich doesn’t take these guys too seriously anymore. Why should he?

varnas, jatis, aryan invastion theory: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/04/22/who-we-are-8-india/

europe and EEF+WHG+ANE: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/who-we-are-9-europe/

https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/03/book-review-david-reich-human-genes-reveal-history/
The massive mixture events that occurred in the recent past to give rise to Europeans and South Asians, to name just two groups, were likely “male mediated.” That’s another way of saying that men on the move took local women as brides or concubines. In the New World there are many examples of this, whether it be among African Americans, where most European ancestry seems to come through men, or in Latin America, where conquistadores famously took local women as paramours. Both of these examples are disquieting, and hint at the deep structural roots of patriarchal inequality and social subjugation that form the backdrop for the emergence of many modern peoples.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
Caught in the act | West Hunter
The fossil record is sparse. Let me try to explain that. We have at most a few hundred Neanderthal skeletons, most in pretty poor shape. How many Neanderthals ever lived? I think their population varied in size quite a bit – lowest during glacial maxima, probably highest in interglacials. Their degree of genetic diversity suggests an effective population size of ~1000, but that would be dominated by the low points (harmonic average). So let’s say 50,000 on average, over their whole range (Europe, central Asia, the Levant, perhaps more). Say they were around for 300,000 years, with a generation time of 30 years – 10,000 generations, for a total of five hundred million Neanderthals over all time. So one in a million Neanderthals ends up in a museum: one every 20 generations. Low time resolution!

So if anatomically modern humans rapidly wiped out Neanderthals, we probably couldn’t tell. In much the same way, you don’t expect to find the remains of many dinosaurs killed by the Cretaceous meteor impact (at most one millionth of one generation, right?), or of Columbian mammoths killed by a wave of Amerindian hunters. Sometimes invaders leave a bigger footprint: a bunch of cities burning down with no rebuilding tells you something. But even when you know that population A completely replaced population B, it can be hard to prove that just how it happened. After all, population A could have all committed suicide just before B showed up. Stranger things have happened – but not often.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Genetic Architectures | West Hunter
Dairy cattle eventually graduate to McDonalds, so there is some interest in the genetics of beef production in dairy breeds. There is course more interest in the genetics of beef production in beef breeds of cattle.

Usually you don’t find a single allele that makes a lot of difference, but in some beef breeds, there are myostatin mutations that result in a ridiculous-looking, ‘double-muscled’ beast. Homozygosity for myostatin mutations causes difficulties in birth, so it takes really strong selection for beef production to make a myostatin null common. I don’t think you ever see this in dairy breeds.

But, as it turns out, there is a deletion that is pretty common in some dairy breeds that significantly increases milk production while killing homozygotes before birth.

Breeds under weaker selection for single traits, your typical cow of the past, probably have neither.

The point is that the genetic architecture of a quantitative trait does not have to be the same in different populations of the same species. For example, I have the impression that height is not as highly polygenic in Pygmies as it is most other human populations. There’s a particular region on chromosome 3 that seems to influence height- you don’t see such a concentration in Europeans.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Ethiopian altitude adaptations | West Hunter
I said a while ago that the altitude adaptations in Tibet were too damn good, more effective than those seen in Andean Amerindians, and so must have originated in a population that lived at high altitude for a long time.  This seems to be the case.

The same must be true of Ethiopia. Their altitude adaptations also work well. There is a genetic component in Ethiopia that seems to correspond to the original hunter-gatherers, and the altitude alleles must have originated in that population, not the later components that look like East Africans or Levantines.

In both cases, there’s a fair chance that the ultimate origin could be some archaic group.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/ethiopian-adaptations/#comment-22644
You know, I don’t think that is the problem.

I’ve paid attention to the Falasha story for a long time. I think it’s funny as hell.

...

The Falasha are (best guess based on recent genetic studies) locals who converted to an old-fashioned, non-rabbinic Judaism. Genetically pretty much like other highland Ethiopians, definitely so in mtDNA.
On the other hand, the non-African component is probably similar to what we see in the Levant today, as with other Ethiopian highlanders speaking Semitic languages.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Information Processing: Genetic variation in Han Chinese population
Largest component of genetic variation is a N-S cline (phenotypic N-S gradient discussed here). Variance accounted for by second (E-W) PC vector is much smaller and the Han population is fairly homogeneous in genetic terms: ...while we revealed East-to-West structure among the Han Chinese, the signal is relatively weak and very little structure is discernible beyond the second PC (p.24).

Neandertal ancestry does not vary significantly across provinces, consistent with admixture prior to the dispersal of modern Han Chinese.

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2014/01/china-1793.html
My fellow officers informed me, that while the negotiation was going on, the ships were constantly crowded with all kinds of refreshments, and that when they were first boarded by the Chinese they received every attention from them that could be shown; and that the presents received by the different officers belonging to the embassy, were of immense value. That the natives of this part of China were of different complexions and manners from those in and near Canton; their colour being nearly white; and in their manners were much more free and candid; and that they were of a larger stature, and more athletic than the southern Chinese—they were much more sociable, and not so particular respecting their women being seen by the men. And were even fond of receiving the officers into their houses, when on shore, provided it could be done without the knowledge of the mandarins.

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2014/06/large-scale-psychological-differences.html
The study below discusses a psychological/cognitive/personality gradient between N and S China, possibly driven by a history of wheat vs rice cultivation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_and_southern_China
http://shanghaiist.com/2015/07/01/average-heights-men-women.php
https://www.quora.com/Why-are-Northern-Chinese-people-generally-taller-than-Southern-Chinese

https://gnxp.nofe.me/2017/08/01/the-great-genetic-map-of-china/
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july 2017 by nhaliday
The story of modern human origins just got more complicated
https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2017/06/06/a-reticulation-pulse-expansion-of-modern-human-genetic-variation/
https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2017/06/11/the-search-for-eden-opens-up-new-vistas/
https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2017/08/26/northeast-africa/

https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2018/01/25/out-of-africa-to-out-of-eden-well-perhaps-not-yet/
https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2018/01/28/none-dare-call-it-multiregionalism/

The slow death of Out of Africa: http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-slow-death-of-out-of-africa.html
The significance of the discovery of modern humans in Arabia >85kya is that it provides a second spot (other than Israel) were modern humans existed outside Africa long before the alleged 60kya blitz out of the continent. We now have modern humans outside Africa in roughly two locations (Israel and Arabia), and three time slices (~175-85kya) in Misliya, Shkul/Qafzeh, and Al Wusta-1. It is no longer tenable to claim that these modern humans "died out" to make way for the alleged 60kya OoA event.
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june 2017 by nhaliday
Genetics allows the dead to speak from the grave - The Unz Review
BOOKMARKIt is a running joke of mine on Twitter that the genetics of white people is one of those fertile areas of research that seems to never end. Is it a surprise that the ancient DNA field has first elucidated the nature of this obscure foggy continent, before rich histories of the untold billions of others? It’s funny, and yet these stories, true tales, do I think tell us a great deal about how modern human populations came to be in the last 10,000 years. The lessons of Europe can be generalized. We don’t have the rich stock of ancient DNA from China, the Middle East, or India. At least not enough to do population genomics, which requires larger sample sizes than a few. But, climate permitting, we may.

...

At about the same time the evidence for Neanderthal admixture came out, Luke Jostins posted results which showed that other human lineages were also undergoing encephalization, before their trajectory was cut short. That is, their brains were getting bigger before they went extinct. To me this suggested that the broader Homo lineage was undergoing a process of nearly inevitable change due to a series of evolutionary events very deep in our history, perhaps ancestral on the order of millions of years. Along with the evidence for admixture it made me reconsider my priors. Perhaps some Homo lineage was going to expand outward and do what we did, and perhaps it wasn’t inevitable that it was going to be us. Perhaps the Neanderthal Parallax scenario is not as fantastical as we might think?
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Interview: Mostly Sealing Wax | West Hunter
https://soundcloud.com/user-519115521/greg-cochran-part-2
https://medium.com/@houstoneuler/annotating-part-2-of-the-greg-cochran-interview-with-james-miller-678ba33f74fc

- conformity and Google, defense and spying (China knows prob almost all our "secrets")
- in the past you could just find new things faster than people could reverse-engineer. part of the problem is that innovation is slowing down today (part of the reason for convergence by China/developing world).
- introgression from archaics of various kinds
- mutational load and IQ, wrath of khan neanderthal
- trade and antiquity (not that useful besides ideas tbh), Roman empire, disease, smallpox
- spices needed to be grown elsewhere, but besides that...
- analogy: caste system in India (why no Brahmin car repairmen?), slavery in Greco-Roman times, more water mills in medieval times (rivers better in north, but still could have done it), new elite not liking getting hands dirty, low status of engineers, rise of finance
- crookery in finance, hedge fund edge might be substantially insider trading
- long-term wisdom of moving all manufacturing to China...?
- economic myopia: British financialization before WW1 vis-a-vis Germany. North vs. South and cotton/industry, camels in Middle East vs. wagons in Europe
- Western medicine easier to convert to science than Eastern, pseudoscience and wrong theories better than bag of recipes
- Greeks definitely knew some things that were lost (eg, line in Pliny makes reference to combinatorics calculation rediscovered by German dude much later. think he's referring to Catalan numbers?), Lucio Russo book
- Indo-Europeans, Western Europe, Amerindians, India, British Isles, gender, disease, and conquest
- no farming (Dark Age), then why were people still farming on Shetland Islands north of Scotland?
- "symbolic" walls, bodies with arrows
- family stuff, children learning, talking dog, memory and aging
- Chinese/Japanese writing difficulty and children learning to read
- Hatfield-McCoy feud: the McCoy family was actually a case study in a neurological journal. they had anger management issues because of cancers of their adrenal gland (!!).

the Chinese know...: https://macropolo.org/casting-off-real-beijings-cryptic-warnings-finance-taking-economy/
Over the last couple of years, a cryptic idiom has crept into the way China’s top leaders talk about risks in the country’s financial system: tuo shi xiang xu (脱实向虚), which loosely translates as “casting off the real for the empty.” Premier Li Keqiang warned against it at his press conference at the end of the 2016 National People’s Congress (NPC). At this year’s NPC, Li inserted this very expression into his annual work report. And in April, while on an inspection tour of Guangxi, President Xi Jinping used the term, saying that China must “unceasingly promote industrial modernization, raise the level of manufacturing, and not allow the real to be cast off for the empty.”

Such an odd turn of phrase is easy to overlook, but it belies concerns about a significant shift in the way that China’s economy works. What Xi and Li were warning against is typically called financialization in developed economies. It’s when “real” companies—industrial firms, manufacturers, utility companies, property developers, and anyone else that produces a tangible product or service—take their money and, rather than put it back into their businesses, invest it in “empty”, or speculative, assets. It occurs when the returns on financial investments outstrip those in the real economy, leading to a disproportionate amount of money being routed into the financial system.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Call Him George | West Hunter
I hear that Rasmus Nielsen (speaking at SMBE 2014) has evidence that Tibetans picked up some of their altitude adaptation (EPAS1) from Denisovans.

Who could have imagined that?

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/islands-in-the-sky/
There are three major high-altitude regions inhabited by humans: highland Ethiopia, Tibet, and the Andean altiplano. In each of these three cases, the locals have adapted in various ways to high altitude – physiological adaptations, as well as cultural. To make it even clearer, those physiological changes are, to a large extent, a consequence of natural selection, rather than individual acclimatization.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/tibet/
The Tibetans deal with high altitude much more effectively than the Amerindians of the Altiplano. You have to think that they’ve lived there longer, been exposed to those selective pressures longer – and that’s quite feasible. Anatomically modern humans have been in Asia much longer than in the Americas, and it’s even possible that they picked up some adaptive altitude-adaptation genes from archaic humans that had been there for hundreds of thousands of years.

There’s another interesting point: the hunter-gatherers of Tibet appear to account for a lot of Tibetan ancestry, probably most of it, rather than than being almost entirely replaced by a wave of neolithic agriculturalists, which is the more common pattern. They had a trump card – altitude adaptation. A story like that which has left Bolivia mostly Amerindian.

Modern Eugenics: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/modern-eugenics/
Recent work in genetics has made it clear that Tibetans, Andean Indians, and Ethiopians adapted independently to high-altitude living. It’s also clear that the Tibetan adaptations are more effective those in Andean Indians. Infant survival is better in Tibet, where babies average about half a pound heavier, and the suite of Tibetan adaptations doesn’t seem to fail with increasing age, while a significant fraction of Andean Indians develop chronic mountain sickness in later life. The Andean pattern look something like an exaggerated acclimatization response, while the Tibetan pattern is more like that seen in mammalian species have lived at high altitude for a long time.

...

The obvious solution to these apparently permanent problems in Bolivia and Peru is a dose of Tibetan genes. Since Tibetan alleles are more effective, they must confer higher fitness, and so their frequencies should gradually increase with time. This doesn’t mean that Bolivians would turn Tibetan overall – the change would only happen in those genes for which the Tibetan version was more efficient. It wouldn’t take all that high a dose: in fact, if you’re not in a hurry, just a few tens of Tibetans could transmit enough copies of the key alleles to do the job, although admittedly you’d have to wait a few thousand years to complete the process.

Logically, the easiest way to do this would be to encourage some young Tibetan men to immigrate to the Andes. Clearly, men can be more effective at this than women. We could pay them to donate to the local sperm banks. We could subsidize the process, _giving cash rewards to the mothers of part-Tibetan kids, a la the Howard Foundation_ [lmao]. We could give our heros Corvettes. Considering the general level of discontent in Tibet, it might not be too hard to recruit young men for this kind of work.

The project would take longer than the usual NIH time horizon, so probably the best approach is to find some wealthy sponsor. You could get a sure-fire version of this program going, one big enough to make ultimate success a racing certainty, for under a million bucks. The backer would never see the end result, but so what? When we build, let us think that we build forever.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/powerful-stuff/
I was thinking again about that Denisovan allele of EPAS1 that plays a big role in Tibetan altitude adaptation. Considering modern humans, it has only been found in Tibetans (high frequency) and in the Chinese (couple of percent). The preferred model in the paper is that it entered the common ancestors of Tibetans and Han, rising to high frequency among the Tibetans because of its advantage. I doubt this: the authors are clinging to a claim of a recent split in a previous publication of theirs – but the idea that the modern Tibetans are a fusion of a Han-like population with a long-established group of Tibetan hunter-gatherers seems more likely to me. So the few copies of the high-altitude EPAS1 allele among the Chinese are probably a result of recent gene flow, possibly from the Tibetan empire (618-841) that controlled parts of China, or from ethnic Tibetans identifying as Chinese.

This allele has some pretty powerful effects on the hypoxia response, which is there for a reason. The usual evolutionary rule is that change is bad: even though the Denisovan allele confers a big advantage at high altitude, the odds are that it is disadvantageous at low altitude. This would explain why it is rare in China and apparently unknown in Japan. This would also explain why it never made it to the Andes – even though there might have been a copy or two in the long-ago East Asian ancestors of the Amerindians, who have a bit of Denisovan admixture admixture (at least, I think they do – interesting if that isn’t the case) , it would most likely have been lost in Beringia. Along the same lines, altitude adaptations probably never managed to travel from Ethiopia to Tibet, which is why they have different approaches to altitude adaptation today.

It is therefore no surprise that this EPAS1 allele does not exist in Melanesians, even though they have 25 times as much Denisovan ancestry as mainland East Asians.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/tibetan-mastiff/
The Tibetan Mastiff can take high altitude better than generic dogs, or so breedists would like you to think. Some of the genetics changes are similar to those seen in human Tibetans – regulatory changes in EPAS1, for example. Domesticated dogs haven’t lived in Tibet all that long – but wolves have. The Tibetan Mastiff picked up some of those useful variants from local wolves, even though the amount of admixture wasn’t large. Adaptive introgression, just as Tibetans seem to have acquired their high-altitude version of EPAS1 from Denisovans.

Andean Indians didn’t have any archaic humans around to steal adaptations from. They have had to develop their own altitude adaptations (in a relatively short time), and they aren’t as effective as the Tibetan adaptations.

Naturally you are now worrying about sad Inca puppies – did they suffer from hypoxia? There are canids in South America, like the maned wolf and the bush dog, but they are probably too divergent to be able to hybridize with dogs. The chromosomes are different, so pre-Columbian dogs probably couldn’t acquire their alleles. Moreover, the dogs of the Amerindians seem to have done poorly in competition with Eurasian dogs: I know of only a few breeds [the Carolina Dog, for example] that are known to have significant pre-Columbian ancestry. Perhaps Amerindian dogs were also scythed down by Eurasian diseases.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Homo sapiens - Wikipedia
The time frame for the evolution of the genus Homo out of the chimpanzee–human last common ancestor is roughly 10 to 2 million years ago, that of H. sapiens out of Homo erectus roughly 1.8 to 0.2 million years ago.

Schematic representation of the emergence of H. sapiens from earlier species of Homo. The horizontal axis represents geographic location; the vertical axis represents time in millions of years ago. Blue areas denote the presence of a certain species at a given time and place.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaic_human_admixture_with_modern_humans
On the basis of linkage disequilibrium patterns, a recent admixture event is likewise confirmed by the data.[7] From the extent of linkage disequilibrium, it was estimated that the last Neanderthal gene flow into early ancestors of Europeans occurred 47,000–65,000 years BP.[7] In conjunction with archaeological and fossil evidence, the gene flow is thought likely to have occurred somewhere in Western Eurasia, possibly the Middle East.[7] Through another approach—using one genome each of a Neanderthal, Eurasian, African, and chimpanzee (outgroup), and dividing it into non-recombining short sequence blocks—to estimate genome-wide maximum-likelihood under different models, an ancient population sub-structure in Africa was firmly ruled out and a Neanderthal admixture event was confirmed.[4]

...

Recent studies show a higher Neanderthal admixture in East Asians than in Europeans,[5][9][10][11][12] which is estimated to be about 20% more introgression into East Asians.[5][9][12] This could possibly be explained by the occurrence of further admixture events in the early ancestors of East Asians after the separation of Europeans and East Asians,[5][9][10][12] dilution of Neanderthal ancestry in Europeans by populations with low Neanderthal ancestry from later migrations,[9][12] or natural selection that may have been relatively lower in East Asians than in Europeans.[11][12] Studies indicate that a reduced efficacy of purifying selection against Neanderthal alleles in East Asians could not account for the greater proportion of Neanderthal ancestry of East Asians, thus favoring more-complex models involving additional pulses of Neanderthal introgression into East Asians.[13][14] It has also been observed that there's a small but significant variation of Neanderthal admixture rates within European populations, but no significant variation within East Asian populations.[5]
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Bloggingheads.tv: Gregory Cochran (The 10,000 Year Explosion) and Razib Khan (Unz Foundation, Gene Expression)
http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/1999
one interesting tidbit: doesn't think Homo sapiens smart enough for agriculture during previous interglacial period
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/the-time-before/
Although we’re still in an ice age, we are currently in an interglacial period. That’s a good thing, since glacial periods are truly unpleasant – dry, cold, low biological productivity, high variability. Low CO2 concentrations made plants more susceptible to drought. Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd have suggested that the development of agriculture was impossible in glacial periods, due to these factors.

There was an earlier interglacial period that began about 130,000 years ago and ended about 114,000 years ago. It was a bit warmer than the current interglacial (the Holocene).

The most interesting events in the Eemian are those that didn’t happen. In the Holocene, humans developed agriculture, which led to all kinds of interesting trouble. They did it more than once, possibly as many as seven times independently. Back in the Eeemian, nichevo. Neanderthals moved father north as the glaciers melted, AMH moved up into the Middle East, but nobody did much of anything new. Populations likely increased, as habitable area expanded and biological productivity went up, but without any obvious consequences. Anatomically modern humans weren’t yet up to displacing archaic groups like the Neanderthals.

So, it is fair to say that everybody back then, including AMH, lacked capabilities that some later humans had. We could, if we wished, call these new abilities ‘behavioral modernity’.

The Bushmen are the most divergent of all human populations, and probably split off earliest. They are farther from the Bantu (in genetic distance) than the French or Chinese are.

According to some models, this split (between the Bushmen and other populations of sub-Saharan Africa) occurred more than 100,000 years ago. Recent direct measurements of mutations show much lower rates than previously thought, which tends to place such splits even farther back in time.

The question is whether they split off before the development of practical behavioral modernity.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/the-long-count/
They are anatomically modern: they have chins, etc. Behaviorally modern? There have been only a few attempts to measure their intelligence: what has been done indicates that they have very low IQs. They definitely talk, tell stories, sing songs: does that imply that they could, given the right environment, have developed the Antikythera mechanism or a clipper ship?

This means that language is older than some had thought, a good deal older. It also means that people with language are quite capable of going a quarter of a million years without generating much technological advance – without developing the ability to push aside archaic humans, for example. Of course, people with Williams syndrome have language, and you can’t send them into the kitchen and rely on them to bring back a fork. Is the sophistication of Bushman language – this means the concepts they can and do convey, not the complexity of the grammar – comparable with that of other populations? I don’t know. As far as I can see, one of the major goals of modern anthropology is to make sure that nobody knows. Or that they know things that aren’t so.

...

Some have suggested that the key to technological development is higher population: that produces more intellects past a high threshold, sure. I don’t think that’s the main factor. Eskimos have a pretty advanced technology, but there were never very many of them. On the other hand, they have the highest IQ of any existing hunter-gatherer population: that’s got to help. Populations must have gone up the Eemian, the previous interglacial period, but nothing much got invented back then. It would seem that agriculture would have been possible in the Eemian, but as far as we know it didn’t happen. Except for Valusia of course. With AMH going back at least 300,000 years, we have to start thinking about even earlier interglacial peiods, like Mindel-Riss (424-374 k years ago)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interglacial

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/same-old/
We now know ( from ancient DNA) that Bushmen split off from the rest of humanity (or we from them) at least a quarter of a million years ago. Generally, when you see a complex trait in sister groups, you can conclude that it existed in the common ancestor. Since both Bushmen and (everybody else) have complex language, one can conclude that complex language existed at least a quarter million years ago, in our common ancestor. You should also suspect that unique features of Bushmen language, namely those clicks, are not necessarily superficial: there has been time enough for real, baked-in, biologically rooted language differences to evolve. It also shows that having complex language isn’t enough, in itself, to generate anything very interesting. Cf Williams syndrome. Certainly technological change was very slow back then. Interglacial periods came and went without AMH displacing archaics in Eurasia or developing agriculture.

Next, the ability to generate rapid cultural change, invent lots of stuff, improvise effective bullshit didn’t exist in the common ancestor of extant humanity, since change was very slow back then.

Therefore it is not necessarily the case that every group has it today, or has it to the same extent. Psychic unity of mankind is unlikely. It’s also denied by every measurement ever made, but I guess invoking data, or your lying eyes, would be cheating.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/bushmen-palate/
“it has been observed by several researchers that the Khoisan palate ends to lack a prominent alveolar ridge.”

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/unchanging-essence/
John Shea is a professor of anthropology at Stony Brook, specializing in ancient archaeology. He’s been making the argument that ‘behavioral modernity’ is a flawed concept, which it is. Naturally, he wants to replace it with something even worse. Not only are all existing human populations intellectually equal, as most anthropologists affirm – all are ‘behaviorally modern’ – all past populations of anatomically modern humans were too! The idea that our ancestors circa 150,000 B.C. might not be quite as sharp as people today is just like the now-discredited concept of race. And you know, he’s right. They’re both perfectly natural consequences of neodarwinism.

Behavioral modernity is a silly concept. As he says, it’s a typological concept: hominids are either behaviorally modern or they’re not. Now why would this make sense? Surely people vary in smarts, for example: it’s silly to say that they are either smart or not smart. We can usefully make much finer distinctions. We could think in terms of distributions – we might say that you score in the top quarter of intelligence for your population. We could analyze smarts in terms of thresholds: what is the most complex task that a given individual can perform? What fraction of the population can perform tasks of that complexity or greater? Etc. That would be a more reasonable way of looking at smarts, and this is of course what psychometrics does.

It’s also a group property. If even a few members of a population do something that anthropologists consider a sign of behavioral modernity – like making beads – everyone in that population must be behaviorally modern. By the the same argument, if anyone can reach the top shelf, we are all tall.

The notion of behavioral modernity has two roots. The first is that if you go back far enough, it’s obvious that our distant ancestors were pretty dim. Look at Oldowan tools – they’re not much more than broken rocks. And they stayed that way for a million years – change was inhumanly slow back then. That’s evidence. The second is not. Anthropologists want to say that all living populations are intellectually equal – which is not what the psychometric evidence shows. Or what population differences in brain size suggest. So they conjured up a quality – behavioral modernity – that all living people possess, but that homo erectus did not, rather than talk about quantitative differences.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Tibetan Plateau Discovery Shows Humans May Be Tougher Than We Thought - Scientific American
The first humans venturing onto the Tibetan Plateau, often called the “roof of the world,” faced one of the most brutal environments our species can endure. At an average elevation of over 4,500 meters, it is a cold and arid place with half the oxygen present at sea level. Science has long held that humans did not set foot in this alien place until 15,000 years ago, as suggested by archaeological evidence of the earliest known settlement on the northeastern fringe of the plateau 3,000 meters above sea level. But now new genetic data indicate this may have occurred much earlier—possibly as far back as the last ice age, 62,000 years ago.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Standards Drift | West Hunter
We now know that the fraction of Neanderthal ancestry in coding regions has been gradually decreasing with time since the origin admixture, and is now something half as large as it was originally. There were some useful Neanderthal alleles that were favored by selection, and others that deleterious enough to have disappeared completely, but we’re talking about the general trend.

...

I’m thinking of it as standards drift. In a populations, alleles are always being selected for compatibility, for working correctly, conferring high fitness, on a particular average genetic background. Each allele has a spec it needs to meet. That spec doesn’t necessarily stay the same over time: obviously changes in environment will make a difference. Drift should matter too: if a given allele becomes more common, even by chance, the specs will change for other alleles that interact with it. But there’s always a spec.

When two populations split, their specs start to drift apart. There’s no genetic equivalent of that iridium meter bar. Function at the organismal level doesn’t change so much, but there are many slightly different ways of achieving that function.

...

While we’re at it, if there are Pygmies whose genomes are majority ancient Pygmy, their Bantu component is probably slightly incompatible: if left to themselves for a hundred thousand years, they’d probably lose a fair amount of it. Of course they will all be eaten long before that happens.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/the-1/
We don’t see people today with Neanderthal Y chromosomes or mtDNA. I keep hearing people argue that this means that mating between Neanderthal males and AMH females must have produced sterile males, or that matings between AMH men and Neanderthal women were all sterile, or whatever.

That is not necessarily the case. A slight disadvantage is all that would be required to totally eliminate Neanderthal Y-chromosomes or mtDNA.

Imagine that a Neanderthal Y-chromosome reduces the bearer’s fitness by 1%, and that the original frequency of Neanderthal Y chromosomes (after admixture) was 2%.

It’s been something like 1500 generations. The expected frequency is 5.67 x 10-9. In real life it would probably have fluctuated to zero, and of course stayed there.

Understand and remember.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/mtdna-capers/
The first problem is that there may not have been enough Neanderthals. Selection is not very effective in removing deleterious alleles when their selective disadvantage is < 1/N. For Neanderthals, some analyses indicate the effective population size was around 1000 (others think it was a large but deeply subdivided population), but the effective pop for mtDNA (haploid and only transmitted by females ) was 1/4th that – so, N ~250. Not very big.

The other, general, problem with mtDNA is lack of recombination. In an asexual lineage, mutations accumulate. Muller's ratchet. The only fix is back-mutation, which is very rare, unless the species population size is huge. Sex, on the other hand, reshuffles: a kid can have fewer deleterious mutations than either parent.

So you don’t expect hominid mtDNA to be in great shape, nearly perfectly optimized. That’s closer to true for nuclear genes. Since hominid mtDNA is not too close to optimal, it’s not a huge surprise if population A has noticeably more effective mitochondria than population B.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/croatoan/
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november 2016 by nhaliday
What’s the catch? | West Hunter
Neanderthals and the Wrath of Khan

if someone were to try to create a Neanderthal a few years from now, starting with ancient DNA, they’d have to have worry a lot about data errors, because such errors would translate into mutations, which might be harmful or even lethal. Assume that we have figured out how to get the gene expression right, have all the proper methylation etc: we have modern humans as a template and you know there isn’t that much difference.

They might try consensus averaging – take three high-quality Neanderthal genomes and make your synthetic genome by majority rule: we ignore a nucleotide change in one genome if it’s not there in the other two. ‘tell me three times’, a simple form of error-correcting code.

But doing this would cause a problem. Can you see what the problem is?
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november 2016 by nhaliday
The Hyborian Age | West Hunter
I was contemplating Conan the Barbarian, and remembered the essay that Robert E. Howard wrote about the background of those stories – The Hyborian Age. I think that the flavor of Howard’s pseudo-history is a lot more realistic than the picture of the human past academics preferred over the past few decades.

In Conan’s world, it’s never surprising to find a people that once mixed with some ancient prehuman race. Happens all the time. Until very recently, the vast majority of workers in human genetics and paleontology were sure that this never occurred – and only changed their minds when presented with evidence that was both strong (ancient DNA) and too mathematically sophisticated for them to understand or challenge (D-statistics).

Conan’s history was shaped by the occasional catastrophe. Most academics (particularly geologists) don’t like catastrophes, but they have grudgingly come to admit their importance – things like the Thera and Toba eruptions, or the K/T asteroid strike and the Permo-Triassic crisis.

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, evolution seems to have run pretty briskly, but without any pronounced direction. Men devolved into ape-men when the environment pushed in that direction (Flores ?) and shifted right back when the environment favored speech and tools. Culture shaped evolution, and evolution shaped culture. An endogamous caste of snake-worshiping priests evolved in a strange direction. Although their IQs were considerably higher than average, they remained surprisingly vulnerable to sword-bearing barbarians.

...

Most important, Conan, unlike the typical professor, knew what was best in life.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Degenerate Neanderthals | West Hunter
Both papers talk about the likely genetic burden that Eurasians picked up from that Neanderthal admixture. Since East Asians have a somewhat higher level of Neanderthal admixture than people in Europe or the Middle East (~20% more) then they must have even more toxic Neanderthal genes, and Africans the least. This echoes earlier papers that have argued that population history (out-of-Africa bottleneck, Neanderthal admixture, etc) must have increased genetic load in Eurasians.
Evidently extra genetic load has anti-intuitive effects.

interesting: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/degenerate-neanderthals/#comment-73074
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0014-3820.2000.tb00693.x/abstract

COMPENSATING FOR OUR LOAD OF MUTATIONS: FREEZING THE MELTDOWN OF SMALL POPULATIONS

The model allows us to investigate compensatory mutations, which restore fitness losses incurred by other mutations, in a context-dependent manner. We have conducted a moment analysis of the model, supplemented by the numerical results of computer simulations. The mean reduction of fitness (i.e., expected load) scaled to one is approximately n/(n + 2Ne), where Ne is the effective population size. The reciprocal relationship between the load and Ne implies that the fixation of deleterious mutations is unlikely to cause extinction when there is a broad scope for compensatory mutations, except in very small populations. Furthermore, the dependence of load on n implies that pleiotropy plays a large role in determining the extinction risk of small populations.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Pygmy Sommelier | West Hunter
The story is similar, but more complicated, with olfactory receptors.   There are about 400 working olfactory receptors in humans, but many of them have multiple versions, including pseudogenes – rather like red-green color blindness, only there are 400 detectors involved instead of 3, and 70 of them work in some people but not everyone.  And, like color blindness,  the frequency of these non-working versions  varies between populations.  In those olfactory genes that have working and nonworking versions, Pygmies seem to have higher frequencies of the working versions than Europeans do, just as they are less likely to be color blind. Probably the sense of smell works better in the rain forest (moist air) and it may be that the ability to recognize certain specific scents, such as that of a lion hiding in the bushes nearby, has survival value.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Megafaunal Extinctions | West Hunter
When competent human hunters encountered naive fauna, the biggest animals, things like mammoths and toxodons and diprotodons, all went extinct. It is not hard to see why this occurred. Large animals are more worth hunting than rabbits, and easier to catch, while having a far lower reproductive rate. Moreover, humans are not naturally narrow specialists on any one species, so are not limited by the abundance of that species in the way that the lynx population depends on the hare population. Being omnivores, they could manage even when the megafauna as a whole were becoming rare.

There were subtle factors at work as well: the first human colonists in a new land probably didn’t develop ethnic/language splits for some time, which meant that the no-mans-land zones between tribes that can act as natural game preserves didn’t exist in that crucial early period. Such game preserves might have allowed the megafauna to evolve better defenses against humans – but they never got the chance.

It happened in the Americas, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Madagascar, and in sundry islands. There is no reason to think that climate had much to do with it, except in the sense that climatic change may sometimes have helped open up a path to those virgin lands in which the hand of man had never set foot, via melting glaciers or low sea level.

I don’t know the numbers, but certainly a large fraction of archeologists and paleontologists, perhaps a majority, don’t believe that human hunters were responsible, or believe that hunting was only one of several factors. Donald Grayson and David Meltzer, for example. Why do they think this? In part I think it is an aversion to simple explanations, a reversal of Ockham’s razor, which is common in these fields. Of course then I have to explain why they would do such a silly thing, and I can’t. Probably some with these opinions are specialists in a particular geographic area, and do not appreciate the power of looking at multiple extinction events: it’s pretty hard to argue that the climate just happened to change whenever people showed when it happens five or six times.

It might be that belief in specialization is even more of a problem than specialization itself. Lots of time you have to gather insights and information from several fields to make progress on a puzzle. It seems to me that many researchers aren’t willing to learn much outside their field, even when it’s the only route to the answer. But then, maybe they can’t. I remember an anthropologist who could believe in humans rapidly filling up New Zealand, which is about the size of Colorado, but just couldn’t see how they could have managed to fill up a whole continent in a couple of thousand years. Evidently she didn’t understand geometric growth. She is not alone. I have see anthropologists argue [The revolution that wasn’t] that increased human density in ancient Africa was driven by the continent ‘finally getting full’, rather than increased intellectual abilities and resulting greater technological sophistication. That’s truly silly. Look, back in those days, technology changed slowly: you would hardly notice significant change over 50k years. Human populations grow far faster than that, given the chance. Imagine a population with three surviving children per couple, which is nothing special: it would grow by a factor of ten million in a thousand years. The average long-term growth rate was very low, but that is because the rate of increase in human capabilities, which determine the carrying capacity, was very slow – not because rapid population growth is difficult or impossible.

I could explain this to my 11-year old twins in five minutes, but I don’t know that I could ever explain it to Brooks and McBrearty.

various comments about climate change

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/megafaunal-extinctions/#comment-3039
Why do people act as if a slightly more habitable Greenland a millennium ago somehow disproves the statement that the world as a whole was cooler then than now? Motivated reasoning: they want a certain conclusion real bad. At this point it’s become an identifying tribal marker, like left-wingers believing in the innocence of Alger Hiss. And of course they’re mostly just repeating nonsense that some flack dreamed up. Many of the same people will mouth drivel about how a Finn and a Zulu could easily be genetically closer two each other than to other co-ethnics, which is never, ever, true.

When you think about it, falsehoods, stupid crap, make the best group identifiers, because anyone might agree with you when you’re obviously right. Signing up to clear nonsense is a better test of group loyalty. A true friend is with you when you’re wrong. Ideally, not just wrong, but barking mad, rolling around in your own vomit wrong. Movement conservatives have learned this lesson well.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/younger-dryas-meteorite/
It has been suggested that a large meteorite was responsible for an odd climatic twitch from about 12,800 to 11,500 years ago (the Younger Dryas , a temporary return to glacial conditions in the Northern Hemisphere) and for the extinction of the large mammals of North America. They hypothesize air bursts or impact of a swarm of meteors , centered around the Great Lakes. Probably this is all nonsense.

The topic of the Holocene extinction of megafauna seems to bring out the crazy in people. In my opinion, the people supporting this Younger Dryas impact hypothesis are nuts, and half of their opponents are nuts as well.

...

The problem for that meteorite explanation of North Ammerican megafaunal extinction is that South America had an even more varied set of megafauna (gomphotheriums, toxodonts, macrauchenia, glyptodonts, giant sloths, etc) and they went extinct around the same time (probably a few hundred years later). There’s no way for a hit around the Great Lakes to wipe out stuff in Patagonia, barring a huge, dinosaur-killer type hit that throws tremendous amount of debris into suborbital trajectories. But that would have hit the entire world… Didn’t happen.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/redlining/
If you take too many chances in the process of making a living, you’ll get yourself killed before you manage to raise a family. Therefore there is a maximum sustainable risk per calorie acquired from hunting *. If the average member of the species incurs too much risk, more than that sustainable maximum, the species goes extinct. The Neanderthals must have come closer to that red line than anatomically modern humans in Africa, judging from their beat-up skeletons, which resemble those of rodeo riders. They were almost entirely carnivorous, judging from isotopic studies, and that helps us understand all those fractures: they apparently had limited access to edible plants, which entail far lower risks. Tubers and berries seldom break your ribs.

...

Risk per calorie was particularly high among the Neanderthals because they seem to have had no way of storing meat – they had no drying racks or storage pits in frozen ground like those used by their successors. Think of it this way: storage allow more complete usage of a large carcass such as a bison, that might weigh over a thousand pounds – it wouldn’t be easy to eat all of that before it went bad. Higher utilization – using all of the buffalo – drops the risk per calorie.

You might think that they could have chased rabbits or whatever, but that is relatively unrewarding. It works a lot better if you can use nets or snares, but no evidence of such devices has been found among the Neanderthals.

It looks as if the Neanderthals had health insurance: surely someone else fed them while they were recovering from being hurt. You see the same pattern, to a degree, in lions, and it probably existed in sabertooths as well, since they often exhibit significant healed injuries.

...

So we can often understand the pattern, but why were mammoths rapidly wiped out in the Americas while elephants survived in Africa and south Asia? I offer several possible explanations. First, North American mammoths had no evolved behavioral defenses against man – while Old World elephants had had time to acquire such adaptations. That may have made hunting old world elephants far more dangerous, and therefore less attractive. Second, there are areas in Africa that are almost uninhabitable, due to the tsetse fly. They may have acted as natural game preserves, and there are no equivalents in the Americas. Third, the Babel effect: in the early days, paleoIndians likely had not yet split into different ethnic groups with different languages: with less fighting among the early Indians, animals would not have had relatively border regions acting as refugia. Also, with fewer human-caused casualties, paleoindians could have taken more risks in hunting.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/hunter-gatherer-fish-and-game-laws/
I don’t think that there are any. But then how did they manage to be one-with-the-land custodians of wildlife? Uh….

Conservation is hard. Even if the population as a whole would be better off if a given prey species persisted in fair numbers, any single individual would benefit from cheating – even from eating the very last mammoth.

More complicated societies, with private property and draconian laws against poaching, do better, but even they don’t show much success in preserving a tasty prey species over the long haul. Considers the aurochs, the wild ancestor of the cow. The Indian version seems to have been wiped out 4-5,000 years ago. The Eurasian version was still common in Roman times, but was rare by the 13th century, surviving only in Poland. Theoretically, only members of the Piast dynasty could hunt aurochsen – but they still went extinct in 1627.

How then did edible species survive in pre-state societies? I can think of several ways in which some species managed to survive … [more]
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november 2016 by nhaliday
The 10,000 Year Explosion - Parting of the Ways
There are plenty of other challenges that humans of that era (~100,000 years ago) never met: for example they never colonized the high Arctic, the Americas, or Australia/New Guinea. Even though Neanderthals and Africans had brains that were as large as or larger than those of modern humans, even though humans in Africa were reasonably modern-looking, modern behavioral capacities did not yet exist. They didn't yet have the spark. Come to think of it, most people today still don't. We'll have more to say on that in a moment.

...

The Neanderthals had big brains (averaging about 1500 cubic centimeters, noticeably larger than those of modern people) and a technology like that of their anatomically modern contemporaries in Africa, but were quite different in a number of ways: different physically, but also socially and ecologically. Neanderthals were cold-adapted, with relatively short arms and legs in order to reduce heat loss - something like Arctic peoples today, only much more so. Considering that the climate the Neanderthals experienced was considerably milder than the high Arctic (more like Wisconsin), their pronounced cold adaptation suggest that they may have relied more on physical than cultural changes. Of course they spent at least six times as many generations in the cold as any modern human population has, and that may have had something to do with it as well.

...

Like other early humans, Neanderthals were relatively uncreative; their tools changed very slowly and they show no signs of art, symbolism, or trade. Their brains were large and had grown larger over time, in parallel with humans in Africa, but we really have no idea what they did with them. Since brains are metabolically expensive, natural selection wouldn't have favored an increase in brain size unless it increased fitness, but we don't know what function that those big brains served. Usually people explain that those big brains are not as impressive as they seem, since the brain-to-body weight ratio is what’s really important, and Neanderthals were heavier than modern humans of the same height.

You may wonder why we normalize brain size by body weight. We wonder as well.

Among less intelligent creatures, such as amphibians and reptiles, most of the brain is busy dealing with a flood of sensory data. You’d expect that brain size would have to increase with body size in some way in order to keep up. If you assume that the key is how much surface the animal has, in order to monitor what’s causing that nagging itch and control all the muscles needed for movement, brain size should scale as the 2/3rds power of weight. If an animal has a brain that’s bigger than predicted by that 2/3rds power scaling law, then maybe it’s smarter than average. That argument works reasonable well for a wide range of species, but it can’t make sense for animals with big brains. In particular it can’t make sense for primates, since in that case we know that most of the brain is used for purposes other than muscle control and immediate reaction to sensation. Look at this way - if dividing brain volume by weight is a valid approach, Nero Wolfe must be really, really stupid.

We think that Neanderthal brains really were large, definitely larger than those of people today. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they were smarter, at least not as a culture. The archaeological record certainly indicates that they were not, since their material culture was definitely simpler than that of their successors. In fact, they may have been relatively unintelligent, even with their big brains. Although brain size certainly is correlated with intelligence in modern humans, it is not the only factor that affects intelligence. By the way, you may have read somewhere (The Mismeasure of Man) that brain volume has no relationship to intelligence, but that’s just a lie.

One paradoxical possibility is that Neanderthals lacked complex language and so had to be smart as individuals in order to learn their culture and technology, while that same lack severely limited their societal achievements. Complex language of the type we see in modern humans makes learning a lot easier: without it, learning to create even Mousterian tools may have been difficult. In that case, individuals would have to repeatedly re-invent the wheel (so to speak) while there would have been little societal progress.

It could also be that Neanderthal brains were less powerful than you’d expect because there just weren’t enough Neanderthals. That may sound obscure, but bear with us. The problem is that evolution is less efficient in small populations, in the same way that any statistical survey – polls, for example -becomes less accurate with fewer samples.

...

Our favorite hypothesis is that Neanderthals and other archaic humans had a fundamentally different kind of learning than moderns. One of the enduring puzzles is the near-stasis of tool kits in early humans - as we have said before, the Acheulean hand-axe tradition last for almost a million years and extended from the Cape of Good Hope to Germany, while the Mousterian lasted for a quarter of a million years. Somehow these early humans were capable of transmitting a simple material culture for hundreds of thousands of years with little change. More information was transmitted to the next generation than in chimpanzees, but not as much as in modern humans. At the same time, that information was transmitted with surprisingly high accuracy. This must be the case, since random errors in transmission would have caused changes in those tool traditions, resulting in noticeable variation over space and time – which we do not see.

It looks to us as if toolmaking in those populations was, to some extent, innate: genetically determined. Just as song birds are born with a rough genetic template that constrains what songs are learned, early humans may have been born with genetically determined behavioral tendencies that resulted in certain kinds of tools. Genetic transmission of that information has the characteristics required to explain this pattern of simple, near-static technology, since only a limited amount of information can be acquired through natural selection, while the information that is acquired is transmitted with very high accuracy.

...

Starting 70,000 or 80,000 years ago, we begin to see some signs of increased cultural complexity in Africa. There is evidence of long-distance transport of tool materials (obsidian) in Ethiopia, which could be the first signs of trade. A set of pierced snail shells (~75,000 years old) in Blombos Cave in South Africa seem, judging from wear, to be the remains of a necklace, although there is no evidence that tools were used to pierce the shells. In that same site, researchers found pieces of ochre with a crosshatched pattern inscribed. We have found manufactured ostrich-egg beads in Kenya that are about 50,000 years old, the first clear examples of artificial decorative or symbolic (that is to say, useless) objects. We see a new kind of small stone points that must have been used on darts that were considerably smaller than previous spears. Although it would seem likely that such darts would have been propelled by atlatls, no atlatls have yet been found that date anywhere near that far back. There are reports of 90,000 year-old bone fish spears from central Africa which, if correct, would be evidence of a significant advance in tool complexity. However, since no other similar tools found in Africa are older than 30,000 years, those fish spears are roughly as anomalous as a Neanderthal-era thumb drive, and we have our doubts about that date. On the whole, the African archeological data of this period furnishes examples of new technology and simple symbolic objects, but the evidence is patchy, and it seems that some innovations appeared and then faded away for reasons that we don’t understand.

A note on behavioral modernity: the consensus seems to be that any clear evidence of a population making symbolic or decorative objects establishes their behavioral modernity, defined as cultural creativity and reliance on abstract thought. For some reason, anthropologists treat behavioral modernity as a qualitative character: an ancient population either had it or not, just as women are pregnant or not, never a ‘little bit pregnant’. It’s treated as a Boolean variable. Like so many basic notions in anthropology, this makes no sense. The components of ‘behavioral modernity’ had to be evolved traits with heritable variation, subject to natural selection – how else would they have come into existence at all? Surely ancient individuals and populations varied in their capacity for abstract thought and cultural innovation – behavioral modernity must be more like height than pregnancy.

...

The fact the ability to learn complex new ideas and transmit them to the next generation is universal in modern humans suggests that natural selection favored that kind of receptivity. On the other hand, the rarity of individual creativity suggests that the trait itself was not favored by selection in the past, but is instead a rare side effect.

We think that the archaeological record in Africa before the expansion of modern humans shows a gradual but slow increase in such abilities, which is the usual pattern for a trait favored by selection. On the other hand, the rate of change in the European Upper Paleolithic seems faster, almost discontinuous – but there is a well-understood biological pattern that may explain that as well.

The most dramatic evidence of some kind of significant change is the fact that anatomically modern humans expanded out of Africa about 50,000 years ago.
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september 2016 by nhaliday

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