Real Continuity and Fake Continuity

When we look at ancient DNA and see some sharing with the modern populations living in the same region, we tend to think we’re seeing population continuity – people in that region today are to some extent descended from the people who lived there a long time ago. And sometimes that is the case. But it ain’t necessarily so.

Imagine a land (let us call it East Dakota) that was once entirely populated by Amerindians.  Later, Norwegians show up and entirely replaced the Amerindians, all of whom were killed or displaced. Later still, a conquering horde of Guatemalans entirely replaces the Norskis: all of the European-descended types are killed or displaced.

People from the far future, looking at this through the lens of ancient DNA, might at first conclude that the last population was the product of a fusion between the first and second, at least if they didn’t have good enough sampling to notice how completely disjoint the first and second populations were.  Or they might know about the kind-of European Ancient North Eurasian component in Amerindians, and confuse themselves with that. Or they might conclude that the the third population’s European component was derived  from the second population – plausible but wrong.

Eventually, if they looked at the fine details, they might notice that even when mtDNA and Y-chromosome haplotypes are shared, the sub-haplotypes aren’t.  So some people from population I have Q-haplotype Y-chromosomes, as do some of the people in population III, but nobody in population III is a direct male descendant of anyone in population I – which ought to make you wonder.  If nobody in Pop III is a direct female descendant of Pop I, you should wonder even more.

I don’t know if this, or something like it, is what happened in European prehistory.  But hunter-gatherer autosomal DNA first becomes quite rare, and then makes a comeback a couple of thousand years later. Unless they were sleeping inside  the hill of Alderley, it’s hard to see how the people executing the reconquista can be direct descendants









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45 Responses to Real Continuity and Fake Continuity

  1. TWS says:

    So what did happen? Did the ‘cousins’ of the hunter gatherers get better tech and come take some back? Did conditions change favoring huntergatherers? Did some become willing or unwilling farmers?

  2. Greying Wanderer says:

    “So what did happen?”

    Same as Zimbabwe and Bantu expansion and maybe other places as well (imo).

    1) Miners/metalworkers from the more civilized regions set up little resource extraction / trading colonies in peripheral regions *beyond* the range of their cultural farming package bringing cattle with them which they pay the local HGs to herd for them.

    2) Localized HG-to-Herder transition allowing greater population density and large population increase (not as high as the farmers but a dramatic increase above the HG population density.).

    3) Expansion and herder over-run.


  3. dave chamberlin says:

    Forced migrations rather than annihilation of one group by another is my guess for these repeated replacements of people on the same territory. All it takes is a small advantage by one population to push another population across a continent over a few centuries. History shows repeated examples of people moving vast distances very quickly just to reduce the chance of being attacked. The meek didn’t inherit East Dakota or the Danube river valley, that population that could impose a more effective terror campaign against another did. But this doesn’t paint such a rosy picture of humanity so I guess it won’t sell.

  4. reiner Tor says:

    The most pressing issue is to explain to readers that the earlier European hunter-gatherers had the same White Privilege as the ones that did the reconquest, so they richly deserved to be exterminated.

    • SpaghettiMeatball says:

      Actually, the one hunter-gatherer they found was brown, so we still don’t who was the white privileged club card holder in that day. The farmer woman from Stuttgart had light skin. Maybe her?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “so they richly deserved to be exterminated”

      Isn’t the latest that modern Europeans are a composite of what have been labelled WHG (western hunter gatherer) and EEF (early european farmer) and the EEF are themselves a composite of first farmers and WHG? If so I think the labels may be framing the issue slightly wrongly.

  5. Note: Liked the Alderley reference. Garner’s worst-written, but best book. We must be of similar age.

    As for the main point: we don’t really use the numbers of either history or archaeology unless we are familiar with a particular location – rather like a mathematician who is contemplating one area of a graph where important things are happening, but skipping over large areas where nothing much is. People unfamiliar with history lump Robin Hood, Arthur, and Alfred together (and isn’t it amazing that we never hear of them meeting…) or Queen Elizabeth being just after the Crusades being just after togas in the Olden Days. Those of us who think we know better largely kid ourselves. Unless we have some cuphook dates to hang the cups of new information on, we also tend to think of the past with only slightly better accuracy. 18,000 BCE and 15,000 BCE can sound awfully close together, but a lot can happen. (Ice, for example. 0 We like nice, linear narratives, and resist attending to complications unless we have to. Simplifying aids memory.

    • East Dakotan says:

      Off topic, but why do people use “BCE”? It’s longer than “BC”, less commonly understood… Any explanation?

      • Sideways says:

        To show how non-Christian/Western their thinking is.

      • athEIst says:

        It does not have any religious baggage which A.D. does and B.C. has in spades.

      • East Dakotan says:

        I suspect Sideways is on the right track; petty animus toward Christian heritage.
        If they just want to shed “religious baggage”, as athEIst says, they would also reject other terms. Today is a Thursday in January, for example. Is anyone trying to purge Thor or Janus from English?

      • East Dakotan says:

        Interesting stuff, Toad. Thanks. I never know what to make of the French Revolution. Admirable ideals mixed with cruelty. Rationality mixed with insanity.

      • ursiform says:

        Two thirds of people on earth are not Christian. There are many other calendars. For the sake of a common reference, it makes sense to have a zero point that isn’t semantically tied to one religion. (And that zero point isn’t really tied to any Christian event, anyway.)

      • Simon in London says:

        Petty animus against Christianity, combined with a Borg-like determination to impose a Western dating system as “Common”, ie Universal. They can’t accept that our system is culturally specific, it has to be universalised and emptied of meaning at the same time.
        Started in American academia, unsurprisingly.

      • Anonymous says:

        As an evangelical Christian and the one who used the objectionable “BCE,” I found the thread amusing for the wrong assumptions of many. I think Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection are the pivot point of history, but I am happy to regard that as irrelevant to many discussions. That just about everything important in the advance of knowledge that has taken place in the last dozen centuries has taken place among people for whom the only calendar is the one you and your computer is currently using (so don’t sniff about “many calendars,” please), which may thus be regarded as the Common calendar among people who discuss things of intellectual importance. Therefore, leaving off BC/AD seems a politeness, even though it is indeed the foundation of what we refer to as the Common Era. But denying that it is the common era is just silly.

        That people who had a hair across their ass against Christianity might be the ones who pushed for the change may be true. So what? Life is too short. BCE it is.

      • The anonymous just above is Assistant Village Idiot, because I screwed up posting at work

    • East Dakotan says:

      Simon in London: Having read your post, BCE now seems to me not just petty, but self-defeating and, well, dumb. Nicely said. Thank you.
      Anonymous: Admire your life’s-too-short attitude. But I can’t help thinking that this constant effort to blot out history–in a thousand tiny ways–does real harm to a civilization already in critical condition.

  6. Rich Pickings says:

    OT, but may be interesting:

    Part One:

    Richard Dawkins named world’s top thinker in poll

    Evolutionary biologist beats four Nobel prize winners for his global influence and significance on the year’s biggest questions

    Part Two:

    An evolutionary biologist writes:

    But human beings have only recently shown how very special they are. Fifty thousand years ago we had the same bodies and brains as today and we probably had language. But we didn’t have much by way of art, and our artefacts were limited to the functional – stone tools for hunting and but­chering, for instance.

    That changed around 40,000 years ago, when the archaeological record shows a sudden magnificent flowering of art and even musical instruments. Cultural evolution – which outpaces by orders of magnitude the superficially similar genetic evolution that had given rise to our big brains in the first place – went into overdrive. Next came the transition from the hunter/gatherer to the settled agriculture way of life, soon to be followed by cities, markets, governments, religion and war.

    For more lies, see: Richard Dawkins’ Apes with big brains, December 2013.

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  8. Greying Wanderer says:

    Some fun maps

    1) Megalithism

    (nb centres at Brittany, SW England, Southern Ireland, NE Scotland, Northern Denmark)

    2) Funnelbeakers

    (nb centred somewhere around Denmark imo)

    3) Lactose tolerance

    4) Corded Ware


    Sequence (imo)

    neolithics set up resource extraction / trading colonies along the Atlantic coast
    -> local HG to herder transition around those colonies
    -> herders expand West to East from the Atlantic Coast as Funnelbeakers in a “Bantu Expansion” type event
    -> Funnelbeaker expansion reaches Unetice (Indo-European)
    -> somehow* this creates the conditions for a secondary but much larger Indo-European expansion from East to West including an over-run of most of the Funnelbeaker region to create Corded Ware over the territory of the combined Funnelbeaker-Unetice regions.

    (* my guess would be the Funnelbeakers had an improved cattle culture (cattle breeds?) which was transferred to the Indo-Europeans via the Funnelbeaker expansion which when combined with the Indo-Europeans already superior horse-culture created the conditions for the massive Indo-European expansion.)

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  10. Anonymous says:

    “nobody in population III is a direct male descendant of anyone in population ”

    Cheddar Man

    • Fintan says:

      Fascinatingly enough, the British Isles have been the sight of several waves of total or near total male population replacement. The current residents can in some cases trace their maternal ancestry back to the mesolithic, as in the case you point out, but if I recall the oldest commonly available male lineage dates back only to the last Celtic invasion about 2,200 or so years ago (off the top of my head), and in England proper such lineages are rarer than the more recent Saxon lineages, with some Norse/Dane/Norman lineages rounding out the mix.

      I’d be interested to learn whether Mr. Sykes himself traces his male ancestry back to the 2,000ish year old invasion, the 1,500ish year old invasion, or the 1,000ish year old invasion.

      It would appear that Britain is particularly well adept at breeding fetching young farmer’s daughters (or hunter-gatherer’s daughters as the case may have once been) for wandering invaders to lay claim to – and not so adept at breeding staunch male defenders to preserve the virtue of the young ladies. Given recent demographic trends in the U.K. and the rather remarkable collapse of the British Empire, perhaps the most viable reproductive strategy for modern residents would be to beget numerous daughters. Perhaps a forward-thinking naming strategy for said daughters would be beneficial as well? Given the rising stars among male baby names, perhaps a modern and forward-thinking native of Britain would be well advised to name one of his young girls Aisha or something similar.

      • Fintan says:

        *site, not sight. Lord I need more coffee this morning.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        The British Isles isn’t a very good analogy for the East Dakota scenario. It is all a matter of geography that makes the Danube River drainage basin a far better example. Remember the board game risk? If you tried to defend the middle of the board you were going to lose. But if you grabbed an edge you could hang on and then slowly march forth. The first farmers moved very quickly up the Danube getting very little resistance from the hunter gatherers. But then the cousins of these hunter gathers much later drove the first farmers back to from where they came. Even up to the middle ages a risk like game continued to be played along the fertile Danube drainage basin as distinct populations gained the upper hand at different times for different reasons. A slightly higher birth rate over time, a highly rewarded mutation like lactose tolerance, a superior war making strategy, any and all of these advantages could make for a dramatic change in the local population over time. Genghis Khan was at least civilized enough to kill all the men, rape all the women, and eat all the cows. Earlier raiders made no such distinction.

      • Toad says:

        “Remember the board game risk?”

        Start in South America. It’s a modest income, but you are more likely to be able to keep it. Only two border territories and they are adjacent so they can support each other and you can keep your armies massed. From that base, you can annex either Africa or North America and you will only have three border territories total and a high income.

  11. TWS says:

    I was just over at Frosts blog and he was suggesting a ‘negroid’ remnant population existed in Europe until perhaps the beginning of the copper age. Does that fit with this scenario?

  12. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Cattle-cavalry could milk their mounts for greater endurance.”

    Seems like the funnelbeakers missed a trick and ginger cattle-cavalry could have conquered the world instead of Indo-Europeans.

  13. Greying Wanderer says:

    In terms of a (guessed) potential miner/trader route from somewhere further east to the Atlantic coast we could maybe add Obsidian from Corsica/Sardinia so

    somewhere(?) further east
    ->Southern Portugal
    ->Iberian Coast
    ->Southern Britain and Ireland
    ->North-East Scotland, Northern Denmark and Southern Scandinavia

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  15. eurogenes says:

    “Unless they were sleeping inside the hill of Alderley, it’s hard to see how the people executing the reconquista can be direct descendants”

    They were in part. See here…

    So basically what seems to have happened was that when the core Neolithic societies collapsed, there were expansions of hybrid populations from the fringes of Neolithic Europe to fill the holes. Some of them expanded from local areas, while others from much further afield, like the Russian forest steppe.

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