David Reich is an important scientist in the area of ancient DNA research, that is, extracting and analyzing the components of the genome and its parts for information as to where it evolved and developed. The ancient part includes analyzing the DNA of very ancient bodies or body parts.
Did we all come out of Africa and wander around as prior studies have concluded? Reich says not exactly. He then provides background and shows how his laboratory as well as others like his have explored the subject and the conclusions they have come to over the last 5 or 6 years.
Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
by David Reich
2018 / 368 pages
rating; 8.75 / science – ancient genetics
Much of the book makes for some fairly difficult reading with lots of terms which were new to me. But that was mixed with fascinating ideas which kept me going. I did NOT skim anything, but I had to read many paragraphs two or three times to comprehend the sometimes detailed material.
That’s okay – it was definitely worth it.
Reich goes through a couple of introductory chapters and then hits the details. Which areas of settlement mingled with which other areas of settlement and how researchers came to this conclusion. I knew the Neanderthals had mixed with non-African tribes while in central Europe, but not much beyond that – not the specific wanderings of the ancient peoples which Reich gets into. There are many clues but DNA as well as language and artifacts point the way. It’s all included, but never in so much depth as to lose track and not in unorganized breadth.
He covers other ideas, too, and how many starts and theories were shown to be in error. Some of those parts gets a bit wearying but they all turn out to be necessary.
The book’s last section deals with contemporary science and politics or attitudes – how it’s necessary to continue to go further in this kind of research but certain accommodations have to be to cover the mistakes made by earlier researchers. Also, there’s the danger of findings being glossed over by the public and then misinterpreted.
Overall it was a hugely informative book although a bit wordy in places-