Monday, March 7, 2022

Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas, by Jennifer Raff (author, narrator), Tanis Parenteau (narrator)

Twelve Books, ISBN 9781549148385, February 2022

The peopling of the Americas, the arrival here of anatomically modern humans, and their development  into the peoples I was originally taught to call American Indians and a little later Native Americans, is far more complicated than I was taught in school. It's pretty clear at this point that humans didn't first arrive here a mere ten to twelve thousand years ago. It also appears clear, based on genetic evidence, that they arrived in more than one wave.

And beyond that, it's really, really complicated. The reasons for the complexities are partly the fact that it's very difficult to recover ancient DNA, especially from bones that were buried in warm, wet environments. We also don't have a lot of tools much older than 12 to 15 thousand years ago that are clearly human-made tools. Some, but not enormous numbers.

There are indigenous oral traditions--that for a very long time, non-indigenous scientists and researchers ignored, that governments in the USA and Canada, as well as countries in the Americas tried to destroy along with indigenous languages. Now that there are researchers listening to the indigenous oral histories that do survive, they often provide information that matches up with genetic information with the result that the two information sources enhance each other. Of, as did make some real news in the last decade or so, useful information about the dangers of settling close to the shore (i.e., periodically there are major natural disasters that we can't deal with by having better building codes.) Raff doesn't mention that one (she's a geneticist, not an earth scientist), but I do remember when in it was in the news.

Further complicating things are not just the various major and obvious atrocities against indigenous peoples of the Americas, but specifically arrogance, disrespect, and deceit in conducting genetic research on indigenous peoples. Lying to people about what you're going to use their genetic material to research is a guaranteed way to miake people angry, and consequently hostile to future requests. Rebuilding relations with specific indigenous communities, to gain their cooperation and ensure respect and consideration to start to heal the rifts and continue to learn more, is both essential and difficult.

Raff tells the story very well, far better than I can describe it. It makes this an interesting and enlightening story.


I bought this audiobook.

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