Sunday, October 2, 2011

10,000 years in the making

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution

 by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

I have a long held interest in evolution and anthropology. Beyond an interest actually. More like an endless fascination. Some would even say obsession. I am a the the Tea Party/GOP's worst nightmare. I cannot be bullied into falling into the current line of thinking that the earth is 6000 years old. I know better.

Enough about fables and delusions and on to science and The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

As soon as I opened up this book and started to read, I could not stop. I devoured it. Then I read it again. It is utterly fascinating. The book is about exactly what the title says, how the last 10,000 years human evolution is rapidly accelerating due to the adaptions of civilization. We change phyically to adapt to changes from geography, climate, diet, but these are not slow mutations that occur over millions or even hundreds of thousands of years as they have been throughout most of the planet's evolutionary history. These are now rapid changes at the genetic level involving alterations at the chromosomal level called alleles. They can occur in as little as several generations, and the rate of change is increasing dramtically.

The authors go back beyond 10,000 years ago to indentify the time when this explosion of acceleration first began 30,000 years ago. They indentify the exact event. For me this was best part of the book because it something that I always believed and the authors make a strong case to back up their somewhat irrevereant theory. I will not give it away here. It would be akin to giving a away a major spoiler to a novel. But anyone with an interest in anthropology or evolution of human history will find it facinating.

My only problem I had with this book is the use of of the term "ape-like". It is a pet peeve of mine and scientists should know better. Humans ARE great apes so referring to a non-human behavior as "ape-like" is a contradiction.

In many ways The 10,000 Year Explosion reads like the anthropolgy equivilant to a Michio Kaku physics book. That makes perfect sense since one of the authors is a physicist. Overall, this book is a pop science masterwork with some terrific insights and revoltionary theories. Together with Guns, Germs, and Steel, it makes for the perfect new wave evolution double feature.

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