Open Thread – December 18th, 2010

By Razib Khan | December 18, 2010 1:51 am

I really enjoy Frederick Pohl’s The Way the Future Blogs. If Isaac Asimov had made it to the internet age I’m sure he would have blogged quite a bit.

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  • Razib Khan


    – when farmers induce language shift in a region it is accompanied by major genetic changes (demographic shift)

    – when nomads/part-nomads induce language shift in a region it is accompanied by minor genetic changes (hungarians, anatolian turks, indo-aryans)

  • Sandgroper

    Farmers occupy ground, nomads don’t.

    If we can take European settlement of Australia as an example (maybe not a very good one, but at least it’s known), farming formed barriers to the Aboriginal people’s seasonal nomadic routes, so that they could no longer feed themselves. They had a choice – (1) steal food from the farmers, bringing them into direct conflict, (2) beg for food, or (3) starve.

    It’s not hard to imagine this model in the distant past – more numerous farmers defending their crops against nomadic people whose hunting and gathering routes had been cut off. It’s a recipe for conflict.

    Nomad vs nomad doesn’t induce the same conflict, where people either fight or starve.

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  • Ian

    There’s got to be some sort of a mass effect. Farming tends to raise the carrying capacity of the land, resulting in larger populations. At a stabilised frontier, if you have a roughly constant rate of intermarriage, the smaller population will experience a larger proportional genetic input.

    The problem with trying to generalise is the combination of confounding factors (the relative population sizes between the agriculturalists and the nomads, single conquest versus gradual diffusion, etc.) and the historical unknowns (especially in the case of the Indo-Aryans). If you’re trying to extract generalisations I think the Hispanicisation of the Americas is probably a good starting point. You have farmer versus farmer and farmer versus nomad. You also have some notable pockets of linguistic resistance – Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní.

    An interesting counterargument (although, again, it probably reflects specific historical contingency) is the example of the Navajo and the Cherokee. Both groups have similar populations (~300,000) but the degree of European admixture if much, much higher among the Cherokee (agriculturalists at the time of European contact) than among the Navajo (hunter-gatherers, according to Wikipedia*, at the time of European contact).

    *And according to my own recollections, but I ‘m far less when it comes to Navajo history.

  • Razib Khan

    You also have some notable pockets of linguistic resistance – Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní.

    quechua spread after the spanish conquest as a lingua franca. the same happened with nahuatl. i assume similar for aymara and guarani, though i believe that guarani is part of a family of closely related dialects.

    the spanish conquest is a bit peculiar because of its ‘leap frog’ nature. in that way it is similar to nomads.

  • Razib Khan

    is it just me, or is it actually easy to discern urbanization on this map?

  • Razib Khan

    interesting paper in plos one on the paleolithic

  • Alan Kellogg

    Oh, Issac blogged, he just got publishers to pay him for it.

  • Sandgroper
  • Sandgroper

    In which case, that is interesting.

    I always wondered about the idea of ‘retreat’ like “Uh oh, the weather is turning nasty, time to head south.” At what point does a hominin decide that and how, except perhaps by following herd migrations?

    But this could explain it nicely: “The retreat of Middle Paleolithic populations from
    Northern Eurasia during glacial periods most likely resulted from
    localized extinctions in the least hospitable areas rather than from
    long-range population movement.”

  • T. Greer

    1. Anybody else used Google Ngam yet? I was playing around with it at my site a bit, but I would live to see anything interesting other people have found.

    2. To evaluate the farmer/nomad gene claim, I suggest we examine cases of farmers encroaching upon the territory of other farmers, and nomads taking over the land of other nomads. Roman, Carolingian, Norman, Tang, Japanese, and Ottoman conquests would be examples worth examining for the first type; the conquest and forced migrations of the Yuezhi & related groups during classical times, the conquest of Turkic groups by Mongols during the Middle ages, and the Manchu take-over of Mongolia, the Ordos, and the Tamaran basin by be good case examples of the latter.

    Also, how does the Arab expansion fit into this?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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