When Eve met Creb

By Razib Khan | January 24, 2012 11:02 pm

The excellent site io9 has a piece up today which is a fascinating indicator of the nature of popular science publications as a lagging indicator. It is a re-post of a piece published last April, How Mitochondrial Eve connected all humanity and rewrote human evolution. In it you have an encapsulation of a particular period in our understanding of human natural history through evolutionary genetics. Notice for example the focus on maternally transmitted lineages, mtDNA and Y chromosomes. And the citations on genealogy date to the middle aughts. The science is mostly correct as far as it goes in the details (or at least it is defensible, last I checked there was still debate as to the validity of the molecular clocks used for Y chromosomal lineages), but it misses the big picture of how we’ve reframed our understanding of the human past over the last few years. The distance between 2011 and 2009 is far greater in this sense than between 2009 and 1999 (or even 2009 and 1989!). The io9 piece is a reflection of the era before the paradigmatic rupture.

We are no longer talking just about African mtDNA Eve and her husband Y chromosomal Adam. I’m going to consciously avoid the term “revolutionize,” because the broad outlines of the old story certainly hold. Rather, as we are wont to do it seems that we became a bit too bold with some of our brush strokes, and elided fascinating and subtle elements of the landscape on the margins. There were Crebs, and other assorted Oogas and Boogas. And the painting is not completed yet. As such we can’t really draw any conclusions as to “what it all means,” aside from the fact that it’s fascinating.

Addendum: Someone in the comments observes in relation to a depiction of Eve in the story that “She’s awfully pale for an East African.” This is true on the merits, but the logic is kind of dumb. Why exactly do we think that people ~150,000 years ago looked anything like modern East Africans? It is very likely that Europeans ~35,000 years ago did not look like Daryl Hannah.

  • jb

    “She’s awfully pale for an East African.” This is true on the merits, but the logic is kind of dumb. Why exactly do we think that people ~150,000 years ago looked anything like modern East Africans?

    No worries! I was curious why some of the article’s commenters wanted to kick Ronald Moore in the balls, and this led me to the Wikipedia page for Battlestar Galactica, where I learned that The new Earth is found to be inhabited by early humans, who are genetically compatible with the humans from the Galactica and the rest of the fleet… . Human beings had apparently independently evolved on Earth and Kobol. So you see, even if the Mitochondrial Eve was a pale skinned little girl from another planet, her descendents could still get their East African looks from the locals. Perfectly logical! Problem solved!

  • toto

    Why exactly do we think that people ~150,000 years ago looked anything like modern East Africans?

    Well… if we accept that the pigmentation of modern East Africans is largely determined by selective pressure / stabilizing selection, and that dark pigments are not a recent evolutionary development, then it would make sense that their ancestor of 150Ky ago (or even before that, including archaics), living at the same place, would have roughly the same pigmentation?

  • marcel

    It is very likely that Europeans ~35,000 years ago did not look like Daryl Hannah.

    Do you have to go and burst every balloon?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #2, probably true. unless they are hairy.

  • ackbark

    That’s something I was wondering,

    is there any indication of how hairy Neanderthals were? Or if they had long beards, or just a general fuzziness?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #5, yeah. henry harpending says there are some signs on the bones of neanderthals that babies may have grasped on to their fur, like apes.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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