Open Thread, 11/3/2013

By Razib Khan | November 3, 2013 12:34 pm

Origins-of-the-Irish1After reading Ancestral Journeys, I decided to get J. P. Mallory’s The Origins of the Irish. A bit on the academic side for some, but definitely a good dive into the literature. Mallory is well aware of the latest genetic research, so this is as up-to-date as it gets. It’s a good case study in how multidisciplinary prehistoric studies should be done.

As I’ve suggested earlier prehistory looks to be a good deal more complex than we had previous thought, so expanding beyond single methodological perspectives is probably essential if we really care about truth.

In other news, a short piece in The New York Times refers to Salafis as ‘ultraconservative.’ I think this misleads most people about the nature of Salafism: it is a radical utopian system which recently arose out of Islam’s confrontation with Western derived modernity. It isn’t conserving anything. This aspect of Salafism explains why Saudi Arabia condones the bulldozing of Muhammed’s tomb and celebrates modern monumental architecture in Islam’s holy city.

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Comments (9)

    • Karch_Buttreau

      Interesting read. Without commenting on the specifics of patents, I’d opine that any case having to do with Down’s will be polluted by people’s opinions about abortion.

  1. razibkhan
  2. TheBrett

    If Saudi Arabia ever runs out of affordable oil to extract and export and has to turn into a normal country, I can imagine the chagrin of their future historians over this. The loss is enormous in terms of historiography and archaeology. Ugh.

    • razibkhan

      the issue isn’t the oil as much as oil vs. population. saudi fertility is down, but demographic inertia means its native population is going to boom for a generation. in 1950 there were ~3 million native saudis. today there are ~25 million. last i checked TFR is still ~3.

  3. omarali50

    I agree that Salafism can be described as “a radical utopian system which recently arose out of Islam’s confrontation with Western derived modernity.”

    But just to add to that: Salafism is a very confused term by now. No single characterization captures all the major strands of the movement. If we agree to call anyone “salafist” who call themselves salafist, then the radical utopian system that is bulldozing heritage and conserving nothing is not the only strand out there.
    Of course, there are salafists (including violent salafi terrorists who have very little knowledge of traditional Islamic scholarship, though they honor it in principle) who are intently focused on creating a radical utopia, and who may end as something of an Islamic Khmer Rouge if and when they actually take over a state. But there also others who identify as Salafists who are willing to follow one of the four canonical Islamic Madhabs (schools of jurisprudence) in matters of law and are mostly concerned with getting rid of practices they regard as “not sanctioned in the true Islam of the prophet and his companions, as understood by classical scholars”.
    That their vision may have little to do with what actually existed in Medina in 640 AD is a different story. Their vision (and the emotional register in which they operate) may have enough in common with “ultra-conservatives” in Western terms to make the term justifiable?

    Maybe part of the problem is that while there is endless variety in terms of theories of religion (and even more so, in terms of actual practice) in Islamicate history, what got settled as Sunni orthodoxy in the 4 canonical schools is itself a sort of radical utopian system.

  4. Ireland is a nice case study precisely because so few migrations ever went there. She was sort of an “also ran” backwater for England and Western Europe in general for all of her history. Much less to untangle for the prehistorian.

    Scratch an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a German, and you get layers and layers and layers. Scratch an Irishman and you might get a stray Gallowglass from Scotland or a merchant or landlord from England who decided to go rustic.

    Irish remember the odder stuff (like the “Spanish Armada”) precisely because contacts with the non-provincial world were so vanishingly rare. Just like backwater towns in “Flyover Country, USA” remember when LBJ passed through or Churchill gave a speech that would have been forgotten a week later in NYC.

    • Paul Conroy

      The “Spanish Armada” stuff is largely untrue – except for 3 families in Donegal – however some Iberians did settle in the 1550’s, they were Sephardic Jews from Portugal…

      I grew up in Ireland, and have 1,956 relatives on 23andMe’s Relative Finder, and they are located in every region of the world. The reason the Irish are important is that they form so much of other populations, like 50% of Scottish, 40% of Australians, and even in the US, about 1/2 the Southern population, and a large proportion of the Midland population are of Irish descent.

      So I have relatives in Southern Chile, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Northern Nigeria, Bangladesh, Guam, Lake Baikal in Siberia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Northern Norway, Crete, Israel, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba and on and on… even in a relatively remote place like Cordoba, Argentina, I have 5 relatives.
      People forget how the Irish started leaving Ireland in huge numbers ever since the 1500’s and that one of Napoleon’s top commanders was General McMahon, and when they fought the Russians, one of their top commanders was General Rork (aka O’Rourke), McMahon would go on to become President of France and have Mayonaise named after him, while Rork would go on to be president of Russia. I too seem to be related to Richard Colley Wellesley, the brother of Arthur Wellesley (aka the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo). Most Americans don’t know that the first NW European settlers of Texas were Irish – not Scots or Scots-Irish – that they settled there when Texas was still part of New Spain and ruled by the likes of Juan Odonoju (aka O’Donohue), and so on.

      But in terms of waves of settlement, I show some ancestry similar to Northern Finns/Saami and my mother and I have about 4% Caucasus-like ancestry, and she also has 1% Native American-like ancestry – so there are waves of ancient settlement in Ireland too, just less well known.

  5. EdReal

    I have been mildly swamped lately and left my science reading to later. So I just got caught up. I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your Slate piece–and how annoying their new format is, as I check Slate out daily and never saw your essay until I read about it here.

    It is of particular interest to me because I am about to become (gulp) a grandparent. That baby better get more me than any of the other three contributors, or me and my kid are going to have words.

    Saudi Arabia’s bulldozing of its history has been aggravating me for years.


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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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