Human evolution Intelligent Design

Writing fiction about extinct peoples 34kya is definitely okay. But hey, why call it science?

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grave from present-day Russia, 34 mya

From ScienceDaily:

Early humans seem to have recognised the dangers of inbreeding at least 34,000 years ago, and developed surprisingly sophisticated social and mating networks to avoid it, new research has found.

The study, reported in the journal Science, examined genetic information from the remains of anatomically modern humans who lived during the Upper Palaeolithic, a period when modern humans from Africa first colonised western Eurasia. The results suggest that people deliberately sought partners beyond their immediate family, and that they were probably connected to a wider network of groups from within which mates were chosen, in order to avoid becoming inbred.

This suggests that our distant ancestors are likely to have been aware of the dangers of inbreeding, and purposely avoided it at a surprisingly early stage in prehistory.

The symbolism, complexity and time invested in the objects and jewellery found buried with the remains also suggests that it is possible that they developed rules, ceremonies and rituals to accompany the exchange of mates between groups, which perhaps foreshadowed modern marriage ceremonies, and may have been similar to those still practised by hunter-gatherer communities in parts of the world today.

The human fossils buried at Sunghir represent a rare and highly valuable, source of information because very unusually for finds from this period, the people buried there appear to have lived at the same time and were buried together. To the researchers’ surprise, however, these individuals were not closely related in genetic terms; at the very most, they were second cousins. This is true even in the case of two children who were buried head-to-head in the same grave.

They found that the four individuals studied were genetically no closer than second cousins, while an adult femur filled with red ochre found in the children’s’ grave would have belonged to an individual no closer than great-great grandfather of the boys. “This goes against what many would have predicted,” Willerslev said. “I think many researchers had assumed that the people of Sunghir were very closely related, especially the two youngsters from the same grave.” Paper. (registration required) – Martin Sikora, Andaine Seguin-Orlando, Vitor C. Sousa, Anders Albrechtsen, Thorfinn Korneliussen, Amy Ko, Simon Rasmussen, Isabelle Dupanloup, Philip R. Nigst, Marjolein D. Bosch, Gabriel Renaud, Morten E. Allentoft, Ashot Margaryan, Sergey V. Vasilyev, Elizaveta V. Veselovskaya, Svetlana B. Borutskaya, Thibaut Deviese, Dan Comeskey, Tom Higham, Andrea Manica, Robert Foley, David J. Meltzer, Rasmus Nielsen, Laurent Excoffier, Marta Mirazon Lahr, Ludovic Orlando, Eske Willerslev. Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers. Science, 2017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1807 More.

This is fascinating but the fact is, in the absence of written records, we can’t be sure what happened or why. The grave goods will, of course, tell part of a story, especially when compared to similar artifacts. For example, if the children were buried with a bone full of red ochre from a possible great-great-grandfather, we can be fairly sure that the bone is a message for someone (possibly a spirit of some kind?).

But even today, many cultures marry cousins without apparent concern. The entire human race has not “evolved” away from that by any means.

A friend writes,

Do the researchers really believe that they can extrapolate their find to the mating habits of a whole society in a huge area of the planet based on a sample size of 4 in one single burial area? At least they are avoiding the assumption that the older the society the more “primitive” people were.

Yes, and analysis of the rich grave goods (please find more!) might provide us with more insight, especially because we don’t know why these people came to be buried in that specific place anyway. In any culture, people are not always buried where we might expect and there is a story in that.

Coffee! In the absence of any written information, what would future paleontologists make of the masses of Canadian World War I graves in Belgium? How about: Belgians sacrificed young men they captured in order to placate the gods! Sure. Gotta be…

See also:  Neanderthal taste in jewelry included eagle talons 

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What we are learning about human evolution

4 Replies to “Writing fiction about extinct peoples 34kya is definitely okay. But hey, why call it science?

  1. 1
    ET says:

    Excuse me, News, but if you haven’t figured it out already it is all about the narrative. The best story wins.

    The onus is on the people who disagree. 🙄

    It’s the “novella approach to science”. 🙂

  2. 2
    News says:

    Yes, ET at 1, but I am still waiting for the TV series…

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    Maybe Aldous Huxley would have categorised their ‘progressive’ perspective on science as a ‘cataphatic’ religious school, as opposed to an apophatic one. Even ‘cataphatic science’ – a kind of metaphysics on the lam. I shouldn’t have said that. They’ll probably adopt it! Good-bye Karl Popper and all that.

    Well, OK. A ‘novella’ ! Took me a long time and round the houses to get here, ET.

  4. 4
    Pearlman says:

    RCCF calibrated this is during the ice age when the world population was under 50k and all 70 base nationalities were still united, pre 1996 AM dispersion about the end of the ice age. add into the mix ‘founder effect’ less than 10 generations had passed since the bottleneck by genetic ‘Eve’ and we can deduce:
    they could be more closely related than those w/ same genetic similarities today. and or opposites attracted then too. and or they did already know to not marry the closest relative such as a twin sister for religious or genetic health reasons.
    RCCF framework for understanding science in max avail context.

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