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September 30, 2017

To be brown is to be a civilization

Filed under: ancient india,Culture,Desi,Identity — Razib Khan @ 1:01 pm


Though I often disagree with him, I do enjoy Zach’s perspective on things because they are different from mine, though we exhibit similarities (e.g., both of us generally align with the center-Right in Anglophone societies). Zach may be one of the first cosmopolitan desis in his pedigree; he, himself of part-Persian heritage, marrying a South Indian Sindhi, probably to raise a family in England. In contrast, I may be the last brown person in my pedigree for a while, fading into legend and myth (or infamy!).

But one of the things I think is important to emphasize is South Asia is a civilizational entity straight-jacketed for historical reasons into a few nation-states. Though India and China are often compared together, they are totally incomparable insofar as the Han majority of China exhibit a racial and linguistic unity which South Asians do not (even though southeast Chinese dialects are unintelligible with Mandarin, the written language is the same).

By and large, I am predisposed to agree that someone like Zach is more prototypically South Asian than I am. Despite his religious heterodoxy his cultural rootedness in the Northwest quadrant of the subcontinent does put him at the “center of the action,” so to speak. In contrast, my own family’s recent origins are on the far eastern fringe of recognizably desi territory…. That is, my family is from the eastern portion of eastern Bengal (my grandmother was almost killed by the crazy elephant of the maharani of Tripura!). It’s interesting that 3,000 years after the emergence of Iron Age South Asian cultures the fulcrum of South Asian identity is where it began all those millennia ago (there was a period between the Mauryas and the Guptas when Bihar was the center).

Talking about what is more prototypically desi is like talking about what is more prototypically “European.” Being French or German is more prototypically European than being Albanian or Russian. We could argue why, but in your heart you know it’s true. There are definitions of Europeans which exclude Albanians and Russians (even though I’d disagree with those personally), but no plausible ones which exclude French and Germans.

Finally, I do think it indicates the limits and flexibility around race and brown identity. As Zach has said repeatedly he is very light-skinned (and part Iranian to boot). Myself, I don’t think anyone would describe me as either light-skinned or dark-skinned; I’m pretty much the average South Asian in complexion. Brown. Not light brown. Or dark brown. Literally just brown. But that doesn’t really weight much in terms of who is “more desi” or not. I have never watched a Bollywood film all the way through. That matters more.

Why Trump could murder someone and people would still support him

Filed under: Donald Trump,Politics,Trump — David Hume @ 10:48 am

In 1683 the Ottoman Turk marched toward Vienna. John Sobieski, the king of Poland, became a hero to all Europe because of his defense of the Habsburgs in their time of need. In contrast, France had traditionally been a rival of the Habsburg monarchy. In honor of their tacit alliance with the Ottomans they rejected aiding the Austrians. But by 1683 pan-Christian feeling was strong enough that the Bourbons received some blowback for their implied approval of the Ottoman thrust into the heart of Europe.

But not all Christians fought with the Habsburgs. The Protestant Hungarian noble Imre Thokoly led a contingent of his followers against Vienna in alliance with the Ottomans. Hungarian Protestants were suffering persecution and marginalization at the hands of the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. In the years before the Ottoman invasion rebellions based on demands for religious liberty were occurring due to the vigor of the re-Catholicization efforts of the Habsburgs.

Red = Catholic and Blue = Protestant

The Hungarian Protestants allied with the Ottomans against all of Christendom because only through that alliance was their existence safeguarded.* To this day the demographic stronghold of Hungarian Protestantism is to the east, where Ottomans held sway the longest, and so shielded Protestants from Royal persecution and conversion.

The general principle here is obvious. If the cost of acceptance and approval is a negation of who you are, then you will make whatever compromises and sacrifices necessary to continue to be who you are. The Greek Orthodox church arguably made this choice when most of them rejected union with Rome as the cost for Western aid against the Turks.

The relevance for modern American politics should be clear. But if it isn’t, I’ll make it clear: many pro-Trump Americans perceive that Trump may protect them and their values, and see that anti-Trump politicians and leaders will never do so. Obviously there are a range of attitudes of people who support Trump, from genuine fondness and loyalty, to resigned acceptance that he is there only choice in a binary world.

Why is he their only choice? Perhaps “it’s time for some game theory.”

Consider a book like Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority. Many center-to-Left Americans look to the year 2050 (or 2042) as a terminal date when a social-political milestone will be achieved: white people will be made dispensable. Not in a literal sense, but the centrality of white Americans will be no more. The coalition of the ascendant will have come into its own.

At least that’s the theory. Even one of the major early theorists of the new Democratic majority is not sure it will ever come to be (count me as a guarded skeptic as well).

But that’s neither here nor there. Many people on the Left and the Right in American culture see that white Christian America will be marginalized. Demoted. They seem that people are picking sides, and you have to stick to your tribe. It’s a matter of existential concern.

Many pro-Trump Americans perceive that the Left and the cultural elite hate them in their bones. Wish they would disappear. Dislike their aesthetic preferences, think their religion is contemptible, and are simply waiting for their expiration date so that history will march onward, and leave them an unpleasant memory.

Some of them see their livelihoods in danger, as they perceive that their political choices and identities will make them targets for being unpersoned, without a way to keep a roof over their heads or food on their family’s table. They accept the narrative of their marginalization, and are terrified of the consequences that will be meted out to them by their triumphalist adversaries in the culture wars.

When elite Americans argue that these voters are supporting a conman, they shrug and reject these arguments. First, they don’t trust the elites to have their interests at heart in the first place, so why trust their sincerity? These are the same elites joyfully writing think-pieces about how these middle class white Americans are no longer necessary in electoral coalitions, nor do they set the terms in American culture. The alternative offered is dispossession and marginalization with a smile, and that is not an offer they are willing to take.

American society today is in a “you are with us or against” modality. Even if you are on the losing side, there is no incentive to change sides, because no one perceives that there will be charity from one’s erstwhile enemies (notice how many liberals accepted John McCain’s rejection of Republican Obamacare replacements begrudgingly; he may have sided with them in some cases, but he wasn’t on the team). These sorts of tribal dynamics are not surprising in the age of identity politics. In India caste politics is such that plainly corrupt politicians who regularly disappoint their constituents continue to be reelected over and over. Why? Because ultimately their people have nowhere else to go.

We live in a zero-sum world now. Identity is dominant. To some extent it always was, but very few now make the counter-argument that principles matter. Better get used to it.

* A curious fact is that the ancestors of the Polish Lipka Tatars marched with Sobieski.

September 29, 2017

Why Brown Pundits?

Filed under: Blog — Razib Khan @ 8:45 pm

This post is in response to Zach and Zimriel.

Why Brown Pundits? Why this blog? And why do I post here, as opposed to Gene Expression or Secular Right, or various other venues which I have access to?

To a great extent the origins of this blog for me go back to the early 2000s, when I began to have some discussions with a few South Asian friends/readers through carbon copy emails. Two of those individuals later went on to co-found the Sepia Munity weblog.

Growing up in an overwhelmingly white America my understanding of South Asians was parochial and superficial, or at least academic, until I entered adulthood. At that point I met various South Asian Americans, and formed some friendships of some durability, and began to see how they viewed the world. How their experiences differed from mine, and how they were similar.

There was, and is, a lot of diversity. But I didn’t see too much of my own perspective being represented. Books such as the Karma Of Brown Folk reflected what I think the most dominant and “hip” element of American South Asian subculture, which is culturally left-wing, and aspires toward what has become bracketed under the term “intersectional.”

I’m not saying that these people are the majority. Just that they vocal, and active, and the ones who are likely to agitate and organize around a South Asian American identity (as opposed to local particularistic identities, such as being a Tamil Brahmin, or a more general identity, such as being a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican).

This blog is a way to get some more heterodox and diverse views out there. For example, I am a libertarian leaning conservative who is an atheist, whose children are “white presenting” as they would say today. I am Bengali by birth and upbringing, but it is unlikely that my descendants will be Bengali in anything but distant lineage. That’s a statement of fact, and neither positive or negative. It probably influences my negative attitude toward fashionable anti-white poses struck by gentry left-wing American South Asians (poses struck in solidarity with other “PoC”), as anti-white prejudice impacts my family directly.

As for what I post here vs. what I post elsewhere: if I’m not aiming toward generality of inference or lesson I’ll post them here. A South Asian illustration of a general principle can be posted elsewhere, but sometimes issues and questions exhibit strong South Asian particularities, and they belong here.

 

Why Brown Pundits?

Filed under: Blog — Razib Khan @ 8:45 pm

This post is in response to Zach and Zimriel.

Why Brown Pundits? Why this blog? And why do I post here, as opposed to Gene Expression or Secular Right, or various other venues which I have access to?

To a great extent the origins of this blog for me go back to the early 2000s, when I began to have some discussions with a few South Asian friends/readers through carbon copy emails. Two of those individuals later went on to co-found the Sepia Munity weblog.

Growing up in an overwhelmingly white America my understanding of South Asians was parochial and superficial, or at least academic, until I entered adulthood. At that point I met various South Asian Americans, and formed some friendships of some durability, and began to see how they viewed the world. How their experiences differed from mine, and how they were similar.

There was, and is, a lot of diversity. But I didn’t see too much of my own perspective being represented. Books such as the Karma Of Brown Folk reflected what I think the most dominant and “hip” element of American South Asian subculture, which is culturally left-wing, and aspires toward what has become bracketed under the term “intersectional.”

I’m not saying that these people are the majority. Just that they vocal, and active, and the ones who are likely to agitate and organize around a South Asian American identity (as opposed to local particularistic identities, such as being a Tamil Brahmin, or a more general identity, such as being a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican).

This blog is a way to get some more heterodox and diverse views out there. For example, I am a libertarian leaning conservative who is an atheist, whose children are “white presenting” as they would say today. I am Bengali by birth and upbringing, but it is unlikely that my descendants will be Bengali in anything but distant lineage. That’s a statement of fact, and neither positive or negative. It probably influences my negative attitude toward fashionable anti-white poses struck by gentry left-wing American South Asians (poses struck in solidarity with other “PoC”), as anti-white prejudice impacts my family directly.

As for what I post here vs. what I post elsewhere: if I’m not aiming toward generality of inference or lesson I’ll post them here. A South Asian illustration of a general principle can be posted elsewhere, but sometimes issues and questions exhibit strong South Asian particularities, and they belong here.

 

The war between the Aesir and Vanir

Filed under: Aesir,Indo-European,Mythology,Prehistory,Vanir — Razib Khan @ 7:09 pm


In Snorri Sturluson’s preservation of pre-Christian Scandinavian mythos, he outlines two groups of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir. Though ultimately presented as a united pantheon in comparison to beings such as the giants, there are references to a war between these two divine factions. But, there is still scholarly debate as to the significance of the division between the Aesir and Vanir.

At one extreme some contend that the division was concocted by Sturluson himself for stylistic or poetic reasons. In contrast, others suggest that the Aesir-Vanir division is substantive, and reflects deep historical origins. The Vanir, in this telling, are the fertility gods of pre-Indo-European peoples. The Aesir, are the gods of the Indo-Europeans. The war between the two factions then is a memory of the conflict between the indigenous farmers, and the incoming Indo-European pastoralists. Sturluson himself suggested that the gods of the Norse mythos were simply deifications of great historical personages of the past, lending credence to the idea that the folklore preserved the memory of history.

Ultimately we may never know the real story behind the Aesir-Vanir war (if it ever occurred). But a new paper in The American Journal of Archaeology sheds some light on the transition to Indo-European language in modern Denmark’s Jutland, Talking Neolithic: Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives on How Indo-European Was Implemented in Southern Scandinavia:

…Farming arrived in Scandinavia with the Funnel Beaker culture by the turn of the fourth millennium B.C.E. It was superseded by the Single Grave culture, which as part of the Corded Ware horizon is a likely vector for the introduction of Indo-European speech. As a result of this introduction, the language spoken by individuals from the Funnel Beaker culture went extinct long before the beginning of the historical record, apparently vanishing without a trace. However, the Indo-European dialect that ultimately developed into Proto-Germanic can be shown to have adopted terminology from a non-Indo-European language, including names for local flora and fauna and important plant domesticates. We argue that the coexistence of the Funnel Beaker culture and the Single Grave culture in the first quarter of the third millennium B.C.E. offers an attractive scenario for the required cultural and linguistic exchange, which we hypothesize took place between incoming speakers of Indo-European and local descendants of Scandinavia’s earliest farmers.

There is a lot of interesting detail in the paper itself. First, the Corded Ware arrived in Jutland in ~2850 BCE, but only occupied the western and central parts of the peninsula. The Funnel Beaker complex, along with influences and interactions with the hunter-gatherer Pitted Ware culture, persisted in robust form until ~2600 BCE in the east of Jutland. Additionally, the authors note that there was a notable cultural geographic division which separated the former Funnel Beaker territory as it was in ~2600 BCE down to ~1500 BCE, when the two zones fused together into a unified Nordic Bronze Age culture.

An explicit analogy is made to the character of prehistoric Aegean society, where a pre-Indo-European matrix was coexistent with Indo-European cultures which arrived from the north for centuries, and even millennia, down to the Classical Greek period (the Pelasgians).

But the similarity is closer than just one of form: the language of the Funnel Beaker people may have existed on a dialect continuum with the farming peoples of the Mediterranean. That is, Neolithic Europe was probably united by an ethno-cultural linguistic complex similar in scale and quality to that of the Bantus in modern Africa.

One of the hypotheses about the origins of the Vanir is that they were agricultural fertility gods. As it happens many of the hypothesized borrowings of non-Indo-European words into Germanic are of agricultural nature. Additionally, the table within the paper illustrates that many of these words span very different Indo-European language families. The implication is strong that Minoan, Basque, and the pre-Indo-European languages of Northern Europe are genetically related to each other.

Genetics does not illuminate everything, but I do think that it gives a certain solidity now to the nature of demographic turnover and variation in prehistoric Europe. With that in mind archaeologists and folklorists can interpret the mythologies and legends which have been passed down to us from the liminal periods on the edge of history and prehistory.

For example, the thesis that pre-Indo-European religion revolved around cthonic deities of the earth (e.g., the Tuatha de Danann) makes a lot more sense if you believe that these people were agriculturalists. In contrast, the Indo-Europeans from the east arrived as pastoralists, and it is not, therefore, a surprise that the one Indo-European god who has an undisputed cognate across all branches of the Indo-European peoples is the sky god, whether he is known as Zeus, Jupiter, or Dyauṣ Pitār.

This time it was different

Filed under: Environment,Environmentalism,Overpopulation — Razib Khan @ 7:15 am


As a child I was a consumer of a fair amount of environmentalist alarmism. Not the standard stuff you see on the news, but books like The Population Bomb.

I also read the science fiction classic Stand on Zanzibar. Stand on Zanzibar is about an overpopulated Malthusian world. It is the world of 2010, and the population is 7 billion. The author, John Brunner, was writing in 1968. This was the beginning of the worries about population growth and sustainability.

Brunner was right about the world population in 2010…but it’s not quite the dystopia that he painted. In some places, like the Congo, it is quite hellish. But in much of the world there is a slow but steady advancement, much of it thanks to China.

Rather than the inevitability of a Malthusian crisis due to overpopulation (note that fertility rates peaked in the 1960s) slowly creeping up on us, I think we need to worry about our society’s ability to withstand shocks. Those shocks might destabilize the social matrix which our high productivity society needs to survive, and without that productivity, we will be a Malthusian crisis.

September 28, 2017

Khoisan may not have diverged ~300,000 years ago

Filed under: Human Evolution,Human Genetics — Razib Khan @ 10:23 pm


A few years ago I contributed to an op-ed which defended the utility of the race concept in biology in USA Today (which by the way prompted a quite patronizing email from a famous doyen of population genetics who wished to correct my ignorance; here’s a clue: “Out of Africa again & again”).

In my initial draft, I had stated that the Khoisan diverged from other human populations ~200,000 years ago. The fact-checker came back and said that this didn’t seem to be a supportable claim. The reason I gave the ~200,000 figure is that I’d button-holed people who looked at these genomes, and they were coming to the conclusion that the divergence between Khoisan and non-Khoisan was further back than we’d presupposed. And that was the number given to me.

Ultimately I compromised and allowed them to change the divergence value to 150,000 years before the present.

Today we’re in a different landscape. The above figure is from the Science paper, Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago, which was earlier a biorxiv preprint (which I mentioned last spring). In concert with the North African find, the media is running with the idea that the origin of modern humans goes back very far indeed. This piece in ScienceNews is actually pretty good in my opinion at staying under control, though not all write-ups have been so measured.

So in a span of two years we’ve gone from me pushing and compromising on a value of ~150,000 years, to researchers suggesting that the Khoisan/non-Khoisan divergence is about two-fold older than that!

Well, I’m here to tell you that a prominent geneticist who is very conversant with these issues is simply incredulous about the likelihood of this particular value. I brought up this preprint to them over lunch and they just didn’t buy it. That is, they are skeptical that the amount of admixture would have skewed the earlier inferences to the magnitude that they seem to have in these results.

The authors in the paper used G-PhoCS and their own ingenious method to come to these inferences of split dates. The problem with these methods is that the inferences generated aren’t nearly as straightforward as an admixture estimate (which can be checked by something as simple as a PCA). I don’t want to get into the details, but I remember seeing models in the 2000s which inferred that East Asians and Europeans diverged ~25,000 years ago, or that there was no Neanderthal admixture in Europeans (to a high degree of confidence). Models can come out with a lot of values.

More importantly, look at the dates of divergence of non-Africans (Sardinians here) from their closest African relatives.

  • 115,000 years before the present (Dinka-Sardinian) for G-PhoCS
  • 76,000 years before the present for their TT-method

In light of the likelihood that the closest population to non-Africans may have been an East African population represented by Ethiopia Mota individual (along with modern Hadza), we can probably drop that estimate down a bit. But G-PhoCS in particular just gives too old an estimate. There are ways it makes sense (lots of old structure within Africa) of course. I’m just speaking in terms of possibilities. The diversification of extant modern populations seems to have occurred around ~50,000-60,000 years before the present. This aligns with the archaeology, and the ancient genomes which we have on hand.

The diversification of extant modern populations seems to have occurred around ~50,000-60,000 years before the present. This aligns with the archaeology, and the ancient genomes which we have on hand.

Of course the methods in this paper might be right. And the fossil from North Africa does add some plausibility to that. But really the whole field is somewhat unsettled now, and we should be cautious of reporting of definitive truths in the media.

Selection for pigmentation in Khoisan?

Filed under: Natural Selection,Pigmentation,Selection — Razib Khan @ 8:52 pm

In the recent paper, Reconstructing Prehistoric African Population Structure, there was a section natural selection. Since my post on the paper was already very long I didn’t address this dynamic.

But now I want to highlight this section:

The functional category that displays the most extreme allele frequency differentiation between present day San and ancient southern Africans is ‘‘response to radiation’’ (Z = 3.3 compared to the genome-wide average). To control for the possibility that genes in this category show an inflated allele frequency differentiation in general, we computed the same statistic for the Mbuti central African rainforest hunter-gatherer group but found no evidence for selection affecting the response to radiation category.

We speculate that the signal for selection in the response to radiation category in the San could be due to exposure to sunlight associated with the life of the Khomani and Juj’hoan North people in the Kalahari Basin, which has become a refuge for hunter-gatherer populations in the last millenia due to encroachment by pastoralist and agriculturalist groups.

I’m a bit puzzled here, because the implication seems to be that the San populations are darker than they were in the past. And yet earlier this summer I saw a talk which strongly suggested that there was a selection in modern Bushman populations for the derived variant of SLC24A5, presumably introduced through admixture from East African populations with Eurasian admixture.

In comparison to their neighbors the San are quite light-skinned, so it’s a reasonable supposition that they have been subject to natural selection recently. The Hadza, in contrast, seem to have the same complexion as their Bantu neighbors.

The macaque’s voyage?

Filed under: Biogeography,Environment — Razib Khan @ 5:03 pm

The Monkey’s Voyage was one of the more interesting books I’ve read in the past few years. Basically the author shows that the idea that islands like New Zealand are living mengaries of a lost Gondwanaland is false. Due to extinction islands have high turnover rates, and most species in New Zealand descend from relatively recent arrivals.

And how do they arrive? Larger animals like New World monkeys, probably on rafts made of driftwood.

I thought of that book when reading this fascinating article in The Atlantic, Japanese Animals Are Still Washing Up in America After The 2011 Tsunami:

In the last five years, he and his colleagues have documented 634 pieces of debris that were swept away by the Tōhoku tsunami and eventually washed up on the coasts of North America. And it hasn’t stopped coming yet. Between them, these bits of ocean-hopping junk carried 289 species that are typically found along Japanese coasts—a vast horde of sponges, sea stars, sea anemones, mussels, limpets, barnacles, and fish.

Partly, that might be because the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake was one of the strongest in history. But Carlton thinks that it’s also because humans have changed the world, by just introducing a lot more stuff to it. “A similar tsunami occurred in the same place in 1933,” he says. “We’ve looked at photos of that coast in 1933, and there are small villages with wooden homes. Advance to 2011, and we have a vast infrastructure. In the last 50 years, we’ve poised, on the edge of the world, this massive amount of material that’s ready to be washed into the ocean.”

The macaque’s voyage?

Filed under: Biogeography,Environment — Razib Khan @ 5:03 pm

The Monkey’s Voyage was one of the more interesting books I’ve read in the past few years. Basically the author shows that the idea that islands like New Zealand are living mengaries of a lost Gondwanaland is false. Due to extinction islands have high turnover rates, and most species in New Zealand descend from relatively recent arrivals.

And how do they arrive? Larger animals like New World monkeys, probably on rafts made of driftwood.

I thought of that book when reading this fascinating article in The Atlantic, Japanese Animals Are Still Washing Up in America After The 2011 Tsunami:

In the last five years, he and his colleagues have documented 634 pieces of debris that were swept away by the Tōhoku tsunami and eventually washed up on the coasts of North America. And it hasn’t stopped coming yet. Between them, these bits of ocean-hopping junk carried 289 species that are typically found along Japanese coasts—a vast horde of sponges, sea stars, sea anemones, mussels, limpets, barnacles, and fish.

Partly, that might be because the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake was one of the strongest in history. But Carlton thinks that it’s also because humans have changed the world, by just introducing a lot more stuff to it. “A similar tsunami occurred in the same place in 1933,” he says. “We’ve looked at photos of that coast in 1933, and there are small villages with wooden homes. Advance to 2011, and we have a vast infrastructure. In the last 50 years, we’ve poised, on the edge of the world, this massive amount of material that’s ready to be washed into the ocean.”

September 27, 2017

The Asian world

Filed under: Asia,Economics — Razib Khan @ 10:52 pm


We live in interesting times. The world system is slowly shifting back to the historical norm. That norm being that most people and economic production would occur in Asia.

The book When Asia Was the World chronicles period the between after the fall of the Roman Empirea and on the cusp of the European Age of Discovery. It prefigures a world of interconnections which don’t necessarily loop back to the West. It is strange on Facebook seeing my cousins on Bangladesh joining the international economy, but that economy not necessarily having the United States at its center and fulcrum. We are still the biggest player…but we are not necessarily an indispensable player.

A story in The New York Times brings this to mind, IBM Now Has More Employees in India Than in the U.S.:

Today, the company employs 130,000 people in India — about one-third of its total work force, and more than in any other country. Their work spans the entire gamut of IBM’s businesses, from managing the computing needs of global giants like AT&T and Shell to performing cutting-edge research in fields like visual search, artificial intelligence and computer vision for self-driving cars. One team is even working with the producers of Sesame Street to teach vocabulary to kindergartners in Atlanta.

This is as much a social story as it is a matter of economics. A new global class is organically developing along the scaffolds provided by international corporations. This class, dare I say caste, is beginning to supersede the importance of the Tribes which Joel Kotkin wrote about in the early 1990s.

And no matter what Thomas Friedman and Francis Fukuyama tried to tell us, I’m not quite sure that the global cosmopolitan culture will reflect the mores and preoccupations of the Western post-materialist elite. To be entirely frank I’m not totally sure that this is a bad thing, either.

We can look at economic projections all we want. But the protean and unpredictable nature of cultural changes is really where the action is going to happen in the next few decades, as Islamic revivalism begins to fade and burn itself out.

Yes I think about 1% of Afrikaner ancestry is probably Khoikhoi

Filed under: Afrikaner,Afrikaner genotype,Afrikaners,Khoisan — Razib Khan @ 7:48 pm

As a follow-up to my previous two posts on Afrikaners, I wanted to reiterate something that I implied/said earlier: yes, I think about 1% of the ancestry of modern day Afrikaners derives from Khoisan pastoralists of the Cape who were resident there when the Europeans first arrived. These people are often called Khoikoi. Unlike the more famous Bushman the Khoikhoi were not hunter-gatherers. Rather, they herded cattle. Both archaeological and genetic evidence points to the fact that pastoralists arrived in southern Africa through the expansion of East African nomads, who had some Eurasian ancestry (ergo, Khoisan peoples have differing degrees of non-Khoisan African ancestry, as well as Eurasian ancestry).

Today there are no major Khoikhoi groups in South Africa that have not been extensively influenced by other populations (in Namibia the related Nama maintain tribal cohesion and continue the cultural tradition of Khoisan pastoralism). Where did the Khoikhoi go? Many died due to disease, and the privations of slavery. But, some were certainly absorbed into other populations. The Xhosa people have substantial Khoisan ancestry for example.

The plot to the left has various populations, including Dutch, whites from Utah, white South Africans, Nigerians, African Americans, Barbadians, and Bantu populations (click the image for a larger version). As well as Khoisan groups which are a combination of Nama and San Bushmen samples.

If you click the larger image you can see that the South African Bantus are shifted toward the Khoisan. The Kenyan Bantus are skewed in the direction of Eurasians…though only mildly so (no doubt due to Cushitic admixture).

The plot to the right (click to enlarge) is a zoom in. It is clear that the South African samples are very subtly shifted out of the normal Northern European cluster. If you look at the cline from the Nigerians running toward the Northern Europeans, the South African whites look to be perturbed from it. Notably, some of them are clearly shifted in the direction of the Khoisan.

Next, I ran Admixture analysis. I set the reference populations as Esan from Nigeria, Khoisan, and Dutch whites. You can see that African Americans exhibit a cline as you’d expect. A minority of their ancestry is Northern European. But mostly they are African, with the dark blue representing the Esan Nigerian reference population. This is as it should be; most of the slaves who came to America seem to have come from the Congo up the Africa coast all the way to Senegal.

The fraction of African ancestry in the South African samples is low. But observe that many of them have just as high a fraction of the red component, which comes from the Khoisan reference population. These ten mostly white South Africans average 1.4% Khoisan and 2.3% non-Khoisan African.

Finally, I decided to run Treemix and do a three population test.

With two migration edges the results make a lot of sense. The African Americans are placed next to the Nigerians, but there is a migration edge of some significance from the Northern Europeans. The South Africans are in a clade with the Dutch samples, with Utah whites being the outgroup. But, they have a migration edge from between the Esan from Nigeria and the Khoisan.  Recall that there was more Nigerian-like ancestry in the South African whites than Khoisan-like ancestry according to Admixture. The gene flow edge seems to be closer to the Esan by some margin.

Finally, I ran a three population test, which tests gene flow by placing an admixed population as an outgroup to source populations. Negative statistics indicate “complex population history” not accounted for by the tree.

Outgroup Pop 1 Pop 2 f3 Z score
Af_American Netherlands EsanNigeria -0.0103 -89.1922
Af_American UtahWhite EsanNigeria -0.0102 -88.7189
Af_American South_Africa EsanNigeria -0.0099 -87.1784
Af_American Netherlands Khoisan_SA -0.0034 -16.6754
Af_American Khoisan_SA UtahWhite -0.0033 -16.5408
Af_American South_Africa Khoisan_SA -0.0029 -14.6855
South_Africa Netherlands EsanNigeria -0.0015 -10.9174
South_Africa Netherlands Khoisan_SA -0.0015 -10.5677
South_Africa UtahWhite EsanNigeria -0.0014 -9.0416
South_Africa Khoisan_SA UtahWhite -0.0014 -8.7962
South_Africa Netherlands Af_American -0.0011 -10.0158
South_Africa Af_American UtahWhite -0.0010 -8.1132
UtahWhite Netherlands EsanNigeria -0.0001 -1.6344
UtahWhite Netherlands Khoisan_SA -0.0001 -1.6344

The bottom two results can be ignored. What you see is that African Americans have the most negative f3 values with the highest z-scores. There is a drop-off from the Nigerians to the Khoisan as one of the source populations because the Nigerians are a much better fit. The values for South Africans are much lower, which makes sense in light of their lower admixture proportion. But observe that the f3 statistic for using Esan vs. Khoisan is not that different. This suggests neither group is necessarily a better proxy for the other.

As for the ethnographic details of where this ancestry came from, I think it was the proto-Cape Coloured population.

September 26, 2017

The cretin shall rise again

Filed under: Politics,Roy Moore — David Hume @ 11:28 pm

Roy Moore is almost certain to be the Junior Senator from Alabama soon enough. That much we know.

Part of me takes pleasure in the victory, as it is true that the Republican establishment of states like Alabama is sclerotic and corrupt (just like the Democratic establishment of Illinois or California). Roy Moore is certainly not a politic individual. And that makes for great entertainment. Cable news programmers just got a gift!

But Moore is also bizarre in his views in 2017. An atavism. His stance on Church-State separation was tenable a generation ago but in a rapidly secularizing America, they are not election winners outside of Alabama that they are inside the state.  In a rapidly de-Christianizing country, the tight identification of the Republican party with Evangelical Christianity is not the broad-based winner it used to be, and Roy Moore manifests all the most uncouth and blunt tendencies which are going to remake the party in his brand….

The 100 million killed under Communist regimes matter

Filed under: Communism — Razib Khan @ 10:13 pm

Growing up as a child I didn’t know much about Communism except that it was bad. I knew that it was atheistic from the mosque…but early on I knew I was quite atheistic, so that was not a major issue to me (though the religious oppression was). There was a period when I was eight or nine when I was interested in military history and armaments. It was immediately obvious that the Soviet Union seemed to be maintaining parity with the United States of America, which impressed me a great deal (MiG-29‘s are still around!). Though I also read that it expended a much larger proportion of its GDP on that then than the USA.

Even to me, it was clear that the Soviet Union was an authoritarian regime, but it wasn’t dramatically emphasized in the same way that the evils of Nazi Germany were. The Nazis had become dramatic legends even in my youth, but I’m old enough that in the 1980s and 1990s I also met survivors of the concentration camps, whether personally or during tours of schools. And then there was Schindler’s List. The Holocaust and Nazism, and the bravery of the Greatest Generation, were all prominent in our minds.

In the wake of the Brezhnev era, the Soviets were more sinister than evil, while with the rise to power of Mikhael Gorbachev they also seemed to be turning a new leaf.

Even after the fall of the Communist bloc in the early 1990s I did have later encounters with the ideology. One of my roommates, and friend, at university was an avowed Communist. Now, I knew of other self-identified Communists, but she was the real deal. She flew to Cuba to listen to a six-hour speech given by Fidel Castro at one point, even though she didn’t have the money for it. And, she seemed genuinely saddened by the shift of China to toward a mixed economy. It wasn’t just a pose. But I didn’t give it much thought. In the 1990s Communism had no future, so her ideological fervor struck me as a harmless affectation.

It was only later that that I understood the true impact of Communist ideology, especially earlier in the 20th century. Stalin’s and Mao’s political purges, and the tens of millions who died in famines. The death toll under Communist regimes is of incredible magnitude; without compare (though with parallel, alas).

It is fitting that Joseph Stalin is reputed to have been the one who said “the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic.”

And yet whenever I dismiss and attack Communism for being an evil ideology I get a serious number of rebuttals from readers. Often they take the same forms as the arguments I read in Michael Parenti’s Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism 1990s, which initially led me down the path of exploring Communism more deeply (despite being supportive of the Communist project in the generality, even Parenti couldn’t deny the atrocities, even as he tried to mitigate).

One argument I often get is that they meant well. This is in contrast to the National Socialists in Germany, who were exterminationist. To a first approximation, this seems clear…but as someone who is personally from rural “landlord” background, I doubt they meant well to everyone! The dictatorship of the proletariat was going to overturn the old order, and the losers were not going to be happy about it. Not only were they going to be dispossessed, but they were often targeted and killed. There were class enemies, and it was clear early on that revolutionary Marxists were not going to be gentle with those class enemies. They would liquidate them.

But whatever their intent, with Communism we have several repeated instances of massive death counts of the very people that the revolutions were supposed to help. The famine in Ukraine, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cambodian Genocide are clear examples.Then there is the North Korean famine the late 1990s. And the greatest decline in poverty the world has ever seen has occurred after the Chinese Communist state veered away from the regnant Marxist-Leninist economic orthodoxy of the 20th century.

Today we face a new dilemma. Since 1970 the wage gap between skilled workers and the unskilled has been growing in the developed world. The egalitarian society of mass affluence seems to be fading away, as a new era of inequality and immiseration is facing us. At least in prosperous mature societies.

I do not see any plausible solution on the Left or Right on the horizon. The populist energies that have been unleashed in democratic societies reflects this lack of an answer from the elites. They have no fix which will present opportunities for broad-based prosperity. And, to be frank, populists are correct in suggesting that the elites partake extensively of crony capitalism and enforce policies which are self-serving.

Into this vacuum are stepping radical firebrands on the Right and the Left. On the Left journals such as Jacobin Magazine are taking a “fresh look” at Marxism. As the above indicates I see where the impulse comes from. But this experiment has been done, disastrously, multiple times. There is no way any major state should risk this sort of radical socialism.I know that people like Bill Ayers call themselves “Anarchist Communists,” but in practice, they praise states like Venezuela which do not practice anarchism from what I can tell. All reasonable alternatives are better, even muddling along through a mixed economy.

Despite the empirical record of Communism academics, in particular, seem to have a warm and fuzzy spot for the Marxists. They “meant well.” And, not only are there abstract Marxists in academia, there are literal self-identified Communists in the professoriate who egg on violent agitation. Obviously, there are no Nazi professors. And yet Communism is given a latitude, despite its 100 million person body count!

And the body count issue is interesting because apologists for Communism regularly suggest that these numbers may be exaggerated. Refutations the statistics for the Chinese famine suggest that it was closer to 10 million, rather than 45 million. This is like saying the Nazi regime has been slandered, because they killed 2 million, as opposed to 6 million, Jews. Quibbling over numbers in a passionate manner like this is the domain of Holocaust deniers, and yet with Communism, I encounter this regularly.

In conclusion, I don’t ever want to hear about how “true socialism has never been done.” The only socialism which is acceptable are the “less true” socialisms, the inept French kind with all its regulations, the high taxation Scandinavian variety, and those states which dabble in the commanding heights, but don’t fully commit. Gale force socialism too often leads to genocide and makes as much sense in practice as crazy libertarianism which attempts to privatize all sidewalks.

Finally, granting that Communists had their hearts in the right places, what did they end up accomplishing? Yes, perhaps one hundred million died, but that was in the past. But what are post-Communist countries like today? The Russian state is now a right-wing nationalist authoritarian regime. The Communists were famously anti-racist, and I believe sincerely so. But sixty years of enforced anti-racism led to a populace which is notoriously racist against colored people once given freedom to make up their own mind (Moscow is considered a dangerous place for non-white people to travel without caution). North Korea is constitutionally racist at this point, and China’s authoritarianism is probably one of the major reasons that its populist nationalism is kept in check. And similar things might be said about gender egalitarianism and the subordinate relationships of women to men in post-Communist regimes. The Communist orders were long on rhetoric, but short on actually figuring out a way to change hearts and minds

And yet here we are when many proudly boast their sympathies with Communism and Communist regimes of yore. It doesn’t matter how many “mistakes” those regimes committed, it’s just an “experiment” which is too good to not try again….

Addendum: I recommend The New York Times series Red Century. I do think a detailed ethnographic portrait of Communists is warranted and interesting. But I also do think too many of the pieces see the movement and period through a rose-tinted filter.

Religion trumps race in Sri Lanka

Filed under: Religion,Rohingya — Razib Khan @ 8:20 pm


Monk-led mob attacks Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka:

“These are Rohingya terrorists who killed Buddhist monks in Myanmar,” the monk said in his live commentary on Facebook, pointing to Rohingya mothers with small children in their arms.

Sri Lanka’s extremist Buddhist monks have close links with their ultra-nationalist counterparts in Myanmar. Both have been accused of orchestrating violence against minority Muslims in the two countries.

South Asians understand that the power of religion as opposed to race more than most people. The craven and obsequious respect granted to Arabs (and to a lesser extent Iranians and Turks) by South Asian Muslims is so natural and taken-for-granted that it only seems that way to outsiders. Despite the fact that Muslims and Hindus of any given region are clearly related by blood (in some cases, whole portions of castes convert in toto), they often speak as if they are racially distinct. Muslims somewhat sincerely, but affirming obviously false West Asian Asian, and Hindus more performatively, by asserting that India is for the Hindu race, from which Muslims are excluded.

The above story is a different dimension: the identification of Sri Lankan Buddhism monks with the Buddhist Burmese against the Rohingya. There is some historical background to this, as both the Sinhala and Burmese are predominantly Theravada Buddhist peoples. During periods of Buddhist decline in Sri Lanka lineages were reinforced form Burma, and vice versa.

The Rohingya, as I have stated, are racially really no different from the people of Bengal. And like Bengalis the Sinhala are a dark-skinned South Asian people (there are still debates as to whether the Indo-European language in Sri Lanka came from Gujarat or Bengal). The Sri Lankans I’ve met could easily pass as Bengali, and in general vice versa.

It’s an interesting observation from an American perspective, where race is the most salient factor in social-political identification. At least explicitly.

September 24, 2017

The cuckoldry rate in complex agricultural societies is probably ~1%

Filed under: Cuckoldry,Evolutionary Psychology — Razib Khan @ 8:28 pm

One of the most interesting and strange things I’ve ever posted about has to do with extra-pair paternity rates. Basically, the rate of cuckoldry.

I first got interested in the topic because people get bringing up the chestnut that 10% of children have misattributed biological paternity. That is, their biological father is different than the father who raises them. This is a “fact” I’ve encountered from many biologists and the public. But like the “fact” that you use only 10% of your brain, this seems more an infectious meme than a true fact.

The problem with ascertaining paternity is to get a representative sample. And, to get deep time depth you need good genealogical records. With genetic analysis new methods also came to the fore: analyzing the distribution of Y chromosomes within a lineage.

As far back as the middle 2000s Anderson had published How Well Does Paternity Confidence Match Actual Paternity?, which surveyed the literature and found that the rate of misattributed paternity was closer to a few percent than 10%. Later work found results closer to ~1% in places like Western Europe.

A new paper out of the Netherlands confirms this figure. This turns out to be the same proportion as in Flanders, just to the south. The authors wanted to compare the results with Flanders because it is an adjacent area with the same ethnicity (Dutch), but which went through industrialization much more quickly. Therefore it was a test of hypotheses about urbanization and extra-pair paternity.

How generalizable are these results? It seems entirely likely that the 1% figure applies across the Eurasian oikoumene (genotyping and surname analysis in China has found a similar number). And yet if extra-pair paternity is so low why are there so many cultural strictures on mate guarding in these societies?

Much of the above paper discusses the evolutionary psychological mechanisms which evolved to combat cuckoldry and the arms race with occurred as females sought “higher quality” sperm donors. In short, if paternity uncertainty is so minimal then presumably this is not a major recent evolutionary pressure.

The curious thing about these results, which are replicated in numerous studies, is the denial they elicit. There is an online “cuckold community” which does not appreciate that their fetish is not as common as the old 10% number implies (I know about this community due to referrals from message boards). Then there are “men’s rights” activists, who simply can’t believe that women exhibit such fidelity. Finally, there are the sorts who wish to tear down bourgeois sexual norms, and valorize a past which did not exist.

But the ultimate question has to do with human nature and modal behaviors in the past and across different societies. These results establish that low misattributed paternity societies can exist at equilibrium and that they are rather common. They do not establish this was the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness.” We simply don’t know enough about this topic, but, I do think there needs to be an appropriate synthesis between the evolutionary psychological outlook exemplified by The Blank Slate and the cognitively informed behavioral ecology found in The Secret of Our Success.

My own suspicion is that human cultures and behavioral scripts exhibit discrete modalities, but we’re mildly flexible. An economistic “modes of production” analysis would probably smoke out differences. More precisely I think the more economic independence that women in a society have the more likely paternity certainty is going to be a major issue because many men will reduce their investment to any given offspring. Although such economic independence is often conceived of as a modern development in gender relations, there are actually societies where women have been the dominant primary producers, because of a less intensive, more extensive, sort of agriculture (ergo, less premium on physical strength).

Open Thread, 09/24/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 2:22 pm

Reading Harold Marcus’ A History of Ethiopia. So far a little too heavy on diplomatic as opposed to social history. My curiosity was piqued when reading The Fortunes of Africa when the author observed that the geopolitical extend of the modern Ethiopian state was partially a function of a relatively late state expansion in the 19t and 20th centuries from the Abyssinian highlands.

It’s one of those facts which allow other facts to snap into place. I’ve always been curious about the huge number of Muslims and Somalis in modern Ethiopia. Well, it turns out to be a function of the fact that the borders were drawn at a particular moment and time.

Neolithization of North Africa involved the migration of people from both the Levant and Europe.

A stray thought I had. For years people have been wary about Richard Dawkins’ conflation of atheism with science, and evolution more particularly. I am starting to wonder if the more self-conscious political activism of scientists, almost uniformly on the Left, will start to have an impact.

The problem is that at for now scientists depend on the public for their funding by and large (there are exceptions obviously). A polarized public which does not esteem science and has a faction which sees it as hostile may be less interested in cutting checks for “blue sky” projects (i.e., NIH will be fine, but the NSF….). Since academics are overwhelming of one political orientation I suspect they have a poor intuition of how quickly such a change could come about (there is more real diversity there than is vocalized, but many people I know personally have no inclination for public denunciations due to any heterodoxy, so they keep their mouths shut).

Going to the ASHG meeting in one month. I doubt I will venture out into Orlando. I have been to a conference in that city before, but never left the convention center attached to the airport! Am I missing something?

In general, I avoid national politics. But the whole controversy around football is curious because I’m skeptical that the sport will be around in a generation.

One thing that I have been thinking recently is dropping my Twitter follow back down to 300 or so. I still use Twitter obviously…but it’s getting too dumb. And lots of interesting and smart voices are going passively into lurk mode because it’s exhausting having to deal with dumb people.

September 23, 2017

No, Afrikaners do not have British or English ancestry

Filed under: Afrikaner,Afrikaner genotype,Ancestry,Boer — Razib Khan @ 9:58 pm

kan

In my post below on the non-European ancestry of Afrikaners, several readers mentioned that friends of Afrikaner background were rather chagrined to have reported British ancestry from genetic tests. The cultural reason for this is well known: many Afrikaners exhibit hostility toward British imperialism due to the deprivation and death which was the consequence of their resistance to the expansion of the Empire during the Second Boer War. This is above and beyond the antipathy which was manifestly made obvious by the fact that with the transfer of the Cape Colony to the British in the early 19th century thousands of white farmers migrated into the hinterlands to escape the new power (in part to preserve their customs, such as slavery).

By the 20th century, this anti-British aspect of Boer identity manifested itself in pro-German sentiments, as can be seen in the film The Power of One.

But the reality is that it is strange for Afrikaners to have British ancestry. Yes, they are not exclusively Dutch, with substantial German and French (Huguenot) components in their background. And there has been some recent intermarriage with English speaking whites. But presumably that’s recent enough that people would know.

Rather, I think what is happening is that genetic tests do not have the power to distinguish well between English and Dutch ancestry. In fact, the minority ancestry from Anglo-Saxons in southeast Britain would have stronger affinities with the Dutch than most of the island.

To figure out what was going on I asked people on Twitter for 23andMe profiles. I got a response from someone whose results I posted above. This individual has Boer ancestry, mostly Dutch, going back to the late 17th century on his mother’s side and late 18th century on his father’s side. And you see 17% “British” ancestry. He also provided his wife’s 23andMe output. Her ancestry dates back to the late 17th century on both paternal and maternal sides, so it is not a surprise she has more non-European ancestry:

She is 18% British. In fact, the European ancestry fractions of both these individuals are rather similar when it comes to “French-German”, British, and Scandinavian. I suspect what we’re seeing here is what the algorithm pops out quanta wise for Dutch.

I took the South African individuals who had some non-European ancestry, and ran them on Admixture and projected a PCA with British and Dutch individuals. You can make your own judgment, but I think these are definitely people who are of mostly Dutch ancestry.

Postcolonialism as theory often fails; it would be nice to actually know something

Filed under: Postcolonialism — Razib Khan @ 8:23 pm

The cognitive psychologist Pascal Boyer introduced me to the phrase “theory is information for free.” It’s a succinct way of saying that if you have a theoretical framework you can deduce and extrapolate a lot about the world without having to know everything. And, you can take new information and fit it quickly into your model and generate more propositions (you may not need to know everything, but you do need to know something).

But as we all know the utility of theory varies by field. In physics, there is a large and prestigious caste of theoreticians. In contrast, this group is a much smaller fraction of biologists. Biological phenomena are much messier, stochastic, non-linear, and historically contingent. Even highly abstruse fields such as population genetics have relatively limited powers of precise prediction in comparison to Newtonian physics.

When you move to history the problem is much more extreme than in biology. I am a major proponent of Peter Turchin’s work in modeling historical processes, as outlined in his series of books, War and Peace and War, Secular Cycles, and Historical Dynamics. If you read his works you know that Peter exhibits a punctilious attention to detail when it comes to historical phenomena. Not only does this mean that he presumably has good intuition about which formal models are plausible, but it allows him to “test” his predictions more quickly.

But it’s early times yet when it comes to “a theory of history.” There’s a reason that the older systematic method such as Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History and Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West fell out of fashion; they ended up reading like speculative fiction more than scholarship.

And yet when it comes to popular understandings of history and cultural dynamics theory is implicitly extremely dominant. Exemplified by Edward Said’s Orientalism, and now bracketed under the general term postcolonialism, a broad theoretical understanding of historical dynamics is assumed by many. Even if they do not know the term postcolonialism, or have never read Said or Fanon and their modern heirs, the postcolonial paradigm is highly influential and implicitly taken for granted. It’s part of our cognitive furniture.

Here is the definition of postcolonialism from Britannica:

Postcolonialism, the historical period or state of affairs representing the aftermath of Western colonialism; the term can also be used to describe the concurrent project to reclaim and rethink the history and agency of people subordinated under various forms of imperialism. Postcolonialism signals a possible future of overcoming colonialism, yet new forms of domination or subordination can come in the wake of such changes, including new forms of global empire. Postcolonialism should not be confused with the claim that the world we live in now is actually devoid of colonialism.

The key to understanding postcolonialism is that it is not a generic analysis of power relations between rulers and the subjugated. It is almost uniformly concerned with the relationship of European/white people and those whom they subjugated over the last 500 years or so. So powerful is this model that it often pushes white European supremacy back to antiquity. Works such as The invention of racism in classical antiquity only have a wider audience because the audience is primed to explore the original sin of the West, and moderns tend to see the origins of the West with the Classical world. The recent protests around racism and Reed college saw the promotion of a counter-syllabus which presented works which explored the racial attitudes of the Greeks.

To my mind this sort of analysis of the Greeks is nonsense. The Greeks were clearly racist, but to our understanding in the West today all premodern people would seem racist. Not only that, but Greek parochialism was different in kind from modern Western racism, so a genealogical connection seems implausible if you’re being generous, and ludicrous if you are being honest. One could make a similarly crazy case for the Jewish origins of racism in Western culture (any analysis of the Hebrew Bible has to confront strong ethnocentric and exclusivist sentiments, though tempered with works such as the Book of Ruth).

The primary issue is that postcolonialism takes the real and present dynamic of white supremacy, which crested in the 19th and 20th centuries, and extrapolates it back across all of history, and presumes that it will be the determinative factor in relations between peoples going forward. It’s like a theory of social physics; invariant across time. Bizarrely, this is a tendency that postcolonial theorists share with white supremacists.  Years ago when I read Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant, I was struck by the fact that many of the racialist thinkers of the early 20th century would likely easily and comfortably accede to the generalizations made by the postcolonial theorists as to the sui generis disruptive and dominationist tendencies of white Europeans. It is simply that where postcolonial theorists place a negative ethical valence on this essential orientation, men such as Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard would have seen the generalities in a positive light.

This is all germane in light of a post over at Brown Pundits, which reacts to a piece with the title Confronting White Supremacy in Christianity as a Christian South Asian. As I said at the other blog the piece was interesting because it was the perspective of a progressive South Asian Christian, which is very different from my own stance as a conservative South Asian non-Christian (atheist). But there was an implicit historical model within the piece which struck a false note with me:

Christianity in India highlights a violent history of white supremacy through colonization and mass conversion by Europeans including, the Portuguese, Irish, Dutch, Italian, French, and English many of whom hold cultural influence that has remained to this day in places like Kerala, Pondicherry, and Goa. Similarly, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference in the diaspora. For instance, my family converted to Christianity while living under the Apartheid regime in South Africa, an entire system of white supremacy supported by ‘Christian’ values.

Though there were Irish soldiers in British armies, I think it is a bit much to blame the Irish for Indian colonialism, seeing as how Roman Catholic Irish themselves were de facto colonial subjects. I also do not know of any Italian presence in India (aside from Sonia Gandhi)…if there was one, presumably there would be a delicious Indo-Italian cuisine? Finally, as a point of fact, the Dutch were famously ineffectual and apathetic toward Christianization in South Asia. Today in Sri Lanka there are many Catholics, but few Protestants, in large part because the Dutch did not exhibit the same zeal to convert the natives that the Portuguese did (British Anglicanism also did not take hold, many elite families converted to Theravada Buddhism at independence).

But this is secondary to the fact that mentioning Kerala misleads the reader as to the nature of Christianity in that region of India. The St. Thomas Christians are an old community, with attested connections to the ancient Church of the East in Mesopotamia. Though European intrusion into South Asia had a major impact on their affiliations and identities (they are splintered into many groups), their Christianity predates European presence in South Asia by many centuries, and perhaps over one thousand years!

The author, being of South African Indian heritage, and raised in Canada, may not know these well known facts. But, they are bathed in the paradigm of postcolonial theory, and in postcolonial theory European agency is paramount. If you did not know much about the history of Kerala, that is, specific details of fact, then your natural prediction based on your theory is that like Goa and Pondicherry Kerala’s Christianity is due to European influence and coercion.

Unfortunately, the sorts of mistakes of inference made by the author of the above piece are not atypical. It seems that she is conflating white evangelical Protestant Christianity (which her family likely converted to) with Christianity writ large. Why would you do that? Books like The Next Christendom report extensive numbers which illustrate that global Christianity is now a post-white religion. The same author also wrote The Lost History of Christianity which credibly makes the case that the majority of the world’s Christians were non-European until sometime after the year 1000 AD.

Not only does postcolonial theory extend the model of white supremacy toward one that is temporally and spatially maximal (that is, white supremacy is relevant at all times and all places), but it also collapses the complex multi-textured power relations between various peoples and groups into a dyad. From a comment over at Brown Pundits:

The tribals of the NE were converted to Christianity by European (and American) missionaries during colonial rule. They obviously weren’t Hindus before they converted, but to imply that colonialism has nothing to do with their conversion would be mistaken – if, indeed, that is what you’re implying.

It is obviously true that conversion to Christianity in India among groups such as Dalits and Northeastern tribal populations has to be understood within the colonial context. Many of these converts are joining denominations of Western provenance. This seems the sort of analysis which postcolonial theory would be useful. The problem here is that since postcolonial theory tends to privilege the dyad between Western and non-Western, it masks the complex relationships between non-Western groups and individuals.

Dalit populations within South Asia were and are subject to marginalization and deprivation by the majority groups. Though one may question the usefulness of converting to Christianity, it is clear that this is an act driven not by Western oppression, but by deep structural inequities of the native non-Western culture.

Similarly, the tribal populations of the Northeast convert to Christianity in part to block assimilation and subordination into a South Asian culture from which they are distinct. Christianity in this framing is not an expression of Western domination and oppression, but an alternative identity to those preferred by the assimilative majority. It is an escape hatch from the inevitable forces of assimilation.

This is not an exclusively South Asian phenomenon. Dayaks in Borneo, Karen in Burma, Montagnards in Vietnam, and Koreans during the Japanese colonial period, all looked to Christianity to buttress and solidify their ethnic identity against dominant populations who were of a different religion. Reducing power relations to purely Western vs. non-Western collapses many degrees of affinity within and between non-Western cultures, which are obviously not a formless whole.

Much of the problem that I’m concerned about would be obviated if people actually read world history. Having a multitudinous array of facts at your fingertips automatically allows you to vet propositions you derive from some grand theory of history. But assembling facts together takes time, and it is relatively arduous. This is why I ended up studying evolutionary genetics instead of neuroscience; I prefer theories to facts. But sometimes there is no choice in the matter if you truly want to understand something, as opposed to simply striking a virtuous pose.

 

Africa, the churning continent

Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa glosses very quickly over one of the major reasons that the “great scramble” for the continent occurred in the late 19th century, the discovery of the usefulness of quinine as an anti-malarial agent. Perhaps because I’ve read Plagues and Peoples and The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China, I have always been conscious of the role of disease in discouraging conquest and migration (malaria in Italy was also a way to limit the extent of long-term occupation).

The coastal regions of Africa had been subject to the trade and depredations of European actors for nearly 400 years when the Berlin Conference partitioned the continent amongst European powers. Despite the fact that much of the interior was not charted, there had long been a colonial presence. Accra, the modern capital of Ghana, was originally a 16th-century Portuguese fort, but for several centuries between the 17th and 19th centuries, it was actually a possession of Scandinavian powers, Sweden and Denmark! (before passing on to the British)

For all these centuries the heart of Africa was unknown to Europeans, in part because there were native powers blocking their way, but also because the mortality rates were so high for outsiders, as indicated above. It is no surprise that the main European settlement in Africa which was more than a simple trading fort was at the southern tip of the continent, where the climate was Mediterranean and so the disease burden low.

But once quinine, and machine guns, came into the equation the interior was accessible. It all happened rather quickly in a few decades, though in some cases European ‘colonialism’ involved little more than nominal allegiance of tribal chieftains.

Now A new paper in Cell may herald the beginning of a great genomic scramble to understand the history of Africa. Carl Zimmer in The New York Times has a piece up, Clues to Africa’s Mysterious Past Found in Ancient Skeletons. It begins:

It was only two years ago that researchers found the first ancient human genome in Africa: a skeleton in a cave in Ethiopia yielded DNA that turned out to be 4,500 years old.

On Thursday, an international team of scientists reported that they had recovered far older genes from bone fragments in Malawi dating back 8,100 years. The researchers also retrieved DNA from 15 other ancient people in eastern and southern Africa, and compared the genes to those of living Africans.

The general results of the paper, Skoglund et.al’s Reconstructing Prehistoric African Population Structure, was presented at the SMBE meeting this summer. So in broad sketches I was not surprised at the results, though the details require some digging into.

The Bantu Expansion repatterned the population structure of Africa

Between 1000 BC and 500 AD the expansion of iron wielding agriculturalists from the environs of modern day southern Cameroon reshaped the cultural and genetic landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa. The relatively late date of this expansion should give us a general sense of how careful we need to be about making assertions about “prehistoric Africa.” When Egypt’s New Kingdom was expanding southward along the Nile and into the Levant Sub-Saharan Africa was qualitatively very different from what we see today in both culture and genetic structure. The continent’s contemporary human geography does not have a deep time depth.

In any case, anyone who has worked with genetic data from Africa is struck by how similar Bantu-speaking populations are genetically. So these results are not surprising. South African Zulus occupy positions far closer to Kenyans and Congolese than they do to Khoisan peoples to the west of them facing the Kalahari. The Xhosa people on the cultural frontier of the Bantus in South Africa exhibit substantial admixture from Khoisan (to the point where they have even integrated clicks into their language!), but even they are preponderantly non-Khoisan.

By sampling ancient genomes from South Africa across a geographical transect which runs up the Rift Valley to Ethiopia Skoglund et al. show that before the Bantu Expansion there was a north-south genetic relatedness cline. When this result was presented at SMBE a few friends were quite excited that they were being presented a cline, as some researchers have felt that this particular lab group has a tendency to model everything as pulse admixtures between distinct groups. But the reasonably deep time transect in Malawi exhibited no variance in admixture fractions, which is indicative of the likelihood that its “mixed” status at a particular K cluster is simply an artifact (see this post for what’s going on).

One particular aspect of the results from Malawi is that they found no continuity between contemporary populations, Bantu agriculturalists, and these ancient hunter-gatherers. That is, hunter-gatherers were replaced in toto. This is not entirely surprising, as many researchers who have worked with European ancient DNA believe that hunter-gatherers in many areas left no descendants at all (the “hunter-gatherer” fractions in modern groups in a particular region are believed to be due to migration of mixed populations who obtained “hunter-gatherer” ancestry at another locale).

But the Bantus were not the first “intrusive” population

These results also have some moderate surprises. A Tanzanian sample from 1100 BC from a pastoralist context exhibits an ancestral mix which is Sub-Saharan African and West Eurasian/North African. More precisely, about 38 percent of this individual’s ancestry resembles that of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture of the Levant, and the rest of the genome most resembles a 4500 year old sample from Ethiopia.

This date is before the initiation of the Bantu Expansion. The genetic results in this work, and earlier publications, strongly points to the likelihood that this population(s) mediated the spread of pastoralism to the south and west. In particular, all Khoisan groups of southern Africa seem to have admixture from this group, more (Khoi) or less (San).

But a curious aspect of this result is that these early pastoralists do not carry any evidence of admixture from ancient eastern farmers from the Zagros region. That is, the West Eurasian gene flow into the Tanzanian pastoralists predates the great exchange/admixture in the Middle East between western and eastern lineages. Since that reciprocal gene flow seems to have occurred at least 2,000 years before the Tanzanian pastoralist’s time, it suggests that this West Eurasian element was in Africa for thousands of years.

The second important point to emphasize is that the Iranian-like component is found among Cushitic speaking Somali and Afar samples, at 15-20% clips. Looking at the supporting tables a wide range of East African populations have the Tanzanian pastoralist ancestry but do not show evidence of the Iranian-like ancestry, which is now ubiquitous in the Middle East, and presumably in the highlands of Ethiopia as well (which usually show somewhat higher levels of Eurasian ancestry than is the case on the coast, especially among Semitic language speakers).

This fact is important because many of the Nilotic peoples are reputed to have absorbed Cushitic groups relatively recently in the past. This is also true for Bantu speaking groups according to these and other data. Finally, the Sandawe, who speak a language with clicks, and so may have some affinity to Khoisan, are often stated to have Cushitic affinities (looking at the data they clearly have West Eurasian ancestry). But their Eurasian ancestry seems to lack the Iranian-like component as well.

None of the populations with putative Cushitic ancestry, but who lack Iranian-like ancestry, speak a Cushitic language (most speak Nilotic languages, but East African Bantus have mixed with these Nilotic groups, so they have the same ancestry). Therefore I wonder if these pastoralists spoke an Afro-Asiatic language in the first place.

A patchy landscape

The phylogenetic tree illustrates the relationships of various African populations without much recent Eurasian ancestry. In The New York Times article David Reich indicates that the Hadza people of Tanzania are the closest Sub-Saharan Africans to the lineage ancestral to non-Africans. This is actually a simplification of what you see in the paper, and is illustrated in the tree to the left. The 4500 year old Ethiopian sample, which does not have Eurasian ancestry, nevertheless is the closest of all Sub-Saharan groups to Eurasians. The Hadza have the highest fraction of this ancestral component of all Sub-Saharan Africans in their data set, but many other populations also carry this ancestry (the Tanzanian pastoralist combined the PPN ancestry with this element).

This was patchy landscape of inhabitation, because though the Tanzanian pastoralist ancestry, a combination of PPN and proto-Ethiopian, spread all the way to the Cape, there were populations, such as the Hadza and a 400 year old individual sampled from the Kenya island of Pemba, which lacked this genetic variation. Indeed, they are also not on the north-south (proto-Ethiopian to Khoisan) cline that featured so prominently above.

The sampling of ancient individuals is not very dense yet, so we can’t say much. But I think it does indicate we need to be cautious about assumpting gene flow dynamics as-the-crow-flies, simply a function of distance. Ecological suitability no doubt plays a strong role in how populations expand. The Bantus, for example, were stopped in South Africa by the fact that their agricultural toolkit was not suitable for the western half of the country. So when Europeans arrived in the 16th century the residents of the Cape where Khoi pastoralists.

The presence of the Hadza in Tanzania, or an individual of unmixed proto-Ethiopian ancestry on Pemba 400 years ago, indicates that the ethnic geography of East Africa has long been fluid and dynamic. There is no reason to suppose that the Hadza are not themselves migrants from further north, perhaps easily explaining why they are not on the north-south cline so evident from the ancient DNA.

The rise of Basal Humans

Several years ago researchers discovered that the first farmers of Europe, who descended from an Anatolian population, were in part derived from a group which split off very early from other Eurasian populations. This group was termed “Basal Eurasian” (BEu) because it was an outgroup to all other Eurasians, including European hunter-gatherers, East Asians, Oceanians, and the natives of the New World. Subsequent work has shown that the early Neolithic farmers of the Near East, whether they’re from the Levant or the Zagros, had about half their ancestry from this population.

No ancient genomes which are predominantly BEu have been discovered yet. The fact that populations on the cusp of the Holocene seem to have Basal Eurasian ancestry across the Middle East suggests that the admixture with hunter-gatherers related to those of Europe must have occurred during the Pleistocene. But Basal Eurasian is arguably the most parsimonious explanation of the shared drift patterns that we see.

Skoglund et al. suggest that there may be the necessity of a similar construct in Africa. They are not the first, Schlebusch et al. also suggested the necessity of this lineage in the supplements of their preprint on ancient South Africans. Within Skoglund et al. the authors see variation between the far West African Mende and the eastern West African Yoruba, where the latter exhibits closer affinity to East African populations than the former (this includes those such as the proto-Ethiopian with no Eurasian admixture). Additionally, the authors found that Khoisan groups share more alleles with populations in East Africa than they do with those in West Africa even when you account for admixture.

One model that can explain this variation is long range gene flow, so that there would be connections between various regions as a function of their distance. Another explanation is that West African populations are the product of a Basal Human (BHu) population which separated first, before the bifurcation of Khoisan from other human populations. This would reorder our understanding of who the most basal humans are. Additionally, it would align with long-standing work of deep lineages within Africa contributing a minor component of the continent’s ancestry.

As should be clear due to the tree above, BHu postdates the separation of African humans from Neanderthals. One does wonder about the relevance of the Moroccan “modern” human to these models.

Understanding culture from genetics and genetics from culture

The spread of the Bantus over 1500 years from one end of the continent to the other is perhaps one of the most important dynamics we can use to understanding the spread of farming more generally. The linguistic unity of the Bantus, or at least their affinity, suggests to us that the first farmers of Europe, who spread across much of the continent in 2500 years, probably exhibited the same pattern. The low levels of gene flow between hunter-gatherers and farmers, despite living in the same regions for thousands of years, can be illustrated with African examples (e.g., the Hadza vs. their Bantu neighbors).

We are rather in the early phase of understanding these dynamics. There are more remains to be found, perhaps in the dry fastness of the Sahara or Sahel? (though unfortunately political considerations may prevent excavation due to danger to archaeologists) The genetics will give us a general idea about the nature of genetic variation and how it arose, but robust cultural models also need to be developed which illustrate how these genetic patterns arose.

Citation: Reconstructing Prehistoric African Population Structure, Skoglund, Pontus et al. Cell , Volume 171 , Issue 1 , 59 – 71.e21

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