Some of my baby books make claims like, “Babies are born with blue or grey eyes, most of which gradually darken during their first year.” Some go so far as to claim that all babies are born with blue eyes.
This got me curious: what about Black / African American babies? Are they also born with blue/grey eyes which darken with time? Or were my books over-generalizing from a sample population composed primarily of whites?
The idea isn’t totally crazy. After all, I’ve observed plenty of Caucasian children’s eyes go from blue to brown. Pretty much all infants are born with less melanin than their parents, just because fetuses don’t need protection from sunlight.
To be fair, not all of these photos are necessarily of newborns, but could be somewhat older babies, but this is a process that is supposed to happen over the course of several months to a year, not days.
And while some of these infants do have a greyish or bluish tint to their eyes, the overall color is still brown, not blue.
I suppose I should look up photos of Asian babies while we’re at it.
And… they have brown eyes.
There you go, folks. Asian and African babies have brown eyes, not blue.
The Sino-Tibetan languages, in a few sources also known as Tibeto-Burman or Trans-Himalayan, are a family of more than 400 languages spoken in East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. The family is second only to the Indo-European languages in terms of the number of native speakers. The Sino-Tibetan languages with the most native speakers are the varieties of Chinese (1.3 billion speakers), Burmese (33 million) and the Tibetic languages (8 million). Many Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken by small communities in remote mountain areas and as such are poorly documented.
But the claim that Tibetans and Chinese people are genetically disparate looks more questionable. While the Wikipedia page on Sino-Tibetan claims that, “There is no ethnic unity among the many peoples who speak Sino-Tibetan languages,” in the next two sentences it also claims that, “The most numerous are the Han Chinese, numbering 1.4+ billion(in China alone). The Hui (10 million) also speak Chinese but are officially classified as ethnically distinct by the Chinese government.”
But the Chinese government claiming that a group is an official ethnic group doesn’t make it a genetic group. “Hui” just means Muslim, and Muslims of any genetic background can get lumped into the group. I actually read some articles about the Hui ages ago, and as far as I recall, the category didn’t really exist in any official way prior to the modern PRC declaring that it did for census purposes. Today (or recently) there are some special perks for being an ethnic minority in China, like exceptions to the one-child policy, which lead more people to embrace their “Hui” identity and start thinking about themselves in this pan-Chinese-Muslim way rather than in terms of their local ethnic group, but none of this is genetics.
So right away I am suspicious that this claim is more “these groups see themselves as different” than “they are genetically different.” And I totally agree that Tibetan people and Chinese people are culturally distinct and probably see themselves as different groups.
For genetics, let’s turn back to Haak et al’s representation of global genetics:
Just in case you’re new around here, the part dominated by bright blue is sub-Saharan Africans, the yellow is Asians, and the orange is Caucasians. I’ve made a map to make it easier to visualize the distribution of these groups:
The first thing that jumps out at me is that the groups in the Sino-Tibetan language family do not look all that genetically distinct, at least not on a global scale. They’re more similar than Middle Easterners and Europeans, despite the fact that Anatolian farmers invaded Europe several thousand years ago.
The Wikipedia page on Sino-Tibetan notes:
J. A. Matisoff proposed that the urheimat of the Sino-Tibetan languages was around the upper reaches of the Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Salween, and Mekong. This view is in accordance with the hypothesis that bubonic plague, cholera, and other diseases made the easternmost foothills of the Himalayas between China and India difficult for people outside to migrate in but relatively easily for the indigenous people, who had been adapted to the environment, to migrate out.
The Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Salween and Mekong rivers, as you might have already realized if you took a good look at the map at the beginning of the post, all begin in Tibet.
Since Tibet was recently conquered by China, I was initially thinking that perhaps an ancient Chinese group had imposed their language on the Tibetans some time in the remote past, but Tibetans heading downstream and possibly conquering the people below makes a lot more sense.
According to About World Languages, Proto-Sino-Tibetan may have split into its Tibeto- and Sinitic- branches about 4,000 BC. This is about the same time Proto-Indo-European started splitting up, so we have some idea of what a language family looks like when it’s that old; much older, and the languages start becoming so distinct that reconstruction becomes more difficult.
But if we look at the available genetic data a little more closely, we see that there are some major differences between Tibetans and their Sinitic neighbors–most notably, many Tibetan men belong to Y-Chromosome haplogroup D, while most Han Chinese men belong to haplogroup O with a smattering of Haplogroup C, which may have arrived via the Mongols.
The distribution of Haplogroup D-M174 is found among nearly all the populations of Central Asia and Northeast Asia south of the Russian border, although generally at a low frequency of 2% or less. A dramatic spike in the frequency of D-M174 occurs as one approaches the Tibetan Plateau. D-M174 is also found at high frequencies among Japanese people, but it fades into low frequencies in Korea and China proper between Japan and Tibet.
It is found today at high frequency among populations in Tibet, the Japanese archipelago, and the Andaman Islands, though curiously not in India. The Ainu of Japan are notable for possessing almost exclusively Haplogroup D-M174 chromosomes, although Haplogroup C-M217 chromosomes also have been found in 15% (3/20) of sampled Ainu males. Haplogroup D-M174 chromosomes are also found at low to moderate frequencies among populations of Central Asia and northern East Asia as well as the Han and Miao–Yao peoples of China and among several minority populations of Sichuan and Yunnan that speak Tibeto-Burman languages and reside in close proximity to the Tibetans.
Unlike haplogroup C-M217, Haplogroup D-M174 is not found in the New World…
Haplogroup D-M174 is also remarkable for its rather extreme geographic differentiation, with a distinct subset of Haplogroup D-M174 chromosomes being found exclusively in each of the populations that contains a large percentage of individuals whose Y-chromosomes belong to Haplogroup D-M174: Haplogroup D-M15 among the Tibetans (as well as among the mainland East Asian populations that display very low frequencies of Haplogroup D-M174 Y-chromosomes), Haplogroup D-M55 among the various populations of the Japanese Archipelago, Haplogroup D-P99 among the inhabitants of Tibet, Tajikistan and other parts of mountainous southern Central Asia, and paragroup D-M174 without tested positive subclades (probably another monophyletic branch of Haplogroup D) among the Andaman Islanders. Another type (or types) of paragroup D-M174 without tested positive subclades is found at a very low frequency among the Turkic and Mongolic populations of Central Asia, amounting to no more than 1% in total. This apparently ancient diversification of Haplogroup D-M174 suggests that it may perhaps be better characterized as a “super-haplogroup” or “macro-haplogroup.” In one study, the frequency of Haplogroup D-M174 without tested positive subclades found among Thais was 10%.
Haplogroup D’s sister clade, Haplogroup E, (both D and E are descended from Haplogroup DE), is found almost exclusively in Africa.
Haplogroup D is therefore very ancient, estimated at 50-60,000 years old. Haplogroup O, by contrast, is only about 30,000 years old.
On the subject of Han genetics, Wikipedia states:
Y-chromosome haplogroup O3 is a common DNA marker in Han Chinese, as it appeared in China in prehistoric times. It is found in more than 50% of Chinese males, and ranging up to over 80% in certain regional subgroups of the Han ethnicity. However, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of Han Chinese increases in diversity as one looks from northern to southern China, which suggests that male migrants from northern China married with women from local peoples after arriving in modern-day Guangdong, Fujian, and other regions of southern China. … Another study puts Han Chinese into two groups: northern and southern Han Chinese, and it finds that the genetic characteristics of present-day northern Han Chinese was already formed as early as three-thousand years ago in the Central Plain area.
(Note that 3,000 years ago is potentially a thousand years after the first expansion of Proto-Sino-Tibetan.)
The estimated contribution of northern Hans to southern Hans is substantial in both paternal and maternal lineages and a geographic cline exists for mtDNA. As a result, the northern Hans are the primary contributors to the gene pool of the southern Hans. However, it is noteworthy that the expansion process was dominated by males, as is shown by a greater contribution to the Y-chromosome than the mtDNA from northern Hans to southern Hans. These genetic observations are in line with historical records of continuous and large migratory waves of northern China inhabitants escaping warfare and famine, to southern China.
Interestingly, the page on Tibetans notes, ” It is thought that most of the Tibeto-Burman-speakers in Southwest China, including the Tibetans, are direct descendants from the ancient Qiang.”
This ancient tribe is said to be the progenitor of both the modern Qiang and the Tibetan people. There are still many ethnological and linguistic links between the Qiang and the Tibetans. The Qiang tribe expanded eastward and joined the Han people in the course of historical development, while the other branch that traveled southwards, crosses over the Hengduan Mountains, and entered the Yungui Plateau; some went even farther, to Burma, forming numerous ethnic groups of the Tibetan-Burmese language family. Even today, from linguistic similarities, their relative relationship can be seen.
So here’s what I think happened (keeping in mind that I am in no way an expert on these subjects):
About 8,000 years ago: neolithic people lived in Asia. (People of some sort have been living in Asia since Homo erectus, after all.) The ancestors of today’s Sino-Tibetans lived atop the Tibetan plateau.
About 6,000 years ago: the Tibetans headed downstream, following the course of local rivers. In the process, the probably conquered and absorbed many of the local tribes they encountered.
About 4,000 years ago: the Han and Qiang are ethnically and linguistically distinct, though the Qiang are still fairly similar to the Tibetans.
The rest of Chinese history: Invasion from the north. Not only did the Mongols invade and kill somewhere between 20 and 60 million Chinese people in the 13th century, but there were also multiple of invasions/migrations by people who were trying to get away from the Mongols.
Note that while the original proto-Sino-Tibetan invasion likely spread Tibetan Y-Chromosomes throughout southern China, the later Mongol and other Chinese invasions likely wiped out a large percent of those same chromosomes, as invaders both tend to be men and to kill men; women are more likely to survive invasions.
Most recently, of course, the People’s Republic of China conquered Tibet in 1951.
I’m sure there’s a lot I’m missing that would be obvious to an expert.
Oh man! We are finally at part three! The part in which I attempt incorporating two-D space into our diagram:
Right, so as we turn our car around and head back up the road, we notice an intriguing turnoff in the Congolese rainforest: a tribe of the shortest people in the world, the Pygmies. According to Wikipedia:
A pygmy is a member of an ethnic group whose average height is unusually short; anthropologists define pygmy as a member of any group where adult men are on average less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches) tall. A member of a slightly taller group is termed “pygmoid“.
Basically, whenever humans live in tropical rainforests, there’s a good chance they’ll get shorter. (Rainforests also produce pygmy elephants.) Maybe it’s because short people can move more easily through the dense forest, or an adaptation to low levels of iodine, sunlight, or other nutrients–I don’t really know.
Wikipedia estimates that there are between 250,000 and 600,000 pygmies living in the Congo rainforest:
Genetically, the pygmies are extremely divergent from all other human populations, suggesting they have an ancient indigenous lineage. Their uniparental markers represent the most ancient divergent ones right after those typically found in Khoisan peoples. African pygmy populations possess high levels of genetic diversity, recent advances in genetics shed some light on the origins of the various pygmy groups. …
“We studied the branching history of Pygmy hunter–gatherers and agricultural populations from Africa and estimated separation times and gene flow between these populations. The model identified included the early divergence of the ancestors of Pygmy hunter–gatherers and farming populations ~60,000 years ago, followed by a split of the Pygmies’ ancestors into the Western and Eastern Pygmy groups ~20,000 years ago.”
But I recall–was it WestHunt?–objecting that the authors of this paper used a too-fast estimation of genetic mutation rates. Oh here it is:
There are a couple of recent papers on introgression from some quite divergent archaic population into Pygmies ( this also looks to be the case with Bushmen). Among other things, one of those papers discussed the time of the split between African farmers (Bantu) and Pygmies, as determined from whole-genome analysis and the mutation rate. They preferred to use the once-fashionable rate of 2.5 x 10-8 per-site per-generation (based on nothing), instead of the new pedigree-based estimate of about 1.2 x 10-8 (based on sequencing parents and child: new stuff in the kid is mutation). The old fast rate indicates that the split between Neanderthals and modern humans is much more recent than the age of early Neanderthal-looking skeletons, while the new slow rate fits the fossil record – so what’s to like about the fast rate? Thing is, using the slow rate, the split time between Pygmies and Bantu is ~300k years ago – long before any archaeological sign of behavioral modernity (however you define it) and well before the first known fossils of AMH (although that shouldn’t bother anyone, considering the raggedness of the fossil record).
Let’s split the difference and say that one way or another, Pygmies split off from their hunter-gatherer neighbors and became isolated in the rainforest quite a while ago.
Before we drive on, I’d like to pause and note that I’m not entirely comfortable with using the way Pygmies are sometimes used in racial discussions. Yes, they are short, but they otherwise look a lot like everyone else in the area. Pygmies go to school, often speak multiple languages, live in cities, work at real jobs, read books, operate businesses, drive cars, fall in love, get married, build houses, etc. For more on Pygmies see my review of Isaac Bacirongo’s memoir Still a Pygmy (Isaac is a Pygmy man who speaks, IIRC, 5 languagues, attended highschool, and owned/ran successful pharmacies in two different cities in the DRC before the army burned them down during a civil war.)
Now I admit that Isaac is just one guy and I don’t know what the rest of the Pygmies are like.
But let’s hop back in our car, for at the other end of this road we have not a small town of isolated forest-dwellers, but a large group we have so far neglected: the Native Americans.
The indigenous peoples of North and South America today number about 60 million people, plus some quantity of mixed-race people (mestizos.) In some areas these mestizos are majority European by ancestry; in others they are majority Indian; studies in Mexico, for example, estimate that 80-93% of the population is Mestizo, with Indian ancestry averaging between 31% and 66% in different regions. The people of El Salvador are about 86% mestizo; Chileans are about 40% Indian and 60% Europeans; Columbia is about 49% mestizo; etc.
Unfortunately, Wikipedia doesn’t list the total number of mestizos, and I don’t have time to calculate it, but I will note that the total population of both continents, including Canada and the USA, is about 1 billion people.
We’re not sure exactly when (or how) the Indians got here, but it looks like they arrived around 10-20,000 years ago across the then-Bering Landbridge. (I think we should also keep in mind the possibility that they could have built boats.) According to Wikipedia:
Scientific evidence links indigenous Americans to Asian peoples, specifically Siberian populations, such as the Ket, Selkup, Chukchi and Koryak peoples. Indigenous peoples of the Americas have been linked to North Asian populations by the distribution of blood types, and in genetic composition as reflected by molecular data, such as DNA. There is general agreement among anthropologists that the source populations for the migration into the Americas originated from an area somewhere east of the Yenisei River. The common occurrence of the mtDNA Haplogroups A, B, C, and D among eastern Asian and Native American populations has long been recognized. As a whole, the greatest frequency of the four Native American associated haplogroups occurs in the Altai–Baikal region of southern Siberia. Some subclades of C and D closer to the Native American subclades occur among Mongolian, Amur, Japanese, Korean, and Ainu populations.
On the grand scale of human history, (200,000 years, more or less,) 13-20,000 years is not very long, and the Native Americans have not diverged too much, physically, from their cousins in Asia. The G-allele mutation of the EDAR gene arose about 30,000 years ago somewhere in east Asia and gives both modern Asians and Native Americans (but not Europeans and Africans) their characteristic hair and skin tone. While Native Americans are clearly physically, culturally, and geographically distinct from other Asians, (just as Europeans and south-Asian Indians are distinct from each other,) they are genetically close enough that they unquestionably clade together in the greater racial schema.
As I’ve said before, my diagram is just one way to represent one aspect of the genetic (and physical) distances between people.
Here is another diagram, not mine, which tells the same story in a different way (though it estimates a much lower genetic distance between Bushmen and Bantus than I’d expect. Oh well. different studies get different results; that’s why replication and meta-analysis are super important):
The Melanesians of Papua New Guinea and Australia are in pink (there are some mixed Melanesian / Polynesian populations in the world, but our road trip skipped them.) Their nearest relatives are other south Asians and Polynesians, but those same south Asians are themselves more closely related to Europeans than Australians. Diagrammed like this, it’d be understandable to break off south Asians into one race and put Caucasians, Native Americans, and East Asians into a single race. And I suppose you could, if you wanted to and could get everyone else to start using your categories. Race is biologically real and quite obvious at the macro scale, but a few small groups like Aborigines and Bushmen introduce existential uncertainty that intellectuals can quibble over.I don’t think it would be terribly useful rearrangement, though, for all of the reasons discussed over the past three posts in this series.
Well, that’s the end of our big road trip! I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that it’s cleared up that nagging question people seem to have: How can Nigerians be more closely related to Europeans than some other Africans? Have a great day, and enjoy the drive home.
Note: This post still contains a lot of oversimplification for the sake of explaining a few things.
Welcome back to our discussion of the geographic dispersion of humanity. On Tuesday, we discussed how two great barriers–the Sahara desert and the Himalayas + central Asian desert–have impeded human travelers over the millennia, resulting in three large, fairly well-defined groups of humans, the major races: Sub-Saharan Africans (SSA), Caucasians, and east Asians.
Of course, any astute motorist, having come to a halt at the Asian end of our highway, might observe that there is, in fact, a great deal of land in the world that we have not yet explored. So we head to the local shop and pick up a better map:
Our new map shows us navigational directions for getting to Melanesia and Australia–in ice age times, it instructs us, we can drive most of the way. If there isn’t an ice age, we’ll have to take a boat.
The people of Melanesia and Australia are related, the descendants of one of the first groups of humans to split off from the greater tribe that left Africa some 70k ago.
As the name “Melanesian” implies, they are quite dark-skinned–a result of never having ventured far from the equatorial zone.
Today, they live in eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and a smattering of smaller islands. (Notably, the Maori of New Zealand are Polynesians like the Hawaiians, not Melanesians, descendants of a different migration wave that originated in Taiwan.)
There is some speculation that they might have once been wider-spread than they currently are, or that various south-Asian tribes might be related to them, (eg, “A 2009 genetic study in India found similarities among Indian archaic populations and Aboriginal people, indicating a Southern migration route, with expanding populations from Southeast Asia migrating to Indonesia and Australia,”) but I don’t think any mainland group would today be classed as majority Melanesian by DNA.
They may also be related to the scattered tribes of similarly dark-skinned, diminutive people known as the Negritos:
Males from the Aeta people (or Agta) people of The Philippines, are of great interest to genetic, anthropological and historical researchers, as at least 83% of them belong to haplogroup K2b, in the form of its rare primary clades K2b1* and P* (a.k.a. K2b2* or P-P295*). Most Aeta males (60%) carry K-P397 (K2b1), which is otherwise uncommon in the Philippines and is strongly associated with the indigenous peoples of Melanesia and Micronesia. Basal P* is rare outside the Aeta and some other groups within Maritime South East Asia. …
A study of blood groups and proteins in the 1950s suggested that the Andamanese were more closely related to Oceanic peoples than African Pygmies. Genetic studies on Philippine Negritos, based on polymorphic blood enzymes and antigens, showed they were similar to surrounding Asian populations.
However, the Negritos are a very small set of tribes, and I am not confident that they are even significantly related to each other, rather than just some short folks living on a few scattered islands. We must leave them for another day.
The vast majority of Aborigines and Melanesians live in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and nearby islands. They resemble Africans, because they split off from the rest of the out-of-Africa crew long before the traits we now associate with “whites” and “Asians” evolved, and have since stayed near the equator, but they are most closely related to–sharing DNA with–south Asians (and Indians.)
So we have, here, on the genetic level, a funny situation. Melanesians are–relatively speaking–a small group. According to Wikipedia, thee are about 12 million Melanesians and 606,000 Aborigines. By contrast, Tokyo prefecture has 13 million people and the total Tokyo metro area has nearly 38 million. Meanwhile, the Han Chinese–not a race but a single, fairly homogenous ethnic group–number around 1.3 billion.
Of all the world’s peoples, Melanesians/Aborigines are most closely related to other Asians–but this is a distant relationship, and those same Asians are more closely related to Caucasians than to Aborigines.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, the diagram, because it is 1-dimensional, can only show the distance between two groups at a time, not all groups. The genetic distance between Caucasians and Aborigines is about 60 or 50k, while the distance between Asians and Caucasians is around 40k, but the distance between Sub-Saharan Africans and ALL non-SSAs is about 70k, whether they’re in Australia, Patagonia, or France. Our map is not designed to show this distance, only the distances between individual pairs.
Now if we hopped back in our car and zoomed back to the beginning of our trip, pausing to refuel in Lagos, we’d note another small group that has been added to the other end of the map: the Bushmen, aka the Khoi-San people. Wikipedia estimates 90,000 San and doesn’t give an estimate for the Khoi people, but their largest group, the Nama, has about 200,000 people. We’ll estimate the total, therefore, around 500,000 people, just to be safe.
The Bushmen are famous for being among the world’s last hunter-gatherers; their cousins the Khoi people are pastoralists. There were undoubtedly more of them in the past, before both Europeans and Bantus arrived in southern Africa. Some people think Bushmen look a little Asian, due to their lighter complexions than their more equatorial African cousins.
Mitochondrial DNA studies also provide evidence that the San carry high frequencies of the earliest haplogroup branches in the human mitochondrial DNA tree. This DNA is inherited only from one’s mother. The most divergent (oldest) mitochondrial haplogroup, L0d, has been identified at its highest frequencies in the southern African San groups.
In a study published in March 2011, Brenna Henn and colleagues found that the ǂKhomani San, as well as the Sandawe and Hadza peoples of Tanzania, were the most genetically diverse of any living humans studied. This high degree of genetic diversity hints at the origin of anatomically modern humans.
Recent analysis suggests that the San may have been isolated from other original ancestral groups for as much as 100,000 years and later rejoined, re-integrating the human gene pool.
A DNA study of fully sequenced genomes, published in September 2016, showed that the ancestors of today’s San hunter-gatherers began to diverge from other human populations in Africa about 200,000 years ago and were fully isolated by 100,000 years ago … 
So the total distance between Nigerians and Australian Aborogines is 70k years; the distance between Nigerians and Bushmen is at least 100k years.
When we zoom in on the big three–Sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, and Asians–they clade quite easily and obviously into three races. But when we add Aborigines and Bushmen, things complicate. Should we have a “race” smaller than the average American city? Or should we just lump them in with their nearest neighbors–Bushmen with Bantus and Aborigines with Asians?
I am fine with doing both, actually–but wait, I’m not done complicating matters! Tune in on Monday for more.
Note: This post contains a lot of oversimplification for the sake of explaining a few things. (Yes, I am still meditating on the greater Asian clade.)
Imagine you’re driving down a long highway that stretches from Nigeria to Beijing, passing through Berlin and New Delhi. In reality this route takes some large twists and turns, but we’re drawing it as a straight line, for all maps must simplify to be useful.
As you drive along, you pass many houses along the way–sometimes just a few clustered next to the highway, sometimes small towns, sometimes megalopolises with billions of people.
Our drive begins in one such megalopolis, that of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA.) Here we meet people like Queen Anna Nzinga, author Chinua Achebe, and–though they have traveled far abroad–African Americans like Oprah Winfrey and Martin Luther King.
Though thousands of different languages are spoken by the thousands of different groups throughout SSA, we may still note a certain physical similarity among them–dark skin perfectly adapted to the equator’s strong sun, dark eyes, and tightly curling hair. While there is a tremendous amount of variety here–probably the most of any megalopolis in the world–they are also, quite clearly, related. You don’t have to go measuring skulls to figure that out.
But as we drive north, the houses thin out. Suddenly we are in a zone with almost no people–an enormous desert: the Sahara.
We speed through this harsh, empty landscape on a starry night, spotting only a few camels in the distance. We’re lucky we have a full tank of gas and several more in the trunk–for all but the most intrepid of our pre-automobile ancestors, this desert was nigh impassible, a vast barrier to human movement.
Finally we reach the vast inland sea of the Mediterranean, and the beginning of our second megalopolis. Most of the people here, from Berbers to Egyptians, have their own distinct look, more similar to their neighbors from the Middle East and Southern Europe than their neighbors to the south, across the inhospitable expanse of sand.
While there are many different countries and languages, no clear phenotypic line separates the people of Northern Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe, or northern Europe. Skin pales, hair lightens and becomes wavy, eyes turn a variety of hues as one nationality melts into the next. North-central Europe is the only place in the world where blue/green/hazel eyes and blond hair are common in adults; even in Wales, dark hair is dominant.
We hang a right through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India, teeming with people. Here again, though the people change and there are barriers like the Thar Desert, we find no harsh, nigh-impenetarable breaks like the Sahara.
Then, suddenly, we run smack into a wall, a natural wall of majestic proportions: the Himalayas. Beyond lie the Tibetan Plateau, Gobi Desert, and the vast emptiness of the Asian steppe. If this land was ever densely populated, generations of marauding steppe warriors have wiped them out. We see a few people here–aptly named Tibetan lamas, flocks of sheep grazing beside a scattering of yurts. Mongolia holds the distinction of being the world’s least densely populated independent country. (Ice-covered Greenland is even less dense, but owned by Denmark.)
Finally we pass beyond the shadow of the Great Khan’s memorial and into the valley of the Yellow River, where we find our third megalopolis: east Asia.
There is notably less genetic diversity here than in the first megalopolis–indeed, 93% of Han Chinese share a particular variety of the EDAR allele:
A derived G-allele point mutation (SNP) with pleiotropic effects in EDAR, 370A or rs3827760, found in most modern East Asians and Native Americans but not common in African or European populations, is thought to be one of the key genes responsible for a number of differences between these populations, including the thicker hair, more numerous sweat glands, smaller breasts, and dentition characteristic of East Asians. … The 370A mutation arose in humans approximately 30,000 years ago, and now is found in 93% of Han Chinese and in the majority of people in nearby Asian populations.
Here, too, skin tones vary from north to south, though not as greatly as they do closer to the Greenwich Meridian. Most people have dark eyes, slim frames, and straight, smooth black hair.
Here in the megalopolis made famous by Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Tokyo, we have come to the end of the–first round–of our journey. From Africa to Asia, we have found three vast areas filled with people, and two major barriers which–though not completely impassible–have hindered humanity’s footsteps over the millennia.
People sometimes try to claim that human races do not exist simply because edge cases exist, small, scattered groups which possess a mixture of genes common to both Sub-Saharan Africans and Caucasians, Caucasians and Asians. And these groups do in fact exist, and are fascinating in their own rights. But these groups are also small, often living in extremely harsh, forbidding lands where few humans can survive (The inhabitants of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau, I note, actually carry a gene that helps them survive at high altitudes which they received via an ancestor’s dalliance with a Denisovan hominin–the Denisovans were cousin to the Neanderthals and lived in Asia long before Homo Sapiens. No one else in the world carries this gene, so if you don’t have it, good luck living up there!)
But the vast, vast majority of the world’s people do not live in these harsh and unforgiving lands. They live clustered together in the enormous population centers, continually mixing, migrating, churning, and conquering each other, not people thousands of miles off. The concept of race stems from this basic observation of the geography of human settlements.
Physical distance is genetic distance, but since my diagram is only two-dimensional, it can only show the genetic distance between two points at a time. The genetic distance between Asians and Caucasians is about 40k years–much shorter than the distance between Sub-Saharan Africans and Caucasians, 70k years. But the distance between Sub-Saharan Africans and Asians is also about 70k years. Although Asians and Caucasians split apart from each other about 40,000 years ago, they are both descended from a single group of ancestors (a handful of Denisovans and Neanderthals excluded) who left sub-Saharan Africa about 70k years ago. We may best think of the relationship between these three groups not as a single highway, but as a triangle with two sides 70k long and one side of 40k. But to accurately add more groups to our journey, (as we shall do on Thursday), we would have to keep adding dimensions, and we are aiming here for simplicity, not n-dimensional hypercubes.
The history of humanity’s long sojourn across the globe has resulted in, more or less, three main super-clades, or races: Sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, and Asians. The words we use for these are not perfect (“Caucasian” is particularly imprecise,) but do the job well enough.
The Asian super-clade has three main branches: Melanesians (and Aborigines,) who traveled south into the Pacific; the Native Americans, who settled North and South America some 13-40,000 years ago; and of course the East Asians, like the Chinese, Japanese, and Polynesians.
(Amusingly, Indians, though they clearly live in Asia, are part of the Caucasian clade because they are more closely related to Middle Easterners and Europeans than Chinese people. As a result, Indians were–for a while—recorded as “white” on US censuses, though today they are recorded as “Asian.”)
People are fond of saying that the SS African race contains the greatest genetic diversity (as well it might, due to the inclusion of groups like the Pygmies and Bushmen, who may have split off from other human groups over 100,000 years ago,) but the Asian race has the greatest pre-Columbian geographic/environmental range, stretching from Australia and Polynesia to Siberia and Greenland, from Mongolia to Patagonia.
Trying to offer a single, coherent description of the physical appearances of such a diverse range of peoples is nearly impossible. They range in skin tone from almost white to as black as most of Africa; in stature from slight, Pygmy-like Negritos to the formidable Comanches (who in the 1800s were among the world’s tallest measured people;) and in average reported IQs from >105 to >65. (Okay, IQ isn’t appearance.)
We will be able to speak much more meaningfully about appearances when we address each of the sub-races.
Here are the relevant portions from Haak et al’s lovely dataset:
On the left, we have the Native American DNA, from the depths of the Amazonian rainforest to the tribes of upstate New York. The olive green section are the Inuit/Eskimo and related Russian groups. The Inuit (who appear to have wiped out the earlier Dorset people,) share a great deal of DNA with other Siberians, eg the Yakuts (a Turkic people) and the Nganasan, (who speak a highly divergent language of the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic family, which also includes the Finnish, Hungarian, and Sami languages–language is a very bad guide to genetics.)
The pale peach are the Onge, who live in India’s Andaman Islands; purple the people of Papua New Guinea and Australia.
The very yellow part is all of the groups normally thought of as “East Asian,” like Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. Yellow is most dominant in the aboriginal people of Taiwan (who were there before the Chinese started migrating there in the past few hundred years,) and are the ancestors of the (not pictured) Polynesian peoples of Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand. (I think they picked up some Melanesian DNA on the way.)
And on the right we have the various peoples of Siberia and central Asia.
I think it an open question whether the Melanesians and Aborigines ought to be properly classed with the other Asians, or awarded their own clade.
According to Masatoshi Nei, a biology professor at Pennsylvania State University, the ancestors of today’s Asians and Caucasians split into two separate groups around 41,000 years ago, (give or take 15,000 years,) and their ancestors split from the ancestors of modern Africans–the “Out of Africa Event”–around 114,000 years ago, (give or take 34,000 years.)
BERLIN (AP) — The human populations now predominant in Eurasia and East Asia probably split between 36,200 and 45,000 years ago, according to a study released Thursday.
Researchers used new techniques to analyze genetic samples from the shin bone of a young man who died at least 36,200 years ago near Kostenki-Borshchevo in what is now western Russia. The study, published in the journal Science, concludes that Kostenki man shared genetic sequences with contemporary Europeans, but not East Asians.
A separate study published last month in the journal Nature determined that a 45,000-year old sample found in Siberia contained sequences ancestral to both modern East Asians and Europeans.
In a genetic study in 2011, researchers found evidence, in DNA samples taken from strands of Aboriginal people’s hair, that the ancestors of the Aboriginal population split off from the ancestors of the European and Asian populations between 65,000 and 75,000 years ago—roughly 24,000 years before the European and Asian populations split off from each other. These Aboriginal ancestors migrated into South Asia and then into Australia…
The first complete sequences of the Y chromosomes of Aboriginal Australian men have revealed a deep indigenous genetic history tracing all the way back to the initial settlement of the continent 50 thousand years ago, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology today.
So on the one hand, race is biological and real, and on the other, it’s a social construct. Australian Aborigines are more closely related to other Asians than to, say, Europeans or Africans, but the Chinese are more closely related to Europeans than to Aborigines.
One reason why Australians and other Melanesians appear so divergent from other Asian populations maybe their Denisovan (or other human) DNA. Most (if not all) human groups appear to have picked up DNA from some other, non-Homo Sapiens source. Europeans, East Asians, and Native Americans all have a small percent of Neanderthal DNA. Africans, IIRC, have a small % of some local African homin. And Melanesians/Australians have a small % of Denisovan DNA (Denisovans were a less-well-known cousin of the Neanderthals.)
“White” is a nebulous category. “Black” is actually easier to define, because there’s a pretty hard boundary (the Sahara) between black Africa and everywhere else. To be fair, there are also groups like the Bushmen (who are more tawny brownish,) and the Pygmies who are genetically separate from other sub-Saharan Africans by over 100,000 years, but these are pretty small on the global scale. But “whites” and “Asians” occupy the same continent, and thus shade into each other.
If we use a strictly skin tone definition (as the world “white” implies) we can just pull up a map of global skin tone variation:
Of course, this implies that either Spaniards and Finns aren’t white, or Chinese and Eskimos are. Either way is fine, of course, though this would contradict most people’s usage. (And I kind of question that data on the Finns:
These composites of faces from around the world offer us some more data, though depending on how they were made, they may not accurately reflect skin tone in all countries (ie, if the creator relied on pictures of famous people available on the internet, then these will reflect local beauty norms than group averages.)
(Plus, I wonder why the Romanians are pink.)
J. B. Huang has taken some of the Eurasian faces from this set and gone through the effort of trying to quantitize their shapes, as displayed in this graph (at least, that’s what I think they’re doing):
Interestingly, while some of the faces cluster together the way you might expect–China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan are all near each other, as are Belgium and the Netherlands–many of the groupings are near random, eg, Mongolia, Turkey, and the Philippines. Hungary and Austria are closer to India and Japan than to Poland or Finland. The European faces are all over the map.
Maybe this doesn’t mean anything at all, or maybe it means that there’s a lot of variation in European faces.
This is actually not too surprising, given that modern Europeans are genetically descended from three different groups who conquered the peninsula in successive waves, leaving more or less of their DNA in different areas: the hunter gatherers who were there first, followed by farmers who spread out from Anatolia (modern Turkey,) followed by the “Indo-Europeans” aka the Yamnaya, who were part hunter gatherer (by DNA, not profession) and part another group whose origins have yet to be located, but which I call the “teal people” because their DNA is teal on Haak’s graph.
Oh yes, we are getting to Haak.
This isn’t the full graph, but it’s probably enough for our purposes. The European countries show a characteristic profile of Orange, Dark Blue, and Teal. (By contrast, the east Asian countries, which cluster closely together on the facial map, are mostly yellow with only a bit of red.)
Obviously DNA isn’t actually colored. It’s just a visual aid.
Haak’s graph makes it fairly easy to rule out the groups that are definitely different (at least genetically.) The American Indians, Inuit, West Africans, Chinese, and Aborigines are distinctly out. This leaves us with Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, India, and parts of central Asia/Siberia:
The Orange-centric region, which Haak et al arranged to display the movements of the Anatolian farmer people.
The heavily teal Indian section (The middle part, from Hazara-Tlingit, are obviously not Indian).
And finally some Siberian DNA.
Now, I could stare at these all day; I love them. They tell so many fascinating stories about people and where they went. Of the three ancestries found in Europeans, the oldest, the dark blue (hunter-gatherers,) is found throughout India, Siberia, and even the Aleutian islands (though I caution that some of this could just be because of Russians raping the Aleuts back in the day.) The dark blue appears to hit a particular low point in the Caucuses region, which of course is about where the teal got its start.
The orange–Anatolian farmers–shows up throughout the Middle East and Europe, but is near totally absent in India and Siberia. (Not much farming in Siberia!)
At a lower resolution (not pictured,) India, central Asia, and Siberia appear to have a mix of–broadly speaking–“European” and “Asian” ancestry. (Not too surprising, since they are in the middle of the continent.) Obviously the middle of Asia is a big crossroads between different groups–red (Siberian) yellow (east Asian) teal and dark blue, and bits of the same DNA that shows up in the Eskimo (Inuit) and Aleuts.
But this is all kind of complicated. Luckily for us, this is only one way to visualize DNA–I’ve got others!
If you’re not familiar with these sorts of trees, the basic story is that geneticists gathered DNA samples (from spit, I think, which is pretty awesome,) from ethnic groups from all over the world, and then measured how many genes they have in common. More genes in common = groups more closely related to each other. Fewer genes = more genetic distance from each other.
Since different genetic samples and computer models are different, different teams have produced slightly different genetic trees.
Note that since the tree is constructed by comparing # of genes two groups have in common, a group could end up in a particular spot because it is descended from a common ancestor with other nearby groups, or because of mixing between two groups. Ashkenazi Jews, for example, cluster with southern Europeans because they’re about half Italian (and obviously half ancient Israeli.) Here’s another chart, giving us another perspective:
This chart also shows us genetic differences between groups, with strong clustering among African and East Asians, respectively, and then a sort of scattered group of Europeans and Indians (South Asians.)
Neither of these graphs shows Siberians or central Asians in great detail, because they are tiny groups, but I think it’s safe to say the Siberians at least cluster near their neighbors, the other Asians and far-north Americans.
The central and south Asians, though, are quite the interesting case!
Between archaeology and genetics, we’ve been able to trace the path of human expansion, from central Africa to the world:
Well, ultimately, there’s no hard division between most ethnic groups or races–you can draw dividing lines where you want them. The term “white” implies dermal paleness, of course, so you may prefer a narrower definition for “white” than “Caucasian.” Greater minds than mine have already covered the subject in more authoritative detail, of course. I merely offer my thoughts for entertainment.
So I was just looking up some demographic data on Wikipedia and ran across this graph. Two interesting things:
During the recessions, all of the groups suffer in roughly similar amounts, except Asians, who tend to get really hammered. I don’t think it’s a side-effect of just having the biggest quantity of money, as whites and blacks, who make very different amounts of money, still tend to fall by the same amount. I would assume this is a result of Asians being more heavily leveraged, with risky investments, except that this is a graph of income rather than net worth. Maybe they are disproportionately employed in highly leveraged professions?
The 1990 recession looks like it went on particularly long for Hispanics, whose net worth kept hurting after everyone else’s had started recovering–around 1995, the Hispanic nadir, their net worth was nearly as low as African Americans’. What was up? Economic problems related to the Mexican Peso? Refugees from the Guatemalan Civil War? NAFTA?
Hey, everybody, EvolutionistX is now one year old. *Clinks glasses* Here’s to another year!
While you celebrate, please nominate your favorite posts for inclusion in the “favorite posts” section, or suggest a topic for future posts!
Carrying on with our monthly Cathedral Roundup:
Even a critic as skeptical as Edward Said succumbs to the temptation of university, academic employment: the university’s self-legitimations stand unchallenged. … This synthesis of internal and external factors is such that university-based intellectuals are guaranteed autonomy (“specific context”) in the name of the intellectual reduced to a social agent who agrees with Enlightenment–“investigation” becomes social improvement (“promoting human community.” –Sande Cohen, Academia and the Luster of Capital
I have obtained a copy of the Harvard U. Board of Overseers 2016 election pamphlet. In case you haven’t been following Ivy League politics, Ron Unz of Unz Review fame and some other folks have gotten themselves onto the ballot via petition. Somewhat amusingly, theirs is the “free stuff and ethnic animosity” campaign, banking on Asians being pissed that Harvard (and other schools) discriminates against them for doing too well on the SAT. This position is controversial because not-discriminating against Asians might mean taking fewer blacks and Hispanics who are currently being accepted on “soft” criteria rather than top SAT scores.
You have until May 20 to get your vote in (if you’re a Harvard alum and believe in voting,) so let’s see who’s running.
Eight of the candidates have been proposed by the Harvard Alumni Association Nominating Committee. Five candidates were nominated by petition, and are so identified. … The order of the candidates in each category is determined by lot.
The slate of candidates nominated by the Harvard Alumni Association is half male and half female; ethnically it is 3/4s white, with one black and one Asian candidate (based on black and white headshots). The nominated by petition slate is all male, 2/5s Asian and 3/5s white. (I’m not totally sure about Unz’s ethnicity, but I’m guessing white.)
We’ll start with the Alumni Association nominees.
… believes that the breadth of Harvard’s academic excellence uniquely positions it to have an influence far beyond its gates. … “I hope the University will continue its great tradition of integrating discoveries in science and technology, advances in the social sciences, and insights from the humanities to inspire change around the world.” … He has a special interest in global humanitarian and refugee programs. He is active with the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, and he advises the Mercy Corps Social Venture Fund.”
… is a federal judge who serves on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She was nominated for this lifetime position by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2013. As a judge, she has a particular interest in criminal justice and sentencing policy, having served a a vice chair and commissioner of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and as an assistant federal public defender in D.C.
“I would be honored to contribute whatever I can to Harvard’s immensely important role in improving the health and well-being of people around the world. And I’d value the chance to help encourage students, whatever their career paths, to focus on not just doing well but doing good.”
One of the side effects of spending much of your spare time trying to refine your writing abilities is that you become hyper-sensitive to minor glitches in other peoples’ writing that normal folks probably don’t even notice–like the 11 unnecessary words in Mrs. Foulkes’s two sentences.
…whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea, experienced firsthand the benefits of education, and he views educational access as a key to opportunity for others.
(As opposed to everyone else in the country, who didn’t get educations?)
“I would like to help ensure that Harvard remain a world-class educational and research institution that continues to lead globally. Equally important, Harvard should not only remain open to but actively seek out a diverse student body at the College and its graduate schools.”
Harvard is… already doing this. But I like to imagine he’s a stealth Free Harvard, Fair Harvard candidate.
“I hope to bring a continued international approach to the Board of Overseers, building on Havard’s status as a genuinely international institution, mindful that we continue to attract the most promising students and scholars from around the world and that we continue to encourage truly responsible global citizens.”
… former principal dancer with NYC Ballet, has combined his creative passion with his master’s in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School to become a leader, public advocate, and activist for the arts.
“The arts are an essential element in education at every level. At a time when universities face pressures to focus on specialized job skill, Harvard is committed to the full range of liberal arts education. As an Overseer, I would relish the opportunity to draw on my national work engaging the arts in society, to focus on Harvard as a leader and model for the value of arts in the university environment.”
He is the artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival.
“My experiences at Harvard literally transformed me.”
I hope she became a butterfly.
“Learning experiences inside and outside the classroom caused me to adopt a much larger worldview and fostered in me a love–not only for lifelong learning, but also for Harvard.”
At least her goals are unobjectionable:
“I wold like to work to ensure that Harvard continues to attract the very best students, regardless of their economic circumstances, and remain accessible and affordable to students of modest means.”
… has dedicated her social science career to enhancing the lives of children through teaching and mentoring, research, and translating research into policy and practice. Much of her work addresses family strengths that lead to children’s positive social and educational outcomes in the context of economic hardship. …
“I believe strongly in addressing equity and inclusion, and in building diverse communities that thrive while simultaneously exploring new knowledge and debating various perspectives.”
“simultaneously exploring new knowledge and debating various perspectives.”
Wow. For writing a sentence that terrible, she gets to be my least favorite.
On to the Free Harvard/Fair Harvard petition slate!
First we have Ralph Nader, who was a surprise to me:
“Even with restrictions on portions of its $38 billion endowment, Harvard is easily capable of ending net tuition at the undergraduate level and setting an example for other well-endowed Universities.” …
As an advocate, author and organizer, he has been responsible for starting many enduring civic groups, including Public Citizen, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Center for Auto Safety and the student public interest groups in many states.
He has been instrumental in the passage of numerous health, safety, water pollution, air pollution and product safety laws and agencies, along with the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 and the historic Freedom of Information act of 1974.
(So how did Nader get involved in all of this?)
His research areas include quantum field theory, cosmology, and computational genomics. … “As a scientist, university administrator, and technology entrepreneur, I believe I have unique insight into the challenges facing modern research universities.”
“Its 38 BILLION endowment has transformed Harvard into one of the world’s largest hedge funds, with tax-exempt annual income twenty-five times greater than net college tuition revenue. Forcing families to pay tuition to a giant hedge fund is unconscionable.”
Unz is trying to play the moral highground card, but does it work? Sure, it seems wrong for Harvard to charge tuition from students who are much poorer than it is, but on the other hand, Harvard is a private institution, not a charity, and can do what it wants. Harvard’s house, Harvard’s rules.
“My recent work has explored the unnecessary secrecy and unfairness of the higher education admissions process, as well as the decline of of ideological diversity on faculties.” …
Taylor has coauthored two books… Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Fraud. [and] … Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.
“…I support affirmative action, but oppose discrimination. I believe that the University can only become truly diverse, and truly inclusive, by becoming completely transparent about admissions criteria and practices. More transparency has always improved and increased access for the underprivileged.”
… He is known for wiping out “patent trolls.” …
He is married and has 3 children… who will all be identified as ethnically Asian when they apply to college.
The pamphlet also gives us a breakdown of the occupations of the current Board of Overseers: 1 writer (NY Times); 1 lawyer; 4 government (mostly judges); 7 educators (mostly professors); 10 in business and finance; and 7 in non-profits that look a lot like the B&F positions.
Ethnic breakdown of current set based on b&w pictures: 20 white, 10 non-white–4 black, 1 Hispanic?, 3 east Asian, and 2 Indian. 14 men, 16 women.
To be honest, I don’t know how much power the Board of Overseers has to do anything, but the petition is an interesting attempt at a power grab, especially as it rides on the complaint, felt by at least some Asians, that one ethnic minority is being mistreated in order to favor other ethnic minorities.
I think the Republicans had been hoping (before Trump entered the primary race) to capture the Hispanic vote (which is why two of their primary candidates were Hispanics and a third is prominently married to a Hispanic,) in much the same way that the Democrats have captured the black vote. The problem with this strategy, obviously, is that not only is the Republican establishment having a really hard time out-competing the Democrats on “being welcome to Mexican immigrants,” but the rest of the Republican voters want nothing to do with such an agenda.
This leaves me to wonder if there is yet an opportunity for Republicans to ally with Asians (and Indians) who could be convinced that the Democrats are favoring blacks and Hispanics at their expense. Or will that, too, fall flat?
On a global scale, poverty is probably a bigger predictor of suicide. But within the US there are some clear looking racial differences in depression:
Yes, I know that suicide and depression aren’t the same word. But I figure “depression” is kinda tricky to accurately document, (Is he really depressed, or just kinda bummed?), whereas suicide seems pretty reliable. And since whites and Asians probably have the best access to mental health care, the numbers probably aren’t being skewed by lack of Prozac among the poor.
I remember an article I read a year or two ago, but can’t find now, which found a correlation between depression and intelligence. More or less, the implication as I interpreted it, is that “depression” is functionally a slowing down of the brain, and during intellectual tasks, people who could slow down and concentrate performed better–thus, concentrating and depression look rather similar.
There are other, additional possibilities: people from further north get depressed because it’s dark and cold all winter/as an adaptation to the winters, and so the Finns listen to a ton of Death Metal:
I don’t have a map for Goth music; does anyone listen to Goth anymore? Hot Topic seems to be doing fine at the mall.
Or maybe depression is an evolutionary adaptation to make people more peaceful and cooperative by internalizing their aggression instead of killing other people. Here the difference between whites and blacks seems like a point of evidence, since whites seem to kill themselves at higher rates than they kill others, while blacks kill others at higher rates than they kill themselves. Perhaps aggression/depression can be toggled on and off in some way, genetically or, in the case of folks with bi-polar, in a single individual.
Asians, I suspect, are also depressives, but have lower aggression than whites, so they don’t kill themselves very often. Also, I don’t know what kinds of music they like.