Anthropology Friday: Reindeer Economies (pt 2/4


I have been preparing for today’s anthropology Friday by tromping around in a blizzard, seeking insight into our northerly neighbors’ lives.

Apparently circum-polar people live in a state of constant exhilaration, appreciation of the sublime beauty of nature, happiness, exhaustion, and cold toes. I am reminded of de Poncins’s descriptions of the Eskimo he lived with as counter-intuitively far happier than the people he knew from tropical, sun-kissed lands. Alas, I didn’t record that passage, but here is a similar one:

I thought of the months on the trail, of the hardships and even miseries I had endued, and of a sudden I began to miss them with an intensity which amazed me and which, since then, has never left me. … God knows we were poor enough. Our poverty was total. We possessed nothing: not even the snow was our own. … But there was a cheer and a contentment in our existence which I continue to muse upon and cannot altogether explain to myself….

Day after day a wind would raise, a sign of danger would appear in the air, and we would respond together, each forgetting himself and striving in the common cause. Outside, it wanted war and flood to give man this sense of brotherhood: here it was a commonplace of life.

Anyway, back to Ingold and the domestication of the reindeer:

“The second chapter deals directly with the nature and process of animal ‘domestication’. … My central contention is that the source of pastoral property relations lies in the particularistic, social bonds established through the incorporation of animals into a domestic division of labour; and hence that a precondition for the direct transition from hunting to pastoralism is the capacity of animals to function both as labour and as a source of food and raw materials.”

[EvX: You say “Cultural Marxism is just a conspiracy theory.” I say, “What the hell have you been reading?”]

“It may reasonably be assumed that where a pastoral economy has arisen directly out of predatory herd exploitation, the animals’ ‘main importance lay in their meat-producing qualities, as wild animals did not form wool or produce large quantities of milk’… In other words, such an economy would be based on slaughter products rather than those which can be obtained from live animals. It is true that wild herbivores can be milked, if only with difficulty, but the yield barely exceeds the animals’ own calving requirements, and could not form the staple of a pastoral diet.

“Now, it may fairly be objected that most modern forms of pastoralism are based on the production of milk rather than meat, and therefore that a precondition for their emergence must have been the initial taming and breeding of animals as milk-producers in connection with developing agricultural systems. Milch pastoralism is thus a secondary phenomenon … which would have arisen through the migration of men and herds into arid and uncultivable regions where the animals could not survive without human assistance.”

reindeer being milked
reindeer being milked

EvX: Since we don’t know actually how pastoralism arose, I must object that this is speculation. To counter: it is simple to make the yield exceed the animal’s calving requirements by eating the calf and then milking the mother; second, mammals can easily increase milk production in response to increased nursing/milking–domestication not required. Indeed, it is easy to imagine a grieving hunter-gatherer man whose wife has just died, desperately in need of milk for his infant, looking at a nursing doe and having a flash of inspiration.

“Reindeer pastoralism has the double distinction firstly of having emerged in regions far beyond the climatic limits of agriculture, and secondly of having remained confined within the original zone of distribution of the species. It is possible, therefore, that the reindeer is unique in having constituted the object of a direct transition from hunting to pastoralism. This would account for some of its most obvious peculiarities as a pastoral resource: its apparent ‘wildness’, both morphological and behavioural, and its relatively poor milk-yielding potential. It is probably true to say that in historic times the reindeer has been the only animal to form the basis of an exclusively carnivorous pastoralism.”


EvX: Speaking of milk, I’d love to try reindeer milk. Imagine the cheese and butter it would make!

Wikipedia has a short page on reindeer cheese, with this quoted historical description:

Reindeer cheese, of which we present two illustrations taken from a paper by Barthel and Bergman may be called the richest of all whole milk cheeses, as nearly half its weight consists of butter fats. It is, in fact, a rich cream cheese. It is yellow on the outside and white on the interior, except in the neighborhood of the numerous cracks, where it is also yellow. When cut into, the white rapidly changes to a golden yellow. The taste is very mild, very creamy, and the cheese melts very easily in the mouth, with the fine aroma of the reindeer milk; it easily becomes rancid and then acquires a strong odor and a burning taste.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia also notes that reindeer only give 1.5 cups of milk a day. I’m not sure how reindeer calves survive on that.

In Finland, a cheese called Leipajuusto was traditionally made with reindeer milk:

The milk is curdled and set to form a round disk from two to three centimeters thick. After this, leipäjuusto is baked, grilled or flambéed to give it its distinctive brown or charred marks. …

Traditionally, leipäjuusto was dried and could then be stored for up to several years. For eating, the dry, almost rock hard cheese was heated on a fire which softened it and produced an especially appetizing aroma. Even today, the cheese may be dried by keeping it in a well ventilated place for a few days. It has a mild flavour.

Continuing on:

“Whereas for the gatherer a crop unharvested is equivalent to a crop planted, the cultivator must reserve a portion of the harvest for replanting… Consequently, the inception of cultivation entails new social relations of production, which establish control by solitary groups over the fields they have laboured to prepare, and control within each group over the storage and distribution of the crop… It is these social relations, rather than new techniques, which provide the impetus towards population growth and surplus production under cultivation. …

“It is obvious that a discontinuity precisely analogous to that between gathering and cultivation cannot be posited in the case of animal husbandry. A ‘harvested’ animal is a dead one, and dead animals do not reproduce. They cannot therefore be ‘replanted’.”

EvX: This distinction makes no sense. A grain of wheat, once ground up and eaten cannot be planted. A cow, once eaten, cannot reproduce. But the cow’s mother, who birthed it, may continue producing more calves: she is not used up. By contrast, the stalk of wheat is used up at the end of the season; a new one must grow from seed the next year. In both cases, you eat some portion of your resource–seeds or cows–and hold some portion in reserve so it can reproduce. But I am complaining; let’s look for the good parts:

“Both cultivation and milch pastoralism increase the efficiency of the energy conversions yielding calories for human consumption: in the first case through the substitution of slow-growing woody plants by fast-growing weedy plants, in the second case through a shift from meat-production to milk-production. Moreover, the maintenance of tame milch animals requires a relatively intensive labour input, and increasing overall yields permit the support of higher populations. Thus, within limits set by the abundance of pasture, a positive correlation obtains between animal and human population numbers, and the spread of milch pastoralism represents an accommodation to the increase of both.

“The dynamics of carnivorous pastoralism are different in every respect. Its adoption in place of hunting harnesses no new material or energy inputs, nor does it improve the efficiency of ecological production. A wild animal is as good a converter of pasture to meat as a pastoral one.”

EvX: DATA PLEASE. Are raising cattle and hunting bison on America’s Great Plains more, less, or equally efficient? Do the few commercial sellers of buffalo burgers find pasturing and hunting buffalo equally efficient?

Comanche Nationball
Comanche Nationball

I don’t have any data on this (if you do, I’d be happy to see it.) Wikipedia estimates that 30,000 to 40,000 horse-mounted Comanches, living primarily off the Buffalo chase, lived in the southern Plains in the mid-1800s. But the Comanches are only one of many groups; SettlersInTheWest estimates a total of 75,000 Native Americans lived in the Plains in the mid-1800s.

But prior to the introduction of the domesticated horse by the Spaniards, hunting (on foot, assisted by dogs) was much more difficult, and total plains population must have beenlower. According to Wikipedia:

It was the Comanche, coming to the attention of the Spanish in New Mexico in 1706, who first realized the potential of the horse. As pure nomads, hunters, and pastoralists, well supplied with horses, they swept most of the mixed-economy Apaches from the plains and by the 1730s were dominant in the Great Plains south of the Arkansas River.[18] The success of the Comanche encouraged other Indian tribes to adopt a similar lifestyle. …

The farming tribes also hunted buffalo, deer, elk, and other game. Typically, on the southern Plains, they planted crops in the spring, left their permanent villages to hunt buffalo in the summer, returned to harvest crops in the fall, and left again to hunt buffalo in the winter. The farming Indians also traded corn to the nomadic tribes for dried buffalo meat.

With the arrival of the horse, some tribes, such as the Lakota and Cheyenne, gave up agriculture to become full-time, buffalo-hunting nomads. …

1280px-alfred_jacob_miller_-_hunting_buffalo_-_walters_371940190So domestic horses + huge herds of animals definitely tip the initial economic balance away from farming and toward hunting. The problem here is that it is really easy for humans to drive all of the buffalo over a cliff and then run out of buffalo.

(Paleolithic hunters didn’t have horses, but they still might have wiped out most of the ice-age megafauna.)

According to Beef Industry Statistics, there are about 619,000 farms/ranches currently specializing in raising beef cattle, and a further 300,000 presumably in dairy. Assuming that each of these farms supports at least three people (farm couple plus child,) that’s about 2.7 million people directly engaged in pastoralism, though of course not all of these people live in the Great Plains. To this number we should add all of the people who consume beef and milk but aren’t engaged in raising cattle, just as Comanche tribes included women, children, and old people who were not personally involved in hunting but still enjoyed eating the meat hunters brought home–which I suspect is most of America’s other 300 million people plus many folks abroad:

Value of total U.S. beef exports (including variety meat) equaled $6.302 billion down from $7.135 (billion)
Top export markets for 2015 (in order): Japan, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, Middle East (U.S. Meat Export Federation)

Historic range of the American Bison
Historic range of the American Bison

Pre-1800s, Wikipedia estimates that there were 60 million American bison, who ranged from New York to Florida, into Mexico, up through Canada into Alaska, into the Rockies, northern California, and eastern Oregon. Beef Industry Stats counts 92.0 million US cattle in 2016.

These cases aren’t exactly analogous, especially since today’s people have very different technology than pastoralists in the 1800s or 500s had, but it’s the data I can find, and it suggests that pastoralism is more efficient, long-term, at producing both animals and humans.

But back to Ingold:

“The reindeer, although independent by nature, is amongst the easiest of animals to tame. It is of gentle disposition, of manageable size, and appreciative of the comforts that association with man can provide. Above all, it is ‘a highly social creature, impressing its friendship on man’ … Consider, for example, the domestic reindeer of the northern Tungus, which is kept in small herds for milk, riding and pack transport. It is said to be ‘of a very mild and kind nature . . . attached to man and especially to those who use it kindly, speak to it, caress it, and generally pay attention to it’ … Every deer has a name, which it recognizes, and its particular characteristics are intimately known (p. 35): ‘The intimacy of relations makes the Tungus love the reindeer nearly as human members of the family, and when a Tungus is alone he may talk to the reindeer which, according to the Tungus, can understand’…

Ingold's diagram, from the book
Ingold’s diagram, from the book–human resource-exploitation ranges on the left, reindeer migration paths on the right.

“Moreover, the animals are not herded. ‘The Tungus’, Shirokogoroff tells us, ‘have no shepherds’ (1929:33). Rather like the domestic pigs of the Maring, the Tungus reindeer are allowed to forage freely in the environs of the human camp or settlement, for they generally return of their own accord, even after an absence of several days, and despite ample opportunities to defect to the wild population. Whereas the pig returns for its ‘daily ration of garbage and substandard tubers’ … the reindeer returns for a lick of salt and human urine, for both of which it has a peculiar craving. In summer, when the deer are plagued by swarms of mosquitoes, the Tungus make life more bearable for their animals by lighting smudge fires in camp, or even by admitting them inside their tents, whilst in autumn and winter the camp provides the only refuge against wolves.”

EvX: This is quite similar to the theory that dogs and cats became domesticated because they initially found it convenient to live in close proximity to man, this association selecting without conscious human decision or even desire for “tame” animals who desire to be near humans.

There are other species that have also become somewhat “tame” by virtue of their close association with human settlements, such as rats and pigeons, but these animals have no traits that people find useful and so are seen as pests.

samiball1“… the care of the herds is entrusted almost entirely to women and children, leaving the men free to hunt and trap, or to loaf. At dusk, when the deer return to the tents of their owners, it is the mistress of each household who deals out shares of salt to her particular charges. During the fawning season, she must keep a close watch over the pregnant does to prevent their leaving to give birth in the forest, for the constant attention bestowed on fawns from the moment of birth is crucial to the establishment of enduring bonds of tameness. After fawning, she milks the does regularly, making from the milk a kind of gruel used as children’s food. When the deer come into rut, does and fawns have to be kept alternately within enclosures, in order to bind the does to camp and to prevent their
abduction by lustful bucks, including undesirable intruders from the wild population. …

“Amongst those peoples of the taiga who do not milk or ride their domestic reindeer, the relationship between man and animal is rather less close. The Sel’kups of the Taz region, for example, use their deer only for draft purposes in winter, to transport household effects between successive hunting and trapping sites. … Those with very small herds can keep them in the vicinity of their fishing sites throughout the summer, building substantial stalls of logs and bark to provide the animals with a shelter from the mosquitoes and the heat of the sun.

“… it is usual to allow the animals to go their own ways after fawning, rounding them up again only after the first snows of autumn. Each owner, in effect, must ‘hunt his own herd’, tracking the domestic deer as he would wild animals … a large proportion of each year’s fawns may be sired by wild bucks…

“The hunting peoples of the tundra and tundra—taiga margins differ from their taiga neighbours both in the scale of their migrations, of hundreds rather than tens of miles, and in the extent of their dependence on the wild reindeer as a subsistence resource. Though the possession of draft animals enables a people such as the Nganasan of the Taimyr Peninsula to cover the entire range of migration of the tundra reindeer in their annual cycle, their predatory association with massed herds creates special problems which are not encountered in the taiga, where the wild reindeer is both more dispersed and of relatively minor economic significance compared with other forest game. During the autumn migration, the most critical period of the hunting year, the Nganasan have to drive their own herds away from the path of the travelling column of wild animals to prevent their being carried along in its wake…

“Indeed, the attitude of the Tungus towards their tame reindeer mirrors that of the Nuer towards their cattle. Like the Tungus, the Nuer keep small herds of tame beasts for the products and services they yield during their lifetimes, but whereas the Tungus obtain the bulk of their subsistence from wild game, the Nuer staples are milk and millet. In neither society does the number of domestic animals greatly exceed the size of the human population. Nuer slaughter their cattle only for sacrificial purposes or in times of severe famine, but ‘any animal which dies a natural death is eaten’, evidently with some enthusiasm.”

EvX: I am skeptical of this, simply because a cattle herd only needs 1 male for every 10 or 40 or however many females. The excess males are what we eat. Neither the Nuer nor the Tungus have any practical reason to spend energy raising excess males who will produce nothing but meat except to eat that meat.


“The closest approach to a pure milch pastoralism based on reindeer is found among the Todzha, a people of the Sayan mountains of southern Siberia. They keep small herds of extremely tame animals in much the same manner as the Tungus, but the milk obtained from lactating does provides the staple food for the entire summer, though it is supplemented by wild roots… The exceptional productivity of the Todzha deer is largely due to the luxuriant summer pasture in this region, which is situated so far south as to adjoin the great steppes of Middle Asia. During the remainder of the year, however, Todzha subsistence is based almost entirely on hunting and trapping.

latest-2“…according to Wiklund, ‘the Lapp milking system with its entire nomenclature was borrowed from the Scandinavians in pre-Nordic times’ … The remaining Uralic, Samoyedic and Palaeoasiatic peoples of Siberia have never systematically milked their reindeer…

“Besides the provision of food and raw materials, the uses of domestic reindeer are all concerned with transport, with the exception of their employment as decoys. Hunting with decoys is the most widespread of all techniques involving the use of tame deer, and has been recorded throughout northern Eurasia. …

“The mounted deer of the Tungus is equipped with a saddle derived from Mongol patterns, whilst the Sayan form of reindeer riding shows the clear influence of Turkic cultures native to the Altai steppe. On these grounds, Vasilevich and Levin posit two close but distinct centres of origin for the domestication of the reindeer, one amongst the ancestors of the Tungus around Lake Baykal, the other amongst the original Troto-Samoyed’ inhabitants of the Sayan mountains. Both populations underwent subsequent dispersion, retreating perhaps from military turbulence on the steppes. …

samiball1“In Lapland, where dog traction was lacking, domestic deer were harnessed singly to the small boat-shaped sledge, or pulkka, which had been designed originally to be pulled by hand (figure 15B). Thus the distinctive technique associated with the employment of domestic reindeer in Lapland, including milking and packing as well as the pulkka, may be attributed to local conditions and contacts with horse- and cattle-keeping Scandinavians, and does not discount the hypothesis that the deer themselves were initially obtained from the Samoyed.

“There is an alternative view regarding the origins of reindeer driving, which holds that it arose in imitation of the horse and ox traction of southern Siberian steppe pastoralists. …

The Greenland Norse raised cattle and sheep, but the Greenland Inuit were exclusive hunters
The Greenland Norse raised cattle and sheep, but the Greenland Inuit were exclusive hunters

“Unlike the Samoyed of northwestern Siberia, none of the Palaeoasiatic peoples east of the Yenisey uses dogs for herding. In northeastern Siberia, the mutual antagonism between dog and reindeer is such that the two can be kept together only with the greatest difficulty, for dogs can wreak as much havoc as wolves if let loose on a herd… Consequently, the substitution of reindeer for dogs is, in this region, a more or less irreversible process. However, the reindeer is wholly unsuited to the semi-sedentary maritime adaptation of the north Pacific peoples, for it has to wander in search of food, and pasture does not grow on the ice. On the other hand, the sea yields an abundant supply of storable food for both man and dog … The exclusive reliance on dog traction along the coasts on both sides of the Bering Strait must therefore have acted as a buffer, effectively blocking the diffusion of the domestic deer into North America, until their importation from Siberia at the end of the nineteenth century.

a-i-of-little-understand-it-o-o-nunavutball-with-1314788EvX: This is an interesting theory, but if a dog attacks your chickens or cattle, you remove it from the gene pool and breed dogs who don’t attack your food animals. There’s nothing magical about northeastern Siberia that makes dogs there attack reindeer–though I do note that Siberian Huskies and related Eskimo dog species have been recently back-crossed with wolves (probably to give them traits necessary for survival under extremely cold, harsh conditions,) and I wouldn’t be surprised if this wolf DNA made them more aggressive toward prey animals.

“My contention, then, is that a connection can be traced between the heart of Old World pastoralism in the steppe country of Middle Asia and the emergence of reindeer pastoralism in the Eurasian tundra. Thrusting a vast and impenetrable wedge between these two zones, the great taiga forest presents a formidable barrier rich in game but inimical to any form of extensive herding. In the course of its expansion into the forest, the predominantly milch pastoralism of the steppe becomes progressively attenuated, giving way to hunting as the dominant basis of the economy. Where meat had been a secondary by-product of keeping domestic herds for milk, in the taiga milk production becomes subsidiary to the maintenance of tame animals as means to mobility in the procurement of meat…

Reindeer calf with mother
Reindeer calf with mother

“During the Pleistocene era, steppe and tundra were merged to form a single, homogeneous zone carrying a rich diversity of big game species. The advance of the forest across this zone, following the glacial retreat at the onset of the Holocene, left only a strip of tundra in the far north whose peculiarly arctic conditions hastened the extinction of much of the indigenous fauna that could adapt neither to the forest nor to the hot, southern steppes.”


EvX: I think that’s enough for today; we’ll wrap this up next Friday!

Race: The social construction of biological reality, pt 3

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.[1] A member of a slightly taller group is termed “pygmoid“.[2]

The term is most associated with peoples of Central Africa, such as the Aka, Efé and Mbuti.[3] If the term pygmy is defined as a group’s men having an average height below 1.55 meters (5 feet 1 inch), then there are also pygmies in Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Andaman Islands,[4] Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, and Brazil,[5] including some Negritos of Southeast Asia.

Women of the Batwa Pygmies
Women of the Batwa Pygmies

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,[10] 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).

See my review of Isaac Bacirongo and Nest's Still a Pygmy
See my review of Isaac Bacirongo and Michael Nest’s Still a Pygmy

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.

People over-thought ancestry long before 23 and Me
Different classes of Mexican mestizos: people over-thought ancestry long before 23 and Me

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.

map of gene-flow in and out of Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present
map of gene-flow in and out of Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present

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.[192] 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.[193] As a whole, the greatest frequency of the four Native American associated haplogroups occurs in the AltaiBaikal region of southern Siberia.[194] Some subclades of C and D closer to the Native American subclades occur among Mongolian, Amur, Japanese, Korean, and Ainu populations.[193][195]

Genetic studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of Amerindians and some Siberian and Central Asian peoples also revealed that the gene pool of the Turkic-speaking peoples of Siberia such as Altaians, Khakas, Shors and Soyots, living between the Altai and Lake Baikal along the Sayan mountains, are genetically close to Amerindians.[citation needed] This view is shared by other researchers who argue that “the ancestors of the American Indians were the first to separate from the great Asian population in the Middle Paleolithic.”[196][197] 2012 research found evidence for a recent common ancestry between Native Americans and indigenous Altaians based on mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome analysis.[198] The paternal lineages of Altaians mostly belong to the subclades of haplogroup P-M45 (xR1a 38-93%;[199][200][201] xQ1a 4-32%[199][200]).

Hilaria Supa, Indigenous Peruvian Congresswoman
Hilaria Supa, Indigenous Peruvian Congresswoman

These ancient Siberians also had some “European” DNA, as do modern Siberians, but they are most closely related to their neighbors to the south, throughout the rest of Asia. Native American DNA is super fascinating, but we don’t have time to get into it all. On the grand scale, Native Americans are genetically Asians, separated from the rest of the clade by (probably) a mere 13-20,000 years. (Somewhat coincidentally, the Dire wolf, Smilodon, giant beaver, ground sloth, giant Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), woolly mammoth, mastodons, giant short-faced bear, American cheetah, scimitar cats (Homotherium), American camels, American horses, and American lions all went extinct in North America around 12,000 years ago.)

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.

Also credit Robert Lindsay
Also credit Robert Lindsay

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.

Race: The Social Construction of Biological Reality

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.


Queen Anna Nzinga of Ndongo and Matatmba
Queen Anna Nzinga of Ndongo and Matatmba

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.

King Tutankhamun receives flowers from Ankhesenpaaten as a sign of love.
King Tut receives flowers from Ankhesenpaaten as a sign of love.

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.

US Defense Secretary William S. Cohen with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (1998)
US Defense Secretary William S. Cohen (Jewish surname) with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Punjabi,) 1998

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.[7] … 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.

The late, great, Satoru Iwata, accompanied by a caricature of a hard-working Caucasian toilet engineer
The late, great, Satoru Iwata, accompanied by a caricature of a hard-working Caucasian toilet engineer

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.

I totally stole this from Razib Khan, didn't I?
I totally stole this from Razib Khan, didn’t I?

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.

Where are the Ethnic Groups on Haak’s Graph?

Click for full size

Do you ever take a look at Haak et al’s wonderful graph of admixture in different human ethnic groups and wonder where, exactly, the Tlingit or Inga are from?

americasI certainly have, so I’ve been working on this handy map that shows the location of each group (except for the Surui, because apparently there are two groups called the Surui, and I haven’t determined yet which is in the dataset, but they’re both in Brazil.)

Note also that the Chipewyans, Algonquins, Ojibwe, and Cree all have very large ranges; I have only been able to approximate their locations.

Today I finished the Americas; tomorrow I’ll start work on the rest of the world.

In the grand human family tree, all of these American groups are on the “Asian” branch, but most of them split off from the other Asians long ago (the Inuit, Aleuts, and Tlingit appear to have arrived more recently in the New World and be closely related to various groups in Siberia.)

I’ve gone into the details of the groups before, so I won’t bore you by rehashing them now.

Note also I did not use Haak et al’s full graph, but a very cropped version. I tried using the full thing, but it was horribly unwieldy.

The most racist post on this blog

Jesus loves the little children
All the little children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
All are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

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From a review of Tomie dePaola’s Legend of the Indian Paintbrush:

The story is improperly sourced. Stories are a means to teach lessons for survival. Since this is a European perspective of a fantasy romanticized Indian of the past, this becomes another instance of whites with long lost culture dressing up and playing Indian . We need to know what tribe this story originates, the true setting and purpose of the original story, and the intended audience. The retelling doesn’t reflect the setting, material artifacts or even the specific nation it attempts to depict. The story and illustrations improperly depict native people as a mono-culture. The book makes native dialogue overly mystic. The use of words like “brave” “and papoose” instead of “man” and “child” dehumanize an entire group of people. Reading this to children will definitely perpetuate damaging stereotypes of the distinct cultures still alive and well today.


Native Americans and Neanderthal DNA

Since “Do Native Americans have Neanderthal DNA?” (or something similar) is the most popular search that leads people to my blog, I have begun to suspect that a clarification is in order.

Native Americans (Indians) are not Neanderthals. They are not half or quarter or otherwise significantly Neanderthal. If they were, they would have very noticeable fertility problems in mixed-race relationships.

They may have slightly higher than average Neanderthal admixture than other groups, but that is extremely speculative I don’t know of any scientists who have said so. We’re talking here about quite small amounts, like 0.5%, most of which appears to code for things like immune response and possibly some adaptations for handling long, cold winters. None of this appears to code for physical traits like skull shape, which have been under different selective pressures over the past 40,000 years.

As much as I would love to discover a group with significant Neanderthal DNA, that’s just not something we’ve found in anyone alive today.

Sorry, guys.

Adoption pt 5: The curious case of the trans-racial Indians

Way back in 1870, 11 yr old Herman Lehmann and his little brother were trying to scare the crows away from their family’s wheat when they were kidnapped by a band of Apaches.

A patrol of African-American cavalry men managed to rescue the little brother four days later, but not Herman. The Apaches took him from Texas to New Mexico and told him that they had killed his entire family, so there was no point to trying to escape.

Then, instead of killing him, scalping him, or holding him for ransom, an Apache man named Carnoviste and his wife, Laughing Eyes, adopted him.

Genghis Khan would have approved.

This kind of adoption was, it seems, totally normal. Native Languages of the Americas explains that:

It was common practice throughout the Americas to capture and adopt people from enemy tribes (particularly children, teenagers, and women). In a few tribes this was a traumatic kidnapping, sometimes involving a violent hazing ritual prior to adoption. In other tribes it was a mere formality, with eligible young women going out to a rendezvous point at night to be “carried off” by a neighboring tribe so they could find husbands there. In most tribes, intertribal kidnapping fell somewhere in between those two extremes–a well-established convention of war that simultaneously encouraged exogamy (new blood in the tribe) and ensured the safety of women and children on both sides. Most Indians tried to avoid being captured, but few captives tried to escape and there were few rescue attempts by their kinsmen, who could reasonably expect them to be well-treated and well-cared for. Mistreating someone once he or she had been adopted into a tribe was considered evil (many Indian legends and folktales revolve around some villain who abuses an adoptee and is punished for this misdeed). Adoptees usually also had full social mobility, and often wound up in leadership positions or married to an important person in their new tribe.

Ah, bridenapping! That’ll have to be saved for another day.

According to the Texas State Historical Association,

The practice of captive-taking among North American Indians goes back to prehistoric times. Centuries before white men came to these shores, captives were taken from neighboring tribes to replenish losses suffered in warfare or to obtain victims to torture in the spirit of revenge. When warfare developed between Europeans and Indians, white captives were taken for the same reasons and, in addition, to hold for ransom or to use to gain bargaining power with an allied European government or colony. …

Children who arrived safely at the Indian village, however, usually were adopted as replacements for deceased relatives and thereafter treated as true sons or daughters. Many of these youngsters enjoyed the wild, free life of the Indians and became so completely assimilated that they resisted attempts to redeem them. Some youths became fierce warriors who raided the settlements. Among the most formidable “white Indians” were Clinton and Jeff Smith, Herman Lehmann, Adolph Korn, Rudolph Fischer, and Kiowa Dutch. … Millie Durgan lived happily to old age as the wife of a Kiowa warrior.

While I normally advocate more peaceful means of obtaining wives or children, I suppose this does, indeed, constitute a distinct genetic (and memetic) strategy that might even work. (Though technically, I doubt anyone could prove whether or not kidnapping happened in prehistoric times.)

Mary Jemison, captured by the Senecas in 1753, gives an account of her abduction:

The party that took us consisted of six Indians and four Frenchmen, who immediately commenced plundering … On our march that day, an Indian went behind us with a whip, with which he frequently lashed the children, to make them keep up. In this manner we traveled till dark, without a mouthful of food or a drop of water, although we had not eaten since the night before. Whenever the little children cried for water, the Indians would make them drink urine, or go thirsty. …

My suspicion as to the fate of my parents proved too true; for soon after I left them they were killed and scalped, together with Robert, Matthew, Betsey, and the woman and her two children, and mangled in the most shocking manner.

and her adoption:

They first undressed me and threw my rags into the river; then washed me clean and dressed me in the new suit they had just brought, in complete Indian style; and then led me home and seated me in the center of their wigwam.

I had been in that situation hut a few minutes, before all the squaws in the town came in to see me. I was soon surrounded by them, and they immediately set up a most dismal howling, crying bitterly, and wringing their hands in all the agonies of grief for a deceased relative. … In the course of that ceremony, from mourning they became serene—joy sparkled in their countenances, and they seemed to rejoice over me as over a long-lost child. I was made welcome amongst them as a sister to the two squaws before mentioned, …

I afterwards learned that the ceremony I at that time passed through, was that of adoption. The two squaws had lost a brother in Washington’s war, sometime in the year before, and in consequence of his death went up to Fort Pitt, on the day on which I arrived there, in order to receive a prisoner or an enemy’s scalp, to supply their loss. It is a custom of the Indians, when one of their number is slain or taken prisoner in battle, to give to the nearest relative to the dead or absent, a prisoner, if they have chanced to take one, and if not, to give him the scalp of an enemy. … If they receive a prisoner, it is at their option either to satiate their vengeance by taking his life in the most cruel manner they can conceive of; or, to receive and adopt him into the family, in the place of him whom they have lost.

Mary Jemison later married into the Seneca and remained with them until her death at 90 years old.

Herman spent 6 years with the Apache, becoming thoroughly assimilated and rising to the rank of petty chief, and began fighting on the Apaches’ side against the settlers:

As a young warrior, one of his most memorable battles was a running fight with the Texas Rangers on August 24, 1875, which took place near Fort Concho, about 65 miles west of the site of San Angelo, Texas. Ranger James Gillett nearly shot Lehmann before he realized he was a white “captive”. When the Rangers tried to find Lehmann later, he escaped by crawling through the grass.

After an Apache medicine man killed his adopted father, and Herman killed the medicine man, he left the Apaches and joined the Comanches. He proved himself a loyal warrior:

In the spring of 1877, Lehmann and the Comanches attacked buffalo hunters on the high plains of Texas. Lehmann was wounded by hunters in a surprise attack on the Indian camp at Yellow House Canyon (present-day Lubbock, Texas) on March 18, 1877, the last major fight between Indians and non-Indians in Texas.

In July 1877, Comanche chief Quanah Parker, who had successfully negotiated the surrender of the last fighting Comanches in 1875, was sent in search of the renegades. Herman Lehmann was among the group that Quanah found camped on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. Quanah persuaded them to quit fighting and come to the Indian reservation near Fort Sill, Indian Territory in (present-day Oklahoma).

Quanah Parker then adopted him, even though he was basically an adult. But once on the reservation, the army noticed that Herman didn’t exactly look like all of the other Indians, figured out who he was, and sent him back to his mother. Their reunion was awkward:

Upon his arrival, neither he nor his mother recognized one another. … At first, he was sullen and wanted nothing to do with his mother and siblings. As he put it, “I was an Indian, and I did not like them because they were palefaces.” Lehmann’s readjustment to his original culture was slow and painful.

This would not be remarkable had Herman been adopted as an infant or small child, instead of 11 years old. At this point, he had only lived with the Indians for 7 or 8 years–I would expect him to remember (and be somewhat fond of) his childhood family. On top of that, he transferred his allegiance entirely to the folks who told him they had just murdered his family.

Perhaps his parents were assholes. (Technically, his mom and step-father, because his father had died earlier and his mom had remarried. Step-parents are not always known for being pleasant.)

Or maybe the Apaches’ and Comanches’ lifestyle just really appealed to Herman.

For that matter, I suspect almost every little boy–and many girls–between about 1900 and 1970 fantasized about running off with and joining an Indian tribe. I know I did–small child me longed, almost painfully, to be an Indian. (Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that modern Indians don’t really do the whole traditional lifestyle thing anymore than modern whites live like the Amish.)

The Indians, yes, had been conquered, but there was still a sense in which they were regarded as noble enemies, a respect for the fierceness with which they defended their traditions. This respect was not extended to other enemies–say, the Nazis–who were cast as unmitigated evil. When we played Indians, we wanted to be the Indians; when we played WWII, the Nazis were invisible opponents “out there.” They were not us; we were not them. Even the adults thought it healthy for us to go to summer camps and canoe and fish and learn “Indian ways;” never were we taught to be pretend Imperial Japanese, Red Coats, or German POWs.

Granted, I would not be alive were it not for modern medicine, but I still understand the romanticized appeal of traditional Indian lifestyles: they sound fun.

Since the 80s, Indians have dropped precipitously from the public eye. (This trend has not necessarily in other countries, so you get weird things like the Japanese creators of the game Bravely Second replacing an Indian outfit with a cowboy one for the game’s American version.) Perhaps the Indians prefer it this way–there is a certain conflict that may naturally arise when my mythic past is also your mythic past, only it involves some of my ancestors conquering some of your ancestors, and you might not be all that keen on the idea of constantly celebrating that–but it seems sad to see all the pictures of them just disappear.

But I have noticed, concurrently, a drop in pretty much all forms of celebrating the American mythic past. Gone are the cowboys and pioneers, the Revolutionary heroes and brave Pilgrims.

Children’s media is dominated by European princesses and superheroes, not the mythic characters of our own past, like Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett, or Pecos Bill. And if you hear that story about George Washington and the cheery tree, (how quaint! We used to tell our children stories emphasizing the honesty of our national heroes!) it is recounted simply so the teller can denounce it as a myth.

Yes, biographies of Washington, Lincoln, and MLK still exist–lots of them. But let’s be honest: these biographies are boring and kids only read them because their teachers force them to.

Even the “American Girls” line of historic dolls and books has dropped their Revolutionary War, Pioneer, and WWII dolls–and the name “American Girls,” replacing it with “Be Forever,” which doesn’t even make sense.

Current "Be Forever" lineup
Current “Be Forever” lineup

Look at them! 5/8ths of the current lineup come from the 1900s, and the only notable historical period represented is the Civil War doll (Addy, second from the bottom left), and the other two pre-1900s dolls did not actually live in the US. (They lived in territories that later became part of the US.)

These days, our upper class prides itself on its knowledge of European history and languages (why eat Southern food when you can have French cuisine?) rather than American history and regional cultures. Internationalism, not nationalism, is the name of the game.

We have become allergic to our own past.

Anyway, getting back to our narrative… In 1900, Herman moved back to Oklahoma to be with the Apaches and Comanches. After a case that apparently required Congress’s approval, the government awarded 160 acres of land based on his adoption by Quanah Parker, effectively recognizing his status as a trans-racial Indian.

But wait–what kind of name is Quanah Parker?

It turns out that Quanah Parker, Comanche Indian chief, was himself the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, an English-American girl kidnapped and adopted by the Comanches.

Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Chief Quanah Parker, nursing her daughter, Topsanah, 1861
Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Chief Quanah Parker, nursing her daughter, Topsanah, 1861

Cynthia was somewhere between the ages of 8 and 11 when the Comanches massacred her family and carried her off. Wikipedia gives the following account:

“On May 19, 1836, a force of anywhere from 100 to 600 Indian warriors[6] composed of Comanches accompanied by Kiowa and Kichai allies, attacked the community. John Parker and his men … were caught in the open and unprepared for the ferocity and speed of the Indian warriors in the attack which followed. … The Indians attacked the fort and quickly overpowered the outnumbered defenders. They took John, Cynthia, and some others alive. Cynthia watched as the other women were raped and the men tortured and killed. The last victim was John. He was castrated, and his genitals were stuffed into his mouth; he was scalped and at last killed.”

Let me rephrase my previous statement: the Indian lifestyles sound like fun when you are a small child and you aren’t reading about people getting their genitals stuffed into their mouths.

Despite this perhaps inauspicious start to her life among the Comanches, she was soon adopted by a new set of parents, raised in the tribe, and married a chieftain, Peta Nocona, with whom she had 3 children.

24 years later, Cynthia was re-captured by the Texas Rangers (not the baseball team) and returned to what remained of her family.

… the Texans never gave up on finding every last one of the children and women captured during the Great Comanche raid and subsequent ones in the following years. Although hundreds were either ransomed or eventually rescued in Texas Ranger and Scout expeditions, many others remained in the hands of the Comanche. In reprisal, the Texans launched a series of retaliatory attacks on Comanche settlements, finally forcing the war-chiefs to sue for peace. (Wikipedia, Peta Nocona)

Cynthia’s return to her birth family captured the country’s imagination. Tens of thousands of Texan families, and many more throughout the U.S., had suffered the loss of family members, especially children, in Indian raids. She was the granddaughter of a famous American patriot, a Marylander who had met a violent end in far-off Texas. This gained her special attention and gave hope to those who had lost relatives to the Comanche. In 1861, the Texas legislature granted her a league (about 4,400 acres) of land and an annual pension of $100 for the next five years,[17] and made her cousins, Isaac Duke Parker and Benjamin F. Parker, her legal guardians. (Wikipedia, Cynthia Ann Parker)

Unfortunately, Cynthia never recovered from the loss of her husband, adopted family, and two eldest children. She tried several times to return to the Comanches, but was forcefully returned to her white relatives. After Topsanah died of the flu, she stopped eating and refused to go on living.

Cynthia Ann Parker's son, Comanche chief Quanah Parker
Cynthia Ann Parker’s son, Comanche chief Quanah Parker

The Wikipedia claims that her son, Quanah Parker, was one of the last Comanche chiefs, but obviously the Comanche Nation still exists and still has leaders; the head guy is just called a “chairman” these days. (Which, I admit, is not as awesome a title as “chief.”)

Apparently Quanah didn’t realize his mother was white until after she  was re-captured by the Texas Rangers. You’d think he’d have noticed her funny eye color or she would have mentioned her pre-Comanche childhood, but I guess Cynthia had just become very adept at the Comanche lifestyle.

Half-white, half-Indian Quanah did very well for himself, despite (or perhaps because of) the Comanches losing against the US government and being moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. He spent time with his mother’s family, learning English, farming, and about white culture, all of which probably helped him deal with the US gov’t, which appointed him chief of all the Comanches. He became one of (if not the) richest Indian of his day by leasing his land out to cattle ranchers, went hunting with President Teddy Roosevelt, had a 2-story, 7-room house, married 8 women (at the same time,) and had 25 children (some adopted, obviously.) He also became an important early leader in the Native American Church movement.

Perhaps Quanah adopted Herman because he felt some commonality in their cross-cultural experiences.

It would be unwise to over-generalize, however, from two examples. Most captives taken by the Indians did not get adopted, but were killed; many were enslaved or otherwise cruelly treated. Young women of teenage or childbearing age seem to have fared particularly badly, hence the major efforts undertaken to rescue them.

The Texas State Historical Association gives us some idea of the scale of the abductions:

When the Comanches and Kiowas were driven onto reservations north of the Red River and compelled to release their prisoners, many captives had become so completely assimilated that they chose to remain with their captors. Most of these had married Indians, and it is estimated that 30 percent of Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas had captive blood in their veins.

I don’t know if the adoption strategy worked, but it was certainly a genetic (and memetic) strategy.


“Indigenous Culture Day” celebrates genocidal cannibals who were even worse than Columbus

Cranky writing is best writing!

The only reason why we started celebrating “Columbus Day” was to make the Irish and Italians feel like Catholics can be real Americans, too, not just Protestants.

“Columbus Day” isn’t really about celebrating Columbus. Not as a person. Nobody says, “Read this biography of a great man from infancy to dotage and try to be more like him!” Columbus day is about celebrating what Columbus did–find a New World and launch the Age of Exploration and discovery.

Do I care about Columbus Day? No. Don’t be silly. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually celebrates Columbus Day, but maybe the Italians are really into it. If so, I don’t begrudge them a holiday. However, I do care about Columbus’s accomplishments.

“But Columbus was an idiot who only found the New World by accident!” I hear someone protest.

Yeah, well, I don’t see you discovering any continents lately. Where does that put you on the intellect ladder? Also, Penicillin was discovered by accident, so I guess it doesn’t count, either.

Here, I’ll take all of the penicillin, and you can go play with rodents. We’ll see which of us survives the longest.

“But Columbus was an asshole,” someone protests. “He conquered and enslaved people!”

Guys, it was the 14 hundreds. Pretty much EVERYBODY in the 1400s thought it was okay to conquer and enslave people. If you start applying modern standards to people from the 1400s, you’ll discover that none of them meet your standards.

You want to celebrate “Indigenous Culture Day” instead of Columbus Day? Do you know what kind of assholes indigenous cultures were full of?


Let’s hear it for the Aztecs, one of those peaceful wonderful indigenous cultures Columbus’s Spanish employers went and conquered as a result of his voyages.

They liked to rip people’s beating hearts out of their bodies as human sacrifices to their gods.

Also, they were cannibals who caught people, sacrificed them, butchered them, and then ate them.

The Spaniard’s pigs, however, they just killed and threw in a well. WTF do you do with one of those things? They didn’t know. Humans, however, they knew what to do with: eat them.

The Wikipedia records many documented cases of Aztec cannibalism:

  • Hernán Cortés wrote in one of his letters that his soldiers had captured an indigenous man who had a roasted baby ready for breakfast.
  • Francisco López de Gómara (c. 1511 – c. 1566) reported that, during the siege of Tenochtitlan, the Spaniards asked the Aztecs to surrender since they had no food. The Aztecs angrily challenged the Spaniards to attack so they could be taken as prisoners, sacrificed and served with “molli” sauce.
  • The Historia general… contains an illustration of an Aztec being cooked by an unknown tribe. This was reported as one of the dangers that Aztec traders faced. …Bernal Díaz’s The Conquest of New Spain (written by 1568, published 1632) contains several accounts of cannibalism among the people the conquistadors encountered during their warring expedition to Tenochtitlan.
    • About the city of Cholula, Díaz wrote of his shock at seeing young men in cages ready to be sacrificed and eaten.[1]
    • In the same work Diaz mentions that the Cholulan and Aztec warriors were so confident of victory against the conquistadors in an upcoming battle the following day, that “…they wished to kill us and eat our flesh, and had already prepared the pots with salt and peppers and tomatoes”[2]
    • About the Quetzalcoatl temple of Tenochtitlan Díaz wrote that inside there were large pots, where human flesh of sacrificed Natives was boiled and cooked to feed the priests.[3]
    • About the Mesoamerican towns in general Díaz wrote that some of the indigenous people he saw were—:
    eating human meat, just like we take cows from the butcher’s shops, and they have in all towns thick wooden jail-houses, like cages, and in them they put many Indian men, women and boys to fatten, and being fattened they sacrificed and ate them.[4]

    Díaz’s testimony is corroborated by other Spanish historians who wrote about the conquest. In History of Tlaxcala (written by 1585), Diego Muñoz Camargo (c. 1529 – 1599) states that:

    Thus there were public butcher’s shops of human flesh, as if it were of cow or sheep.[5]

Is that what you want to fucking celebrate? THIS IS WHAT YOU THINK WAS BETTER THAN COLUMBUS?

No, hunter-gatherers were not peaceful paragons of gender equality. Stop fucking saying that. It is a lie. There is no evidence to back it up. Primitive, pre-modern societies had absolutely atrocious crime rates. There are real live fucking cannibals living right now in the Congo rainforest. They eat the Pygmies (and each other.)

And this is supposed to be my fault? “White privilege” is the magic sauce that explains why some cultures produce penicillin and others produce cannibals.

Of course, the Aztecs are only one group. The Pueblo peoples also practiced cannibalism. Cannibalism was practiced among various coastal tribes stretching from Texas to Louisiana.

When Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame inquired about the fate of the lost Roanoke Colony, Chief Powhatan–you know, the Pocahontas’s dad, the guy who’d tried to kill John Smith–confessed to having massacred them all. Historians aren’t sure if this is actually true–Powhatan might have just confused them with some other guys he’d massacred–but the fact remains that Powhatan and his people went around massacring their neighbors regularly enough that, “Oh yeah, we killed them all,” was seen as a reasonable explanation by everyone involved.

It wasn’t too many years later that the Powhatan tried to do the same thing to Jamestown, killing about a quarter of the people there.

Celebrating Columbus was never about Columbus, and denigrating Columbus isn’t about Columbus, either. Celebrating Columbus is about celebrating American history and the contributions of Catholic-Americans to that history; denigrating Columbus is about denigrating American history and European contributions to it.

Who should be the America’s moral superior and successor? Whose successes should we celebrate instead of Columbus’s? Should the people of Mexico overthrow the culture of their evil oppressors and go back to holding human sacrifices in the middle of Mexico City?

Funny, I don’t see a lot of people trying to go live in Mexico, much less return to the actual lives of their indigenous ancestors. Most people seem to like having things like penicillin, cell phones, cars, air conditioning and sewers, and dislike things like cannibalism and constant tribal warfare. The process by which civilization was made was not pretty, but civilization is good and we should celebrate it.

We should not attack people’s cultural heroes just to denigrate their nation.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving, since the backlog means that this post isn’t going up for a month.

These are a few of my favorite things (Indian DNA)


People often make the mistake of over-generalizing other people. We speak of “Indians,” “Native Americans,” or better yet, “Indigenous Peoples,” as though one couldn’t tell the difference between a Maori and an Eskimo; as though only two undifferentiated blocks of humanity existed, everywhere on the globe: noble first people who moved into the area thousands upon thousands of years ago, sat down, and never moved again, and evil invaders who showed up yesterday.

In reality, Group A has conquered and replaced Group B and been conquered and replaced in turn by Group C since time immemorial. Sometimes the conquered group gets incorporated into the new group, and years down the line we can still find their DNA in their descendants. At other times, all that’s left is an abrupt transition in the archeological record between one set of artifacts and skull types and another.

Even “Indigenous” peoples have been migrating, conquering and slaughtering each other since time immemorial. The only difference between them and Europeans is that the Europeans did it more recently and while white.

When we take a good look at the Indians’ DNA, we find evidence of multiple invasion waves, some of them genocidal. The Sururi, Pima, and Chippewyans are clearly distinct, as are the Eskimo and Aleuts:

DNA of the Eskimos and related peoples
DNA of the Eskimos and related peoples
DNA of the Aleuts and related peoples
DNA of the Aleuts and related peoples

(all of the charts are from Haak et al’s charts:

Click for full size

Please note that Haak’s chart and the chart I have at the top of the blog use different colors to represent the same things; genetic admixture of course does not have any inherent color, so the choice of colors is entirely up to the person making the graph.)

The Karitiana are one of those mixed horticulturalist/hunter-gatherer tribes from deep in the Amazon Rainforest who have extremely little contact with the outside world and are suspected of having Denisovan DNA and thus being potentially descended from an ancient wave of Melanesians who either got to the Americas first, or else very mysteriously made it to the rainforest without leaving significant genetic traces elsewhere. I’m going with they got here first, because that explanation makes more sense.

The Pima People of southern Arizona had extensive trade and irrigation networks, and are believed to be descended from the Hohokam people, who lived in the same area and also built and maintained irrigation networks and cities, and are probably generally related to the Puebloan Peoples, who also built cities in the South West. An observer wrote about the Puebloans:

When these regions were first discovered it appears that the inhabitants lived in comfortable houses and cultivated the soil, as they have continued to do up to the present time. Indeed, they are now considered the best horticulturists in the country, furnishing most of the fruits and a large portion of the vegetable supplies that are to be found in the markets. They were until very lately the only people in New Mexico who cultivated the grape. They also maintain at the present time considerable herds of cattle, horses, etc. They are, in short, a remarkably sober and industrious race, conspicuous for morality and honesty, and very little given to quarrelling or dissipation … Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies: or, The journal of a Santa Fé trader, 1831–1839

Linguistically, the Pima speak an Uto-Aztecan language, connecting them with the Soshoni to the north, Hopi to the east, and the Aztecs to the south (and even further south, since the family is also spoken in Equador):

Map of Uto-Aztecan language distribution
Map of Uto-Aztecan language distribution

The Aztecs, as you probably already know, had a large empire with cities, roads, trade, taxes, etc.

In other words, the Pima were far more technologically advanced than the Karitiana, which suggests that the arrow of conquering here goes from Pima-related people to Karitiana-related people, rather than the other way around.

Now, obviously, the Pima did not travel down to Bolivia, kill a bunch of Karitiana people living in Bolivia, rape their women, and then head back to Arizona. More likely, the ancestors of the Karitiana once lived throughout much of South and Central America, and perhaps even further afield. The ancestors of the Pima then invaded, killing a bunch of the locals and incorporating a few of their women into their tribes. The Karitiana managed to survive in the rainforest due to the rainforest being very difficult to conquer, and the Pima failed to mix with other groups due to being the only guys interested in living in the middle of the Arizona desert.

The Chipewyan people (not to be confused with the Chippewa people, aka the Ojibwe,) live in northwest Canada and eastern Alaska, and are members of the Na-Dene Language family:


Map of Chipewyan Language Distribution
Map of Na-Dene Language family Distribution

Those guys in the southern branch of the family are the Navajos and Apache. These languages are speculated to be linked to Siberian languages like the Yeniseian.

(I think the Chilote people are from Chile.)

The Algonquin people (of whom the Ojibwe are part,) come from the North East US and Canada:

Map of Algonquian Language Family distribution
Map of Algonquian Language Family distribution

There also exist a couple of languages on the California coast which appear to be related to the Algonquin Family, possibly a case of Survival on the Fringes as a new wave of invaders migrated from the Bering Strait.

The Algonquins appear to have been semi-nomadic semi-horticulturalists. They grew corn and squash and beans, and also moved around hunting game and gathering wild plants as necessary.

Where we see red admixture in Haak’s graph, that means Siberian people. Where we see dark blue + orange + teal, that’s typical European. Most likely this means that the Algonquins in Haak’s data have some recent European ancestors due to a lot of inter-marriage happening over the past few hundred years in their part of the world. (The Chipewyans live in a much more isolated part of the continent.) However, some of that DNA might also have come with them when they migrated to North America years and yeas ago, due to their ancient Siberian ancestors having merged with an off-shoot of the same groups that modern Europeans are descended from. This is a likely explanation for the Aleuts and Tlingit peoples, whose dark blue and teal patches definitely look similar to those of other Siberian peoples. (Although, interestingly, they lack the red. Maybe the red was a later addition, or just didn’t make it over there in as large quantities.)

The Eskimo I have spoken of before; they appear to have wiped out everyone else in their immediate area. They live around the coastal rim of Alaska and northern Canada.

The Aleuts likely represent some kind of merger between the Eskimo and other Siberian peoples.


My summary interpretation:

Wave One: The Green People. Traces of their DNA appear to be in the Ojibwe, Eskimos, and Chileans, so they may have covered most of North and South America at one time.

Wave Two: The Pink People. They wiped out the vast majority of the Green people throughout North America, but as migration thinned their numbers, they ended up intermarrying instead of killing some of the Greens down in Central and South America.

The Green People only survived in any significant numbers deep in the rainforest, where the Pink People couldn’t reach. These Greens became the Karitiana.

Wave Three: The Brown people. These guys wiped out all of the Pink people in northwest Canada and Alaska, but as migration to the east thinned their numbers, they had to inter-marry with the local Pinks. This mixed group became the Algonquins, while the unmixed Browns became the Chipewyans.

Few Browns managed to push their way south, either because they just haven’t had enough time, or because they aren’t suited to the hotter climate. Either way, most of the Pink People went unconquered to the south, allowing the Pima and their neighbors to flourish.

Wave Four: The Eskimo, who wiped out most of the other people in their area.


The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism (part 3/3 ruminations on Indians and Puritans)

(Part 1: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 2: Species of Exit: Memes, Genes, and Puritans.)

Before I got distracted by pre-Civil War election data, we were discussing the Puritans.

Where, exactly, ideas and behaviors come from is always a matter of debate in conversations like these; were the Puritans Puritans because of their conversion to a particularly strict version of Calvinism, or was it just something genetic? (Or could it be both?)

Interestingly, the Puritans decided to do an experiment on the subject, in their attempt to convert the local Indians to memetic Puritanism.

Once the Massachusetts colonies got off the ground (that is, once they stopped losing half their population to starvation and disease every winter and had enough food to start thinking about the future,) they began taking seriously the Biblical injunction to preach the Gospel to all four corners of the Earth. In 1651, the Puritans established Natic as the first “Praying Town” for Indian converts. Soon many more popped up across Massachusetts and nearby Connecticut.

The Jesuit missionaries up in Canada had attempted to convert the Indians without significantly changing their lifestyles–to create Christian Indians, if you will. By contrast, the denizens of the new Praying Towns were expected to become Puritans.

A Puritan, I suspect, could see it no other way. Divine election was manifest in one’s behavior, after all, and Puritans took behavior seriously. And being Puritans, they outlined the Rules of Conduct for the “Praying Indians” of the Praying Towns:

I. If any man shall be idle a week, or at most a fortnight, he shall be fined five shillings.
II. If any unmarried man shall lie with a young woman unmarried, he shall be fined five shillings.
III. If any man shall beat his wife, his hands shall be tied behind him, and he shall be carried to the place of justice to be punished severely.
IV. Every young man, if not another’s servant, and if unmarried, shall be compelled to set up a wigwam, and plant for himself, and not shift up and down in other wigwams.
V. If any woman shall not have her hair tied up, but hang lose, or be cut as a man’s hair, she shall pay five shillings.
VI. If any woman shall go with naked breasts, she shall pay two shillings.
VII. All men that shall wear long locks, shall pay five shillings.
VIII. If any shall crack lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings.

Aside from the lice cracking, which seems more of a petty hygiene concern (crack lice with nails, not teeth,) the list likely preserves for us the behaviors Puritans valued most, and those at most at variance between the Puritans and Indians.

Idleness tops our list, coming in both at number 1 and again at number 4. The Puritans definitely believed in hard work; that is how they managed to build a civilization in the wilderness.

The low-key hunter-gatherer / horticulturalist lifestyle of the Indians, (without draft animals, they had little ability to plow or pull wagons,) did not require the kind of constant effort and energy inputs as the more intensive Puritan agricultural and technological systems, so this may have been a matter of contention between the groups.

Rules 2 and 3 protected women, 2 from the predations of unmarried men and 3 from domestic violence. (Of course, prominent historians like Howard Zinn would have you believe that such rules show how much the Puritans oppressed women.)

And 5-7 details Puritan clothing norms–they still thought it morally imperative to dress like they were in blustery England, even during the wretched Massachusetts summers.

The existence of the Praying Towns is credited largely to Reverend John Elliot, who devoted his life to converting the Indians and printed America’s first Bible, Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, translated into the Massachusett-Natick language. Elliot received funding from “A Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England,” created by the British Parliament, which raised about £12,000 pounds sterling. (How exactly this corporation was supposed to make money, I’m not sure.)

How successful were the Praying Towns?

Unfortunately, the websites I’ve found on the subject, (Wikipedia etc.,) don’t give many details about life in the Praying Towns or what the Puritans–and other Indians–thought of them. There are indications that things were not going as well as Elliot would have liked–the Wikipedia claims, broadly:

“While the idea of praying towns was somewhat a success, they did not reach the level John Eliot had hoped for. While the Puritans were pleased with the conversions, Praying Indians were still seen as second rate citizens and never gained the degree of trust or respect that they had hoped the conversion would grant them. It has also been argued that the Natives had a difficult time adjusting to the impersonal English society, since theirs had been built upon relationships and reciprocity, while the English were more structured and institutionalized. According to this view, this difference made it hard for Natives to see the institutionalized structures as a whole, and John Eliot had failed to see the need for adaptations appropriate for smoother transitions.[4]

In other words, the Indians were more tribal than the Puritans. They probably didn’t have the same ideas about compulsive working, too. If you want compulsive workers, hire Germans or Japanese. They have been selected for the past 1,000 years or so for their ability to work hard in feudal agricultural systems. If you want someone who’ll ignore the hungry cattle lowing to be let into the pastures, hire a hunter-gatherer. Horticulturalists lie between these two extremes; if you want to convert horticulturalists to intensive farmers, then it’ll take at least a few generations.

Chances are good that few people on Earth could ever quite live up to the Puritans’ standards of behavior, including the Puritans themselves.

The experiment came to an abrupt and terminal end as war broke out in 1675 between the colonists and some of the local Indians. The Puritan population had grown from 0 to 50,000-80,000 people in 55 years, bringing them into competition with the Indians for land and other resources. Estimates of the Indian population vary; a colonial census in 1680 came up with 1,000 Indians; others estimate 20,000. Given the tech levels and disease (epidemics caused by exposure to European germs had wiped out potentially 90% of the local population before the Pilgrims arrived,) I suspect the number was about 5,000 to 10,000 Indians.

Conflicts intensified until the Indians decided to kick out the colonists, attacking and massacring a bunch of towns. The colonists fought back and, obviously, won–the time to go slaughtering the colonists was back when a few smallpox-ridden fishermen showed up on the beach, not once the Indians were massively outnumbered in their own land. Like most wars, it was brutal and nasty; thousands of people died, most of them Indians.

The colonists weren’t sure what to do with the Praying Indians, who weren’t quite Puritans, but also weren’t the guys massacring Puritans.

So the Puritans moved the Praying Indians to an island off the coast, where winter + no food promptly killed most of them.

As I’ve said before, once you are a demographic minority, there is absolutely nothing to stop the majority from herding you into concentration camps and murdering you and your children, except for how much they pity you.

John Elliot seems to have been truly concerned about the fate of his Indian friends, but his attempts to help him were thwarted by other, more militaristic colonists. In this the colonists sinned; they showed themselves bad allies to their brothers in faith. If they felt they could not be certain about the Indians’ loyalty, then they should not have been moving them into little towns in the first place.

It’s not clear what happened to the few Praying Indians after the war, or how long some of the towns lasted, but the Indians are still around and still Christian, unlike the Puritans.

(Part 1 in this series: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 2: Species of Exit: Memes, Genes, and Puritans.)