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Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich
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“There was never a single trunk population in the human past. It has been mixtures all the way down.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“So how much Neanderthal ancestry do people outside of Africa carry today? We found that non-African genomes today are around 1.5 to 2.1 percent Neanderthal in origin,24 with the higher numbers in East Asians and the lower numbers in Europeans, despite the fact that Europe was the homeland of the Neanderthals.25 We now know that at least part of the explanation is dilution. Ancient DNA from Europeans who lived before nine thousand years ago shows that pre-farming Europeans had just as much Neanderthal ancestry as East Asians do today.26 The reduction in Neanderthal ancestry in present-day Europeans is due to the fact that they harbor some of their ancestry from a group of people who separated from all other non-Africans prior to the mixture with Neanderthals (the story of this early-splitting group revealed by ancient DNA is told in part II of this book). The spread of farmers with this inheritance diluted the Neanderthal ancestry in Europe, but not in East Asia.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“As a society we should commit to according everyone equal rights despite the differences that exist among individuals. If we aspire to treat all individuals with respect regardless of the extraordinary differences that exist among individuals within a population, it should not be so much more of an effort to accommodate the smaller but still significant average differences across populations.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“the multidimensionality of human traits, the great variation that exists among individuals, and the extent to which hard work and upbringing can compensate for genetic endowment, the only sensible approach is to celebrate every person and every population as an extraordinary realization of our human genius and to give each person every chance to succeed, regardless of the particular average combination of genetic propensities he or she happens to display. For me, the natural response to the”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“a result, the most efficient way for evolutionary forces to spread beneficial mutations has often been to invent mutations anew rather than to import them from other populations.44 The limited migration rates between some regions of Africa over the last few thousand years has resulted in what Ralph and Coop have described as a “tessellated” pattern of population structure in Africa. Tessellation is a mathematical term for a landscape of tiles—regions of genetic homogeneity demarcated by sharp boundaries—that is expected to form when the process of homogenization due to gene exchanges among neighbors competes with the process of generating new advantageous variations in each region.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“The genome revolution has shown that we are not living in particularly special times when viewed from the perspective of the great sweep of the human past. Mixtures of highly divergent groups have happened time and again, homogenizing populations just as divergent from one another as Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Constant effort to struggle against our demons—against the social and behavioral habits that are built into our biology—is one of the ennobling behaviors of which we humans as a species are capable, and which has been critical to many of our triumphs and achievements”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Seventy thousand years ago, the world was populated by very diverse human forms, and we have genomes from an increasing number of them, allowing us to peer back to a time when humanity was much more variable than it is today.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“The extraordinary fact that emerges from ancient DNA is that just five thousand years ago, the people who are now the primary ancestors of all extant northern Europeans had not yet arrived.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“A great surprise that emerges from the genome revolution is that in the relatively recent past, human populations were just as different from each other as they are today, but that the fault lines across populations were almost unrecognizably different from today.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Tracing back fifty thousand years in the past, our genome is scattered into more than one hundred thousand ancestral stretches of DNA, greater than the number of people who lived in any population at that time, so we inherit DNA from nearly everyone in our ancestral population who had a substantial number of offspring at times that remote in the past.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Prior to the genome revolution, I, like most others, had assumed that the big genetic clusters of populations we see today reflect the deep splits of the past. But in fact the big clusters today are themselves the result of mixtures of very different populations that existed earlier.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Upper Paleolithic technology itself was not essential to the successful spread of modern humans into Eurasia after around fifty thousand years ago. It was something more profound than Upper Paleolithic stone tool technology—an inventiveness and adaptability of which the technology was just a manifestation—that allowed these expanding modern humans to prevail everywhere, including in the east.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“we need to try to make progress beyond the situation we are facing right now, in which many researchers are reluctant to undertake any studies of Native American genetic variation for fear of criticism, and because of the extraordinary time commitment that would be required”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“There is also a second great area of unrealized common cause between Native Americans and geneticists—the potential to use ancient DNA to measure the sizes of populations that existed prior to 1492 by looking at variation within the genome of ancient samples. This is a critical issue for Native Americans, as there is evidence for about a tenfold collapse in population size in the Americas following the arrival of Europeans and the waves of epidemic disease that Europeans brought, leading to the dissolution of previously established complex societies. The relatively small population sizes that European colonialists encountered when they arrived in the Americas were used to provide moral justification for the annexation of Native American lands.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“it became clear to us that the great majority of Native Americans, from populations in northern North America down to southern South America, can be broadly described as branches of one tree, forming a sharp contrast to patterns of population relationships in Eurasia. Most populations branched cleanly off the central trunk with little subsequent mixture. The splits proceeded roughly in a north-to-south direction, consistent with the idea that as populations traveled south, groups peeled off and settled, remaining in approximately the same place ever since.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“At the time of this writing, our knowledge of East Asian population history is relatively limited compared to that of West Eurasia because less than 5 percent of published ancient DNA data comes from East Asia. The difference reflects the fact that ancient DNA technology was invented in Europe, and it is nearly impossible for researchers to export samples from China and Japan because of government restrictions or a preference that studies be led by local scientists. This has meant that these regions have missed out on the first few years of the ancient DNA revolution.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“The main reason we don’t know as much about the modern human story in Africa is lack of research. Human history over the last tens of thousands of years in Africa is an integral part of the story of our species. Focusing on Africa as the place where our species originated, while it might seem to highlight the importance of Africa, paradoxically does Africa a disservice by drawing attention away from the question of how populations that remained in Africa got to be the way they are today. With ancient and modern DNA, we can rectify”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“I speak English, a language not spoken by my ancestors a hundred years ago.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“0.8-standard-deviation increase in the average sprinting ability in West Africans would be expected to lead to a hundredfold enrichment in the proportion of people above the 99.9999999th percentile point in Europeans. But an alternative explanation that would predict the same magnitude of effect is that there is simply more variation in sprinting ability in people of West African ancestry—with more people of both very high and very low abilities.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“for many biological traits—including cognitive ones—there is expected to be a higher proportion of sub-Saharan Africans with extreme genetically predicted abilities.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Archaeological studies have documented how beginning around four thousand years ago, a new culture spread out of the region at the border of Nigeria and Cameroon in west-central Africa. People from this culture lived at the boundary of the forest and expanding savanna and developed a highly productive set of crops that was capable of supporting dense populations.15 By about twenty-five hundred years ago they had spread as far as Lake Victoria in eastern Africa and mastered iron toolmaking technology,16 and by around seventeen hundred years ago they had reached southern Africa.17 The consequence of this expansion is that the great majority of people in eastern, central, and southern Africa speak Bantu languages, which are most diverse today in present-day Cameroon, consistent with the theory that proto-Bantu languages originated there and were spread by the culture that also”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“once. But most of the present-day population structure of Africa is shaped by the agricultural expansions of the past few thousand years, and so focusing on describing Africa’s mesmerizing diversity paradoxically does the project of understanding the big picture of humans in Africa a disservice just as much as focusing on the common origins of all modern humans in Africa does Africa a disservice. We need to stop focusing on describing the veil and instead rip it away, and for this we need ancient DNA.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“To understand the power of the genome revolution for undermining old stereotypes about identity and building up a new basis for identity, consider how its finding of repeated mixture in human history has destroyed nearly every argument that used to be made for biologically based nationalism.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Today there is an intricate caste system that shapes the lives of many people within Ethiopia, with elaborate rules preventing marriage between groups with different traditional roles.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“After reading the Passover story, Jews intuitively understand how within their population, numbering millions of people, they are related to each other and the past. The story allows Jews to think of those millions of coreligionists as direct relations—and to treat them with equal respect and seriousness even if they do not understand their exact relationships—to break out from the trap of thinking of the world from the perspective of the relatively small families we were raised in. For me, the multitude”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“Today there are hundreds of millions of people in the Americas with African ancestry, the largest numbers in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States. The mixing of three highly divergent populations in the Americas—Europeans, indigenous people, and sub-Saharan Africans—that began almost five hundred years ago continues to this day. Even in the United States, where European Americans are still in the majority, African Americans and Latinos comprise around a third of the population. Nearly all individuals from these mixed populations derive large stretches of their genomes from ancestors who lived on different continents fewer than twenty generations ago.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“DNA from central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, and Africa will reveal equally great surprises. The product of this effort will be an ancient DNA atlas of humanity, sampled densely through time and space. This will be a resource that I think will rival the first maps of the globe made between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries in terms of its contribution to human knowledge. The atlas will not answer every question about population history, but it will provide a framework, a baseline to which we will always return when studying new archaeological sites.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“By computing the proportion of European male and female ancestors that would be necessary to produce the observed difference in European ancestry between chromosome X and the autosomes, Bryc was able to estimate the separate male (38 percent) and female (10 percent) proportion of European ancestors in African Americans.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
“What will happen once we have genome-wide data from a thousand European farmers living shortly after the transition to agriculture? Comparing the results of a scan for recent natural selection in these individuals to the same scan performed in present-day Europeans should make it possible to understand whether the pace and nature of human adaptation has changed between preagricultural times and the time since the transition to agriculture.”
David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

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