A Short History of Humanity

Short History of Humanity coverA Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe
Johannes Krause and Thomas Trappe
translated by Caroline Waight
Random House (April 13, 2021), 253 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $16.89

I have been doing a lot of reading and watching video courses about genetics recently. It’s fascinating stuff, and recent discoveries in the field have taught us a lot about our world that we didn’t previously know. Given my interest, this was an excellent book to add to my learning. Johannes Krause is a distinguished DNA researcher in Germany, who has been involved in several key discoveries in genetics. His field is known as archaeogenetics. Thomas Trappe is an accomplished German science writer. And Caroline Waight renders the book into clear, readable English.

The authors tell us that all humans can trace their lineage back to a “mitochondrial Eve” who lived about 160,000 years ago. They say that there is also a “Y-chromosomal Adam” who lived nearly 200,000 years before mitochondrial Eve, so, obviously, “we can say with certainty that they weren’t a couple.”

You are no doubt familiar with the Neanderthals, but there is another early human line discovered more recently: the Denisovans, who lived in Asia. We know about them because we have one bone from one individual, but having sequenced their genome we can tell about their interactions with other lines. DNA analysis tells us they branched off from the Neanderthals. The authors tell us that modern humans had sex with both Neanderthals and Denisovans and that Neanderthals had sex with Denisovans as well.

Krause and Trappe discuss the movements of modern humans around Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The authors also discuss genetic analysis of the source of the plague in Europe during the Middle Ages. It turns out that the plague pathogen was present in Europe as far back as the Stone Age.

It is fascinating to read about how much the science of genetics has added to our knowledge not only of humankind, but of other living organisms as well. And what better source for this material than one of the leading researchers in the field?

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