“A Largely Depopulated Landscape”

Self just discovered that A Short History of Humanity is a translation from the German. The translator is Caroline Waight. Self realized that whenever she reads a novel by a German writer, she automatically assumes it’s a translation, but this is the first scientific work she’s read by a German writer, and the fact that it’s a translation is frankly mind-blowing.

Still on Chapter 5! It’s her favorite chapter, so far.

As migrants from “the Eastern steppe” arrived in Central Europe, one can chart their progress from east to west by the presence of “immense barrows . . . constructed everywhere on the steppe.” These were burial mounds, ranging from two to twenty meters in height, filled with human remains and sometimes “generous grave goods.”

In contrast, in Central Europe itself, “between 5,500 and 5,000 years ago,” the period during which the newcomers are said to have arrived in Central Europe, there are “almost no skeletons and hardly any usable DNA.” What are the reasons for this largely “depopulated landscape”?

People were not fleeing from the new arrivals. Nor have any “mass graves” or battlefields been discovered. On p. 105, Krause makes the dry observation that “the oldest decoded plague genome dates from this period.”

PLAGUE??? Scientists have decoded a plague genome? And it went that far back?

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Cee’s Midweek Madness Challenge (CMMC): Close-Up or Macro

Oh, goodie, self has the perfect picture for this week’s CMMC:

This year, she bought a new clematis from Wegman’s. It had the prettiest white flowers. Now, the bloom is over. Instead, there are these:

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Quote of the Day: A Short History of Humanity

In Chapter 5, Johannes Krause turns his attention from Europe to North America. Faster than you can say, Six Degrees of Separation:

  • . . . both Europeans and indigenous Americans seem to have drawn a lot of their DNA from genetic material from Eastern Europe and Siberia . . . Five hundred years ago, then, when Europeans “discovered” the Americas, they had in fact come full circle: from a genetic perspective, the settlers were reunited with very, very old relatives.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The Ice Age!

Self is on Chapter 3 of A Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe. Fascinating stuff!

Shortly after our human ancestors arrived in Central Europe (“Shortly” meaning: hundreds of thousands of years), the last Ice Age — what Krause calls the “Glacial Maximum” — “extinguished all life in Central Europe. For 6,000 years . . . ”

(Excuse self while she picks her jaw up from the floor)

Some people fled to the Iberian Peninsula, and Krause says those people survived. The “glaciated” Pyrenees cut off this group from the rest of Europe.

“They could see across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa, but they couldn’t reach the far shore, possessing neither the technological know-how nor the physical capability to traverse the fourteen-kilometer distance . . . “

As for the people left behind in Central Europe, “it’s safe to assume that the freezing temperatures in Central Europe killed the majority of the region’s inhabitants.”

Another group, living in the Balkans, survived. These people were “technologically highly developed hunter-gatherers with blue eyes and dark skin.”

How can one not be fascinated?

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Around 1.9 Million Years Ago

The ancestor of all modern humans came from Africa. You’ll have to read the book to follow the painstaking scientific method of deduction that Krause utilizes. But know this: human forebears moved from Africa to Central Europe just before the start of the great Ice Age. So their timing was not great. Nevertheless, here we are!

If we think of evolution as having a conscious purpose — which it does not — then this was a bold experiment. Fundamentally, walking on two legs requires more energy than walking on all fours like an ape. Running, however, does not: humans expend roughly the same energy running over the same distance as walking. Around 1.9 million years ago, taking this evolutionary step toward efficient running made a lot of sense. The African landscape changed dramatically. Areas of trees became savannahs, predominantly grassland. There were fewer trees to climb and therefore more reasons for humans to keep their heads above the grass — to spot predators coming, for example. Unlike other types of human that did not walk upright to the same extent (and later died out), Homo erectus was able to hold its own on the savannah.

A Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe, by Johannes Krause and Thomas Trappe, Chapter 3 (“Immigrants are the Future”)


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