Saturday, April 29, 2017

When Is A "Conquest" Not A Conquest?

When Is A Conquest Not A Conquest?

You are a scientist living in the year 4017, specializing in the ancient civilizations that existed between 1492 and 2200 A.D.  Various cultures came and went, but alas, most written records were lost in the intervening centuries.  So you study DNA.

Your fellow scientists know that in many different regions, the DNA record shows profound change over time, both in autosomal percentages and uniparental markers (Y-Chromosome, mtDNA).

Unfortunately, arrogant bloggers still exist in 4017, and three of them, one called Davidski Futurski (who blogs at Eurogenes-ski), a fellow named Maciamo-Futuriamo, and another named Rocca Futura, are examples of "a little knowledge can be dangerous."  

They blindly state that all changes in DNA indicate evidence of conquest by some superior culture of badass men.  (Nevermind that they all believe they descend from the people they assert to be superior; that's irrelevant, we're sure).

Your boss at the university, someone who sees nuance better than the bloggers, asks you to model the record and various types of human interactions, and answer the question:

"When Might A 'Conquest' Not Really Be A Conquest?"  

So you come up with the following four models, and re-create as best as you can some historical examples for the clueless:

1.  Refugees from a war-torn area flood into a nearby land (and even some faraway lands), overwhelming the demographics.  The bloggers post that a people called the Syrians conquered the Lebanese, starting in 2011, but you're not so sure.  Your research finds the opposite: that there was a horrendous war in Syria, causing 11 million people to lose all their belongings and flee.  Therefore, you don't think these people were conquerors, but refugees.  Nevertheless, the stubborn bloggers point out how the record shows a massive DNA shift in Lebanon, where the Syrian markers went from 5% to 25% of the population in just three years.  

"It had to be conquest" they write, of powerful, rich, sophisticated men conquering the weak Lebanese.  

Alas, you tell them: it was the opposite: a beaten-down people streaming into a nearby land (and also places like Sweden), altering the gene pool.  In fact, Lebanon started with 5 million people, and absorbed an influx of 2.5 million refugees.  Thus, the autosomal genetics and uniparental frequencies were both significantly changed.  It's really as simple as that.

2. Disease.  In 1598, slaves from Africa were brought to a place called Puerto Rico.  They brought with them Yellow Fever, something the native American inhabitants did not have exposure or antibodies to.  

Although the natives were, under the caste system at the time, a couple of rungs higher than the African slaves, and although the natives had better sources of food and systems for dealing with the native landscape, they were killed off in the thousands simply because they didn't have antibodies to the new disease.  

But all the bloggers see is that Puerto Rico went from showing Native American DNA patterns to showing African (and European) DNA patterns.  And they cry, their must have been a conquest, led by the African newcomers!  You LOL, pointing out that these newcomers were slaves and vectors.

3.  Economic Opportunity.  The bloggers now discuss Los Angeles.  They point out that the DNA record shows that in the 1950s, Los Angeles was 80% inhabited by an ancient culture called, "whites."  By 2020, it was 60% Hispanic.  The record thus showed profound shifts in autosomal frequencies and Y-chromosome patterns.  

"There must have been a conquest!" the bloggers shout from the rooftops!  War!  Destruction!  A supreme powerful tribe of men, with better tools!  

No, you quietly assert.  Your research shows that poor Hispanic immigrants simply migrated to Los Angeles, looking for better economic opportunities than what existed back home.  Alas, the bloggers still don't grasp this example either.

4.  Simple Cultural Differences in Birthrates.  Palestinian women have vastly greater birthrates than their neighbors.  In the 1960s, it was 8 children per every female.  Even now, it's above 4.0 children for every woman.  The Israeli birthrate, while still relatively high at 3.0, is not as high.  By 2045, Palestinians may outnumber Israelis.  

Our future bloggers, looking at this from the perspective of the year 4017, may try to argue that there was a conquest by the Palestinians.  They must have had superior technology, they claim!  Better weapons!  

But again, your research (and history) shows this NOT to be the case.

Taking these four examples, you explain to the bloggers that many changes in DNA frequency, cannot be explained as "conquest" even though it's tempting for the simple-minded to do so.  

There are even examples of multiple of the above factors explaining demographic shifts.  For example, the Catholic Irish replacement of Anglo Saxons in many East Coast cities in the 1800s.  That was due to the Irish being refugees, seeking greater economic opportunity en masse, and having higher birthrates.  

Somewhere in the future, the intellectual heirs of Maciamo, Davidski, and many on Anthrogenica, are arguing that the Irish immigrants of the 1800s were in fact a technologically and militarily superior, overwhelming force of wealthy males who clearly conquered the British Americans of the time.

And you, and anyone with any degree of a nuances understanding of history, is still LOL'ing.  


  1. The intro made me giggle and sympathize. However the core of the argument I find faulty because you are expanding mechanically rather unusual modern conditions to past ones, which is not a good argument either.

    For example the dramatic effects of disease in Native America cannot be compared with anything happening in Eurafrasia, which was in permanent contact all the time. Also the effects of disease have been greatly exaggerated by some rather one-sided authors like that guy of "Guns, steel and herpes" or whatever the name of the book is, not just in Native America but also in Europe with the Black Death and such, taking the most extreme local death rate estimates of up to 1/3 or even 1/2 as the standard, when the average death rate was surely much smaller. Anyway, it's not the same to be affected by some exotic virus than to be affected by that virus when your lands are being stolen and yourself are being made slave and forced to work till death by exhaustion. Incidentally we do know for a fact that there was a conquest in Puerto Rico, so how can you challenge it after all?

    If you argue for slave trade altering the demographic landscape, this sounds plausible on first sight but in fact, I haven't been able to find any strong genetic indicator of such processes being too influential even in areas we know were extremely affected by slavery, such as Sicily or peninsular Italy. So the issue remains open.

    Extreme differential birth rates (temporary in any case) shouldn't be normal in the distant past either and anyhow, as most people could not migrate without some sort of conquest or some other sort of legitimization of the migration, like slave trade, welcoming of refugees or whatever, where demic pressure was higher, Malthus' laws applied cyclically, so in the end it's a temporary effect unless other factors are at play (conquest or whatever).

    IMO there are three phases:

    1. Neolithic (incl. to some extent the Chalcolithic), in which people tended to migrate and conquer all at the same time, with whatever degree of admixture with the natives, because they were in search of land to work and live on themselves.

    2. Metal Ages (from Chalcolithic to Middle Ages), in which a warrior aristocracy (and sometimes also a priestly class or caste) coalesced as the driving force. These are your typical conquerors, who don't look for lands to work themselves but primarily for lands with workers to be exploited. In this extended period, the demographic changes become much much weaker but ethno-cultural change by means of elite domination (i.e. assimilation of the subjugated masses) is almost the rule.

    3. Modern Age, particularly the last 2-3 centuries: with industrialization, concentration of agrarian property, etc. some countries, particularly in Europe at first, become demographic and political and global trade/transport power houses, allowing for huge demic migrations across the globe, concentrated in the 19th century. Slavery and cuasi-slavery of third parties is also part of this process. While it has some parallelism with the first phase, it is in fact a totally new era because of changing "everything" in just few decades across huge distances, what makes it impossible to use as direct reference for previous processes.

    This is my, hopefully well balanced, view of the issue.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comments. It is precisely my point that this is way more complicated than the bloggers like Davidski make it sound like. They believe that only the rich and powerful (elites) have babies. Now while this has been true for certain societies and at certain points in time, the fact is, at many points in time, it is the opposite. In the modern world, for example. In Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, for two more examples. There, it is not the elites who reproduce. Demographics is destiny. These bloggers have no idea about the complexity of human interactions. They think the only reason why R1b could be prolific is because it was generations of elites. Sheer and utter nonsense.

    2. Yeah, absolutely is the Genghis Khan complex, like Oedipus complex but the other way around: much more intensely patriarchal but a fantasy or mental issue in any case.

      Incidentally Olga mentioned yesterday this dental study, which is not strictly genetic but close enough: - 2011

      (Second half is in English, don't do as I did: read first in French and then realizing it was also in English).

      The evidence strongly suggests a South (or SW) to North (or NE) demic flow with the Bell Beaker phenomenon (which we consider should be directly related to R1b-S116 expansion) but not as far as reaching to Bohemia, where Bell Beakers are just continuous (at least on the male side) between Corded Ware and Unetice and therefore should be mainly R1a. While we await for proper genetic data, this is probably as good as it gets, more so as the first R1b-S116 known are both Bell Beaker (one in Ireland and another one in Germany).

      Davidski's and clique's argument seems wholly debunked as far as I can tell but they may take years to realize and admit.

  2. PS- Also re. Palestinians, do not forget please that 70 years ago they were 90% of the population (assuming that all Jews in pre-WWII Palestine were immigrants, what I seriously doubt), so there is a conquest: one by Britain first and then the settlement and armed consolidation of that conquest by migrant Jews, directly associated to post-WWII mass migration (and expulsion of most of the natives to Gaza and third countries). So, if anything, the Palestinian demographic backlash would rather be parallel to whatever processes in Western Europe typically (not in every case) increased the frequency of pre-Neolithic aboriginal DNA (which do not necessarily exclude reconquest anyhow). One of the likely factors in the decay of LBK for instance was that the favorable climate optimum was short-lived, what caused a demic decline or collapse, leaving the cultural area (West and North of Austria) open for the taking by a better-adapted population (Michelsberg culture, surely much more "mestizo" than those LBK low admixture immigrants). So it's sort of dialectics or complex tug-of-war what is happening in these two cases surely.