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‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

understanding genomics 2: socio-sexual inequities and bonobos!

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1 in 200 Men are Direct Descendants of Genghis Khan – Answers in Genomics!

Jacinta: So this blog piece is a bit of a change of pace from the science we’re obviously having trouble with – and I should mention that we’ve started watching the 11-part ‘Introduction to genomics’ videos online to help us with the basics – but what we’ve read in Who we are and how we got here and other texts is providing further evidence of a violent past that reflects an ancestry more associated with chimp-like behaviour, much exacerbated by the deadly weapons we developed along the way, than the bonobo togetherness that my endless optimism sees signs of in that part of the world that is increasingly empowering the female sex.

Canto: Yes, that in itself is a long story of gradual release from the masculinist Catholic hegemony of the medieval world, with its witch-hunts and its general suppression of female power and influence…

Jacinta: Going much further back in fact to the ancient Greeks and, for example, Homer’s Odyssey, and the treatment of women therein, as explored on this site years ago (referenced below).

Canto: Yes, this general improvement in the treatment of women, and of each other – the end of witch-hunts (I mean real ones) and public executions and torturings and so on – at least in English-speaking and Western European nations, has been highlighted in Pinker’s The better angels of our nature and other analyses. But we still have the Chinese Testosterone Party, the masculinist horrors of Iran and Afghanistan, and the macho thuggery of little Mr Pudding and his acolytes, to name but a few. The humano-bonobo world is still a long way off.

Jacinta: Yes the Ukrainian horror, getting all the airplay here that Mr Putin’s incursions in Chechnya, Syria and Georgia didn’t, reminds us that the horrors of two major European wars and Japan’s macho offensives in the first half of the 20th century haven’t been enough to reform our world – from a human one to a humano-bonobo one. But I doubt that genetic tinkering would do the trick.

Canto: Vegetarianism perhaps? But then, Hitler…

Jacinta: No easy solutions I’m afraid. But there are some who are interested in using genomics to highlight just how un-bonobo-like our past has been. Or rather, it’s not so much an interest, it’s more like telling the gruesome story that genomic data is revealing to them. In Neil Oliver’s History of Scotland, for example, he recounts how genomic data reveals that the Pictish men of the Orkneys and the northern tip of Scotland were almost completely replaced by men from Northern Europe, the Vikings, in the eighth and ninth centuries CE, while the female line remained largely Pictish. Slaughter, combined with probable rape, being the best explanation. Reading this reminded me of the chimpanzee war of the seventies in Tanzania, which admittedly was more of a civil war, and apparently less one-sided than the Viking invasion of the Orkneys, or the European invasion of the Americas, or the British invasion of Australia, but in some ways it was similar – an attempt, if not entirely conscious, to replace one population with another, and to the victor, the spoils.

Canto: Well, Reich is fairly circumspect in his book, but he does have a small section towards the end, ‘The genomics of inequality’, from which we may draw pretty clear inferences:

Any attempt to paint a vivid picture of what a human culture was like before the period of written texts needs to be viewed with caution. Nevertheless, ancient DNA have provided evidence that the Yamnaya [a relatively advanced steppe culture that emerged about 5000 years ago] were indeed a society in which power was concentrated among a small number of elite males. The Y chromosomes that the Yamnaya carried were nearly all of a few types, which shows that a limited number of males must have been extraordinarily successful in spreading their genes. In contrast, in their mitochondrial DNA, the Yamnaya had more diverse sequences.


This Yamnaya expansion also cannot have been entirely friendly, as is clear from the fact that the proportion of Y chromosomes of steppe origin in both western Europe and in India today is much larger than the proportion of steppe ancestry in the rest of the genome.

This is a roundabout or academic way of saying, or ‘suggesting’ (oh dear, I’m becoming an academic) that the Yamnaya forcibly replaced many of the males of earlier populations in those regions and interbred, in one way or another, with the females.

Jacinta: Yes, again very chimp-like, mutatis mutandis. The good thing is that we’re more and more coming to terms with our violent past – and I would love to be able to trace it further back, beyond Homo sapiens, or at least to the earliest H sapiens 100,000 years ago or so.

Canto: Well, I’m thinking that the CHLCA (chimp human last common ancestor) would be a good place to start, but we’ll probably never know what that population was like – was it more chimp-like or bonobo-like in its social (and sexual) behaviour? But there’s a huge difference between that CHLCA and us – just consider brain size.

Jacinta: But that’s a tricky measure – look at H naledi and H floresiensis. Chimps average around 400cc, gorillas 500cc, H naledi has been estimated at anything from 450 to 600cc, and H floresiensis, from the only extant skull, came in at 426cc. And those two hominins are considered relatively modern. Our brain size is about 1300cc. It’s over the place. But forget all these caveats for a moment, I’ve heard that we got our bigger brains courtesy of hunting big game and cooking meat – and the hunting at least strikes me as a macho activity, leading to a hierarchy of the big and strong, and so, alpha males and all the shite that follows…

Canto: Yes, and bonobos have evolved in a more physically restricted but resource-rich environment, and have somehow become less hierarchy-obsessed, though still hierarchical – the sons of the most powerful females apparently have a higher status in the male hierarchy.

Jacinta: Yes all this is important as we strive to establish a humano-bonobo world. In our incredibly diverse human world we have people dying of over-eating in some parts, and of starvation and malnutrition in others. But in the world of relative abundance that you and I live in, mechanisation and other technologies have reduced the need for physical strength, and testosterone levels in males have dropped rapidly in just the last few decades. We’re eating meat more than ever, but in our cities, nobody can hear the victims’ screams. And we don’t have to do the hunting and killing ourselves, so if we want to toughen up we have to do it via gymnasiums and sports, which are no longer gender-exclusive.

Canto: All this has little to do with genomics, but it seems to me that the macho-chimp orientation of early humans since the CHLCA has much to do with increased proliferation, diversity and inter-group competition for resources, especially over the last 20,000 years, or less. The domestication of horses and the invention of the wheel, and sophisticated sea-going vessels would have helped. Different groups advanced at different rates, with some developing better weapons – for hunting and then for warfare, and naturally they hankered for more territory to expand into, to ‘lord over’. Those more advanced groups became more hierarchical, and gaining more territory and ‘winning’ over more people became an end in itself – think of  early versions of Genghis Khan and little Mr Pudding.

Jacinta: That’s why, like the female bonobos who gang up on uppity males before they can do too much damage, we need to stick it the Mr Puddings of the world  – hit em hard, before they know what hit em.


morality in The Odyssey

David Reich, Who we are and how we got here, 2018

Written by stewart henderson

February 18, 2023 at 8:12 pm

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