Saturday, November 1, 2008
One thing I can tell you: this man was NOT your ancestor
This is Oetzi--the famous ice-man mummy found a few years back in the Tyrolean Alps.
New genetic testing--specifically mitochondrial DNA analysis--has shown that it is statistically highly unlikely that any modern human alive is descended from him or his immediate kin.
This is actually pretty important stuff, because it raises points about genetic diversity, genetic drift, and the idea that the human race periodically passes through very narrow choke points where lots and lots of lines simply ... don't make it.
Oetzi is probably about 5,300 years old. That means he died in his Alpine cave when Egyptians in the Middle Kingdom were carving out gigantic statues of Ramses II, and only a smallish minority of the people alive then are actually the ancestors of the folks around today.
For the past thousand years, however, we've been undergoing a massive population boom, driven by better farming methods, better medicine, and a lot of religious with the old go-out-and-out-multiply-the-heathens mentality. There is probably at least as much if not more diversity in the human genome today [with over 6 billion of the 80-100 billion of all the people who have ever lived walking around right now] than there has been throughout the entirety of human history.
But I have my doubts that in 2108 my grandchildren will be able to make the same boast.
This should [but probably won't] temper your sense that which party controls the Delaware legislature in 2009 is going to make a hell of a lot of difference 100 years from now, let alone 5,000 years out.