Monday, May 13, 2013
Europe is One Big Family...
Research by scientists in California is further evidence that neat distinctions between various European peoples are largely artificial and that they are all one big family — although not necessarily a happy one.
“Even pairs of people as far apart as the U.K. and Turkey share a chunk of genomic material 20 percent of the time,” according to the authors of a paper published on Tuesday.
Peter Ralph and Graham Coop of the University of California used genomic data for 2,257 Europeans to conduct the first such study of an entire continent.
In recent years, the science of genetics has been combined with archaeology and linguistic studies to help answer the eternal question of where we come from.
A separate study, based on DNA recovered from ancient skeletons, revealed last month that the genetic makeup of modern Europe was established by a wave of newcomers to the continent 6,500 years ago, more recently than previously thought.
Recent research has focused on the shared legacy of Europeans in contrast to earlier theories that focused on differences. But persistent ideas about racial differences continue to be a source of prejudice and violent crime. (Witness the trial that began this week of German neo-Nazis accused of being connected to a wave of killings of Turks and Greeks from 2000 to 2007.)
As recently as the 1950s, British schoolchildren were still studying pre-World War II textbooks that divided Europeans into Germanic, Alpine and Latin “types” according to the shape of their noses.
The Conversation, an Australian academic Web site, quoted Maciej Henneberg, a University of Adelaide anthropologist, as saying scientists had been arguing for 50 years that all humans were too closely related to be divided into races.
“The few externally visible differences like skin color or nose shape are not enough to justify divisions,” he said.
Neither should the latest research provide any comfort to racially motivated ultra-nationalists who would seek to oppose non-European immigration to a mythically homogenous Europe. The Californian scientists said other research suggests everyone alive in the world today shares a common ancestor from sometime in the past 3,500 years.
The Californian study yielded some surprising conclusions, including that Britons share more recent common ancestors with people in Ireland than with others in Britain. And a German has more distant cousins in Poland than in Germany.
The ancestry is not equally shared. Modern Italians and Spaniards have relatively few common ancestors compared with other European populations, which may be explained by their geography and history.
It is tempting to think that further proof of shared ancestry might contribute to a new era of brotherly — or at least cousinly — love among the peoples of Europe in the face of the challenges that confront them.
Some are skeptical.
“There have been many studies that we’ve been involved in showing that groups which are fighting each other furiously all the time are actually extremely closely genetically related,” Mark A. Jobling, a geneticist at England’s Leicester University, told The Associated Press.
“So for example Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the Middle East are extremely similar genetically, but to tell them they are genetic close relatives isn’t going to change their ways.”