David Reich
Oxford University Press, £20
ISBN 978-0198821250
Review Edward Biddulph

In this fascinating book, geneticist David Reich reveals the origins of modern populations through the study of DNA. The results of analysis of hundreds of bone samples thanks to the ‘ancient DNA revolution’ are remarkable and have the potential to overturn long-held beliefs about identity and cultural change.

Take the origin of the people of Europe. The work of David Reich and others has suggested that the earliest European farmers were not descended from hunter-gatherer populations that had existed in the same areas, but arrived separately via the Mediterranean. The farmers were displaced by migrants from the Eurasian steppe, who arrived with horses, wagons, and an Indo-European language. In time, populations derived from this migration reached Britain with their Beaker culture. (There may have been ‘Beaker folk’ after all.)

How this ties in with the contribution of large-scale isotope analyses to our understanding of populations is not fully considered, and some of the conclusions are inevitably speculative. Nevertheless, this is a hugely important book and essential reading about our prehistoric ancestors.

This review appeared in CA 343.

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