When we think about science, most of us think of dramatic breakthroughs. We think Darwin and Wallace, Einstein and Bohr, Copernicus and Curie and we imagine everything changed overnight.
Most science, however, develops in bits and pieces, twisting and turning, waxing and waning, until, after thirty years, things are new. Even the dramatic shifts, like natural selection, took decades to get from radical to mainstream.
If you’re at all curious about things, you notice this in a single lifespan. Consider deep history; the story of humans from 150K to 3K years ago. In the past 30 years discoveries from genomics, climate research, linguistics, plant research, translation, anthropology and archaeology, combined with the revision of old biases, have dramatically changed our understanding of deep history. In each case, of course, computation has been a fundamental driver. That’s how it works – new instruments make new science.
It’s been growing slowly from all directions, but the sum is a very different world from what some of us learned in the 1970s. The human brain is evolving and changing far more dramatically than we imagined, and that evolution has not slowed with modernity. Our concepts of human speciation are being transformed; there were many “species” of human coexisting into deep history – and, like dogs and wolves, they probably crossed often.
Pre-agricultural humans were far more populous and widespread than we once imagined; the large populations of pre-invasion (early agricultural and hunter-gatherer) North America probably reflect worldwide pre-agricultural patterns.
Even after the development of agriculture and writing we see thousand year intervals of relative stasis in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. How could this be when our fundamental technologies change in decades. Are the minds of modern Egyptians radically different from the minds of only 6,000 years ago? Why? Why do we see this graph at this time in human history?
What did humans do in Georgian caves for 30,000 years? Thirty thousand years of waving and sewing and nothing changes?! They could not have had the same brains we have. They seem more … Neandertal.
Fascinating times, and there’s much more here than I can address in one post. That’s why I’m adding a new tag (label) for this blog -- “deep history” in anticipation of much more to come.
For now see also:
- Dienekes' Anthropology Blog- Paleolithic flax fibres from Georgia (Kvavadze et al. 2009)
- Multiregional evolution lives! - john hawks weblog
- Why Humanity Loves, and Needs, Cities - Economix Blog - NYTimes.
- In Our Time, Babylon
- In Our Time, Akhenaten (He reminds me of Kim Jong-il)
- In Our Time, The Library at Nineveh