Carl Zimmer profile of the Reich group at work

The New York Times has a review up (sort of) of Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, David Reich Unearths Human History Etched in Bone. But since Carl has been covering the publications coming out of the Reich lab for many years now it’s kinds of a survey of the whole operation and how David and company go where they are.

The last few paragraphs are pretty tantalizing:

As of last month, Dr. Reich’s team has published about three-quarters of all the genome-wide data from ancient human remains in the scientific literature. But the scientists are only getting started.

They also have retrieved DNA from about 3,000 more samples. And the lab refrigerators are filled with bones from 2,000 more denizens of prehistory.

Dr. Reich’s plan is to find ancient DNA from every culture known to archaeology everywhere in the world. Ultimately, he hopes to build a genetic atlas of humanity over the past 50,000 years.

“I try not to think about it all at once, because it’s so overwhelming,” he said.

Three years ago I was having a discussion with someone from Reich’s group and mentioned offhand that in terms of getting data I give the nod to Eske Willerslev’s group of researchers, though I thought the people around David and Nick Patterson tended to perform a deeper analysis. Three years is a long time, and as the results since then have shown, the “SNP capture” methodology is very cost effective. They might not get the whole genome sequences of individuals, but they get lots of individuals. And for a lot of population genomic analysis, you want lots of individuals more than the whole genome sequence.

But not all. The more ancient individuals probably have a lot of variation “private” to them and their population, so you don’t know all the neat polymorphisms you might miss.

With that gripe submitted, it’s pretty incredible that the Reich lab has 3,000 ancient samples in the pipeline for analysis. In Who We Are and How We Got Here David Reich outlines just how he and his collaborators transformed the artisanal process of data generation from ancient DNA into a rationalized and commoditized factory process.

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18 thoughts on “Carl Zimmer profile of the Reich group at work

  1. Click on the words after the comma: “David Reich Unearths Human History Etched in Bone.”

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  2. Reich is looking his best in that article’s photograph. He let his hair get a little grey and it grew up a little, he also gained some weight.
    He had the looks of someone who passed through some stressing times (maybe the era pre-Genomic Revolution), with some anxiety speech and body language, but now he looks totally relaxed and satisfied. He found his passion and the power of his work answering his innermost existential doubts brightened his soul.
    I was kinda overbearing here, but reading people is one of my specialties.

    Now, in your Twitter timeline, Razib, you RT this:
    Vagheesh Narasimhan
    @vagheesh
    New linguistic analysis places the split of Dravidian languages at around 2500BC. The date seems eerily close to existing theories of the arrival of Indo-European into the sub-continent. Coincidence or Causal?

    The guy conflated/suggested the Aryan invasion was Dravidian-speaking. If anything, it strengthened your own model, Razib, of the fallen Harappan pushing South with the Aryans following behind.
    Dravidian, as a supposed Nostratic language, is also hard to explain if it’s indigenous to the place. It would suggest a strong relationship with the Austronesian languages, and this is simply not there.

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  3. Narasimhan is of the reich lab. he knows more than he’s letting on for sure. in the new book david lets some stuff slip that hasn’t been published.

    i think you misinterpret what he’s saying.

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  4. The existing theory of Indo-European migration in South Asia places it around 1500 BC and not 2500 BC. This date has steadfastly been adhered to since the last 160 years.

    It has led to :-

    1. The Indologists denying the clear evidence of horse remains and horse figurines from several Harappan sites. Even a clear endorsement from Sandor Bokonyi was not good enough for them.

    2. The refusal to accept that the dry bed of Ghaggar Hakra was infact the Rigvedic river Saraswati.

    3. Steadfast refusal to accept that Harappans could have anything to do with Indo-Europeans.

    Also, as per the likes of Anthony & Kuzmina, the Sintashta Arkaim culture and the derived Andronovo is the Indo-Iranian culture that later enters South Asia.

    If the 2500 BC Harappan samples already show the ‘steppe’ admixture, all of the arguments will be shown to be utterly hollow as they have been since beginning. Yet when Indians were pointing out these things they were labelled as emotional and irrational Hindu nationalists.

    But I know that none of these scholars will admit that they were horribly wrong. I expect a complete volte face as if this is only a minor thing.

    ——————-
    P.S. – Even within the larger IE linguistic community a 2500 BC entry of Indo-Aryans creates lots of problems. According to their most well accepted IE dispersal theory, it was the Indo-Iranians who were the last to leave the homeland.

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  5. Jaydeepsinh Rathod, the reich lab has results that are somewhat different from what we thought. suffice to say that they do strongly believe that there was an intrusion from the steppe. the ANI and ASI are somewhat different than we have thought (not too much, but different enough to change the story somewhat).

    it is clear that over the time the book was written david reich assumed that the india paper would be published by now. so it has some empirical findings which i’ve not seen in their papers. i’ve heard rumors of conflict btwn indians and non-indians on the bigger project on conclusions holding up publication. they have to go their separate ways.

    Also, as per the likes of Anthony & Kuzmina, the Sintashta Arkaim culture and the derived Andronovo is the Indo-Iranian culture that later enters South Asia.

    the genetic data does not indicate that most of the ANI is like sintashta or andronovo though. at least the samples we have. the ‘steppe’ component looks more like yamnna.

    note: once the book is published i will ‘spoil’ the results and put them on the web, but not yet.

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  6. If a few researchers at a single laboratory are doing all of the sequencing, just how reliable are the results? It seems to me that the possibility of systematic error and hive mind thinking is quite large.

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  7. In light of critical responses to this profile by John Hawks and others, it’s important to clarify some things (which I think Razib does appreciate):

    – I disagree that the model is “commoditization” in the sense of treating human remains as fungible.

    – Archaeologists whose expectations tend to come from radiocarbon dating companies often ask “how much it would cost” to run a sample. What the Reich Lab does, however, isn’t a paid service but question-driven collaborations with archaeologists and anthropologists, who are always coauthors on the resulting publications, and that’s the only way in which samples enter the lab. Ideally, too, they help us engage with stakeholder communities they may have longer-standing relationships with. (These are conversations I’ve personally been involved with in interior Alaska, and recently also in parts of northern Eurasia where reporting by archaeologists or museums back to native groups is less formally mandated.)

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  8. Dear Razib,

    Thanks for the insight. It is quite reasonable to think that so long as we have samples from South Asia which are younger than Yamnaya, we cannot deny that those South Asian samples can be modelled as admixed with Yamnaya.

    But it is nice to see that even with this limitation the upcoming paper’s results have managed to challenge people’s views a bit.

    Also, how old are those South Asian samples in your opinion ?

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  9. @Razib, (and I’m guessing the response here will be “No spoilers means, no spoilers. Wait a few days”) but on the accompanying image with Reich and graphs (first in the article), node C, whih reads like “(indecipherable)/Northern South Asia” more like to be “Swat” (Swat Valley) or “Turan”, from your read of “Who We Are…”?

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  10. @Jaydeepsinh

    The identification of the Ghaggar as the Sarasvati goes back to the 19th century among European scholars, at least to H.H. Wilson in 1840. It’s the geologists who are raising difficulties about the dating.

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  11. Matt, I looked closely at that picture and it says “Turan.” I wonder if his allowing himself to be photographed in front of this picture shows his stance about the publication of the paper?

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  12. Well, the last line of defense of the guys now seems to be claiming that the fact that they present EHG, European or Steppe components is because of an ancient admixture, and that they and the Steppe pepoples share this ancestor.
    This can work, we have to explain from where did the R2 yDNA came from (an ANE group), and these guys might have introgressed in India. Meaning that the EHG component in South Asians is due to the ANE and their CHG comes from a highly pure source of the same.

    I think this is unlikely, considering language and archaeology already support AIT, but it’s food for thought.

    PS: No Sapiens admixture found in late Neanderthals. Both Sapiens and Neanderthals became gracile/presented neoteny over time in an example of convergent evolution then.

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  13. My observations and specualtions. You guys have probably spotted basically the same, but ill post anyway, just in case these observations/specualtions can help anyone understand the Golden whiteboard of Dr. Reich better 🙂

    Anatolia is labeled ‘A’, while Turan is labeled ‘C’. So there is probably a ‘B’ behind Dr. Reich’s back.
    Probably ‘B’ is somewhere around the caucasus or middle east.

    There also seem to be a ‘Nr.1’ behind his head. An arrow going from Nr. 1 to the steppe or europe, where it receives WHG and Anatolia admixture. Then the arrow from the steppe/europe moves further east on the steppe to sintashta, and later andronovo.

    Nr. 1 also seems to go east.

    I bet there is also an arrow behind his back pointing between ‘B’ and ‘1’, but i don’t know in which direction. If there was no arrow there, they could have just called the South-asian circle ‘B’. But obviously something is happening there, when ‘A’ going behind his back and becomes ‘B’. Maybe ‘B’ is receiving admixture from ‘1’, before moving on to ‘C’. Or maybe ‘1’ receives admixture from ‘B’

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  14. My observations & specualtions. You guys have probably spotted basically the same, but ill post anyway, just in case these observations/specualtions can help anyone understand the Golden whiteboard of Dr. Reich better 🙂

    Anatolia is labeled ‘A’, while Turan is labeled ‘C’. So there is probably a ‘B’ behind Dr. Reich’s back.
    Probably ‘B’ is somewhere around the caucasus or middle east.

    There also seem to be a ‘Nr.1’ behind his head. An arrow going from Nr. 1 to the steppe or europe, where it receives WHG and Anatolia admixture. Then the arrow from the steppe/europe moves further east on the steppe to sintashta, and later andronovo.

    Nr. 1 also seems to go east.

    I bet there is also an arrow behind his back pointing between ‘B’ and ‘1’, but i don’t know in which direction. If there was no arrow there, they could have just called the South-asian circle ‘B’. But obviously something is happening there, when ‘A’ going behind his back and becomes ‘B’. Maybe ‘B’ is receiving admixture from ‘1’, before moving on to ‘C’. Or maybe ‘1’ receives admixture from ‘B’

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  15. Megalophias,

    Throughout the 19th century and much of 20th century the identity of the Ghaggar as the original Saraswati was accepted by all Indologists.

    However in the last few decades as more and more Harappan sites were discovered along the dry bed of Ghaggar and as it also began to come to light that the river along the dry bed had stopped flowing before 1900 BC, the Indologists suddenly woke up to the realisation that identifying Ghaggar with Saraswati was going to be fatal to their AIT theory. Hence they are opposing it ever since.

    As far as the geologists are concerned, some like Giosan et al have no qualms identifying Ghaggar course with Saraswati while others are more ambivalent.

    There is also disagreement as to when the ancient river along the Ghaggar course stopped being a glacial fed river but most agree that it was long before the mature phase of Harappan civilization. However there is agreement that a river did keep flowing, though considerably weakened, as monsoon fed, perhaps perennially, for many years until the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC when it again started to lose its already reduced discharge, culminating in perhaps drying of the course by the end of the millennium.

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  16. “the genetic data does not indicate that most of the ANI is like sintashta or andronovo though. at least the samples we have. the ‘steppe’ component looks more like yamnna.”

    This was actually known already. I believe Eurogenes has covered it. But I’m sure Reich has given more information in the book.

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  17. @Jaydeepsinh

    Well, I don’t know that most scholars reject the Ghaggar being *a* Saraswati, rather either that there was more than one river by that name in Rgvedic times, or that some of the verses referring to it are being misinterpreted. Because when was the Ghaggar last actually a large river flowing down to the sea?

    BTW I fully agree with you that the horse thing is dumb.

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