The New Yorker has a long feature that explores the strange results from the paper last year, Ancient DNA from the skeletons of Roopkund Lake reveals Mediterranean migrants in India. Basically, they found a bunch of Indians who died 1,000 years ago, and, a bunch of Greeks who died a few centuries ago. They were buried naturally in a very isolated lake high in the Himalayas. There are all sorts of hypotheses regarding the Greeks, whose bones indicate a Mediterranean diet, and the closest match to individuals in Crete. My personal experience is that “mainland Greeks” tend to be a bit Northern European shifted, so these individuals may have been Anatolian or Aegean Greeks.
Stuart Fidel, who sometimes comments on this weblog, suggests these were Armenian traders. But David Reich correctly points out Armenians are very distinct genetically from Greeks (though the two are not entirely different obviously!). Another hypothesis is a bone mix-up, but the issue here is there are a lot of individuals who are of the same population and seem to have lived in the same region. How could bone mix-ups produce so many systematic errors?
Ultimately there’s no final answer in the piece, though hopefully, someone will present a reasonable conjecture.
Because the piece has Reich and his lab spotlighted, they allude to the controversy around him. This is ultimately going to be the legacy of the hit-piece from a few years back. He’s now a “controversial figure,” which is, to be frank not a bad thing in the eyes of some of the Reich lab’s scientific rivals. Most media treatments that aren’t purely about his research (i.e., Carl Zimmer’s column in The New York Times covering the Reich lab publications) will mention this now.
Here’s why he’s a mensch:
Still, some anthropologists, social scientists, and even geneticists are deeply uncomfortable with any research that explores the hereditary differences among populations. Reich is insistent that race is an artificial category rather than a biological one, but maintains that “substantial differences across populations” exist. He thinks that it’s not unreasonable to investigate those differences scientifically, although he doesn’t undertake such research himself. “Whether we like it or not, people are measuring average differences among groups,” he said. “We need to be able to talk about these differences clearly, whatever they may be. Denying the possibility of substantial differences is not for us to do, given the scientific reality we live in.”
This is, in 2020, is an old-fashioned view. There are now young American researchers who frankly express disquiet and discomfort at the idea of studying human population genetic variation, period. Including people who themselves have studied topics such as polygenic adaptation in humans. This would be a very strange view for older researchers, but it’s not totally out of the norm today, so expect someone like Reich to be viewed as quite the dinosaur in a decade. It seems ridiculous to say, but I do wonder if we’re seeing the end of the “humans as a model organism” era. Lots of ppl are not happy with the new atmosphere, but lots of people just keep quiet and go along.