Sunday, December 11, 2016
Jean Manco - Ancestral Journeys (Thames & Hudson, 2015) ***
Writing popular science books requires more than scientific knowledge. This book gives an overview of the genetic and archeologic finds that illustrate the migration of people throughout the millenia in Europe, and this combined with linguistic insights and influences. This is knowledge that every school child should receive, not only in Europe, but across the world. It explains with lots of detail how the idea that an original population took over the customs and tools from coming into contact with other migrating cultures, is not always correct. Often the the invading migrants just replaced the original population. It also illustrates how all cultures are genetically connected while being different at the same time, and this often in the most unexpected areas. I learned in this way that the Berber population in Morocco and the Saami in Finland are genetically linked to a common ancestor. It explains how sometimes the migrating populations took the lead role and changed the language of the country they invaded, as the Romans did with romance languages, yet sometimes the Visigoths who invaded Spain and formed the cultural elite, adopted the language of the country and hence disappeared as a separate culture (although names such as Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Fernandez survive).
The conclusion is clear: we are all migrants.
Despite the highly relevant subject in this day and age, the book is written with lots of knowledge and detail, yet fails to come with a coherent narrative that brings the findings to live. It reads like one long scientific article, and it may be too scientific for non-specialists while being too popular for the real scientists. In fact, the thought occurred to me often while reading, that this book should just be re-written by a non-scientist, someone who has the gift of the pen (Howard Bloom for instance, or Andrea Wulf), to write this great story of Europe's people in way that is compelling and inspiring. Take the same content, yet write it like some of the other great popular science books.