Deep cultural ancestry and human development indicators across nation states

Open access Deep cultural ancestry and human development indicators across nation states, by Roland B. Sookias, Samuel Passmore, & Quentin D. Atkinson, RSOS (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

How historical connections, events and cultural proximity can influence human development is being increasingly recognized. One aspect of history that has only recently begun to be examined is deep cultural ancestry, i.e. the vertical relationships of descent between cultures, which can be represented by a phylogenetic tree of descent. Here, we test whether deep cultural ancestry predicts the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) for 44 Eurasian countries, using language ancestry as a proxy for cultural relatedness and controlling for three additional factors—geographical proximity, religion and former communism. While cultural ancestry alone predicts HDI and its subcomponents (income, health and education indices), when geographical proximity is included only income and health indices remain significant and the effect is small. When communism and religion variables are included, cultural ancestry is no longer a significant predictor; communism significantly negatively predicts HDI, income and health indices, and Muslim percentage of the population significantly negatively predicts education index, although the latter result may not be robust. These findings indicate that geographical proximity and recent cultural history—especially communism—are more important than deep cultural factors in current human development and suggest the efficacy of modern policy initiatives is not tightly constrained by cultural ancestry.

(a) Map showing the location of the 44 countries in our sample. Country regions are coloured according to HDI score from darker (low) to brighter (high). Coloured circles indicate major linguistic sub-groups—Germanic (green), Balto-Slavic (yellow), Italic (pink), Indo-Iranian (blue) and other (white). (b) Maximum clade credibility tree of 44 Indo-European languages corresponding to the countries in our sample, based on a Bayesian posterior sample of 1000 trees. The tips of the tree are colour coded according to HDI and its three subcomponents from darker (low) to brighter (high). Coloured boxes indicate major linguistic sub-groups as in panel (a).

Yet another questionable paper using bioinformatics, including many confounding factors, applying the “Catholic-versus-Protestantism”-efficiency kind of thinking (based on the traditional anti-Catholicism prevalent in certain regions even today) into modern religious distribution, linguistic (“cultural”) phylogenies, and modern borders of nation-states – instead of (traditional or modern, micro- or macro-) regions or cities, which would probably reveal other kind of differences.

I guess we will get a renewed New Age Inglehart–Welzel cultural map of the world rather soon.

Patterns of genetic differentiation and the footprints of historical migrations in the Iberian Peninsula

Open access preprint (which I announced already) at bioRxiv Patterns of genetic differentiation and the footprints of historical migrations in the Iberian Peninsula, by Bycroft et al. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Genetic differences within or between human populations (population structure) has been studied using a variety of approaches over many years. Recently there has been an increasing focus on studying genetic differentiation at fine geographic scales, such as within countries. Identifying such structure allows the study of recent population history, and identifies the potential for confounding in association studies, particularly when testing rare, often recently arisen variants. The Iberian Peninsula is linguistically diverse, has a complex demographic history, and is unique among European regions in having a centuries-long period of Muslim rule. Previous genetic studies of Spain have examined either a small fraction of the genome or only a few Spanish regions. Thus, the overall pattern of fine-scale population structure within Spain remains uncharacterised. Here we analyse genome-wide genotyping array data for 1,413 Spanish individuals sampled from all regions of Spain. We identify extensive fine-scale structure, down to unprecedented scales, smaller than 10 Km in some places. We observe a major axis of genetic differentiation that runs from east to west of the peninsula. In contrast, we observe remarkable genetic similarity in the north-south direction, and evidence of historical north-south population movement. Finally, without making particular prior assumptions about source populations, we show that modern Spanish people have regionally varying fractions of ancestry from a group most similar to modern north Moroccans. The north African ancestry results from an admixture event, which we date to 860 – 1120 CE, corresponding to the early half of Muslim rule. Our results indicate that it is possible to discern clear genetic impacts of the Muslim conquest and population movements associated with the subsequent Reconquista.

“(a) Binary tree showing the inferred hierarchical relationships between clusters. The colours and points correspond to each cluster as shown on the map, and the length of the coloured rectangles is proportional to the number of individuals assigned to that cluster. We combined some small clusters (Methods) and the thick black branches indicate the clades of the tree that we visualise in the map. We have labeled clusters according to the approximate location of most of their members, but geographic data was not used in the inference. (b) Each individual is represented by a point placed at (or close to) the centroid of their grandparents’ birthplaces. On this map we only show the individuals for whom all four grandparents were born within 80km of their average birthplace, although the data for all individuals were used in the fineSTRUCTURE inference. The background is coloured according to the spatial densities of each cluster at the level of the tree where there are 14 clusters (see Methods). The colour and symbol of each point corresponds to the cluster the individual was assigned to at a lower level of the tree, as shown in (a). The labels and boundaries of Spain’s Autonomous Communities are also shown.”

Some interesting excerpts:

Our results further imply that north west African-like DNA predominated in the migration. Moreover, admixture mainly, and perhaps almost exclusively, occurred within the earlier half of the period of Muslim rule. Within Spain, north African ancestry occurs in all groups, although levels are low in the Basque region and in a region corresponding closely to the 14th-century ‘Crown of Aragon’. Therefore, although genetically distinct this implies that the Basques have not been completely isolated from the rest of Spain over the past 1300 years.

NOTE. I must add here that the Expulsion of Moriscos is known to have been quite successful in the old Crown of Aragon – deeply affecting its economy – , in contrast with other territories of the Crown of Castille, where they either formed less sizeable communities, or were dispersed and eventually Christened and integrated with local communities. For example, thousands of Moriscos from Granada were dispersed following the War of Alpujarras (1567–1571) into different regions of the Crown of Castille, and many could not be later expelled due to the locals’ resistance to follow the expulsion edict.

Perhaps surprisingly, north African ancestry does not reflect proximity to north Africa, or even regions under more extended Muslim control. The highest amounts of north African ancestry found within Iberia are in the west (11%) including in Galicia, despite the fact that the region of Galicia as it is defined today (north of the Miño river), was never under Muslim rule and Berber settlements north of the Douro river were abandoned by. This observation is consistent with previous work using Y-chromosome data. We speculate that the pattern we see is driven by later internal migratory flows, such as between Portugal and Galicia, and this would also explain why Galicia and Portugal show indistinguishable ancestry sharing with non-Spanish groups more generally. Alternatively, it might be that these patterns reflect regional differences in patterns of settlement and integration with local peoples of north African immigrants themselves, or varying extents of the large-scale expulsion of Muslim people, which occurred post-Reconquista and especially in towns and cities.

We estimated ancestry profiles for each point on a fine spatial grid across Spain (Methods). Gray crosses show
the locations of sampled individuals used in the estimation. Map shows the fraction contributed from the donor group ‘NorthMorocco’.

Overall, the pattern of genetic differentiation we observe in Spain reflects the linguistic and geopolitical boundaries present around the end of the time of Muslim rule in Spain, suggesting this period has had a significant and long-term impact on the genetic structure observed in modern Spain, over 500 years later. In the case of the UK, similar geopolitical correspondence was seen, but to a different period in the past (around 600 CE). Noticeably, in these two cases, country-specific historical events rather than geographic barriers seem to drive overall patterns of population structure. The observation that fine-scale structure evolves at different rates in different places could be explained if observed patterns tend to reflect those at the ends of periods of significant past upheaval, such as the end of Muslim rule in Spain, and the end of the Anglo-Saxon and Danish Viking invasions in the UK.

Certain people want to believe (well into the 21st century) into ideal ancestral populations and ancient ethnolinguistic identifications linked to one’s own – or the own country’s dominant – ancestral components and Y-DNA haplogroup.

We are nevertheless seeing how mainly the most recent relevant geopolitical events and late internal migratory flows have shaped the genetic structure (including Y-DNA haplogroup composition) of modern regions and countries regardless of its population’s actual language or ethnic identification, whether (pre)historical or modern.

Another surprise for many, I guess.


From Adamic or the language of the Garden of Eden until the Tower of Babel: the confusion of tongues and the earliest dialects attested

No, I didn’t have a revelation today. I am just offering a little support exactly to what Dawkins and his Brights dislike, to show them extreme action causes extreme (re)actions. I’d like to play their radical game, too, offering some help in linguistics to those who have only naïve theories on the language of Eden.

These are the statements about the Adamic language and the Tower of Babel as Abrahamic texts, beliefs and traditions show:

  • Adamic was the language spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adamic is typically identified with either the language used by God to address Adam, or the language invented by Adam (Book of Genesis 2:19).
  • The Genesis is ambiguous on whether the language of Adam was preserved by Adam’s descendants until the confusion of tongues (Genesis 11:1-9), or if it began to evolve naturally even before Babel (Genesis 10:5), into what is usually called Chaldaic:
    1. Dante in his De Vulgari Eloquentia argues that the Adamic language is of divine origin and therefore unchangeable.
    2. In his Divina Commedia, however, Dante changes his view to the effect that the Adamic language was the product of Adam. This had the consequence that it could not any longer be regarded immutable, and hence Hebrew could not be regarded as identical with the language of Paradise..
  • Also, the nature of that original language remains controversial, interpretations showing many nationalist flavours:
    • Traditional Jewish exegesis such as Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 38) says that Adam spoke Old Hebrew or rather its linguistic ancestor Proto-Canaanite, because the names he gives Eve – “Isha” (Book of Genesis 2:23) and “Chava” (Genesis 3:20) – only make sense in Hebrew.
    • Traditional Christians based on Genesis 10:5 have assumed that the Japhetite, or Indo-European, languages are rather the direct descendants of the Adamic language, having separated before the confusion of tongues, by which also Hebrew was affected.
      1. Early Christian fathers claimed that Adam spoke Latin to explain why God would make it the liturgical language of his Church, although “Latin” here would be a loose way of referring to its ancestor, Proto-Italic or older Europe’s Indo-European.
      2. Modern traditional Catholics follow Anne Catherine Emmerick’s revelations (1790), which stated that the most direct descendants of the Adamic language were Bactrian, Zend and Indian languages (i.e., the Indo-Iranian languages), associating the Adamic language with the then-recent concept of the “common source” of these tongues, now known as Proto-Indo-European:

        This language was the pure Hebrew, or Chaldaic. The first tongue, the mother tongue, spoken by Adam, Shem, and Noah, was different, and it is now extant only in isolated dialects. Its first pure offshoots are the Zend, the sacred tongue of India, and the language of the Bactrians. In those languages, words may be found exactly similar to the Low German of my native place.

    • Many Muslim scholars, following the traditional Jewish identification of Pre-Hebrew as the Adamic language, hence classified within the Semitic language family (which includes the Ge’ez language used in the Book of Enoch), claim that Pre-Arabic – hence Proto-(West-)Semitic – is the original Adamic language. Most of them do not believe the Semitic languages were the direct descendants of the Adamic language, but rather trace them back to Abraham, instead of Noah and Adam.
  • The confusion of tongues is the initial fragmentation of human languages described in the Book of Genesis 11:1–9, as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

    And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

    Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

    So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

    The language spoken by Noah and his descendants – whether the original Adamic language (either of divine origin or not) or the derived Chaldaic – split into seventy or seventy-two languages, according to the different traditions. The existence of only one language before Babel in Genesis 11:1

    And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech

    has sometimes been interpreted as being in contradiction to Genesis 10:5

    Of these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

    1. This issue only arises, however, if Genesis 10:5 is interpreted as taking place before and separate from the Tower of Babel story, instead of as an overview of events later described in detail in Genesis 11.
    2. It also necessitates that the reference to the earth being “divided” (Genesis 10:25) is taken to mean the division of languages, rather than a physical division of the earth (such as in the formation of continents).

So, to sum up, these are the facts known to us from comparative linguistics, related to those Abrahamic beliefs and interpretations and the biblical chronology:

  • Mainstream linguists – without any links to religion, just based on comparative grammar – have accepted some form or other of language superfamilies, from Eurasiatic and Afro-Asiatic < Nostratic < Borean < Proto-World language, which would correspond loosely to that common language of the Genesis that was spoken before it was (instantly?) “confounded” into different languages, hence the similar (or even worse) results obtained in reconstructing subgroupings (say Indo-Uralic, Ural-Altaic) than with a more global Nostratic or even Proto-World language.
  • Most of the earliest attested, reconstructed or (generally accepted) hypothetic languages, like Old Egyptian; (Semitic) Akkadian, Pre-Proto-Canaanite; (Indo-European) Europe’s Indo-European, Proto-Indo-Iranian, Proto-Greek, Common Anatolian; (Uralic) Proto-Finno-Ugric; (Sino-Tibetan) Proto-Sinitic; (Pre-)Proto-Dravidic; etc. can be traced back – depending on the archeological findings and linguistic theories, inherently inexact – to ca. 2500 BC.
  • It is therefore odd that before that date everything is ‘more blurred’ (so to speak) in linguistic findings and reconstructions of older linguistic ancestors – as e.g. the hypothesized laryngeals (or their phonetic output) in Late Proto-Indo-European, or the difficult reconstruction of Proto-Semitic, not to talk about Proto-Uralic or Proto-Sino-Tibetan. This is the strongest argument to support a theoretical instant split of a common (Chaldaic or Adamic) language into 70 or 72 derived languages, which we know from attested inscriptions, reconstructions or hypothesis, or which disappeared without a trace.
  • About their classification into language “families”, they might be related to the families based on consanguinity as described in the Bible, but identifications of those families by modern scholars have blurred the possible links (if any) between older language superfamilies and Noah’s sons; cf. Japhetic‘s simplistic identification with Indo-European, or Semitic‘s with “Semitic” languages. However, the more traditional identification of Japheth’s sons with “European” peoples (and therefore Eurasiatic languages), and Shem’s sons with (the old concept of) “Asian” peoples (hence with Afro-Asiatic languages) is more reasonable, leaving Ham’s sons with (at least) Austric and Dené-Caucasian languages (see Borean language tree).
  • Many biblical interpretations of the Adamic language share therefore mistakes inherent to the culturally-biased and simplistic views of many scholars, hence the identification of the original tongue as Proto-Semitic by Jews and Muslims, Proto-Indo-European by many Christians (since Rasmus Rask‘s first description of it as “Japetisk”), Sanskrit or Indo-Iranian (Aryan) by Hinduism, etc. That has hindered a more rational interpretation of the Bible and other sacred texts in light of the newest academic findings.

To sum up, we cannot know if the Adamic language existed, or its nature; we don’t know if Chaldaic (the common language before Babel) was the same as Adamic, or if not, if it was global (Proto-World language) or local to the Middle East (Nostratic?) according to Genesis 10:5. We can, however, defend mainstream Abrahamic beliefs on the confusion of tongues and the Tower of Babel as possible (“probability” based on extrapolation has little to do with religion and even with social events happened more than 4000 years ago) and that the descendants of Noah might have spoken a common language until the centuries on either side of 2500 BC:

All that nonwithstanding any possible interpretations of Adamic or Chaldaic from Old Earth Creationists, who usually take the historical accounts of the Genesis (its literal interpretation) as real facts just from the Tower of Babel on, dismissing the rest of the biblical data from the Flood backwards, and indeed any timeline calculated with genealogies by Young Earth Creationists.