The Reich Backlash.

Last year I waxed enthusiastic about David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past and described his take on the history of Indo-European. As I read Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s cover story in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, I realized it was shaping up as a takedown of Reich, featuring a group of archeologists who are resentful of his strongarm tactics and the kind of dominance that makes it hard for dissenters to get published. Having seen the kind of linguistics I support suffer a similar fate at the hands of Chomsky, I was sympathetic, but what exactly were the arguments against him? Alas, they turned out to consist mainly of this two-pronged attack: that his migration theories are bad because the Nazis used migration theories and because they contradict traditions about where the locals come from. These points are equally unscientific. I wrote in that earlier post that I was “pleased that the idiotic reluctance to consider migration theories because the Nazis favored them seems to have faded away”; I stand by the sentiment and am sorry that the celebration of fading was premature. As for the traditions, I quote from the Times story: “The ni-Vanuatu, for example, take for granted their eternal ties to the archipelago; their oral traditions ascribe their origins to some nonhuman feature of the landscape, their first ancestors having emerged from a stone, say, or a coconut tree.” And it ends with what Lewis-Kraus presumably considers a killer quote; the context is a visit to see some cave art:

Archaeologists said they were made by men who ate charcoal, chewed it up and spat it back onto the walls. The oldest dated back 2,600 years and looked at once hauntingly archaic and vividly recent. “They’re not Lapita,” Sanhambath said, gesturing at the drawings, which had been dated by radiocarbon to shortly after the Lapita period ended. “But so what?” Besides, as much faith as he had in what the archaeologists said about pottery or bones, he just couldn’t bring himself to believe them when they said these paintings were made by ancient men.

“These paintings,” he said quietly in the cave dark, “were made by the spirits.”

Why exactly are we supposed to take that sort of thing more seriously than the Early Modern insistence that humanity was 4,000 years old? I simply don’t know what to say when confronted with someone who looks at DNA evidence, weighs it against traditions about people coming from stones and/or trees, and awards the palm to the latter. That’s not to say, of course, that Reich must be correct because he studies DNA, simply that stones and spirits have nothing to do with whether he is or not. I am incompetent to discuss that, since I lack the requisite knowledge, but I have commenters who know a lot about it, and I hope they will weigh in.

Incidentally, Lewis-Kraus says Lapita culture is named for “a place called Lapita in New Caledonia”; the Wikipedia article says “The term ‘Lapita’ was coined by archaeologists after mishearing a word in the local Haveke language, xapeta’a, which means ‘to dig a hole’ or ‘the place where one digs’, during the 1952 excavation in New Caledonia.” That supports my sense from a college course that archaeologists aren’t always as careful about language as they might be.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:

    someone who looks at DNA evidence, weighs it against traditions about people coming from stones and/or trees, and awards the palm to the latter

    …I’ve now read the article, and I’m not getting that out of it at all. The only value judgments I can find are about the arcane secrets of peer review in Nature, and about the perverse incentives that publish-or-perish imposes on scientists.

    “The term ‘Lapita’ was coined by archaeologists after mishearing a word in the local Haveke language, xapeta’a, which means ‘to dig a hole’ or ‘the place where one digs’, during the 1952 excavation in New Caledonia.”

    Delightful. Reminds me of the bonobo, Pan paniscus: the first individuals destined for a zoo arrived in Germany in a large wooden crate labeled BOLOBO, the director mistook that as the name of the species and misremembered it. It’s actually the name of the place the crate was sent from.

  2. I’m not getting that out of it at all.

    OK, I exaggerated a bit, he doesn’t actually say the traditions are correct; he just presents both sides and goes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That’s not much better.

  3. Stephen Carlson says:

    I’m trying to get a handle on the peer-review complaints. Most of the complaints feel like the two of the reviewers had a difference of opinion with the editor. I’m in a different field, but I wish that editors would push back more with unreasonable reviewers. Normally I just send the piece somewhere else when I don’t like the reviewers’ decision, but it sounds like Reich et al. treated a rejection as a revise and resubmit? And that’s somehow wrong?

  4. David Marjanović says:

    He goes more like “butbut if you carelessly claim that they’re not even descended from the first inhabitants of their native land, apart from the ensuing identity crisis, they could easily lose their claim to their home because colonialism”. How the second part would work is not even hinted at, which is not much better than the bothsiderism I expected, but it’s not the same.

    Speaking of both sides: it would have been great if the article had mentioned that the Western Hunter-Gatherers of Europe had skin as dark as the people of Vanuatu, and of course that we know that precisely by sequencing ancient DNA. But it doesn’t even clarify that we’re descended from them by about a third, implying instead a 100% replacement by Indo-Europeans like Kossinna probably imagined.

    I wish that editors would push back more with unreasonable reviewers.

    Tell me about it. 3 out of 4 editors (pers. obs.) base their decisions on nothing but the reviews, no matter whether the reviewers made a serious effort to read the manuscript.

    Normally I just send the piece somewhere else when I don’t like the reviewers’ decision, but it sounds like Reich et al. treated a rejection as a revise and resubmit? And that’s somehow wrong?

    On the one hand, the incentive to publish in Nature is so strong that I’m not surprised they didn’t just submit it to Science but tried again. On the other, it is staggering that anybody dares to disagree with a Nature decision to reject! It’s called “submission” for a reason, and Nature is famous for rejecting almost anything.

  5. What I get from the article is that, in their exuberance (and arrogance), people like Reich are brash and unsubtle, like a bull in a China shop.

  6. Stu Clayton says:

    Nature is famous for rejecting almost anything

    That is one reason it’s difficult to argue against creationists. A crucial part of the argument for neo-Darwinian evolution is not evidence, but the lack of it.

    Although some fossils demonstrate that some species have died out, the number of non-viable variant individuals (or “trial species”, stretching the point) would be in the trillions. They were not viable, so leave no trace except in the theory.

    The model is adequate for explanatory purposes, but it is a pragmatic creed, not a demonstrable claim.

  7. In areas of Papua New Guinea that I’m familiar with, people speaking Austronesian languages generally have origin stories about where they first arrived by sea, while those speaking non-Austronesian (Papuan) languages generally have stories about where they first came out of the land. (Everybody moves a lot.) There are exceptions, of course, which may be due to wholesale language-shift in small villages overwhelmed by new arrivals (often kinfolk) seeking to escape disaster or find refuge.

    Vanuatu has no surviving Papuan languages (although a few survive in the Solomons), but over a hundred (Austronesian) Oceanic languages, including a few Polynesian languages. So I’m quite suspicious of the claim that *all* ni-Vanuatu believe they originated out of the land, instead of arriving by sea.

  8. @David Marjanović: Here’s what the OED has to say about the etymology of bonobo prior to its appearance in German.

    It is often suggested that the name was taken from a shipping crate containing a specimen sent to Belgium in the 1920s, which is said to have been inscribed with the name of Bolobo (a port on the Congo river), with a letter obscured at the time of arrival. However, this cannot be substantiated, and the origin of the suggestion is difficult to trace. E. Tratz & H. Heck (in Säugetierkundliche Mitteilungen (1954) 2, probably the work summarized in quot. 1955) explicitly state that the name was taken from a local language, but no likely etymon has been traced in the languages of the region.

  9. Mongol origin myth says their ancestors came to Mongolia from across the sea.

    It is usually explained that the “sea” in question is actually just lake Baikal, but I have doubts (Mongols used different word for it, not “sea”).

    {crazy mode on} proto-Mongols were a return migration from North America {crazy mode off}

  10. John Cowan says:

    bull in a China shop is more usually china shop. Was that a mistake or a joke that flew over my head?

  11. @ John Cowan

    A slip, no need to think further of it!

  12. I dont really know enough either. I’d reflexively sided with Reich till just now reading johnhawks.net who I respect, ripping into Reich’s approach. Gives me pause.

  13. “Our kastom teaches us that people moved from place to place to place,” he told me. Kastom is an expansive concept that includes tradition, history, land rights and social norms; local kastom varies tremendously across the more than 80 islands of Vanuatu, but the notion itself has become sacrosanct for the continuity and authority it provided in the aftermath of colonial occupation.

    the word seemed quite familiar somehow. and yeah, it turns out the Vanuatu people who speak 140 languages use pidgin English (called Bislama here) to communicate with each other.

    so ancient Vanuatu concept of kastom is just plain English custom.

    Figures.

  14. Kastom overlaps, roughly, with English ‘tradition’ or ‘traditional’, a broad term for pre-Western traditions and religion. So you have Kastom villages and Christian villages, for example.

    One thing that bugged me is that the one person they talked to in Teouma is picked to represent The Opinions of the “ni-Vanuatu”, as if there exist no diverse opinions in this very diverse country. That goes back to 19th century drop-in tourists in remote places of the world, who would report that “the people of X are very hospitable” or “the people of X are suspicious of foreigners”, painting the entire population of a town or a country based on an hour’s visit somewhere.

  15. Apropos of which, an old and dusty joke. Several guys are talking about where they would like to go travel in the world. One mentions the beautiful beaches of Thailand he’d seen on TV; another mentions Venice. The third one says, — “No, the best place to visit is Paris. People are so kind and friendly there. As soon as you land, people will come up to you and offer to drive you to town, they’ll invite you to the best restaurants, even offer you a place to stay.”

    One of the guys says, — “Oh, you’ve been there?”

    — “Not me. My sister.”

  16. AJP Crown says:

    The editor of Nature is called Magdalena Skipper.

    Nature is famous for rejecting almost anything
    She would like Nature to focus more on early-career researchers.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    The model is adequate for explanatory purposes, but it is a pragmatic creed, not a demonstrable claim.

    Uh, nonsense. To observe mutation and selection in action, just look at extant populations instead of the fossil record. That’s been done plenty of times in the last 50 years.

    Here’s what the OED has to say about the etymology of bonobo prior to its appearance in German.

    Thanks, I distorted the anecdote!

    Mongol origin myth says their ancestors came to Mongolia from across the sea.

    That’s fascinating, and I have no idea what to make of it!

    The editor of Nature is called Magdalena Skipper.

    That’s the editor-in-chief. I doubt she’s in charge of most manuscripts; journals that size have a lot of editors with more or less manageable workloads corresponding to smaller fields of science. Just 2 years ago I reviewed a manuscript for Nature, and the editor in charge of it who made the decision to accept was Henry Gee – I can’t remember Philip Campbell ever being mentioned.

  18. That’s fascinating, and I have no idea what to make of it!

    The word used in the first paragraph of the Secret History of Mongols – “tengis” – means “sea” in Mongolian. Translators facing a problem of how to explain it given landlocked geography of Mongolia usually decide to treat it as a “big lake”, even though that meaning is not attested in Mongolian – it’s always the sea. The word for ‘lake’ in Mongolian is “nur” or if it’s a really impressive big lake, it is sometimes given the epithet “dalai” (‘ocean’).

    I used to accept the traditional convention that in SHM it means lake Baikal, but there is really no reason to think that – let origin myth be myth. If it says sea, then it’s sea.

    It might not be true, but there is no reason to change the original text to fit our perception of what might be the reality behind it.

    PS. Rashid-ad-din also recorded another origin myth for Mongols according to which they were an underground race living in a big mountain cave, building furnaces and melting iron.

    Mountain dwarves, of sorts.

    And they lived underground lit by dim red light of burning furnaces until one day the hole they dug up reached into the surface and they discovered fresh air of Mongolian steppes…

  19. “tengis”

    That looks like a rather fresh borrowing from Turkic, no?

  20. I have added a marginal note in my Древнетюркский словарь next to the teŋız entry saying “first in 11th c.; replaced older taluj.” I have no idea where I picked that up from, but it suggests teŋız was borrowed. Wikipedia says it’s a Turco-Mongol word, for what that’s worth.

  21. Nature (Science is similar, but not to the same extent) is notorious for publishing things with overly broad or even bombastic claims, apparently just because they attract the most attention. Even more conservatively couched claims are often simply wrong, with spurious results produced by statistical happenstance. (As a colleague put it, “Three sigma happens.”). These things make it into print because they looked so unexpected (and thus attention grabbing) based on what was previously known.

    The Lewis-Kraus story also includes what seems like a lot of south grapes about what sounds to me like pretty ordinary peer review processes. Many high-impact journals use “revise and resubmit” quite sparingly. Whether a “reject” from a journal like Nature is really the end of the line depends a lot on the circumstances. Arguing effectively against negative referee reports is a useful skill for a senior researcher. It happens to be something I myself am very good at (although I am not entirely sure whether that is something to be proud of). Moreover, when an editor has conflicting reports, it is ultimately a judgement call whether a paper is going to be accepted. As I said, I think Nature tends to err on the side of publishing such things, just to court controversy, but there is nothing skullduggerous about the journal operating that way, as the article seems to suggest. Similarly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with getting something accepted in a good journal very quickly. I had one of my best papers accepted in a top journal in three days. There was nothing wrong with the refereeing; it was just obvious to the editor and eviewer that I had solved an open problem.

  22. John Cowan says:

    Arguing effectively against negative referee reports is a useful skill for a senior researcher. It happens to be something I myself am very good at (although I am not entirely sure whether that is something to be proud of).

    Well, it’s a lot better than p-hacking.

  23. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve read the article. I’ve not read the Vanuatu papers or Reich’s book. Some thoughts in random order:

    1. It’s a useful reminder that one should be careful with sweeping statements. The field is still young, but quickly improving, both in amount of data and sophistication of methods. 10 years ago I would shrug off budding results from Europe as preliminary and over-interpreted, much like the criticism of Reich’s work on Vanuatu. Things have to start somewhere, but it’s no sin suggesting different interpretations, making the following debate more about interesting nuances and less about semantics and who was really right and when.

    2. It’s also a reminder that population genetics in itself has little explanatory force beyong population genetics. It’s when matched with the careful detailed work of archaeologists that it can be made to say something useful about processes of the past, and a geneticist can’t do that without truly understanding the archaeology. The same goes for historical linguistics, but that’s old news. But it’s also a reminder that archaeologists should be careful with claims that are contrary to linguistic and genetic evidence. I wish archaeologist would understand that the Colin Renfrews and Barry Cunliffes of the world are an embarrasment to their discipline — as well as brilliant archaeologists. It’s when the fields are combined (and those of the genetics of domesticated animals and plants, and of diseases, and climatology, and comparative mythology, and any other scientific field that gives us glimpses into human history) that we get the full power of the new knowledge. Incidentally, that synthesis falls within the domain of archaeology, which is already a multidisciplinary effort of combining all available evidence. That’s why I want archaeologists to write up the result of the interdisciplinary studies.

    3. I don’t think it’s true that wholesale population replacement or subjugation by more advanced populations is gaining ground. What I get is complex and varying patterns of replacement, deplacement, amalgamation, subjugation and coexistence. E.g., genetic evidence has more or less done away with the linguistically based claim of near-genocide of the ancient population of Britain.

    4. I don’t understand the system of ownership or rights for archaeological objects. I don’t understand how a researcher rather than a museum (or whichever legal construct owns archaeological objects in this or that legal domain) can give access to material. I don’t understand why anyone would want to be listed as a co-author of a paper for simply providing material for analysis. I don’t understand why such material isn’t provided on the provision of full ownership to all results and under a general licence for availability to all and sundry.

    5. It’s not new that competition for publication in top journals is creating perverse incentives — and that goes for publishing scientists and reviewers alike. This is probably even worse in a field that is still under-developed, with a few well-funded labs flying far afield of everybody else. If these labs are getting ahead by securing property rights to rare material, they’re essentially competing by keeping others out, which sounds like very bad science. However, my little reading has given the impression that the relationship between the Leipzig and Copenhagen labs, and the smaller Swedish and German labs, is rather cordial, with efforts taken to understand and expand on eachother’s work. The Harvard lab had gone under my radar until the publication of Reich’s book. I think I took its papers as coming out of Pääbo’s Max Planck system.

    6. Origin stories are not genealogy, genealogy is not genetics, genetics is not inheritance law, and inheritance law is not ethnic right of land. Traditional societies aren’t any less able to keep these apart, but they may use a different language about it. Listen to the level-headed chiefs of the article. (Anecdote: In my one semester as a history student, our lecturer in African history told ironically of a well-meant effort by the British to improve property records somewhere in West Africa. Traditional tribal history had it that all were equal at the beginning, which was (say) three generations ago. When formal records started and genealogy could be followed further back, a traditional communal means of redistribution came to an end, and accumulation of wealth and poverty ensued. Obviously, these people knew that they had ancestors further back, but the origin myth had an important purpose in society. In a less colonial relationship the society might have been able to sort out the implications and both have a written history and restate the origin myth as valid within the domain of inheritance law.)

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Nature (Science is similar, but not to the same extent) is notorious for publishing things with overly broad or even bombastic claims, apparently just because they attract the most attention.

    Science, the eternal number two, sometimes compensates by publishing “contrarian” papers with claims that are less broad, less bombastic and more wrong… prolonging controversies that should long be over.

    I don’t understand how a researcher rather than a museum (or whichever legal construct owns archaeological objects in this or that legal domain) can give access to material.

    Well, researchers borrow material from museums, and as long as they have it, they control access to it.

    I don’t understand why anyone would want to be listed as a co-author of a paper for simply providing material for analysis.

    Yeah, that is bizarre. People who do nothing more than that belong in the acknowledgments.

    I wish archaeologist would understand that the Colin Renfrews […] of the world are an embarrasment to their discipline

    Renfrew was right about everything except the one detail he made headlines for. Agriculture did come to Europe by means of massive immigration, and such an immigration should indeed be expected to carry a language family along – it just wasn’t IE, it was Basque…

  25. SFReader: the second story Rashid al-Din gives is presumably an interpretation of the Islamic story of Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog) as referring to the Mongols. Yajuj and Majuj are specified as being two remote, numerous, industrious peoples trapped behind a barrier erected to stop them taking over the world, and living in a place where the sun does not reach; popular interpretations often take them to be living underground.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    David M.: Renfrew was right about everything except the one detail he made headlines for. Agriculture did come to Europe by means of massive immigration, and such an immigration should indeed be expected to carry a language family along – it just wasn’t IE, it was Basque…

    It may have been Basque. I believe as much, but it’s far from certain. Yes, he is a brilliant archaeologist, but his insistence in spite of linguistic evidence on connecting it with the spread of Indo-European was and is an embarrassment. But it may be more of an embarrassment for his stubborn followers.

    I added Barry Cunliffe for his views on the origin of Celtic and the peopling of the British Isles. Like Renfrew he’s probably right to a great extent, but he’s overstating his case into something his archaeology can’t address. I think the language of his Atlantic Europe was Basque before it was Celtic, but what do I know?

  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    Traditional tribal history had it that all were equal at the beginning, which was (say) three generations ago.

    Traditional tribal history goes back a good few centuries in the parts of West Africa that I know; still, it’s a big place, so I suppose anything is possible.

    Renfrew was right about everything except the one detail

    I first heard this on Radio Yerevan.

  28. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t claim the anecdote is true! But it’s true that it was told by my lecturer in a form resembling mine.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    Essentially, yes. However, it wasn’t traditional property rights but mining concessions in Russia; and it wasn’t a tribe in West Africa but Arron Banks. And it wasn’t the British colonial administration but the British Electoral Commission.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    Back to Renfrew. When I started taking advantage of the Internet and catching up on historical lingustics and the Indo-European homeland question at the turn of the century, I remember being impressed by the power of Renfrew’s argument but unimpressed by especially his explanation of Italo-Celtic and his failure to account for closer relationships of certain branches. At some early point I favored a Southern Balkan genesis of I-E, as some sort of creole, with Anatolian back-migrating, some branches following the agricultural front through Europe, and other branches forming in the Steppe. Little did I know of creoles. Later I had the homeland outside the agricultural zone but imagined Northern Indo-European to have hijacked the agricultural front at some later time. Mallory and Adams set me straight on the timeline and the archaeology of the Balkans, but even after Anthony I wasn’t convinced that the case for the Steppe as the homeland for more than a subset of IE was closed. It wasn’t until recently that I definitely ruled out a Balkan homeland (specifically Cucuteni-Tripolye), and then mostly because of the increasingly important Caucasus connection.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    Davis E.: Essentially, yes. However, […]

    Close enough!

  32. Trond,

    Which disproven genocide in Britain are you referring to? My understanding ws that genetics had proven not one but two near total replacements in Britain.

  33. @Trond, I’ve read the article. I’ve not read the Vanuatu papers or Reich’s book. Some thoughts in random order:

    1. It’s a useful reminder that one should be careful with sweeping statements…
    The Reich 2015 Vanuatu paper didn’t make the sweeping statement it is attributed (the NYT piece says that that the paper claimed to have ‘conclusively demonstrated’ lack of Papuan ancestry in the first settlers). Actually, it described the early Lapita as genetically mostly Asian, but with a detectable Papuan admixture. The contrast with the contemporary population was so strong, though, that a substantial post-Lapita population replacement was evident. The other paper underscored that there was a minor Papuan genetic component which grew in prominence later. The difference between the data and the conclusions is so totally overblown here…

    I understand that the archaeologists may have some valid and some self-serving reasons to defend their field against the DNA interlopers (properly careful custody of the ancient remains, and sharing the data, are very important issues IMO, and I believe David Reich has an exemplary approach here).

    But the NYT paper goes far beyond an account of yet another turf battle between the humanities and the hard sciences. The most peculiar thing about this piece is that it never mentions by name Eske Willerslev from Copenhagen, David Reich’s principal competitor. The rumor in the field has it that there is some major Nordic jostling for ancient DNA Nobel, and NYT simply carries water for Eske Willerslev 🙁

  34. Stephen Carlson says:

    I’d reflexively sided with Reich till just now reading johnhawks.net who I respect, ripping into Reich’s approach.
    I thought Hawks was fairly measured. His biggest complaint how the big labs were zooming up all the samples. Sort of a “Matthew Effect” (though he doesn’t use the term). I suppose the complaints about the peer review (which, like Brett, do appear to me as sour grapes) fit in with the “rich get richer” narrative.

  35. John Cowan says:

    And it wasn’t the British colonial administration but the British Electoral Commission.

    In fact it was the British Colonial Shipping Board.

    (I can’t find a decent reference, but Heinlein said he won a high-school debate by quoting a rock-crushers argument made before this nonexistent entity.)

  36. I don’t know very much about the science of this story. But I was, many years ago, an editor at Nature, so I have a couple of comments.

    Under the tutelage of John Maddox, I learned that the editor’s job is to make decisions. If reviewers of a paper violently disagree, then the task is to figure out why. Academic tribalism can certainly be a factor. Editors may well decide to publish a paper even if some reviewers are hostile, as long as someone else thinks it’s a good idea.

    Publishing a paper does not mean it is guaranteed to be correct. It means it has ideas that seem to be worth airing. Those who disagree are capable of writing rebuttals.

    A rejection from Nature is not absolute. If you think the decision is wrong, there is nothing stopping from you arguing against it. Sometimes you might win — I can think of a few occasions when we ended up publishing a paper that had been rejected in an earlier version.

    It’s very true that Nature likes to publish papers that may have an impact — both academically and in the general press. When I worked there, that was plainly stated in the ‘advice to authors.’

    One of John Maddox’s guiding principles was that when scientists are left to themselves, especially in the form of committees, they tend to be conservative, cautious, and hidebound. He delighted in Nature’s ability to upset the applecart from time to time.

  37. >I thought Hawks was fairly measured. His biggest complaint how the big labs were zooming up all the samples.

    I mostly meant when he talked about the industrial methods of labs like Reich’s “destroying bone samples that are irreplaceable.” As well as the contrast with “scientists who are genuinely interested with broadening participation in understanding ancient people …”

  38. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Whether a “reject” from a journal like Nature is really the end of the line depends a lot on the circumstances. Arguing effectively against negative referee reports is a useful skill for a senior researcher. It happens to be something I myself am very good at (although I am not entirely sure whether that is something to be proud of).

    When my wife was newly arrived in England she submitted a paper to the European Journal of Biochemistry. She was despondent when it was rejected, but when I read the rejection letter I said that it was not a rejection but a request to make extensive corrections, and in any case if you think a rejection is unfair you should always argue. Many people, especially from small countries, don’t always realize that. Anyway, the paper was accepted after revision and is now among her most cited papers.

  39. {crazy mode on} proto-Mongols were a return migration from North America {crazy mode off}

    That is crazy. The Mongols were horse nomads and there weren’t any horses in North America back then, also they could never have built enough ships to transport them across the Pacific. No, they were a return migration from Australia, forced to leave by their own overgrazing of the great central Australian grasslands – now completely desertified. There were no horses in pre-colonial Australia because the Mongols took them along when they left.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    “That’s amazing! Where did you learn to fell trees?”
    “In the Sahara.”
    “But there are no trees there?!?”
    “Not anymore…”

  41. Dmitry Pruss says:

    Some ancestors of the Mongols did come from the other side of the sea … Caspian.

  42. The Caspian Sea is a lake though. (That might or might not preclude it being a “sea” in English, and I have no idea how the relevant distinctions are drawn in Mongolian.)

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Whether it’s a lake has considerable political implications; the official Russian position is that it’s a lake and that therefore (somehow) no borders can be drawn through it.

    It has some actual ocean floor from a geological point of view, for what that’s worth.

  44. J.W. Brewer says:

    I am pleased to be informed by wikipedia that due to some clever compromises following lengthy negotiations that led up to a successful deal, finalized just last year, among all of the current set of littoral players, “the Caspian Sea is legally neither fully a sea nor a lake.”

  45. Dmitry Pruss says:

    Linguistically, though, Caspian sea is a sea (deniz / tengiz) in Turkic languages as in Mongolian. A Khazar Sea in Turkish no less?

  46. @J.W. Bewer: It littorally can’t even.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    That makes me happy.

  48. Whether it’s a lake has considerable political implications; the official Russian position is that it’s a lake and that therefore (somehow) no borders can be drawn through it.

    Apparently Iran was actually the strongest proponent of the “it’s a lake” argument, in part because that was an aspect of the Soviet-Iranian treaties that previously governed the Caspian, which gave the Iran and the Soviet Union roughly equal access/control over it. Iran would obviously have liked to have kept things that way, and tried to argue that Azerbaijan, etc., were still bound by the Soviet-era treaties.

    The smaller states (especially Azerbaijan, I gather) were partial to the idea that the Caspian should be a sea, and thus subject to international maritime law (i.e., the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea = UNCLOS), which would give them larger shares of the sea for economic exploitation. This, on the other hand, would have minimized Iran’s share, since its coastline on the Caspian is relatively small.

    The other problem with applying UNCLOS to the Caspian is that the central parts would have been legally the “high seas”, and thus in principle accessible to ships of any other nation in the world. Including, for example, NATO warships. (How they would get there is left as an exercise for the reader, although UNCLOS supposedly has some vague requirements that “transit countries” ensure that other countries have reasonable access, which presumably means being allowed to travel along Russian rivers and canals. Which Russia obviously wasn’t going to go along with.)

    So both Iran and Russia were dead-set against the idea that the Caspian should be legally a “sea”. Calling it a “lake” would apparently suggest that everyone gets an equal share, which would make the Iranians happy (since then they’d get a bigger share than, say, their coastline might suggest) but not the smaller states.

  49. Schrödinger’s sea

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks, I misremembered.

  51. John Cowan says:

    allowed to travel along Russian rivers and canals

    Oh, I don’t know. The Treaty of Paris (1783) which ended the war between King George and his rebellious subjects, made a provision that British subjects as well as American citizens had the unrestricted right of navigation along the entire Missisippi, which at that time was the western border of the U.S. As far as I can tell, this provision was never revoked (the Treaty of Ghent (1814) does not mention it), so presumably those of you who are Commonwealth citizens are free to sail your boats all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Itasca in Minnesota (or at least to the official head of navigation at Mile 858) if you are so minded, without any formalities whatsoever. You probably can’t land your boat anywhere, though, except in an emergency.

  52. Azov sea fleet gunboats conquered four European capitals in 1944-45 – Belgrade, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna.

    Didn’t need any visas too…

  53. John Cowan says:

    This provision of the Treaty of Paris was reaffirmed by the Jay Treaty (1794), which also provides for the rights of Indians living on “either side of the line” to pass by inland or water navigation across it. So the Haudenosaunee have some justification even in Anglo-American law for treating the border as nonexistent.

  54. Are the Great Lakes covered by the Law of the Sea?

  55. In general one may ask, what is the limnetic limen?

  56. Azov sea fleet gunboats conquered four European capitals in 1944-45
    They were officially monitors, a concept inspired by the Civil War USS Monitor, and championed by the late XIX c. Czarist government as a supposedly cutting-edge coastal defense technology. And the “Azov sea riverboats” were largely the remnants of the Danube Flotilla, which managed to retreat in 1941, to return to Danube 3 years later. Its ugliest claim to fame is the fate of Admiral Kholostyakov who commanded the Flotilla as it took the European capitals, and amassed an amazing array of medals and decorations from these nations’ governments. Kholostyakov was a neighbor of my cousins Gonikbergs at Tverskoy boulevard in Moscow, just down a flight of stairs, when he and his wife were brutally murdered by a military decorations thief. As I recall it was still the quiet 1970s, years before the late Soviet and pos-Soviet crime wave, and the murder was the horror of the neighborhood.

    Danube Flotilla wasn’t the only Red Navy riverine gunboat force. A truly landlocked flotilla was based in Pinsk on Pripyat River, a Western tributary of Dnieper, ready to advance across Poland along waterways and canals. One of my Pruss relatives, known from the family lore to have died defending Kiev from the Nazis, was missing from the rosters of the dead for a very long time. Recently, it turns out that Rudolph Pruss was a sailor in the Pinsk Flotilla, which retreated to Kiev as the Nazi advanced. The Russian Navy is traditionally very informal with its personnel records, unlike the Army, so Rudolph Pruss’s death went unrecorded, but by 1947 they finally added him to the list. What happened to his brother Boris, who *is* remembered as a sailor by the family, is still a mystery. But one of the WWII monitors, the Zheleznyakov, is installed as a monument in Kiev, and it is our virtual cenotaph to the brothers.

  57. J.W. Brewer says:

    This link gives some current-and-historical U.S. governmental views on the legal status of the Great Lakes. Short answer is that they’re all divvied up between U.S. and Canada with no portion of them being as “ocean-like” as the middle of the Caspian apparently currently is, BUT there are old court decisions referring to them in other contexts as being “high seas,” possibly for purposes of certain legal distinctions that were thought important in the 19th century but have been subsequently overtaken by events.

    https://www.gc.noaa.gov/gcil_greatlakes.html

  58. Mais où sont les chicanes d’antan?

  59. I just discovered, and instantly liked, the blog of John Hawks, a paleo-anthropologist who finds the time to blog frequently and clearly. His entry on the Lewis-Kraus article is largely sympathetic to the criticism of Reich.

  60. Interesting, thanks for sharing it. But it ends quite abruptly.

  61. Yeah, he says he’ll write more.
    Thanks for fixing my typo, even in your retirement.

  62. John Cowan says:

    In particular, everything past three miles from shore comes under federal admiralty and criminal jurisdiction rather than state jurisdiction, even in the Great Lakes. This was a break from English precedent, which limited admiralty to tidal waters only; technically there is a tide in the Lakes, but it is 5 cm even at the height of spring tide. So for international purposes there is no high sea there, but for state/federal purposes there is.

  63. That John Hawks post was already subject to some discussion earlier in this thread, though it wasn’t linked to directly.

  64. Trond Engen says:

    Ryan (weeks ago, almost forgotten):

    Which disproven genocide in Britain are you referring to? My understanding ws that genetics had proven not one but two near total replacements in Britain.

    I was thinking about the Anglo-Saxon genocide on the presumably Brythonic Celts. The conclusion was one of my takeaways from the genetic map of Britain from 2015.

  65. Trond Engen says:

    Now I’ve read the Hawks post. I understand him as being concerned with two issues:

    1. The destruction of valuable samples. Impressive as the results from the DNA labs may be (and I’m a sucker for it), shouldn’t we rather to do it more slowly and save specimens for better or less intrusive methods to come?

    2. That very little of the scientific progress translates into local expertise and funding in source countries that are scarce on scientific resources. Maybe I got that thought clearer after being primed by his post about anthropology in East Africa.

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