Recap: Carl Zimmer, February 2019

Dear Members,

Those of you fortunate to be among the 70+ attendees at the February SECWAC meeting at Connecticut College last week enjoyed a tour-de-force presentation on international affairs in the deep history of human evolution and migrations across the face of the earth.

Carl took us through 6-million years of hominin evolution, focusing on the emergence of several species of the genus Homo from Africa to spread all over the planet. When we, H. sapiens, arrived in “Europe”, we found at least two cousins already in residence – the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. At the risk of casting aspersions on our species, it is interesting that we are now the only remaining member of the genus Homo… Interestingly, Neanderthals appear to have gotten some “bad publicity” in the decades after the discovery of the first fossil in Germany; it is only recently that their artistic abilities and thinking are recognized from ornaments and symbolic arrangements of stalagmite debris deep in the Bruniquel Cave in France.

Carl described these recent discoveries with a series of fascinating maps outlining the migration of our ancestors out of Africa and across the Eurasian landmass and down into Australasia and the Americas. One of the most fascinating aspects of the presentation was his description of recent developments in the area of Paleogenomics: the sequencing of DNA from our ancestors’ fossils, and the use of these data to map the waves of human migration across Eurasia over the past 10-15,000 years. He elaborated on the theme with data from the work of David Reich’s laboratory at Harvard, outlining the possible replacement, with some admixture, of early populations of Eurasian hunter-gathers with waves of farmers from farther East. Indeed, paleogenomics has shown us that there was likely some “admixture” with Neanderthals too: those of us born outside Africa carry many “Neanderthal genes” (ie, DNA sequences), some of which are related to the immune system and may have helped us survive infections. So, whatever we did or didn’t do to our cousins, a little bit of them lives on in our genomes!

You can read more of Mr. Zimmer’s work in his recently-published book, “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity”, copies of which he signed after his presentation. As we always do when a speaker does a book-signing, SECWAC bought two copies for donation, one to each of the New London and Old Lyme Public Libraries, in recognition of the two towns in which we host the majority of our meetings.

For our next meeting, we hope to see you on March 12 at the Crozier Building, Connecticut College, New London, when CJ Chivers, Marine Corps officer, author, and New York Times contributor, will present on “Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq”.

Sincerely,

Paul Nugent
Executive Director & Program Committee Chair
Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council

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Mission Statement

The mission of the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) is to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs by study, debate, and educational programming, primarily through a Speakers Series of 8 to 10 monthly meetings.