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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Jun 11, 2021

James P. Mallory received in Ph.D. in Indo-European studies from UCLA in 1975 under the supervision of Marija Gimbutas. He is the author of In Search of Indo-EuropeansThe Origins of the Irish, and The Tarim Mummies, and an emeritus professor at Queen’s University Belfast.

Mallory devoted much of his career to understanding the origins of the Indo-Europeans. Over the first 30 minutes of he gives a magisterial overview of the question, the field, and where we are now. Mallory begins in the 18th century, proceeds through the 19th and 20th centuries, before finally arriving in 2015 when he was asked to review Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe by Nature.

The arrival of ancient DNA transformed the whole field within just a few years, vindicating some of Mallory’s conjectures and commitments, but leaving others even more clouded. We discuss whether the Hittites and Tocharians remain “mysterious,” and how surprising it was that the Corded Ware were basically Yamnaya despite striking differences in their material culture.

Mallory also discusses the nature of data analysis in a field like archaeology, where material culture can transform overnight, and richness (the last Neolithic societies of Europe) can give way to the poverty of remains (the Corded Ware). It turns out most of what we know about the Yamnaya and Corded Ware are from their burials because that’s all they left.

It’s a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation.