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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

May 27, 2021

Dr. Kristian Kristiansen has been at the forefront of the synthesis between archaeology and ancient DNA. That new joint field has allowed for a deeper understanding of the transition to Indo-European languages in Northern Europe 5,000 years ago. In 2015 he was a co-author on Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia, which established that there was a massive migration of the steppe people into Europe that resulted in the emergence of the Corded Ware culture, the likely predecessor of most subsequent Indo-European groups.

More recently, he has been thinking about the exact process by which genetic replacement and cultural transformation might have occurred. Unfortunately, some of his ideas have been misinterpreted by the media, leading to the bizarre piece in The New Scientist, Story of most murderous people of all time revealed in ancient DNA.

On the podcast, we address this piece, the misunderstanding that led to it, and the blowback Dr. Kristiansen received. Of course, he also articulates the reality that as scholars one must be faithful to the data, and there is evidence of aggression and violence on the part of the Corded Ware. It just isn’t the case though that they were special or unique in this regard.

Additionally, Dr. Kristiansen talks about the fact that there are various ideologies that have attempted for decades, and continue to the present day, to co-opt his discipline, as well as new results from ancient DNA.

More generally, we talk about how ancient DNA has transformed his profession, and how it has brought to the mainstream views he and Dr. David Anthony have held for decades. Like Dr. Anthony, Dr. Kristiansen was taken aback by the magnitude of the migration, which has made him rethink some of his assumptions. His group also was instrumental in discovering that the early Indo-Europeans brought the plague, and we discuss the role it may have played in the collapse of “Old Europe.”

Finally, he outlines the theory and data that the Corded Ware were patrilineal and exogamous, and how that explains their adaptability and the maintenance of their steppe cultural traditions and identity.