Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas - book cover
Science & Math
  • Publisher : Twelve
  • Published : 08 Feb 2022
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN-10 : 1538749718
  • ISBN-13 : 9781538749715
  • Language : English

Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas

From celebrated anthropologist Jennifer Raff comes the untold story-and fascinating mystery-of how humans migrated to the Americas.

ORIGIN is the story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. ORIGIN provides an overview of these new histories throughout North and South America, and a glimpse into how the tools of genetics reveal details about human history and evolution.

20,000 years ago, people crossed a great land bridge from Siberia into Western Alaska and then dispersed southward into what is now called the Americas. Until we venture out to other worlds, this remains the last time our species has populated an entirely new place, and this event has been a subject of deep fascination and controversy. No written records-and scant archaeological evidence-exist to tell us what happened or how it took place. Many different models have been proposed to explain how the Americas were peopled and what happened in the thousands of years that followed.  A study of both past and present, ORIGIN explores how genetics is currently being used to construct narratives that profoundly impact Indigenous peoples of the Americas. It serves as a primer for anyone interested in how genetics has become entangled with identity in the way that society addresses the question "Who is indigenous?"

Editorial Reviews

"Social and genetic history cannot be disentangled. ORIGIN also highlights the colonizers' evolving cultural myths that shape and are shaped by their science. This is a valuable read for consumers of popular genetics who are not aware how much science is built on colonial theft, and how Indigenous peoples push back to improve science."

Dr. Kim TallBear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate), Professor, Faculty of Native Studies University of Alberta, Canadian Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Society, and author of NATIVE AMERICAN DNA: TRIBAL BELONGING AND THE FALSE PROMISE OF GENETIC SCIENCE

"Rarely does a book combine the scientific, the compassionate, and the respectful when engaging with genomes, histories, and the movement of peoples. Even more rarely does a non-Indigenous scientist listen to-and learn from-Indigenous interlocutors, past and present. Jennifer Raff's ORIGIN deftly weaves a critical narrative of discoveries, biases, achievements, faults, and possibilities, offering an integrative, caring, and scientifically rigorous approach to thinking with and about the histories of the First Peoples of the Americas. Filled with complex but accessible archeological, historical, and genomic analyses presented in the context of honest and often difficult narratives, ORIGIN is a necessary and elegant text."

Agustín Fuentes, professor of anthropology at Princeton University and author of WHY WE BELIEVE

"Ancient DNA, extracted from bones thousands upon thousands of years old, has the potential to rewrite the story of the human past. In ORIGIN, Jennifer Raff expertly explains the complicated science behind it, how it can tell us who the first inhabitants of the Americas really were, and how they got there. ORIGIN balances its cutting-edge command of the science and its interpretation with a deep commitment to the ethical implications of this work. The result is a lively, learned, and wonderfully told guide to a fascinating topic."―Patrick Wyman, author of THE VERGE: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World and host of Tides of History

"The deep history of the lands that became the Americas is one of the most fascinating, under-explored, and politicized branches in the story of humankind, and is being retold today with DNA as a source. In ORIGIN, geneticist Jennifer Raff tells that tale with great scholarship, respect, and the verve of a natural storyteller."

Adam Rutherford, geneticist and bestselling author of A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYONE WHO EVER LIVED

"Jennifer Raff, a credential dynamo in the field of paleogenomics, invites readers into her off-limits laboratory where she and colleagues are...

Readers Top Reviews

Conventional wisdom says the first humans to enter the Americas were the Clovis people, crossing the Beringia corridor 13,000-14,000 years ago. Yet tantalizing archeological evidence suggests the first migration may have been earlier, via a water route along the coast about 20,000 years ago, while ice sheets prevented an incursion over land. Since the land that made up the coast at the time is now under water, finding indisputable proof is difficult. That's where genetics comes in. In this fascinating and accessible book, anthropological geneticist and science communicator Jennifer Raff provides proof through genetics that eludes archeologists. She also explores how Native Americans have defined their own origins, and how a long history of exploitation and distrust impedes scientific research. Ultimately, the message is one of hope and discovery. Written for a lay audience, this book covers the subject extensively, from a variety of perspectives, in a way that's clear, sensitive, and understandable. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the subject. Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.
One of the best books I've read in a long while. Jennifer Raff is a great writer. Origin is interesting for its subject matter, but she makes paleogenetics <i>riveting</i>. Over the course of this book, she describes in detail how paleogeneticists uncover the history of ancient peoples, giving a critique of the problematic (and extraordinarily racist) history of the field and what has been done in recent years to heal the the entirely valid distrust between Native communities and researchers. She shows how ancient DNA is extracted and analyzed. She examines the archaeological data, context, dating methods, and virulent disagreements concerning "good" sites containing human evidence from the deep past. She provides a world-class primer on scientific research ethics and how to build trusting relationships among stakeholder communities. And she lays out the state of the science concerning how Native peoples moved from Siberia to places as far afield as Florida, Chile, and the Greater Antilles. (Extra points for describing the North American ice wall from the last glacier maximum as six times taller than the wall from Game of Thrones.) This book is written for general readers, not specialists, and it's clear that Raff is involved in science education, because every chapter is accessible, perfectly structured, and crystal clear. Also, the further reading resources seem fantastic. I very much look forward to whatever Raff publishes next (and secretly wish she had time to teach other scientists how to write books, because this was a joy). Five stars. ARC