Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Reflections of Our Past: How Human History is Revealed in Our Genes by John H. Relethford (Westview Press) is a gem of a book. In it, Relethford, an anthropologist at SUNY Oneonta, a distinguished teaching professor, examines how members of his field use genetic information to shed light on human origins and prehistory. And he questions some orthodox views along the way in this accessible and absorbing examination of how the genes of living people in the world today reveal the history of humankind, from the origins of humans 6 million years ago to the present.

In non-technical language, he gives the answer or shows how the answer could be obtained through research to such important questions as:

  • Where did modern humans come from and how important are the biological differences among us?
  • Are we descended from Neanderthals?
  • How many races of people are there?
  • Were Native Americans the first settlers of the New World ?
  • How can we tell if Thomas Jefferson had a child with Sally Hemings?
  • Can we see even in the Irish of today evidence of Viking rampages of a millennium ago?

There are also chapters on the origins of the Polynesians, and the ever-interesting case studies of genetic admixtures such as the Jewish diaspora. Relethford shows us why our closest living relatives are the African apes, and he challenges the current view that all our ancestors originated in Africa 150,000 years ago. The author also touches on the Kennewick Man controversy (the skeleton found in Washington state was dated at 9,600 years old yet appeared European), concluding that he was probably not Caucasian but, in fact, a precursor to Native Americans.

Through engaging examination of issues such as these, Reflections of Our Past shows how anthropologists use genetic information of many kinds to test theories and define possible answers to fundamental questions in human history. This is a highly readable, popular exposition of human evolution and the breakthroughs and methods in genetics research, a highly contentious field – a must-read for professionals and the general public interested in human variation and evolution.

Headline 3

insert content here