Friday, October 12, 2007

Genetic Evidence and the Peopling of Asia

The DNA of Indigenous peoples is a hot topic these days for anthropologists, geneticists, and others interested in figuring out the migration patters of humans in prehistory. Often there are problems with how the DNA is obtained from indigenous peoples, what they are told it will be used for, acknowledgment that it will be stored and reused for multiple purposes, and that it may be used by researchers to either claim affiliation or lack of affiliation between certain indigenous groups and those groups identified in prehistory. I've written a fair amount about this, with a book on the topic discussing the peopling of North America in prehistory, a short article on the same topic, and then a short blurb as well.

Well, a recent study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics that deals with this topic, although not from the perspective if North America. Rather, these researchers tried to figure out how Asia was originally colonized in the Pleistocene. Here is the abstract:

Phylogeographic Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA in Northern Asian Populations (81:1025-1041).

Miroslava Derenko, Boris Malyarchuk, Tomasz Grzybowski, Galina Denisova, Irina Dambueva, Maria Perkova, Choduraa Dorzhu, Faina Luzina, Hong Kyu Lee, Tomas Vanecek, Richard Villems, and Ilia Zakharov

To elucidate the human colonization process of northern Asia and human dispersals to the Americas, a diverse subset of 71 mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages was chosen for complete genome sequencing from the collection of 1,432 control-region sequences sampled from 18 autochthonous populations of northern, central, eastern, and southwestern Asia. On the basis of complete mtDNA sequencing, we have revised the classification of haplogroups A, D2, G1, M7, and I; identified six new subhaplogroups (I4, N1e, G1c, M7d, M7e, and J1b2a); and fully characterized haplogroups N1a and G1b, which were previously described only by the first hypervariable segment (HVS1) sequencing and coding-region restriction-fragment–length polymorphism analysis. Our findings indicate that the southern Siberian mtDNA pool harbors several lineages associated with the Late Upper Paleolithic and/or early Neolithic dispersals from both eastern Asia and southwestern Asia/southern Caucasus. Moreover, the phylogeography of the D2 lineages suggests that southern Siberia is likely to be a geographical source for the last postglacial maximum spread of this subhaplogroup to northern Siberia and that the expansion of the D2b branch occurred in Beringia 7,000 years ago. In general, a detailed analysis of mtDNA gene pools of northern Asians provides the additional evidence to rule out the existence of a northern Asian route for the initial human colonization of Asia.

This evidence is very compelling for archaeologists and others, for it seems to corroborate what is already known, that Asia was peopled from the south along the Indian subcontinent. However, what it does not explain is why the dental evidence argues for a slightly different approach: the dental evidence argues that there was a large influx of people moving into Asia (and north Asia) from central Europe (i.e., the Caucasus Mountain area) during the Middle Pleistocene. If this is the case, then it looks like there are several migration waves into Asia (based on DNA and dentition), and that much of Christy Turner's work with dental morphology stands: several waves migrated into Asia, and from there a major wave split, sending groups north and groups south, representing his two groups of Sinodonty and Sundadonty.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Education and Peru: The Work of Tarpurisunchis

Tarpurisunchis is a Peruvian NGO working on education in Apurimac, one of the poorest regions of Peru. It is a civil organization without profit aims. Tarpurisunchis is a Quechua (native language) word for "let us sow".

People living in the Andes have been repeteadly and violently oppressed throughout their history. Colonization is still a daily topic in many rural areas. The period of the landowners and the haciëndas lasted up to the seventies, and the region is still recovering from terrorist violence of the 80s and 90s. Many have escaped to larger cities or to foreign countries, especially the better educated and more wealthy residents who could flee the region then.

In Peru, there is a tradition that the capital, Lima, dictates the rules. Even until this day, residents search for wisdom from Lima…
However, a policy was started that is intended to transfer powers to the regions. People learn to get used to the right of self-determination, to take responsibility and to appreciate their own language and culture. Within Peru, Apurimac is the region with the lowest quality in education. In some rural areas, there is also a significant shortage to education supplies, especially in case of pre-school and high schools. Some crucial figures: 36.9 percent illiteracy, average duration of a study of 4.6 years, and 54.4 percent of the population does not finish elementary school.

All education directives have always been imposed from Lima, without taking into account the completely different realities in the Andes. Most teachers are highly motivated yet severely underpaid. There is little invested in education and the education systems have become obsolete. Subjects and methodologies should be well-considered again, because students continue to score poorly on basic knowledge, such as math and language arts.

As a school, Tarpurisunchis is already a positive example in the region, because they have carried out visible and meaningful changes. Some examples: applying new education methods, the realignment of the (resident’s/native’s) own identity and language (Quechua), the interactive communication with the children, abolishing military marches, and valuing local and traditional food, etc. We are the first to introduce Quechua back into the schools. Other schools are beginning to follow this example.
Within 3 years, the pre-school school and the first 2 elementary grades have reached 100 students. Our aim is to recruit more than 500 students for the whole school (pre-school, elementary and high school levels).

Tarpurisunchis is active in two areas:

- THE REGIONAL EDUCATIONAL REFORM PROGRAM - The regional educational reform program. This involves: adapted curricula, capacity building of educators, participation of students, reinforcing Quechua as part of one’s identity, renewing libraries and a communication project around social topics. Tarpurisunchis is cooperating with governments and all participants involved.

- MODEL SCHOOL. It aims to give an innovating, alternative example for the region. The quality of education in Apurímac is depressingly low. We want to show with our school that we can improve quality of education. At this moment, we have a pre-school school and an elementary school (only 1st and 2nd grade). In the long run we are also organizing a high school.

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