Thursday, April 17, 2014

Update on Before the Flood

The 'Before the Flood' hypothesis primarily explores two puzzling aspects of the current Archaeological and Anthropological paradigm.  First, why did anatomically modern humans experience a profound adaptive event ~200kya when no relevant selective pressures are apparent but did not show adaptations when the profound changes in environment occurred with the emergence of agriculture and large permanent settlements?  It is as if humans pre-adapted to civilization.

Second, why, after not inventing agriculture and civilization for 100,000 years, did it emerge almost simultaneously in three or more, isolated occurrences in the Near East, the Far East and the Americas?  The explanation has traditionally been that the end of the Ice Age changed climates made agriculture either possible or advantageous.  While we see these patterns in the Near East, the Far East and the Americas, the question is, were there really no similar conditions anywhere in the H. sapiens' range in the preceding 90+ ky?

In total, the story simply cannot be correct without there being a very large missing piece.  Recent research is suggesting that the problems with the current paradigm are even greater than discussed above.

Over the last decade, the populating of Asia by modern humans has become better understood. Apparently, a supervolcano in Indonesia commonly referred to as Mt. Toba erupted around 70 kya and the ash and ensuing 'volcanic winter' severely stressed, and perhaps completely eliminated, the archaic human populations in South Asia.  In the subsequent 10,000 years anatomically modern humans expanded all the way to SE Asia, with recent finds in Laos dated to 60 kya.  It is believed that the human migration hugged the coast with northern incursions taking place much later.  While there is still significant controversy, the preceding is becoming the very well supported most widely accepted scenario.

Simultaneously the paleoclimate of Southern Asia is becoming better understood.  The glacial period was apparently more climatologically variable than previously thought and alternating cold and warm periods were common.  However in Southern Asia this resulted in fluctuations between tropical rainforests and deciduous forests.  There should not have been many, if any, civilization destroying climatic events and, while agriculture would need to adapt to these cycles, it certainly should have been possible and, arguably, expected.  The conditions for the emergence of agriculture were at least as favorable as what prevailed during the times when it was invented in the Far East and the Americas.

This leaves us with a significant puzzle.  Apparently, modern humans occupied Southern Asia, in commodious environs, for 40,000 years without inventing agriculture or civilization.  Yet the indigenes did invent agriculture and build a civilization more or less simultaneously with Sumeria, Egypt and China during the Holocene.  Why?  What changed?  Or, perhaps more on point, what are we missing?

It is possible that the human genome underwent changes that were not visible in skeletal remains but without which civilization was very unlikely or even impossible.  If so, these modifications would need to emerge prior to the Holocene.  Whatever these changes were, they needed to emerge, be reinforced and, through gene migration, find their way into every human population including those of Northeast Asia before they migrated into the New World about 15 kya.  Otherwise, agriculture and civilization would have been a strictly Old World phenomenon.

This genetic event, therefore, would need to have dated to some time prior to 20 kya.  Keep in mind that the 'flood' was a 100 meter rise in ocean levels that took place between 15 kya and about 10 kya as the glaciers of the Ice Age melted and the meltwater found its way to the oceans.  It was accompanied by a series of dramatic climatic changes, notably the Oldest, Older and Younger Dryas that undoubtedly would be very disruptive to any attempts to retain, much less develop, agriculture and civilization.

Recent research analyzing mtDNA has allowed us to estimate human populations by region from about 50 kya to the present.  The most significant pattern seen are three population explosions in South Asia, then China and finally Europe.  The South Asia population explosion began around 40 kya and as a result during that critical period from 40 kya to 20 kya, over 60% of the human population lived in South Asia.  It wasn't until the Holocene (~10 kya), that population exploded in China and Europe.

This is critical because in both of the cases of China and Europe, the explosion in population corresponded with the invention of agriculture and about 7 ky later the emergence of bronze age civilization.  If we translate the pattern of population growth and the invention of agriculture from China and Europe onto South Asia, we would conclude that agriculture was invented in South Asia about 35 kya.  In fact it is not at all clear that a hunting/gathering population could be supported in the Indian subcontinent at the suggested levels.  Indeed, the South Asian population explosion may turn out to be a 'smoking gun' for antediluvian agriculture and civilization.

This begs another critical question.  If agriculture was invented 35 kya in South Asia, why did not a Bronze Age civilization emerge 28 kya with advanced civilization emerging 23 kya, as it did in the more modern cases?  That would be significantly before the climatic disruption of the 'flood', so climate change is not a plausible reason.  While a Bronze Age civilization, as we will see, could have existed without leaving obvious evidence, an Industrial Age civilization could not.

So, we find ourselves in a bit of a logical bind.  It appears that agriculture should have been invented 35 kya, the calculated population suggests that it was, but, if so, it didn't lead to the advanced civilization of today, even though there appears to have been ample time.  The reconciliation, I believe, lies in the genetic event of which I spoke earlier.  Essentially, I suggest that the genome of a hunting/gathering society must change before agriculture can result in civilization.  Since it was happening for the first time, it took more time for the genome to have the traits it needed for civilization to emerge.  In other words, Egypt, Sumeria, China, et alia could move from agriculture to civilization much faster, because the proper alleles were already in the population and they only needed an increase in allelic frequency.

Twenty years ago, on a beautiful summer afternoon in Minnesota, I was sitting on my balcony with a dear friend and fellow intellectual.  I suddenly had a realization and I said, 'You know, if the mean IQ was 100, but the standard deviation was 10 rather than 15, humans would still be living in caves!'  He agreed, 'You're right.  There would be no Einsteins.'  He was correct.  Einstein would be a six sigma deviant rather than a four sigma deviant.  That is the difference one in 30,000 and one in a billion.  There might be a few geniuses, but not at the Einstein level.

That, however, was not what I was thinking.  I was thinking about doctors, engineers and farmers.  The 130 IQ doctor, rather than being one in fifty would be one in one thousand.  The doctors and engineers would need to have 120 IQs instead and society would collapse under the weight of its own incompetence.  While modern farmers are highly educated technologists and business people, the farmers who fed Egypt and Sumeria dug in the dirt, pulled weeds, toted water; they did nothing that couldn't be taught to a five year old.  If the population had a standard deviation of 10, farmers, on average, would be too smart.  They would get bored and become cranky.  They may become sufficiently frustrated with their situation to foment insurrection.  Essentially, the agricultural age society needed its stupid people just as much as it needed its smart people.  The hunting/gathering standard deviation would not be workable.

Conversely, the hunting/gathering life track actually requires a relatively high IQ by comparison. Stupid hunters quickly become dead hunters.  Gathering, while not as dangerous, still requires more intelligence than subsistence farming.  While a hunting gathering society does need a few smart people, they don't need many.  One would expect a hunting gathering society to have a lower standard deviation.  While it has often been observed that hunting/gathering is actually intellectually demanding, there has been no study of standard deviation.

There are most likely social and behavioral differences that are essential for a functioning civilization.  After all, hunting/gathering populations spend most of their time in very small groups and almost never encounter even 1,000 people.  Bronze Age cities often had populations of 20,000 to 50,000 and civilizations could number into the millions.  While hunters/gatherers are generalists, urban dwellers are usually specialists.  Civilizations require complex, codified rules of behavior.  Simply put, hunting/gathering societies need hunting/gathering attitudes, abilities and behaviors while civilization requires civilized attitudes, abilities and behaviors.

Consequently, it is probably the case that the human genome for a hunting/gathering society could not be transformed into an agricultural society genome simply by changing a few allelic frequencies and relying on different learned behaviors.  It probably would require new alleles through mutation to emerge and be reinforced.  So, even with nearly 20,000 years, instead of getting jets and computers, they may not have been able to get much further than a Bronze Age civilization.  However, they may, indeed, have gotten that far.

We have not found irrefutable evidence of an antediluvian Bronze Age civilization.  Should we expect to?  On one hand, Egypt and MesoAmerica had its pyramids and Sumeria its ziggurats.  We didn't miss the pyramids or the ziggurats and, if antediluvian India has something similar, we could wonder why we have not found it. However China never built anything so grand.  So, it would not be unprecedented that there are no monumental remains, but we would expect them.  One would expect evidence of rock quarries and copper and tin mines, as well.  Yet there appear to be none.

The key is the rapid dispersal model and the flood.  The migration apparently took place along the coast and the shoreline was 120 meters lower then than it is now.  Most remains would now be under water.  For example, if the Pyramids had been built at their current elevation but prior to the Holocene, the would now be standing in 20 meters of seawater.  Whether that would erode them past recognition over a period of 20,000 years is not clear.  But it shows just how significant that ocean rise was.  Recently an earlier version of Dwarka, India (according to legend Dwarka was built seven times with the first six becoming submerged from rising ocean levels) may have been found, though there is much controversy and very little Archaeology.  Even if it is Lord Krishna's Dawarka, it would be from during the flood.  Antediluvian ruins would be in very deep water and covered with 15,000 years of silt.  In other words, the absence of obvious evidence is not that surprising.

Egyptian and Sumerian mythologies imply that civilization began (assuming lunar calendar) about 20,000 years before the flood.  Since the flood is dated to 15 kya, this would result in a beginning of civilization about 35 kya which matches our expectations.  In other words, the mythological beginning of civilization may be a more or less accurate mythologized history.  It, of course, would be transferred history, as much of the Old Testament actually took place in Sumerian and is duplicated in Sumerian mythologies.

Most population centers are less than 120 meters above sea level, so we would expect the antediluvian civilization to be mostly submerged.  However, some are at a higher level and we might expect to find them only with great effort.  Also, in archeology, one rarely finds that for which one does not search.  And one rarely looks for what one does not expect to find.  This why an initial discovery often leads to many more discoveries.  It is possible, if a breakthrough discovery is made that establishes an antediluvian civilization in Southern Asia, that a flurry of additional archaeological evidence will be found.

None of this is a proof of an antediluvian South Asian civilization.  However, the current explanation forwarded for the 35 kya population explosion in South Asia is that the population introduced a new spear tip and that is far from convincing given the scope of the population explosion.  Other parts of the world are suspected of causing mass extinctions through over-hunting and they had substantially smaller populations.  Furthermore, it is difficult to understand how a large population of modern humans, given 20,000+ years to do so, failed to invent agriculture and civilization, but their descendants, just 5,000 years later, did so at every opportunity.  In fact, the story is implausible on its face.

So, while the 'Before the Flood' hypothesis is still a hypothesis, it is a strong one and becoming stronger as we learn more.