Jun 232013

National Geographic has a great article on the discovery and further research related to our cousins the Denisovans. Everyone knows about the Neandarthals, and at this point I think most people know that large portions humans living today have some percentage of Neanderthal DNA. I was completely in the dark about the prospect of another subspecies of Homo sapiens which moved out of Africa and is carried in the DNA of some modern humans – The Denisovans:

A third kind of human, called Denisovans, seems to have coexisted in Asia with Neanderthals and early modern humans… Although the Denisovans’ genome showed that they were more closely related to the Neanderthals, they too had left their mark on us. But the geographic pattern of that legacy was odd. When the researchers compared the Denisovan genome with those of various modern human populations, they found no trace of it in Russia or nearby China, or anywhere else, for that matter—except in the genomes of New Guineans, other people from islands in Melanesia, and Australian Aborigines. On average their genomes are about 5 percent Denisovan. Negritos in the Philippines have as much as 2.5 percent.

What is amazing about this discovery is that it was all discovered from two teeth and part of a finger bone. Three separate individuals who died in a remote cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, a cave which has also been inhabited by Neanderthals and modern humans. Thus far the Denisovians have been found no where else, however, as the article points out the southern climates mean DNA is unlikely to survive. In fact the cool temperature in a Siberian cave is likely the only reason they were able to pull significant DNA out of the finger bone. Genetics and the ability to pull DNA from very old remains is such an incredible change to the way our history is studied – we no longer have to guess at what fragments mean, we can read the history directly from their essence.

Jun 082013

It has been interesting to watch the ongoing strife and turmoil that has been shaking Turkey. We were there for two weeks in March & April and had a chance to speak with a number of people in different locations. To a certain extent it has been hard to reconcile the strength of reaction given our conversations and the views shared, though some of the seeds of the reaction were easily visible.  Our time in Turkey was marked by three main themes when we spoke with people:

Ongoing tensions between secular & traditional Turks – Due to reforms driven by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey has a modern history of being open to different forms of religious worship, or no worship at all compared to the rest of the region.  The majority of the people we spoke with (bias of English speakers) identified as Muslim, but not devout and in many cases, non-practicing.  They had plenty of scorn for the clerics and traditionalists and dismissed their political power as buy-outs & giveaways to segments of the population. They felt that their options & lifestyles were under threat to a certain extent.

The Turkish economy is (or was) great – We saw a lot of new development and construction as we navigated the country.  In general all of the folks that we spoke with said things were good and life was getting better for everyone.  Despite Turkey’s run of growth there is increasing worry that the economic growth and stability in Turkey has been fueled unsustainable by outside lending. Sound familiar?

Turks are happy to be separate from the Euro – Without prompting people would mention how proud they were that they were doing better than the Euro zone, and that they were very happy to have not joined the Euro.  The financial crisis appears to have given confidence to going it alone.  Perhaps the growth experienced in the last five years was amplified by the troubles in Europe and investors looking for (and paying more for) opportunities in Turkey.

Time will tell how far the current unrest will last, both sides don’t appear to be backing down and are further instigating the other.  I wouldn’t give up hope soon – Even now it is very common to see Atatürk bumper stickers and tributes.  Turks are proud of their country and consider it unique and a model for other countries to follow.