Book Review: Ancestral Journeys

Ancestral Journeys:  The Peopling Of Europe From The First Venturers To The Vikings, by Jean Manco

As I was reading this book I was a bit unsure of what to think and how to feel about it.  I am certainly fond of reading about European prehistory and the explorations of the Vikings as well as the proto-Indo European speaking peoples [1], but it appeared as if this book sat at an uncomfortable place as a work.  The author wanted to speak authoritatively in both a scientific sense as a student of population genetics and the implications of various gene markers being present in certain populations at certain times and also to create a narrative of the supposed travels and migrations of ancient peoples into certain areas, but she showed a marked reluctance to engage in a discussion of migrations where they were covered in ancient narrative histories.  In short, this was not an author who wanted to address the thorny issues of textual criticism but rather wished to write about those areas where the historical record was the thinnest and therefore where the canvas for her own speculations and musings could be the most unhindered by inconvenient records that would contradict her own theories and ideas.

In about 250 pages of material or so the author manages to cover eighteen chapters worth of speculation and discussion of genetic and linguistic research in a generally chronological fashion.  After a short preface, the author discusses what it means to be a European (1) in light of the fact that Europe is a subcontinent that has always had somewhat porous and uncertain borders.  After that there is a discussion about the principles and problems of migration (2), where the author shows herself to be opposed to the anti-migratory bias of earlier generations of historians in the 20th century.  There is a discussion about the first Europeans (3), as well as a look at Mesolithic hunters and fishermen (like the proto-Indo-Europeans) (4) and the first farmers who came out of the Middle East and neighboring areas (5).  The author looks at dairy farming and the additional energy gained by being able to drink milk (6).  After a look at Copper Age Europe (7), the author turns her attention to the spread of early Indo-Europeans (8) as well as their genetic record (9) and the travels of the proto-Celto-Italians known as the Beaker Folk (10).  Taking a break from this the author examines the genetics and linguistics of Minoans and Mycenaeans (11) as well as the travels of iron age warriors and traders (12) throughout Europe.  From this the author then turns to the relationship between Etruscans and Romans (13), the great wandering of Germanic tribes into the decaying Roman Empire (14), and the incursions of Bulgars and Magyars (16) along with the Vikings (17) before closing with a summary of the rich and varied nature of European genetic and linguistic history.

Those readers who enjoy speculation about ancient history and find a discussion of gene markers appealing will find much to appreciate about this volume.  For someone engaged in as much speculation as she is, the author is strangely authoritative about her speculations, especially as she realizes that the state of genetic markers that can give a precise understanding of population movement over time is not yet present to a detailed enough degree to support the narrative structure that the author wishes to engage in.  Nevertheless, there is a great deal that is appealing about wondering how it was that the world came to be as it is, how our ancestors traveled from the steppes and the Middle East through Europe to arrive at the point where we recognize our ancestors who who they are.  We may ponder where our R1b1 ancestry springs from and how widely our fathers and mothers traveled, as perhaps a way of explaining our own distant travels in search of a better and happier life.  Given that we are a migratory people, it is perhaps to be expected that some of us appreciate a view of history that puts migrations in their proper place and looks at the factual basis for examining migratory history.  For that reason this book has at least some value despite its overreaching in speculation.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Ancestral Journeys

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Who We Are And How We Got Here | Edge Induced Cohesion

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