The story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. Origin provides an overview of these new histories throughout North and South America, and a glimpse into how the tools of genetics reveal details about human history and evolution.
Raff beautifully integrates new data from different sciences...and different ways of knowing, including Indigenous oral traditions, in a masterly retelling of the story of how, and when, people reached the Americas. While admittedly not an archaeologist herself, Raff skillfully reveals how well-dated archaeological sites...are at odds with the Clovis first hypothesis. She builds a persuasive case with both archaeological and genetic evidence that the path to the Americas was coastal (the Kelp Highway hypothesis) rather than inland, and that Beringia was not a bridge but a homeland ... Throughout, Raff effectively models how science is done, how hypotheses are tested, and how new data are used to refute old ideas and generate new ones ... [Raff is] an informed and enthusiastic guide throughout ... The book is richly referenced, and informative footnotes and endnotes give readers an opportunity to take a deeper dive if they wish ... Our job as anthropologists is to breathe life into the past, to retell the stories of our ancestors and extinct relatives ... Sprinkled through Origin are lovely vignettes of life thousands of years ago ... Through a combination of rigorous science and a universal humanity, Raff gives ancient people a voice ... Throughout Origin, Raff takes on pseudoscientific nonsense rooted in bigotry and colonial thinking ... While science is the most objective way of understanding the natural world that humans have ever devised, it is still done by an emotional, subjective primate — us. Raff celebrates science, but also calls attention to the many ways science has harmed Indigenous communities ... My only quibble with this outstanding book is that we don’t learn who Raff herself is and how she personally has contributed to this work through her scholarship until halfway through Origin ... She has written the book anyone interested in the peopling of the Americas must read.
Raff wants to tell the most accurate, if still incomplete, story of how humans settled the Americas by integrating research on ancient and modern DNA with archaeological finds ... Raff delves into several competing models of how, when and where people first made inroads into the Americas ... Raff articulates scientific arguments for these settlement scenarios in clear, nontechnical language. But her narrative revs up when she describes how geneticists, with some admirable exceptions, have treated Indigenous groups as afterthoughts or as passive DNA donors ... After mentioning that a few large, well-funded labs dominate ancient DNA research, Raff leaves unexplored the implications of that concentration of resources for studying ancient human migrations. But her book gives a balanced view of what’s known about the First Peoples and how scientists can cooperate with their modern-day descendants.
Origin bills itself as 'a genetic history of the Americas', and it largely delivers on that promise. The final third of the book, in particular, draws on genetic and archaeological evidence to tell the story as we see it now. This section is a model of clear and nuanced explanation: Raff highlights the uncertainties and caveats, but doesn’t allow them to overwhelm the story ... The earlier part of the book is less clear in places ... There is the question of how the First Peoples got there ... The evidence is complex and contradictory, and Raff is admirably fair-minded in the way she handles it ... These sections are crucial to the story because they elucidate just how much light genetics has been able to shed on the big mysteries. Unfortunately, they jump back and forth in time, both in prehistory and in the historical sequence in which the discoveries were made, which can get a little confusing ... Despite this, Origin has many strengths. Raff is a critical historian of her own field, who casts a beady eye over the crimes and misdemeanours committed by earlier generations of archaeologists ... It will make uncomfortable reading for people still wrestling with the legacy of the European colonial empires. Some scientists may prefer that these darker episodes not be mentioned, but I tend to agree with Raff that it is crucial to face them head on. She argues that scientists studying the history and culture of Indigenous peoples anywhere in the world must be in constant dialogue with them ... Origin is a very human book.