The editors of American Anthropologist kindly invited me to write a review article to highlight (and dare I say integrate) the discoveries in anthropological genetics in 2017. It was a gratifying project as it allowed me to read the exciting (and intimidating) breadth of our discipline. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the insights that I am reminded while reading all the fantastic work.
- It is just an amazing time for anthropological genetics – From its roots, now it is growing into a tree with branches reaching for the skies. Some extracted genomes from thousands of years, old humans, looking directly into the spiderweb of human history. Some others integrated myriad new methodologies to understand the most unpredictable effects of genetic variations on our biology. We are boldly going where no human has gone before.
- It is clear that genetic data without context (i.e., archaeological, cultural, evolutionary, etc.) are pretty useless, but these contexts can be subjective, affecting interpretation in different ways. On the one hand, we have the genetic sequences -non-changing, code-like, inherited. On the other hand, we have social, historical, and social presumptions – fluid and politically-charged. This dichotomy, I think, continues to spawn a lot of confusion both in academia and the public sphere.
- Continuing on this thread – I think, one of the major issues that we will soon have to deal with is the social consequences of knowing the genetic variations (and perceptions with regards to these variations) within populations that affect our well-being, ability to do particular tasks, health, etc.
Having said these – The future is looking as exciting as ever.