Reflections of Our Past

How Human History Is Revealed in Our Genes


John H Relethford

First Edition • September 1, 2004 • 269 pages


Print ISBN: 9780813342597 • $42.00 USD$51.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780786741793 • $25.99 USD$28.99 CAN

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Where did modern humans come from and how important are the biological differences among us? Are we descended from Neanderthals? How many races of people are there? Were Native Americans the first settlers of the New World? How can we tell if Thomas Jefferson had a child with Sally Hemings? Through an engaging examination of issues such as these, and using non-technical language, Reflections of Our Past shows how anthropologists use genetic information to test theories and define possible answers to fundamental questions in human history. By looking at genetic variation in the world today, we can reconstruct the recent and remote events and processes that created the variation we see, providing a fascinating reflection of our genetic past. Reflections of Our Past is a W. W. Howells Book Prize Winner and Choice Outstanding Academic Title.

John H. Relethford is Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of Anthropology, SUNY College at Oneonta, where he has received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. His research interests include genetics and human history, human biological variation, and the origins of modern humans. He is currently President Elect of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Reflections of Our Past is a W. W. Howells Book Prize Winner and Choice Outstanding Academic Title. John Relethford lives in Oneonta, New York.

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An important contribution to the literature on human origins.
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John Relethford has written a collection of highly readable and fascinating accounts that illustrate how modern genetics contributes to our understanding of human evolutionary history from 6 million years ago to the near present. Relethford finds common themes in these diverse examples, and uses these themes to reveal both the strengths and the limitations of genetics as a tool for unraveling humanity’s past. Relethford carefully presents all sides to arguments, such as the origin of anatomically modern humans or the fate of Neanderthals, and he outlines the scientific logic needed to discriminate among the alternative hypotheses. His book is by far the most balanced popular account of the role of genetics in studies on human evolutionary history.
— Alan R. Templeton, Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis

Dr. Relethford has written a clear and concise review of methods for using genetic data to reconstruct our evolutionary past as well as an overview of some of the most recent genetic studies of human population history. Using simple and straightforward language and analogies, Dr. Relethford explains concepts and methods in a manner that non-scientists will find easy to understand. For all those people who have ever wondered how scientists use genetic data to reconstruct human population history, this is the book for you! This book will be of interest to both scientists and non-scientists alike.
— Sarah Tishkoff, University of Maryland

Relethford has written a very readable and engaging account of the genetic evidence for who we are and where we came from. In a highly contentious field where many researchers have a ‘horse in the race,’ Relethford shows us not only what is known, but how we can further test what we think we know. His book represents the best of what science can be, not only providing the current evidence, but guiding the reader through the process of constant evaluation and re-evaluation of evidence. The book is essential reading for people at any level. For the novice Relethford provides very clear presentations and arguments by analogy. For the advanced reader Relethford’s attention to current literature provides many a pearl that may have been missed, and a refreshing view of the big picture.
— Lyle W. Konigsberg, Professor of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

I’ve never read a better popular exposition of science than this. John Relethford, a major contributor to research in this field, writes with exceptional clarity and authority. Anyone seeking to understand how human history might be resurrected from present patterns of genetic variability will find this book immensely satisfying.
— Ken Korey, Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College

This book is a ‘must-have’ for readers interested in human variation and evolution. John Relethford explains simply and clearly complex topics such as coalescence theory, genetic distances, etc. This book will be enjoyed by both professionals and the general public.
— Lorena Madrigal, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida

This is another of Relethford’s fine books on human evolution. Very well written and without sensationalism, it clearly explains the nature of genetic reasoning about the past and the use of genetic data to understand our origins as a species and the population of the world by our ancestors. His illustrations and easy explanations will make this fascinating subject understandable to anyone.
— Kenneth M. Weiss, Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology and Genetics, Penn State University

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