The 10,000 Year Explosion

I wanted to better understand what happened between the paleolithic age and agriculture. This book came highly recommended.

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran is an excellent book that goes directly after the theory that humans stopped evolving 40,000 years ago. In fact, the book makes a solid case that we are still evolving and at an accelerated pace.

This intuitively always made sense to me. All one has to do is look at carbohydrate metabolism. I was able to eat a moderately high amount of grain and never exceed 20% body fat. I don’t do that anymore, but compare my experience to that of native cultures just exposed to modern foods, especially Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. The island of Nauru was just exposed to processed carbs and now 95% of the population is overweight. A huge decline in health after initial exposure to processed foods is exactly what Dr. Weston Price discovered when he traveled the world in the 1930s meeting traditional cultures.

The book explores a lot of interesting evidence, genetics, and history. I really enjoyed this book. Does it alter my take on the paleo diet? Maybe a little. I’m clearly of Northern European descent and can handle dairy quite well. So although the paleo diet frowns on dairy, I think I can handle it just fine. Will I ever reach for a Mountain Dew or return to cooking with canola oil? Absolutely not, as no population has had time to evolve to extract nutrients from inflammatory seed oils or junk food. But someday they might.


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  1. I agree with you.
    The paleo diet is only good for elitists who can afford good quality meat and fish. There is not enough grass based meat to feed the world. And soon fish will be history if current over-fishing continues.
    Modern grain and corn- based meat is crap but the majority of humans will be eating it and getting sick from it but their survivors will eventually learn to live with it and reproduce.
    Think about future space travel. Are we going to be taking meat up there with us? or bring domesticated food animals with us. No way. Space travelers and moon colonists will be vegetarians producing their food in greenhouses on spaceships or planetary colonies.
    Their bodies will eventually evolve into getting used to non- meat food.
    We may all end up as diabetics but will somehow evolve or otherwise learn how to deal with the excess carbs.

    A similar thing happened with black people in Africa who over many generations developed a certain tolerance to malaria but in the process developed sickle-cell anemia.

  2. @Mike – True. We only need to survive long enough to have children. Then it doesn’t matter if we get obese or become diabetic.

  3. But so many kids now are becoming obese and/or diabetic! Maybe girls are reaching sexual maturity earlier now so they can reproduce before those problems set in?

  4. @Marian – Scary idea, but it makes sense.

  5. MAS, great review, coming from a human paleontology education this books seems like a quick distillation of the later part of my college experience!. For another great read check out the book “survival of the sickest” talks about genetic mutations in relation to both diet and environment. Especially the chapters on Diabetes were fascinating

  6. @Paul – Thanks for the book recommendation. I did read a book a while back that stated pre-diabetes (high blood sugar) could have been a survival technique for surviving cold winters. Of course the downside today is we don’t lower our blood sugar levels with the seasons. Instead they get chronically high.

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