The latest research suggesting that human evolution has sped up dramatically in the last 10,000 years strikes me at first glance as potentially among the most important discoveries of our time. It affects so much that we have come to know, or think we have come to know. It definitely impacts the race and IQ debate, as well as very basic questions about human nature. The data is still preliminary and sketchy; and my skepticism is primed. But if it's true, it's a huge change in human self-understanding:

"Ten thousand years ago, no one on planet Earth had blue eyes," Hawks notes, because that geneOCA2had not yet developed. "We are different from people who lived only 400 generations ago in ways that are very obvious; that you can see with your eyes."

Comparing the amount of genetic differentiation between humans and our closest relatives, chimpanzees, suggests that the pace of change has accelerated to 10 to 100 times the average long-term rate, the researchers write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Not all populations show the same evolutionary speed. For example, Africans show a slightly lower mutation rate. "Africans haven't had to adapt to a fundamentally new climate," because modern humanity evolved where they live, Cochran says. "Europeans and East Asians, living in environments very different from those of their African ancestors and early adopters of agriculture, were more maladapted, less fitted to their environments."

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