The tagline for Spencer Wells’ book Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project is “The Landmark DNA Quest to Decipher Our Distant Past”. And that is exactly what this remarkable book is about. Wells introduces the average man to genetic anthropology in this work, taking us along with the Genographic Project and showing us how genetics can reveal how our world was populized by modern Homo Sapiens. Where did we originate? Where did we spread first? Who are the ancestors of modern Asians, Aboriginal Australians, and Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans? Using our DNA, combined with clues from prehistoric artifacts and weather patterns, these questions are beginning to be answered.
Wells neither oversimplifies, nor does he use to much technical language. While I have a biological background and a basic understanding of mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome (the two big players in the genetic research), I wouldn’t say genetics are my forte. But I never felt in over my head, and I had no problem with comprehension. With figures, charts, and diagrams, plus Wells’ every-day analogies, this book is perfectly accesible to the non-scientist. However, I could see how those not interested may think that Deep Ancestry reads as a long research paper. But it is so much more than that! Step by step we are taken back to the “African Eve” 170,000 years ago, of which all 6.5 billion of us on Earth are descended (and no, this is nothing like the Biblical Eve, of course). Deep Ancestry is a fascinating look how our genes hold the answers to where we came from.