BAMAD no.53

 DNA and 
 Anthropology Updates 

Updates in DNA studies along with Anthropological Notes of general interest with a particular emphasis on points pertinent to the study of Ancient Israelite Ancestral Connections to Western Peoples as explained in Brit-Am studies.


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BAMAD no. 53
Brit-Am Anthropology and DNA Update
31 May 2009, 8 Sivan 5769
1. The Height Gap
Why Europeans are getting taller and taller-and Americans
2. Queries about DNA Testing
3. DNA to test

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1. The Height Gap
Why Europeans are getting taller and taller-and Americans
by Burkhard Bilger April 5, 2004
The Netherlands, as any European can tell you, has become a land of giants. In a century's time, the Dutch have gone from being among the smallest people in Europe to the largest in the world. The men now average six feet one, seven inches taller than in van Gogh's day, and the women five feet eight. The national organization of tall people, Klub Lange Mensen, has considerable lobbying power. From Rotterdam to Eindhoven, ceilings have had to be lifted, furniture redesigned, lintels raised to keep foreheads from smacking them. Many hotels now offer twenty-centimetre bed extensions, and ambulances on occasion must keep their back doors open, to allow for patients' legs. "We will not go through the ceiling," the pediatrician Hans van Wieringen assured me, after summarizing national height surveys that he had co-dinated. "But it is possible that we will grow another ten centimetres."

Tall men, a series of studies has shown, benefit from a significant bias. They get married sooner, get promoted quicker, and earn higher wages. According to one recent study, the average six-foot worker earns a hundred and sixty-six thousand dollars more, over a thirty-year period, than his five-foot-five-inch counterpart, about eight hundred dollars more per inch per year. Short men are unlucky in politics (only five of forty-three Presidents have been shorter than average) and unluckier in love. A survey of some six thousand adolescents in the nineteen-sixties showed that the tallest boys were the first to get dates. The only ones more successful were those who got to choose their own clothes.

Like many biases, this one has a certain basis in fact. Over the past thirty years, a new breed of "anthropometric historians" has tracked how populations around the world have changed in stature. Height, they've concluded, is a kind of biological shorthand: a composite code for all the factors that make up a society's well-being. Height variations within a population are largely genetic, but height variations between populations are mostly environmental, anthropometric history suggests. If Joe is taller than Jack, it's probably because his parents are taller. But if the average Norwegian is taller than the average Nigerian it's because Norwegians live healthier lives. That's why the United Nations now uses height to monitor nutrition in developing countries. In our height lies the tale of our birth and upbringing, of our social class, daily diet, and health-care coverage. In our height lies our history.

Biologists say that we achieve our stature in three spurts: the first in infancy, the second between the ages of six and eight, the last in adolescence. Any decent diet can send us sprouting at these ages, but take away any one of forty-five or fifty essential nutrients and the body stops growing. ("Iodine deficiency alone can knock off ten centimetres and fifteen I.Q. points," one nutritionist told me.)

When Komlos and his parents arrived in Chicago, in the winter of 1956, America was a land of almost mythical abundance. For more than two centuries, its people had been so healthy and so prosperous that they towered above the rest of the world, about four inches above the Dutch, for example, for most of the nineteenth century. To Komlos, raised on the black bread and thin broth of Communist Hungary, Chicago's all-you-can-eat restaurants were astonishing. "I was just amazed that these things existed," he says. But he found the restaurants not nearly as impressive as the giants who fed there.

Komlos now knows that he arrived in America at a pivotal point in its history. Over the next fifty years, by most indicators dear to economists, the country remained the richest in the world. But by another set of numbers, longevity and income inequality, it began to lag behind Northern Europe and Japan. It's this shift that fascinates Komlos, and that emerges so vividly in his height data.

One evening last winter, Komlos and I were walking by the U.S.O. office at the Philadelphia airport, when he stopped to watch a batch of Coast Guard recruits who were shipping out to Cape May, New Jersey. "Look at that," he said. "Hardly any of them is six feet tall." Komlos had to catch an 8 p.m. red-eye to Munich, but he couldn't resist taking this group's measure. Standing at a discreet distance, he slowly sized up each man as if with a pair of calipers. "Amazing," he said. "The average German soldier is a hundred and seventy-nine centimetres" about five foot ten and a half.  These guys are more like me."

 Yet in Northern Europe over the past twelve hundred years human stature has followed a U-shaped curve: from a high around 800 A.D., to a low sometime in the seventeenth century, and back up again. Charlemagne was well over six feet; the soldiers who stormed the Bastille a millennium later averaged five feet and weighed a hundred pounds. "They didn't look like Errol Flynn and Alan Hale," the economist Robert Fogel told me. "They looked like thirteen-year-old girls."

In 1974, he and Stanley Engerman published an exhaustive study of slave economics entitled "Time on the Cross." Historians had long insisted that slavery was not only inhuman; it was bad business; hungry, brutalized workers made the poorest of farmers. Fogel and Engerman found nearly the opposite to be true: Southern plantations were almost thirty-five per cent more efficient than Northern farms, their analysis showed. Slavery was a cruel and inhuman system, but more so psychologically than physically: to get the most work from their slaves, planters fed and housed them nearly as well as free Northern farmers could feed and house themselves.

"Time on the Cross" was greeted with uncommon fury in academia; one reviewer consigned it "to the outermost ring of the scholar's hell." Yet each point that critics blew apart left a scattering of uncomfortable facts behind it. The most dramatic example came from a graduate student of Fogel's, Richard Steckel, who is now at Ohio State. Steckel decided to verify his mentor's claims by looking at the slaves' body measurements. He went through more than ten thousand slave manifests, shipboard records kept by traders in the colonies, until he had the heights of some fifty thousand slaves; then he averaged them out by age and sex. The results were startling: adult slaves, Steckel found, were nearly as tall as free whites, and three to five inches taller than the average Africans of the time.

Steckel, after his work on slaves, went on to Union soldiers and Native Americans. (The men of the northern Cheyenne, he found, were the tallest people in the world in the late nineteenth century: well nourished on bison and berries, and wandering clear of disease on the high plains, they averaged nearly five feet ten.)

The immediate point was clear: America was a good place to live in the eighteenth century. Game was abundant, land free for the clearing, settlement sparse enough to prevent epidemics. On Komlos?s graph, even the runaway slaves are five feet eight, and white colonists are five feet nine, a full three inches taller than the average European of the time. "So this is the eighteenth century," Komlos said, slapping the files. "This is not problematic. It shows that Americans are well nourished. Terrific." He reached into a cardboard folder and pulled out another series of graphs. "What is problematic is what comes next."

Around the time of the Civil War, Americans' heights predictably decreased: Union soldiers dropped from sixty-eight to sixty-seven inches in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, and similar patterns held for West Point cadets, Amherst students, and free blacks in Maryland and Virginia. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the country seemed set to regain its eminence. The economy was expanding at a dramatic rate, and public-hygiene campaigns were sweeping the cities clean at last: for the first time in American history, urbanites began to outgrow farmers.

Then something strange happened. While heights in Europe continued to climb, Komlos said, "the U.S. just went flat." In the First World War, the average American soldier was still two inches taller than the average German. But sometime around 1955 the situation began to reverse. The Germans and other Europeans went on to grow an extra two centimetres a decade, and some Asian populations several times more, yet Americans haven't grown taller in fifty years. By now, even the Japanese, once the shortest industrialized people on earth, have nearly caught up with us, and Northern Europeans are three inches taller and rising.

The average American man is only five feet nine and a half, less than an inch taller than the average soldier during the Revolutionary War. Women, meanwhile, seem to be getting smaller. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, which conducts periodic surveys of as many as thirty-five thousand Americans women born in the late nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties average just under five feet five. Those born a decade later are a third of an inch shorter.

Just in case I still thought this a trivial trend, Komlos put a final bar graph in front of me. It was entitled "Life Expectancy 2000." Compared with people in thirty-six other industrialized countries, it showed, Americans rank twenty-eighth in average longevity, just above the Irish and the Cypriots (the Japanese top the rankings). "Ask yourself this," Komlos said, peering at me above his reading glasses. "What is the difference between Western Europe and the U.S. that would work in this direction? It's not income, since Americans, at least on paper, have been wealthier for more than a century. So what is it?"

The obvious answer would seem to be immigration. The more Mexicans and Chinese there are in the United States, the shorter the American population becomes. But the height statistics that Komlos cites include only native-born Americans who speak English at home, and he is careful to screen out people of Asian and Hispanic descent. In any case, according to Richard Steckel, who has also analyzed American heights, the United States takes in too few immigrants to account for the disparity with Northern Europe.

In the nineteenth century, when Americans were the tallest people in the world, the country took in floods of immigrants. And those Europeans, too, were small compared with native-born Americans. Malnourishment in a mother can cause a child not to grow as tall as it would otherwise. But after three generations or so the immigrants catch up. Around the world, well-fed children differ in height by less than half an inch. In a few, rare cases, an entire people may share the same growth disorder. African Pygmies, for instance, produce too few growth hormones and the proteins that bind them to tissues, so they can't break five feet even on the best of diets. By and large, though, any population can grow as tall as any other.

This last point may sound counterintuitive. Height, like skin color, seems to vary with geography: we think of squat Peruvians, slender Masai, stocky Inuit, and lanky Brazilians. According to Bergmann's Rule and Allen?s Rule, animals in cold climates tend to have larger bodies and shorter limbs than those in warm climates. But though climate still shapes musk oxen and giraffe, and a willowy Inuit is hard to find its effect on industrialized people has almost disappeared. Swedes ought to be short and stocky, yet they've had good clothing and shelter for so long that they're some of the tallest people in the world. Mexicans ought to be tall and slender. Yet they're so often stunted by poor diet and diseases that we assume they were born to be small.

If there is an answer to the riddle of American height, it probably lies in Holland, where everyone has a theory about stature. When I spoke to Hans van Wieringen, the pediatrician, he credited his people's growth to child care: the Dutch have the world's best prenatal and postpartum clinics, free for every citizen. Others pointed to the landscape (flatlanders are naturally tall, they said, just as mountain people are naturally short), to the Calvinist religion (Protestants are taller than Catholics because their families have fewer mouths to feed), or to the Dutch love of milk (a study in Bavaria found a direct correlation between height and the number of cows per capita). The Dutch are taller than the Italians, one man suggested, because they go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Holland's growth spurt began only in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, Drukker found, when its first liberal democracy was established. Before 1850, the country grew rich off its colonies, but the wealth stayed in the hands of the wealthy, and the average citizen shrank. After 1850, height and income suddenly fell into lockstep: when incomes went up, heights went up (after a predictable lag time), and always to the same degree. ...These days, Dutch heights no longer keep pace with the economy. ("We can't grow to four metres just because our income quadruples," Drukker says.) But the essential equation is the same: when the G.N.P. grows, everyone grows.

2. Queries about DNA Testing
Hi Yair:
Can you pleae recommend a DNA testing company? One that has good ledgible results.
I'm looking to read from the father and mother side.
 I want to be able to know as much as possible, even if they are not Jewish.
Can they tell from males from all 4 sides? 2 grandfathers and 2 grandmothers.
Thank you,
46th day of the oimer
Brit-Am Reply:
FTDNA is probably the best.
My son did a test with ANOTHER company (not FTDNA) that gave good results but a mistaken interpretation of them.
Tests can be made that read from both the fathers (Y chromosome) and the mother (mtDNA).
DNA tests cannot tell you if you are Jewish or not.
They can give you markers that you can compare with those of others. You might then find your genetic markers close to those found in certain family or ethnic groups including Jewish ones.
The test my son did found our markers identical to those of the Northwest "Neal" Irish group.
Not everyone however is so "lucky".
Some people receive results that tell them very little. The results that you do receive together with the company report are only the beginning. You should then on your own go to the relevant FTDNA URL features that compare these results with others, see who these others are, see if any of them have done any research on their own and posted it on the web (as frequently happens) and so on.  At first you are also liable to make mistakes or go on a wild goose chase.
The best advice is to join a DNA discussion group on the web and find somebody there who can advise you.
DNA tests can tell you your father (YDNA chromosome). Whatever your father has the same applies to his father all the way back along the male line.
The same applies with your mother (mtDNA). In other words they can only tell you your grandfather on your fathers side and your grandmother on your mother's side.

3. DNA to test Jewishness?

Do you know of a reliable Lab where I could have my DNA tested to see if I am Jewish?
Shabbat Shalom,

Brit-Am Reply:
Katrina Shalom,
There is no DNA test that can show if you are Jewish.
There are tests that give you results. You can then compare these results (or ask others to do it for you) with those of others on the Web. If you are lucky you might find similarities with family groups etc but this is not certain and also in itself does not mean much.
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