On Nationalisms, Classical Antiquity, and Our Inhumanity

Every once in awhile I receive email responses to my online writing. Those emails run the gamut from "you hate Europe" (clearly not true as I study it for a living and am in it many weeks, sometimes months each year) to "you are a race traitor" because I understand that whiteness and race are a constructs used to oppress some to maintain power in the hands of others. Sometimes I get emails that agree with me, though. At least, on the surface.

This morning I awakened to an email from a Polish individual who agrees that the so called Dorian invasion is a myth propagated by, in particular, German scholars in the 18th-20th centuries as a way for them to lay claim to Greek antiquity. The emailer agreed that there was no Nordic root to Mycenaean or Minoan cultures. Great. This seems to be well-trod ground and something that archaeology and what little we can pull from DNA agree upon. But, this is the extent to which this emailer and I can agree.

In place of Nordic, my correspondent chooses to place Polish. Taking from a recent (rather flawed) study the 9-17% DNA match between ancient bodies found both in Greece and the Ukraine and Eurasian Steppe area as evidence for ancient invasion/migration, the emailer suggests that the R1aDNA went from Poland, to India, to Persia, and then, I guess, to the Greek mainland (the majority of the aDNA match in the study was between bodies found in mainland Greece and Anatolia).

"The recent findings that ‘invaders’ from the north or in fact from the Steppes near the Ukraine clearly fits the idea that the ancestors of the Poles who domesticated the horse, founded the wheel and were a patriarchal led society rather than that of the matriarchal Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations."

It is, of course, interesting that the exact same study is being used by those same "Nordics" to claim the study supports them, because they view themselves and the original Caucasians, a claim that dates back to Blumenbach and is equally problematic. And yet, our correspondent doesn't see it that way:

"The Nordics had nothing to do with Ancient Greece. How bad must that feel for the Nordics and ‘Germans’ whoever they might be."

Instead, the emailer has substituted Polish antiquity for Germanic. But, is this because it has a factual or objective scientific basis? Or because the emailer himself has baises?

"In relation to this The Dorian Invasion and the misinterpretation and flagrant bias in the study of ethnicity in the past, mostly by the German and other Western Europeans..."

There is much I agree with in this sentence and the statement "The Nordics had nothing to do with Ancient Greece" and yet, the use of "Germans" in scare quotes and the history of Poland in relation to both Germany and the rest of western Europe suggests that this is not a bias free commentary or claim to Greek Antiquity.

Receiving this email, I felt the need to write about it. Particularly to write that I do not agree that DNA is the magic bullet that can prove anything. It can only help us get a fuller picture of human migrations and interactions. But it can't do so by comparing tiny fragments of aDNA to modern populations or by placing our DNA into arbitrarily defined categories based on a less than 1% of the human genome. Or, by reifying the idea that our identities are biologically determined by this tiny arbitrarily defined less than 1% of our genome. The rhetoric of white supremacy increasingly has become the norm once again in the US and Europe and is being used to justify inhumane treatment of others, even children. We need to seriously consider why these identities matter to us so much and the damage we do to our humanity and sanity by investing in trying to "prove" our superiority to others through any study of history.

"Surely this is revolutionary. The  myths and lies of the past can now be proven by DNA complemented by linguistics and archaeology."

Surely, the myths and lies of scientific racism should by now be shown by DNA and linguistics and archaeology to be false, but won't be so long as we continue to pretend that race and ethnicity are real biological categories and that substituting one nationalism for another will somehow make our future better and erase the horrors that humans continue to inflict upon one another in the name of national identity.