Denisovan Origins: A Book Review

Replica of a Denisovan phalanx. Photo by Thilo Parg.
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Denisovan Origins: Hybrid Humans, Göbekli Tepe, and the Gensis of the Giants of Ancient America
Paperback: 432 pages
Authors: Andrew Collins & Gregory Little
Publisher: Bear & Company ISBN: 1591432634
Price: $21.60 USD

As a disclaimer, I recently received a review copy of Denisovan Origins and I also used one of my Audible credits for the audio version, which is supposed to be “unabridged.” So I’m reviewing both the print and the audio versions.

For the print version, I found that the cover gives the impression that this is a novel rather than a work of non-fiction. Although, the “feathered cape” individual holding what is undoubtedly a spear with a Solutrean point is in keeping with the narrative within. I was also pleased to find adequate notes and bibliography sections.

For about 1/3 of the book, I read it at 1.5 x normal speed with the Audible version while following along the text. The other 2/3 of my reading was split equally with just the book or just the Audible (while driving). My only real complaint about the Audible version is that it seems to cost nearly as much as the print version (regular price is $21.60 on Amazon, but it can be found for about $16 if you look around), but includes no footnotes, bibliography, or index, which are necessary in a text making claims of the sort found in Denisovan Origins. Making these sections available as downloadable supplements for the Audible version seems a logical choice. The narration in the audio version is also very well done and it’s obvious great care went into ensuring pronunciations were correct.

The thesis of the book is that the Americas were populated by the Solutrean culture, who were Denisovans, alongside Native Americans. Little makes every attempt to poison the well against skeptics who he predicts will point out the racism in their book. He claims that the authors aren’t trying to assign race to the Solutreans at all. If anything, they insist, the Solutreans are Asian in origin. Yet they arrive in North America’s northeast by boat rather than via Beringia.

Denisovan tooth
Replica of a tooth from a Denisovan
male. Photo by Thilo Parg

Little tries to turn the race charge on its head in tu quoque fashion by accusing skeptics of being the racists since they can’t accept that giants once existed among them. Yes, there are giants in Denisovan Origins, though Collins and Little have largely toned this down to just really tall people.

I found the whole “I’m not a racist but the skeptics are” argument in the second half of the book to be just what it looked like: Little trying to cover for the tone Collins set in the first half. Here’s an example: Collins provides a detailed explanation of the cephalic index in chapter 11. Then, he rightly notes that it,

“is important, however, to point out that the use of the cephalic index to help determine the nature and type of a human skull is no longer considered meaningful, relevant, or even ethically acceptable within the anthropological community; all skulls of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) are categorized today, simply, as regional variations of a common type that emerged out of Africa with our earliest ancestors” (pp. 104-5).

Then nearly for the full remainder of Part 1, Collins continues to refer to the cephalic index of the skulls of remains found throughout Europe. In fact, nearly every time Collins referred to hominid skeletal remains, there was a an anachronistic feel to the narrative (it might not be surprising that, after controlling for non-academic and purely pseudoscientific entries, nearly a full third of the book’s bibliography is dedicated to sources more than 50 years old).

For the reader unfamiliar with modern archaeological methods, recent discoveries in hominid remains, ancient DNA, and evidence of population migrations, Denisovan Origins will come across as a fascinating read by two authors who make no attempt to talk down to the reader. Admittedly, they do a fair job of conveying the narrative. It just happens that the overall narrative is a mixed bag of reality and speculation that ranges from reasonable to so extreme it’s utterly pseudoscientific.

I will say the writing styles between Parts 1 and 2 are noticeable. In Part 1, Collins lacks imagination and creative control. Words and phrases are repeated ad nauseam. The most over-used word is probably “indeed.” The most over-used phrase is probably “very clearly.” The most misused phrase has to be “very likely.” In Part 2, Little comes across angry and bitter toward the so-called “mainstream” that has refused to accept him in spite of his best efforts and to those big-bad skeptics that are always critiquing those efforts.

I purposely avoided going into a point-by-point “debunking” of the things I saw as wrong, exaggerated, misinterpreted, underrepresented, and/or pseudoscientific. But they include assumptions they’re making about genetics, site chronologies, the nature of what is considered scientific evidence (hint: myth and anecdote ain’t it), and so on.

About Carl Feagans 362 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

21 Comments

  1. So the authors, Carl, are in fact racists, correct? Further, one is merely trying to cover for the other? You seem irritated by the assertion that “I’m not a racist but the skeptics are”: why? If you can accuse others of racism, can not you be accused of the same thing? Or is it just a one way street, and in your eyes people who disagree with you are automatically guilty of racism until proven otherwise? I guess though, when we are reminded everyday by CNN and MSNBC that a “white nationalist occupies the White House”, then why not toss those same allegations into the realm of archaeology? Of course, you wouldn’t be the first, as I recall von Daniken got some flak of that variety while suggesting the Mesoamerican cultures might have had some “outside help”. In the book you reviewed, I would attribute far less sinister motives to the authors; given that anything that doesn’t toe the modern party line in regard to race is automatically suspect, they were merely trying to make it very clear what they were actually saying. Your post proves beyond a reasonable doubt they were entirely correct to do so…

  2. The book is, in fact, racist.

    Collins, in the first half, leans heavily on out-dated, 19th century methods of racial classification that are, today, understood to be… well… racist.

    Then Little, in his half of the book, pretends not to be, but fails. He says of skeptics: it’s racist not to accept that the elites among Native Americans were giants. That refusal to accept this diminishes them to just normal and is therefore racist.

    But he holds steadfast that the reason for this isn’t because of Native American diversity, rather it’s because of European “Denisovans” that came over as “Solutreans” and taught them everything they know about stars, constellations, and building mounds.

    That’s some racial shit.

    When you read the book, you didn’t see this?

  3. So, the authors, because of the sources they use, are racist, no holds barred, correct? And more than that, even without citing those sources, they would still be racist, correct? In fact they are such obvious racists (probably KKK members) that they see the obvious need to cover for one another. But the skeptics of course, like you, are just pure as the driven snow, and cannot, under ANY circumstances be accused of the same thing? I just want to be clear on what you’re saying. I have heard of Collins before, although not the second author, but to date, this is the first charge of racism leveled against the former. One would think that, given the number of books Collins has authored or co-authored, this would have been common knowledge by now, and not confined to an obscure blog. Also, just because some of their sources may have been racially tinted, doesn’t mean the authors are; I think here you are committing the old Guilt by Association fallacy. The second author, Little, only “pretends” not to be a racist; how do you know that? I thought in an earlier post on America Before, you told us that ESP was pseudo-science. Can you now read the mind of the authors to the point where you know their actual intent? But, let’s just say for example, that Charles Darwin was racist; does that mean we should reject his Theory of Evolution? I would think not. What would it matter if in fact “[White] Solutreans” taught the locals everything they knew about building mounds/etc.? Does that make the original Solutreans racist, or Collins/Little for pointing it out?

  4. Carl states: “…He [Collins/Little] claims that the authors aren’t trying to assign race to the Solutreans at all. If anything, they insist, the Solutreans are Asian in origin..”.

    Since neither of us believe in ESP, you will have to explain to the rest of us how you know what really lies behind this statement. The way I read it, is that the ultimate racial classifications of these folks *doesn’t* really matter. But of course, in trying to fend off those who see a racist/racial motive behind every tree, some explanation was necessary…..

  5. Dear gleaner63:

    I recommend that you stop using your time and energy to defend your favorite celebrity Fringe authors and other personalities. Like most celebrities, they neither know, nor care about, their fans, so all you’re doing is seeking to return a favor they have not granted you to begin with. And, rest assured, given the lack of quality of these fellows’ arguments and research, just another group of celebrity personalities is all they are.

    Dear Mr. Feagans:

    I, for one, would find at least a partial debunking of the critical points to be useful. Granted Jason Colavito did that already, and the authors’ fans won’t believe you, but, still. Plenty out here would find that useful.

    -An Anonymous Nerd

  6. Gleaner63,

    I don’t think I’ve ever deleted comments that weren’t simply spam. But I’ve deleted your last two comments after reading the salutation and no further. If the pejorative term were directed at me instead of one of my other visitors, I’d be more tolerant.

    And please don’t stoop to “others have done it to me…” I don’t recall if they have, but it rubs me the wrong way tonight and it is what it is.

    -cheers

  7. Carl: I understand what you’re saying, in other words espousing an obvious, blatant, double standard is no big deal to you, I get it. You can, or provide others a forum to accuse people you disagree with of being incompetent, uneducated, nazis, and now even racist. But when it comes to you, or your fellow travelers, the same, or similar criticisms, CANNOT be tolerated. Wow, how blind can you possibly be????

  8. I don’t feel the need to deride you Carl, but you deleted my posts for the use of a single word, “turd”, without reading the rest of the post, seriously? And I don’t do coffee, I’m 100% coca-cola…….:)….

  9. The title of the book say giants and in the book they say they just mean really tall people. How tall? What is it based on? Is it because they think that a big tooth means they must have been 7 feet tall? What is the actual evidence?

  10. The title of the book say giants and in the book they say they just mean really tall people. How tall? What is it based on? Is it because they think that a big tooth means they must have been 7 feet tall? What is the actual evidence?

    The actual, physical evidence is extremely limited. There’s a mandible (jaw bone), some teeth, and fingers… barely fragments of various skeletons of probably the most robust individuals of their respective populations (several of these remains are separated significantly by space and time). So no one really knows the actual average stature of Denisovans as yet. We can barely make some inferences. And anyone that claims to know their stature with enough certainty to write a book about it with “giant” in the title is probably using pseudoscientific and spurious analogy to make their conclusions.

    That said, the mandible suggests their crania might be a bit more robust than modern Homo sapiens sapiens. This doesn’t necessarily mean taller. Recent finger-bone analysis indicates that their hands are comparable to H. sapiens sapiens. Genetic inferences with DNA methylation techniques show promise and preliminary results seem to predict a hominid with average stature somewhere between that of anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals.

    But until we find something that is more indicative of stature, perhaps a femur, there really isn’t any way to say what their height is for sure. My prediction is it will be very close to normal human range on average.

    Denisovan is the current buzz word among the purveyors of pseudoarchaeology precisely because there is so little known about it. Much the same way new-agers latched on to the word “quantum” and people claim a monster in Loch Ness because it’s so deep and dark, mystery-mongers love the new and novel bits of science that have yet to be thoroughly studied or has some level of complexity they can take advantage of.

    This is what Collins and Little have done with ancient DNA in their new book. For them, a modern Orkney population with haplogroup X2 is the same as an ancient Native American population with X2a. Even though X2a is a completely different haplogroup. This is on inconvenience they solve by ignoring the subclades of X and just saying X. You might as well fire a bunch of bullets at a barn wall then go paint bullseyes around the bullet holes to prove your accuracy.

  11. Amateurs working with mandible fragments and teeth are likely to add several feet and hundreds of pounds to their size estimates for relatively small primates. It wouldn’t surprise me that they would do the same with fragmentary human remains.

  12. In “Denisovan Origins”, the section relating to “giants” spans a grand total of about 6 pages, and that includes several illustrations that take up at least one whole page of that. The main source is that of Hernando De Soto, a few of his fellow travelers, and reports from the Smithsonian Institute’s Bureau of Ethnology. The largest “giant” cited was estimated to be between 7 and 8 feet tall, while the others range from a whopping 6.5 to 7 feet. Those measurements, if true, can easily fit into the normal range of known humans and hardly seems fantastic at all. I know most skeptics on here refuse to read the book, but you will be sorely disappointed with these tales of giants…

  13. The book is published by a press known for cranking out woo. The authors are well-known only for cranking out a steady stream of woo. One doesn’t need to be a “skeptic” to have absolutely no desire to invest time and money in this book. The review works just fine for the vast majority of people who are smart enough to spend their 21 dollars much more wisely.

  14. Carl states: “…But he holds steadfast that the reason for this isn’t because of Native American diversity, rather it’s because of European “Denisovans” that came over as “Solutreans” and taught them everything they know about stars, constellations, and building mounds. That’s some racial shit. When you read the book, you didn’t see this…?”

    I have the book now, wading into it, so far I don’t see the obvious racism, that in your eyes any ordinary person would be overwhelmed by. But, I can understand the optics/politics/psychology enough to accept that good people might disagree at that point. As to your larger assertion, that the Solutreans taught the natives “everything they knew”; if true, why is that “racist”? As far as I know, Europeans didn’t invent gunpowder, but in fact borrowed it from China. So, in that scenario, the “Chinese taught the Europeans everything they know about gunpowder (latter modifications not considered). Does that mean the Europeans were stupid? That the Chinese were superior? That the Europeans , without the help of Asians, would have never discovered gunpowder if left to themselves? If the obvious answer to those questions is an emphatic “no”, why is the other situation any different? Cultures, as I’m sure you’re very aware, when exposed to each other, “share” ideas, beliefs and everything else. This is not news to anyone. Just some random thoughts on a Friday Night shift…

  15. Jasper Goin’s comments:

    Genetic fallacy >>>> “…The book is published by a press known for cranking out woo…”

    ad Hominem fallacy >>>> “…The authors are well-known only for cranking out a steady stream of woo….”

    Red herring fallacy >>>> “…One doesn’t need to be a “skeptic” to have absolutely no desire to invest time and money in this book….”.

    Appeal to authority >>>> “…The review works just fine for the vast majority of people who are smart enough to spend their 21 dollars much more wisely….”

    Apparently, logic is not your area of expertise….

  16. Thanks for helping to place my “vast majority of people” comments in full proper context, Gleaner63.

  17. Jasper Goins Jr. Anytime, Jasper; even though I graduated from a “Jesus School” in the Deep South, discussions of logical fallacies did sometimes arise during class…:)

  18. Jasper: I’ve had Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to read Protestant literature that I offered them. I’ve had Christians tell me I shouldn’t read the Hindu scriptures. I know atheists who refuse to read anything written by a theist. Where I work at the liberals will not watch Fox News and the conservatives will not watch CNN. And now you refuse to read a book on archaeology written by the “other side”. What’s the common element in all of these cases? You owe it to yourself, despite your own prejudices and others trying to protect you, to read the book….

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