216 Harbor View Lane
Largo, FL 22770
May 6, 2012
727 584 7184
to be posted on silentnursery.com and nobabies.net

John Romer
John Romer
Downloaded May 6, 2012

Dear Dr. Romer:
I learn with joy that you have published a book on ancient Egypt.  (John Romer  A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid Alan Lane 2012 as reviewed by Andrew Robinson NATURE vol. 484 no. 7392 April 5, 2012 page 33) The reviewer seems skeptical that certain pictograms from Abydos could be forerunners of hieroglyphics on the grounds that all hieroglyphics face the same way.  I could have sworn that hieroglyphics could face either way depending on which way you were reading.  (Here is a merry thought.  If English goes left to right, Arabic right to left, hieroglyphics either way and Japanese top to bottom, who writes from bottom to top?  Bloggers, that’s who.)  I shall hasten to get your volume. 

I am one of the multitude who have enjoyed your television appearances.  For years they have been my favorites.  But I have another and rather odder interest in ancient Egypt.  My own interest is in the survival of empires, civilizations, dynasties or whatever kind of regime can potentially outlast the oldest person.  I was brooding over, “When in the world were the good old days?  Every time and place I read of was on the brink of dissolution.”  So I pulled down a souvenir wall chart and measured with my thumbnail the lifespan of every regime in Southern Mesopotamia and went to average them.  Being ham fisted and disorganized I wasn’t having much luck when I remembered I had a statistics program on my computer that I had never used.  Surely it could pull an average for me.

The computer promptly announced that the regimes lasted on average 150 years or so.  Then it inquired, “Would you like to see the results graphed as a normal curve?”  I didn’t quite know what it meant, so I indicated yes, that would be nice, and the cyber box presented me with the neatest normal curve you could want with my data points appropriately distributed.  Thunderstruck I redid the data by hand.  The result was this:

Graph Mesopotamian empre survival

Information taken from R. H. Carling THE WORLD HISTORY CHART International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  The experience of Southern Mesopotamia.  The vertical axis is The chance of an empire of any age continuing to rule locally for another 50 years.  The horizontal axis is the ages of the empires.  I broke the Ottoman Empire into two, because their Janissary elite came from two different sources during the early and late empire.

I pondered it.  If empires fell from outside causes, the line should be horizontal.  If by interior causes, the line should rise as the less fit are weeded out.  But the line falls.  So if the cause is not inside or outside, it has to be the very fact of there being an empire.  An empire, at the very least, is a large number of people not dominated by a larger entity and working together.  So a big gene pool must die out.  There is no other possibility. 

Sure enough a few years later a study appeared showing that, yes, if there is insufficient consanguinity among couples fertility will fall below replacement.  (An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816)

That spells doom for any empire.  (Of course it might survive in name, but the elite population must vanish.)  That launched me on a ten and more year quest to find out if it was true (which the Iceland study above proves) and to tell people (which hasn’t gone so well). 

I later looked in other areas where there seemed to be enough data and, to oversimplify, it happens almost everywhere.  A single Chinese dynasty squirmed past the 300 year barrier.  England blew the barrier to pieces and gave us the Industrial Revolution in the process.  I can explain why.  And Egypt cheated death on I think three occasions.

The geography of Egypt, lined up on the Nile, of course has tended to limit the gene pool size.  Some say consanguineous marriages were quite popular in ancient times.  My memory is dim from the years, but I think the exceptional regimes in Egypt were during Islamic times. 

Anyway, that is my observation.  There is an invisible horror that tears down our most impressive accomplishments and its name is inadequate consanguinity.

Some day the news of this will get beyond me and my unregarded website nobabies.net.  I hope it is in time to avert (yet another) catastrophe. 

If you go to the website, the Orlando presentation (which in fact was not made) is the best summary.  If you like I can send more.  Let me know how you feel about it.

M. Linton Herbert MD 


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