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What would happen to a human settlement on Earth, on some deserted island, that had no contact with the outside world for a thousand years? Something like a human version of the Galapagos islands, where the animals living there, isolated for thousands of years, evolved slightly differently than their counterparts in the rest of the world.

After a thousand years of isolation, is it possible that they would have a different genetic makeup than ordinary humans, perhaps to the point of being a new subspecies?

What about their culture? Is it conceivable that they would also invent things like factories, bicycles, and theater? How about informational technology (radio, TV, computers)?

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    $\begingroup$ Over the course of the next million years, humans would evolve into seals. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Dec 3 '14 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Let's not forget that technology plays a huge role in all of this as well. Evolution impacts very differently a technologically advanced society. To provide a good answer you need to know that factor. $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Dec 3 '14 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ True, but to me that would slow down species change, by short circuiting natural selection. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Dec 3 '14 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ Further reading: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galápagos_(novel)#Plot_summary $\endgroup$ – hairboat Dec 4 '14 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ The aboriginal people in Australia have lived alone for a very long time (for almost 60k years). $\endgroup$ – phresnel Dec 4 '14 at 10:42
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Human versions of the Galapagos do exist today: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncontacted_peoples

EDIT: Personally, I find the peoples of North Sentinel Island fascinating, particularly the part about fighting off a helicopter with bows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentinelese_people

1,000 years isn't a whole lot in terms of evolution, so I can't imagine there would be any genetic differences to worry about. Homo sapiens have been around for anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 years, so you'll need at least that length of time for any true evolutionary differences to pop up.

In regards to culture and technology, most of the "uncontacted people" in the above Wikipedia article are in small, isolated societies with no access to metals or the fossil fuels that allow most technology to run. The biggest thing is access to resources. Regrettably, life isn't Gilligan's Island, and if your people don't have metals, they likely won't have TV or anything past ancient era tech.

Give them the resources, though, and humans can do anything.

EDIT 2: I realize I never answered the culture part of the question. They would almost certainly have some type of art, as cave painting dates back about 40,000 years. If they have access to dyes and hides, you can assume painting has developed. Music would certainly exist (even if it's just percussion and chanting), and they may have even dabbled in sculpting if big, pretty rocks are around. Theater isn't too far of a stretch, either. So long as we've had the ability to communicate we've told stories, and embellishment of stories has thus been around just as long. I imagine the Sentinelese people mentioned above have a dramatic retelling of fighting off that helicopter.

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  • $\begingroup$ Those examples are hardly 'uncontacted'. Perhaps a better term would be 'unassimilated'. I don't believe there are any cultures without any contact with the rest of humanity left on earth. Even if they try to limit contact to the minimum, they would need to have contact, if only to have allies who help them stay culturally isolated. $\endgroup$ – Adam Miller Dec 4 '14 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of Sentinelese when I read the question too! I read that they have the darkest skin of all peoples and they offer a glimpse of how asian people were 10000s of years ago. $\endgroup$ – Jesvin Jose Dec 4 '14 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamMiller You're correct in that they aren't really "uncontacted," but I'm not in charge of that Wikipedia page :P I do, however, disagree with your point about needing contact with allies to maintain cultural isolation. The tribes in South America and the Sentinelese have done just fine, and there are even advocacy groups out there that are fighting to make sure they stay culturally isolated: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_rights $\endgroup$ – Shollus Dec 4 '14 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @aitchnyu I hadn't heard that, but that's neat stuff. I found a pretty decent article that covers the lineage bit: metafilter.com/129894/… $\endgroup$ – Shollus Dec 4 '14 at 18:09
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Well, 1000 years is nothing, and apparently 10's of 1000's of years isn't much either.

I knew the Aboriginal Australians were mostly cut off from the rest of humanity for quite a while and doing a little digging found this

These Aboriginal ancestors migrated into South Asia and then into Australia, where they stayed, with the result that, outside of Africa, the Aboriginal peoples have occupied the same territory continuously longer than any other human populations. These findings suggest that modern Aboriginal peoples are the direct descendants of migrants to leave Africa up to 75,000 years ago

So this suggests me might need a much larger time frame or living conditions that are much different lifestyle. Up to about 12,000 years ago all humans lived generally the same, but that's when we started agriculture which might start separating us more.

Humans have large differences in 'races' and different genes have provided different advantages but we are all still mostly the same after all this time. A 100,000 years separated on a different planet might make things much more obvious, but what traits would come to the fore would be entirely dependent on the living conditions that they have to adapt to.

Social adaptation however takes much shorter amounts of time and there are some extreme examples out there do demonstrate this.

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  • $\begingroup$ 10 seconds of 1000 seconds is indeed not much. $\endgroup$ – phresnel Dec 4 '14 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ @phresnel Well, it is at least 1% ;) $\endgroup$ – Zaibis Dec 4 '14 at 12:53
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I can't see too much of an 'evolutionary' change outside of what we already have as differences within races. There might be genetic pool depth issues if the island can't support enough people to keep genetic diversity high though, as massive inbreeding over a long period of time might end up in some deformations (if you want to call that evolution). If there are too many people, separate 'tribes' may form and the power struggle from that may dominate day to day life.

I'd refer to Polynesian peoples for examples on Earth. First thing to point out: This Human Galapagos has to be horribly isolated. We are explorers and we expand; people ventured as far out as Hawaii in the Pacific, crossing rather vast amounts of ocean to get there. If there was land within a few hundred miles of this Human Galapagos, there is a good chance these people wouldn't have been isolated.

What about their culture? Is it conceivable that they would also invent factories, bicycles, theater? How about informational technology (radio, TV, computers)?

Island life is simple, especially when isolated within concern of other humans invading. Weather is generally calm and warm; with the exception of storms, there is little need for shelter or clothing as people in colder climates would need. Need is the driving force behind technical evolution, as without the need, we tend to happily exist within our current means.

Factories and industrialization (mass production) came with a movement of population from rural to urban. But is this shift even feasible on an island? And even if it was, who exactly are they mass producing goods for? Without the need for transport (I guess depends on the size of this island) are bicycles really needed? Island terrain isn't very bicycle friendly either. Because of the ubiquitous nature of water surrounding the island, boats and pontoons are far easier to transport things on.

Theater is the one exception on your list. Culture will develop, and people like story telling and entertainment. Won't be the grand electric movie theater by any means, but amphitheater or a general gathering place (likely on or by water) is a most definite yes.

I'd suggest looking into the people of Hawai'i if you wanted to case study something like this.

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The differences that would occur would depend on two main factors:

1) The selective pressures that differentiate the island from elsewhere.

2) The genetics of the founding population.

For the subtle influence of environmental selective pressures, 1000 years would be significantly too short a time to see any major evolutionary change (as others have said). However if the island had some extreme selective pressure (e.g. all islanders with blonde hair died in childhood for some unknown reason) or the islanders themselves performed some form of selective breeding (eugenics), 1000 years could lead to noticeable changes or at least extreme expression of certain inheritable, human traits (e.g. height).

Alternatively, if the founding islanders were of a small number and particular genetic properties occurred at a higher than average incident in the founding population, extreme over-expression of these particular traits could come about within 1000 years. These are known as founder effects - an example of this would be the incidence of asthma on Tristan de Cunha.

In either case, it remains unlikely that 1000 years is anywhere near sufficient time for speciation level differences to occur, however fairly pronounced features/traits in the islanders may be possible.

Significant levels of technological development whilst managing to remain in complete isolation seem unlikely. A culture would almost certainly develop navigation and seafaring (and thus break isolation) before IT. If this was not an issue, it would depend strongly upon the resources available on the island, the ease of obtaining sufficient food to support other industries, and the imperative felt by the islanders to (continually) develop new technologies.

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First of all, quddos for the excellent question Scimonster.

Like most people on here, I think that 1000 years is nowhere near enough to make any kind of noticeable physiological difference. Maybe if they don't have any dairy products the proportion of lactose-intolerant people would increase more or less, or something like this might happen to a few other metabolic pathways (can't think of other examples right now), but certainly no drastic changes in human biology would occur.

I think there's far more room for a noticeable change in culture to occur, though. Depending on the exact conditions people over there are placed in, and the "cultural composition" of the first generation of people to become isolated, there is a possibility that in a thousand years the resulting culture turns out to have diverged greatly from what we now consider "normal".

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. This is a great site replete with great topics. I'm glad I stumbled upon it accidentally. $\endgroup$ – Stefan Dec 4 '14 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ Hey, the European-descended population of the US has only been out of Europe for up to 500 years, and there's been constant contact and exchange of people in that time, and we still consider them to have diverged greatly from what we now consider "normal" ;-) Truly isolated populations surely wouldn't be any less divergent. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Dec 4 '14 at 18:25
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It's an interesting question... Personally, I don't think it would impact/change us that much, because we in many ways have put ourselves "outside" the grasp of evolution.

From nature, we're not that well endowed -- neither with warm fur, protective scales, long claws or long teeth. We're not especially fast and we're not very good at hunting "by hand".

What separates us from other animals are: Our opposable thumbs, which make it possible to manipulate objects. Together with a big and creative brain, this allows us to make tools. Language -- including the use of oral and/or written -- allows us to share our discoveries to others and across generations.

So a group of humans stranded on some deserted island, would do as every other humans in a fix -- use our big brains to plan and invent tools, make tools with our hands, and then share it among our population. So it would be our tools -- weapons, shelter, communication, fire, cloths -- that would get us out of the fix, and would allow us to start using new sources of food and such when needed... not evolutionary changes to our body through the generations. Therefore, I think our bodies would remain virtually unchanged -- for thinking and hand-manipulation, it's already as good as it gets!

What separates us -- humans today -- from the humans many thousands of years ago, is not our body or brain; but our knowledge -- and the effectiveness of which we can communicate this knowledge between ourself and to the next generation. We literaly stand on the shoulders of all the great (and less great) thinkers that came before us, and can use their discoveries and mistakes as a base for our own thought. That is what has given us todays technology, and it's that combination -- generations of discovery coupled with technology -- which truly separate us from humans from 10 000 or 20 0000 years ago... not evolutionary changes.

That said, when humans -- or a group of humans -- comes under pressure from things like famine or illness; sure we'll see evolution playing its hand, separating out those most suited to live: The Black Plauge and Smallpocks... HIV/AIDS in Africa (there are some with natural resistance, they stand a better chance to pass along their genes where there is little health-care)... Scikle-cell animia and malaria... The way illnesses that are deadly when first encountered, becomes "childhood illness" which we just live beside...

But all in all, humans usually overcome our problems with knowledge, planning and tools; and thus put evolution into the back seat. Trapped on an island, humans would conquer various habitats and food-sources by inventing tools -- and then pass this knowledge to future generations. No need for evolution to adapt our body then -- and of course no opportunity.

A stranded population would undoubtedly develop its own culture and language -- and probably their own religion and laws. But this wouldn't be passed by genes. We may of course get some class-separation -- where the lower class toils for an upper class -- and where of course some classes would have a better chance of surviving than others, but that is "survival of the richest" -- not necessarily the fittest as evolution defines it.

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What would happen to a human settlement on Earth, on some deserted island, that had no contact with the outside world for a thousand years? Something like a human version of the Galapagos islands, where the animals living there, isolated for thousands of years, evolved slightly differently than their counterparts in the rest of the world.

So. A couple things to mention.

  • As mentioned, in the realm of evolution one thousand years is an irrelevant span of time. Even 10,000 years really isn't likely to change much.
  • You would need do come up with a reason that humans never developed the technology to travel great distances but I will leave that up to you...maybe a water world situation where there is a lack of natural resources.

After a thousand years of isolation, would they have a different genetic makeup than ordinary humans, perhaps to the point of being a new subspecies?

  • No. The promotion of a new trait is gradual and requires natural forces to prove that it is superior. The more drastic the natural pressure, the more rapid evolution (or if too rapid...extinction) can be. Even on a scale of 10,000 years very little would be likely to change.
  • We have a real world case study available to show what is likely to change...and that would be our shared human history. Skin color, height, muscle mass, hair type etc etc etc are all the things that evolved among isolated human settlements from the beginning of our history. Our biology and intelligence means that there is very little pressure on us to evolve and this means that like the great white shark any evolutionary process will be minimal and take millions of years.
  • A new sub-species would be on a scale of hundreds of thousands of years. The amount of genetic change that creates re-productively separate species is significant.

What about their culture? Is it conceivable that they would also invent factories, bicycles, theater? How about informational technology (radio, TV, computers)?

  • Here we actually have interesting possibilities. Culture develops and evolves based on the type of society and the world around them. Is it matriarchal, patriarchal, dictatorial, democratic? Do they have natural resources and food or is it a struggle to survive? Are they builders or nomadic? The possibilities are endless here you can craft anything you want.

So a world with human sub-species is admittedly interesting. And there are a few things you can consider to achieve it.

  • Seeding: Whether by government program, or alien involvement. This can be in the future and maybe the government conducts genetic tests on a large group of convicts and isolates them all same situation with aliens.

  • Good ol nuclear influence: Nuclear war, creates genetic mutations which of course normally end up killing people but it could serve as a plausible, if not entirely scientifically accurate method to get an accelerated rate of genetic change.

  • You need some sort of external pressure if you want significant, visible genetic change. Be it aliens hunting people down, extreme climate change, life on an alien world. Without pressure changes may appear and be beneficial but they won't be selected upon.

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In 1000 years you would still have humans, but it is possible that they could be a very distinctive population.

Depending on resources, the population could tend to be on the shorter end of the human height spectrum.

Depending on initial population, you could justify common Polydactyly (possibly even fully functional extra fingers and/or toes), or Syndactyly (webbed fingers/toes).

Otherwise uncommon or rare traits could become common, or the "norm", or even ubiquitous.

Two examples of special traits of isolated populations is the unique way the Sherpa of the Himalayas do not overproduce red blood cells while at such high altitudes and another group of high altitude dwellers in the Andes regularly take in large doses of arsenic which their bodies are able to filter out.

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