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Baby snatching across the years
June 17, 2006 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Suppose it was possible to move between 2006 and thousands/millions of years ago. And suppose I snatched a baby from a 2006 maternity ward and swapped it with a baby born in the year 0006 as they lay in their maternity ward.

Would those children being born 2000 yrs apart stand out from their peers as they grew up and became adults and if so in what ways?

Suppose that 2,000 year experiment didn't show any difference: how far back in time would I have to go to see an obvious difference between the babies as they grew up?
posted by selton to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
People all over the world are much taller than their ancestors just a few generations ago were. Perhaps though if you transported a 0006 baby to modern times and raised it on a modern diet, free of disease and back-breaking labour, it would grow to a similar adult height.
posted by randomstriker at 5:22 PM on June 17, 2006


I don't know a great deal about the genetics and whatnot involved in this scenario, but I would certainly think that the baby's immune system would take a hell of a beating.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 5:23 PM on June 17, 2006


By my understanding, and I don't have a citation for this, is that important things like human intelligence has not changed significantly in 10,000 - 20,000 years. You could take a stone age baby and raise them now and you wouldn't be able to take the difference.

But your very question makes assumptions about what means to be born in a certain period - what people are you talking about. Your 2006 / 0006 babies - are they from "european" cultures? What about a baby from the Kalahari, or from Arnhem Land - cultures that haven't changed much within that 2,000 year timespan or longer. Some people regard these people as "primitive", but all the evidence points to no difference between people from "primitive" cultures and "modern" cultures at all. It's all cultural, and not biological.
posted by Jimbob at 5:29 PM on June 17, 2006


I can't cite the research, sorry, but I recall that the effect of poor nutrition lasts for several generations, so a time-snatched child might grow up very short even if properly nourished. I think there are also effects on other health metrics from the nutrition of parents and grandparents.

However if the question is one of genetics alone, I don't know.
posted by unSane at 5:39 PM on June 17, 2006


Issac Asimov wrote an interesting story in 1958 called 'The Ugly Little Boy' in which time travel technology enabled the 'snatching' of a baby boy from 40 000 years ago. If you can track it down, it deals somewhat with your question, as best a science fiction story can.
posted by The Wig at 5:43 PM on June 17, 2006


Our faces have been getting smaller and more delicate in the past few thousand years.
posted by evariste at 6:02 PM on June 17, 2006


There is some recent evidence that our intelligence has substantially evolved "recently." But we're still talking in the 10s of thousands of years.
posted by callmejay at 6:30 PM on June 17, 2006


All the answers so far are very interesting and not things I'd thought through properly. Damn you Ask Metafilter, it's supposed to answer not pose questions!

Jimbob: good questions. I never considered racial/ethnic differences at all.

Suppose for your take on the question that the swapped babies superficially looked alike at the time of swapping.

I was thinking initially more about capacity to learn. When were babies "stupider" than they are now? Which baby from X-thousand of years ago would have been dumber than a 2006 baby? would I have to go back 5,000 yrs, 50,000 yrs, 100,000 yrs? more?
posted by selton at 6:58 PM on June 17, 2006


Modern humans evolved and had moved out of Africa 160,000 years ago. However, we don't *really* know how the species might have evolved intelligence-wise between then and now. One clue is that cro-magnon man lived alongside neanderthals in Europe until about 40,000 years ago, when a new wave of human migration swept out of Africa and the neanderthals suddenly went extinct.

It's unclear *why*, however. It's possible that some sort of mutation suddenly made the new wave of homo sapiens smarter (able to understand more complex language, perhaps?) or maybe there was just a technological advance that made the new wave of humans more able to kill off the neanderthals. or, heck, maybe the new humans brought some sort of new disease with them that killed off the neanderthals.

Also, i believe that the earliest known cave paintings are less than 40,000 years old, which is another hint that something important changed in our brains.

So, if you swapped a modern baby with a human from less than 40,000 years ago, it's likely that no one would notice a difference, but depending on what happened 40,000 years ago, it's possible that a human baby from before then might not be as highly evolved as modern humans in some sort of noticable way.
posted by clarahamster at 7:01 PM on June 17, 2006


callmejay : "There is some recent evidence that our intelligence has substantially evolved 'recently.' But we're still talking in the 10s of thousands of years."

Maybe as recent as 6,000 years.
posted by Gyan at 7:17 PM on June 17, 2006


Doris Lessing wrote a story like this - The Fifth Child. (Could the familiy's fifth child be a Neanderthal? or some other kind of throwback?)

What's interesting, to me, about the story is how the mom deals with it all on a practical level.

It's, it's kind of hard to summarize.
posted by cda at 6:12 AM on June 18, 2006


great idea, let's do it!

...but to meet the test of statistical significance, surely a single baby wouldn't do. we'll have to swap, say, about 1.2 million in order to get a sample of babies thats even marginally representative of the gazzillion little larvea we've got on the planet right now. ...and we'll have to snatch them in as random a fashion as possible (keyword *teleporter*...got one?)

/flavin.

also, i think you need to consider the vast importance of what happens during gestation (preggers), when seriously important developmental stages take place that set the parameters for lots of abilities/aptitudes/features that come much later (toddlerhood).

that said, would it even work to snatch an egg and a sperm from back then, and then transport them to a womb in the present? very recent hereditary science...uh...stuff [flavin] shows that in addition to the already complex genetic coding in dna, there are molecular ways in which the genes in dna can be turned on/off at different developmental stages, and there's the possibility that these mechanisms may respond to environmental cues (nutrition, e.g.) faster than the old straight dna mechanisms of random mutations and variations.

all that just to say that while there may be differences between the 0006 and the 2006 chitlin's they may not be differences we could find in their dna...it would be differences in the non-genetic hereditary mechanisms.
posted by garfy3 at 6:45 AM on June 18, 2006


Issac Asimov wrote an interesting story in 1958 called 'The Ugly Little Boy' in which time travel technology enabled the 'snatching' of a baby boy from 40 000 years ago. If you can track it down, it deals somewhat with your question, as best a science fiction story can.
posted by The Wig at 5:43 PM PST on June 17 [+fave] [!]


Aha! I saw a dramatization of that story on tv as a child. It was really disturbing. I have wondered what it was, considering I only had snippets of memories about it. I should have figured it was Asimov, that guy wrote everything.
posted by Radio7 at 7:17 AM on June 18, 2006


I doubt there would be many diffrences noticeable from 6000 years ago. If there are diffrences, those diffrences would be in aggrigate. i.e. less diffrence between an average baby born today and an average baby born in 0006 then any random two babies born today.
posted by delmoi at 7:55 AM on June 18, 2006


garfly: ...but to meet the test of statistical significance, surely a single baby wouldn't do. we'll have to swap, say, about 1.2 million in order to get a sample of babies thats even marginally representative of the gazzillion little larvea we've got on the planet right now.

Um, the needed sample size in order to answer this kind of research question is a function of variance and theoretical effect size not population size. (One technical reason is that most classical statistical tests assume an effectively infinite population, because you can keep sampling and resampling forever.)

If you are expecting a huge difference between groups on an intelligence test, a sample size in the dozens is sufficient. If you are looking for a small difference between groups, you might want to expand to a few hundred. In most cases there is no advantage to expanding your sample beyond a few hundred because you just get a lot more of the same values clustered around the mean.

About the only time that you really need to sample in the millions is for descriptive statistics like the national census where you want to document as many outliers as possible.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:12 AM on June 18, 2006


I think the immune system would be the biggest issue.

Whether it's due to passed on immunoresistance to diseases that the parents were exposed to, or simply selection of individuals who have genetic resistance to diseases, offspring of cultures who survive an epidemic are less likely to be harmed by the same disease. Any child of European ancestry pre-black plague, smallpox, yellow fever, etc. will be more likely to die of any of those diseases.
posted by DrJJ at 10:58 AM on June 18, 2006


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