Anthropology Friday: Melanesia

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re visiting Melanesia., but first I’d like to direct your attention to a new study by Westaway et al, “An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago“:

Here we reinvestigate Lida Ajer [a fossil site] to identify the teeth confidently and establish a robust chronology using an integrated dating approach. Using enamel–dentine junction morphology, enamel thickness and comparative morphology, we show that the teeth are unequivocally AMH. Luminescence and uranium-series techniques applied to bone-bearing sediments and speleothems, and coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of mammalian teeth, place modern humans in Sumatra between 73 and 63 ka. This age is consistent with biostratigraphic estimations7, palaeoclimate and sea-level reconstructions, and genetic evidence for a pre-60 ka arrival of AMH into ISEA2. Lida Ajer represents, to our knowledge, the earliest evidence of rainforest occupation by AMH, and underscores the importance of reassessing the timing and environmental context of the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa.

Back to Melanesia:

Polynesians–who settled Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, and Madagascar–are considerably more famous than their cousins over in Melanesia–chiefly Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji. (The Australian Aborigines are closely related to Melanesians.)

“Polynesia” means “many islands.” “Micronesia” means “tiny islands.” But “Melanesia” means dark islands, not because they are actually dark, but because the locals have dark, high-melanin skin.

Dr. Henry B. Guppy was a British surgeon and naturalist stationed in the Solomon Islands. Confusingly, there is a species of gecko named after Dr. Guppy–the Lepidodactylus guppyi, endemic to the Solomon Islands.

Dr. Guppy also wrote a book, the aptly titled “The Solomon Islands,”:

Amongst the Solomon Islands the student of nature may be compared to a man who, having found a mine of great wealth, is only allowed to carry away just so much of the precious ore as he can bear about his person. For there can be no region of the world where he experiences more tantalisation. Day after day he skirts the shores of islands of which science has no “ken.” Month after month, he may scan, as I have done, lofty mountain-masses never yet explored, whose peaks rise through the clouds to heights of from 7,000 to 10,000 feet above the sea. He may discern on the mountain-slopes the columns of blue smoke which mark the abodes of men who have never beheld the white man. But he cannot land except accompanied by a strong party; and he has therefore to be content usually with viewing such scenes from the deck of his vessel. …

A Melanesian is always careful to turn his toes in as he walks, and the narrowness of the bush track causes him no inconvenience, but the white man is not so careful how he plants his feet and is constantly striking the numerous objects which lie by the side of the track or on its surface. Moreover, a native person keeps his hands by his side as he walks, whereas the white man does not know the necessity for care in the matter and he frequently hits the numerous obstacles with his hands, and some of the leaves on the edge of the track are studded with sharp thorns! Every Melanesian carries a “scrub” knife, and with it he cuts away the limbs that fall over the path, but he cuts them at his own height and in an immediate line with the path; this suits him well, but proves awkward for any person who is taller or less careful about his method of progression.

Naural blond hair
Two Melanesian girls from Vanatu

There is a great deal of interest in Dr. Guppy’s account, but for now we are going to leave him and turn to the Dictionary and Grammar of the Language of Sa’a and Ulawa, Solomon Islands, by Walter G. Ivens, 1918:

Several external characteristics of the Melanesian peoples serve to distinguish them from the Polynesians: (1) Shortness of stature, the average height of the males being possibly 5 feet 4 inches and of the females 4 feet 10_ inches; (2) a chocolate-colored skin; (3) bushy hair, frizzled and tangled and standing erect, owing probably to the incessant teasing of it by the native combs.

The languages spoken in Melanesia vary considerably among themselves, but on examination they are shown to possess common features and to have a very large underlying sameness. The external resemblances, however, between the Melanesian languages are much less than those between the languages of Polynesia; e. g., the external resemblances between Maori and Samoan are far greater than those between Mota and Florida.

Two languages have been separated for a long time will have become more different from each other than two languages that have been separated for only a while. For example, all of the Romance languages are quite similar to each other, and have only been developing since the age of the Roman Empire–about 2,000 years or less. By contrast, English and Russian, while both Indo-European languages that therefore share many characteristics, have far fewer similarities than the Romance languages, because they have been separated for far less time.

If the Melanesian languages have more differences than the Polynesian, then they have likely been separated for longer–and indeed, this appears to be true. Melanesians appear to be descended from one of the first population waves to reach the area (along with their neighbors, the Australian Aborigines,) whereas Polynesians arrived in the area from Taiwan much more recently. (In fact, the Polynesian Maori people only arrived in New Zealand around 1250-1300 AD.)

Dr. Codrington has shown in “Melanesian Anthropology” that there is a large general resemblance in the religious beliefs and practices, the customs and ways of life, which prevail in Melanesia proper, and further research on the lines indicated by him will probably reveal the presence of similar beliefs and conditions of life among the Melanesian peoples of New Guinea and the neighbouring islands.

A distinguishing social condition of Melanesia is the complete absence of tribes, if the word tribe is to be applied as it is to the Maori people of New Zealand, or as used in Fiji. Descent in nearly every part of Melanesia is counted through the mother and the people are everywhere divided into two classes which are exogamous. This division of the people is the foundation on which the fabric of native society is built up. …

Animal food is but rarely partaken of by Melanesians. Pigs they all have, but they keep them for great events, for death feasts or for wedding banquets. Opossums (cuscus) and the large fruit-eating bats and wood pigeons and the monitor lizard are often eaten as relishes with vegetable food. The coast people get large quantities of shellfish at the low spring tides, and on an island like Ulawa a great deal of fishing is done both from the rocks and also out of canoes. The people make all their own fishing-lines out of home-made string or out of strong creepers found in the forest, and in old days their hooks were cut out of tortoise shell or out of black pearl-shell. Even to-day the hooks for the bonito fishing are of native manufacture and the tiny hooks for whiffing sardines are exquisitely made.

Fishing with nets is followed extensively by the Lau-speaking peoples who live on the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita. These peoples and the people of the Reef Islands at Santa Cruz live almost entirely on a fish diet. The flesh of the porpoise is much prized by the peoples of Malaita and regular drives of porpoises are much held, the animals being surrounded and forced ashore into muddy creeks, where they are captured. The main value of the porpoise lies in the teeth, which form one of the native currencies. …

Tambu-House on the Island of Santa Anna, Solomon Islands

The men and boys in the Solomons have club-houses, both in the villages and also down at the beach. In the club-house at the beach the canoes for bonito fishing are kept. Strangers are entertained in these club houses; the relics of the dead are kept in them and religious rites are performed in them. Women are excluded from the club houses. …

Bark cloth (tapa) is made in Melanesia, but it never figured as an article of clothing and its main use was to form a kind of shawl in which the baby was slung when carried from the shoulder. Before the coming of the white man clothing of any sort was very little worn by Melanesians. The people of Santa Cruz, both men and women, were indeed clad sufficiently to satisfy our European notions of decency, and in the southern New Hebrides and in Florida and Ysabel the women wore petticoats made of mats or of grass, but in very many of the islands the women’s dress was of the scantiest, and the men wore nothing but a section of a leaf of a large pandanus. In the southeast Solomons the men commonly were quite naked and the women wore but a scanty fringe, while on Big Malaita not even the traditional fig leaf was worn.

In Santa Cruz, where all women and girls are swathed in mats and are kept in strict seclusion, there is more immorality, and that of a gross and shocking sort, than in the Lau-speaking districts of Malaita, where the women wear no clothing of any sort whatever. Once the mind gets over the shock experienced at the idea of the unclothed body, it will be obvious to the unprejudiced person that the absence of clothing does not necessarily imply immodesty either of thought or action. A Heathen woman on Malaita knows no shame at the fact that her body is unclothed.

Fijian mountain warrior

Another point as to which incorrect ideas exist is the question of cannibalism. Doubtless cases of anthropophagy occurred in many of the Melanesian islands, but it was never characteristic of the people as a whole, and the man-eating propensities of the Fijian people could never be predicated of the whole people of any single group in the sphere of the Mission. So local and confined is the practice that, while portions of one island regularly follow it, other portions of the same island hold it in abhorrence, as in the case of Malaita.

Joseph Wate, of Sa’a, a reliable witness, assured me that the Tolo peoples of Malaita were cannibals, but his own peoples were not, nor were the shore peoples of Big Malaita. The latter were fish-eaters, and those who lived on a fish diet did not practice as a regular thing the eating of human flesh. Cannibalism is the regular practice on San Cristoval, but is held in abhorrence on Ulawa. Yet the belief in cannibalism is so firmly fixed that one reads in the reports and books of the Mission that the two Reef Islanders who were held captive at Port Adam in Bishop Selwyn’s time were being fattened up and kept for eating, whereas in all probability they were regarded as “live heads” (lalamoa mori) and kept for killing, should any necessity arise when a victim would be demanded, as, e. g., at the death of any important person in the place, or they might be sold to anyone looking for a person to kill. The bodies after death would be buried. …

Great care is expended in bathing small children and shielding them from the rays of the sun. A young mother is excused from all work and she has the best time in all her life when her first baby is born. Her whole time is given up to the child, and it is seldom out of her arms. Owing to the lack of nourishing foods children are suckled till they are quite large. The Melanesian baby seems to have no natural liking for water and one often hears the shrill cries of small children being bathed in the streams or being washed in the houses. In the latter case water is poured from a bamboo into one of the wooden bowls and the child is then washed by hand.

The children at a very early stage of their existence are freed from the authority of their parents. They have no household duties to perform; there is no set time for meals; in the morning they may be given something cold left over from the night before, or the mother may roast a yam on the fire, but as a rule there is no cooking done till the late afternoon, when the women return from their gardens. During the day, if the children are hungry they can get a coconut or a breadfruit, or shell-fish, or they can roast a yam or a taro, and a fire can be made anywhere. The boys can get themselves an opossum or an iguana and in the hill districts they even find grasshoppers to eat. One and all they use large quantities of areca nut and pepper leaf and lime. These seem to be as necessary to the Melanesians of the northern islands as is a pipe to a confirmed smoker.

One would expect that children freed thus early from any dependence on their elders would run riot and learn licentious ways and habits, but such does not seem to be the case. There is but little individuality in Melanesians, and they are not “inventors of evil things.” They are bound by traditional customs, by the laws of the elders, by those social restrictions that the people have evolved for themselves as a safeguard against the breaking up of their society, and free agents though the children may be, and lacking parental control from our point of view, yet there is no such thing among them as the organized following of doing evil, and the ruling moral ideas of the people are found as the guide also of their children. …

they have no means of preserving the welfare of themselves as a whole. They have no tribes, no kingdoms, no laws beyond the unwritten social laws relating to marriage, etc.; life is insecure, accusations of witchcraft are easily made, and death follows as a matter of course; infanticide is a common practice, big families are almost unknown, polygamy is a recognized thing. So Christianity comes to them as a means of insuring both individual and social vigor and only in so far as they become Christian will they be saved from extinction. …

There can, however, be no question of leaving them alone now, whatever may have been the case in past years; civilization, i. e., trade, is coming in fast and the inevitable consequence will be that the white man’s view of life will alter the old style of things. Experience has taught us that wherever a people without a settled state and a kingdom and the external power of law is invaded by any of our western peoples, with their vigor and personality, the less-developed people lose all their pristine distinctiveness, all bonds are loosed, and inevitable decay sets in; in other words, the white man destroys the black….

There is very little that goes on in a native village that is not known to most of the people, and things are very well discussed before any action is taken, and generally the whole village knows the doings and the intentions of every inhabitant. If the teacher did know beforehand the chances are that he could not prevent the wrong. Individual action is rare among Melanesians. …

The isolation of the peoples in most of the Melanesian islands has in all probability been largely responsible for the lack of concerted action thitherto among the Christians. Social life as such was not known in Melanesia before the advent of Christianity. In their pre-Christian days these natives do not live in villages or hamlets, but in isolated groups with two or three houses or huts in a group. With the exception of certain places in Florida and also of the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita, where hundreds of people live on tiny rookeries of stone just raised above the level of the tide, there was nothing that was worthy of the name of a village in the whole of the Mission’s area in the Solomons. …

Each subdistrict had its own petty chief with a following of half a dozen men in some cases. Every man knew who his own chief was and would support him when called upon. Each main district had also its head chief and to him tribute was paid whensoever he demanded it. Even these head chiefs had no state or surroundings. Thus at Roasi, on Little Malaita, Horohanue was the alaha paine, the main chief, but he had no immediate retinue and lived alone with his two wives, the guardian of his ancestral spirits, ‘akalo, and with the skulls of his dead in the house along with him. …

The Melanesian attitude with regards to presents is peculiar. A number of women would come with yams in baskets for sale; one special basket would be reported as “not for sale,” its contents (often inferior yams) were a gift–but it would have been the height of foolishness to accept such a gift without making a corresponding return. On being discharged from hospital a man would ask for a present in that he had been cured! Where there is no sense of debt there can be no showing of gratitude, gratitude being a spiritual and not a natural gift, a sense of the need to try to make a return for favors rendered. A Melanesian knows nothing of social duties; his life is lived apart from that of his fellows; he has no social sense, no dependence on his fellows, no common bonds of union such as spring up in community life; he asks nothing from his fellows nor they anything from him; he owes them nothing, and in consequence his circumstances have never been such as would be likely to encourage the growth of gratitude. …

The average Melanesian is a person of few worldy possessions; his house furniture consists of a few wooden bowls, a mortar for pounding yams or taro, a supply of vegetables smaller or larger according to his energy, an axe or a cane-knife; also a little stock of native money and perhaps a canoe. Of clothes he has practically none and the missionary’s simple wardrobe seems to him to be lavish in the extreme; he therefore has no compunction in asking of what he knows the white man to possess. If a person has practically never owned anything at all and if all his fellows are in the same condition too it is almost impossible to get him to understand that he should feel gratitude towards those who give him anything, since from his point of view they have so much in that they have anything at all.

EvX: That is one man’s view, of course. I am not in a position to judge the validity of Ivens’s observations, so I offer them with little comment.

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The Negritos of Sundaland, Sahul, and the Philippines

Ati (Negrito) woman from the Philippines

The Negritos are a fascinating group of short-statured, dark-skinned, frizzy-haired peoples from southeast Asia–chiefly the Andaman Islands, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand. (Spelling note: “Negritoes” is also an acceptable plural, and some sources use the Spanish Negrillos.)

Because of their appearance, they have long been associated with African peoples, especially the Pygmies. Pygmies are formally defined as any group where adult men are, on average 4’11” or less and is almost always used specifically to refer to African Pygmies; the term pygmoid is sometimes used for groups whose men average 5’1″ or below, including the Negritos. (Some of the Bushmen tribes, Bolivians, Amazonians, the remote Taron, and a variety of others may also be pygmoid, by this definition.)

However, genetic testing has long indicated that they, along with other Melanesians and Australian Aborigines, are more closely related to other east Asian peoples than any African groups. In other words, they’re part of the greater Asian race, albeit a distant branch of it.

But how distant? And are the various Negrito groups closely related to each other, or do there just happen to be a variety of short groups of people in the area, perhaps due to convergent evolution triggered by insular dwarfism?

From Wikimedia

In Discerning the origins of the Negritos, First Sundaland Peoples: deep divergence and archaic admixture, Jinam et al gathered genetic data from Filipino, Malaysian, and Andamanese Negrito populations, and compared them both to each other and other Asian, African, and European groups. (Be sure to download the supplementary materials to get all of the graphs and maps.)

They found that the Negrito groups they studied “are basal to other East and Southeast Asians,” (basal: forming the bottom layer or base. In this case, it means they split off first,) “and that they diverged from West Eurasians at least 38,000 years ago.” (West Eurasians: Caucasians, consisting of Europeans, Middle Easterners, North Africans, and people from India.) “We also found relatively high traces of Denisovan admixture in the Philippine Negritos, but not in the Malaysian and Andamanese groups.” (Denisovans are a group of extinct humans similar to Neanderthals, but we’ve yet to find many of their bones. Just as Neanderthal DNA shows up in non-Sub-Saharan-Africans, so Denisvoan shows up in Melanesians.)

Figure 1 (A) shows PC analysis of Andamanese, Malaysian, and Philippine Negritos, revealing three distinct clusters:

In the upper right-hand corner, the Aeta, Agta, Batak, and Mamanwa are Philippine Negritos. The Manobo are non-Negrito Filipinos.

In the lower right-hand corner are the Jehai, Kintak and Batek are Malaysian Negritos.

And in the upper left, we have the extremely isolated Andamanese Onge and Jarawa Negritos.

(Phil-NN and Mly-NN I believe are Filipino and Malaysian Non-Negritos.)

You can find the same chart, but flipped upside down, with Papuan and Melanesian DNA in the supplemental materials. Of the three groups, they cluster closest to the Philippine Negritos, along the same line with the Malaysians.

By excluding the Andamanese (and Kintak) Negritos, Figure 1 (B) allows a closer look at the structure of the Philippine Negritos.

The Agta, Aeta, and Batak form a horizontal “comet-like pattern,” which likely indicates admixture with non-Negrito Philipine groups like the Manobo. The Mamanawa, who hail from a different part of the Philippines, also show this comet-like patterns, but along a different axis–likely because they intermixed with the different Filipinos who lived in their area. As you can see, there’s a fair amount of overlap–several of the Manobo individuals clustered with the Mamanwa Negritos, and the Batak cluster near several non-Negrito groups (see supplemental chart S4 B)–suggesting high amounts of mixing between these groups.

ADMIXTURE analysis reveals a similar picture. The non-Negrito Filipino groups show up primarily as Orange. The Aeta, Agta, and Batak form a clear genetic cluster with each other and cline with the Orange Filipinos, with the Aeta the least admixed and Batak the most.

The white are on the chart isn’t a data error, but the unique signature of the geographically separated Mananwa, who are highly mixed with the Manobo–and the Manobo, in turn, are mixed with them.

But this alone doesn’t tell us how ancient these populations are, nor if they’re descended from one ancestral pop. For this, the authors constructed several phylogenetic trees, based on all of the data at hand and assuming from 0 – 5 admixture events. The one on the left assumes 5 events, but for clarity only shows three of them. The Denisovan DNA is fascinating and well-documented elsewhere in Melanesian populatons; that Malaysian and Philippine Negritos mixed with their neighbors is also known, supporting the choice of this tree as the most likely to be accurate.

Regardless of which you pick, all of the trees show very similar results, with the biggest difference being whether the Melanesians/Papuans split before or after the Andamanese/Malaysian Negritos.

In case you are unfamiliar with these trees, I’ll run down a quick explanation: This is a human family tree, with each split showing where one group of humans split off from the others and became an isolated group with its own unique genetic patterns. The orange and red lines mark places where formerly isolated groups met and interbred, producing children that are a mix of both. The first split in the tree, going back million of years, is between all Homo sapiens (our species) and the Denisovans, a sister species related to the Neanderthals.

All humans outside of sub-Saharan Africans have some Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors met and interbred with Neanderthals on their way Out of Africa. Melanesians, Papuans, and some Negritos also have some Denisovan DNA, because their ancestors met and made children with members of this obscure human species, but Denisovan DNA is quite rare outside these groups.

Here is a map of Denisovan DNA levels the authors found, with 4% of Papuan DNA hailing from Denisivan ancestors, and Aeta nearly as high. By contrast, the Andamanese Negritos appear to have zero Denisovan. Either the Andamanese split off before the ancestors of the Philippine Negritos and Papuans met the Denisovans, or all Denisovan DNA has been purged from their bloodlines, perhaps because it just wasn’t helpful for surviving on their islands.

Back to the Tree: The second node is where the Biaka, a group of Pygmies from the Congo Rainforest in central Africa. Pygmy lineages are among the most ancient on earth, potentially going back over 200,000 years, well before any Homo sapiens had left Africa.

The next group that splits off from the rest of humanity are the Yoruba, a single ethnic group chosen to stand in for the entirety of the Bantus. Bantus are the group that you most likely think of when you think of black Africans, because over the past three millennia they have expanded greatly and conquered most of sub-Saharan Africa.

Next we have the Out of Africa event and the split between Caucasians (here represented by the French) and the greater Asian clade, which includes Australian Aborigines, Melanesians, Polynesians, Chinese, Japanese, Siberians, Inuit, and Native Americans.

The first groups to split off from the greater Asian clade (aka race) were the Andamanese and Malaysian Negritos, followed by the Papuans/Melanesians Australian Aborigines are closely related to Papuans, as Australia and Papua New Guinea were connected in a single continent (called Sahul) back during the last Ice Age. Most of Indonesia and parts of the Philippines were also connected into a single landmass, called Sunda. Sensibly, people reached Sunda before Sahul, though (Perhaps at that time the Andaman islands, to the northwest of Sumatra, were also connected or at least closer to the mainland.)

Irrespective of the exact order in which Melanesians and individual Negrito groups split off, they all split well before all of the other Asian groups in the area.

This is supported by legends told by the Filipinos themselves:

Legends, such as those involving the Ten Bornean Datus and the Binirayan Festival, tell tales about how, at the beginning of the 12th century when Indonesia and Philippines were under the rule of Indianized native kingdoms, the ancestors of the Bisaya escaped from Borneo from the persecution of Rajah Makatunaw. Led by Datu Puti and Datu Sumakwel and sailing with boats called balangays, they landed near a river called Suaragan, on the southwest coast of Panay, (the place then known as Aninipay), and bartered the land from an Ati [Negrito] headman named Polpolan and his son Marikudo for the price of a necklace and one golden salakot. The hills were left to the Atis while the plains and rivers to the Malays. This meeting is commemorated through the Ati-atihan festival.[4]

The study’s authors estimate that the Negritos split from Europeans (Caucasians) around 30-38,000 years ago, and that the Malaysian and Philippine Negritos split around
13-15,000 years ago. (This all seems a bit tentative, IMO, especially since we have physical evidence of people in the area going back much further than that, and the authors themselves admit in the discussion that their time estimate may be too short.)

The authors also note:

Both our NJ (fig. 3A) and UPGMA (supplementary fig. S10) trees show that after divergence from Europeans, the ancestral Asians subsequently split into Papuans, Negritos and East Asians, implying a one-wave colonization of Asia. … This is in contrast to the study based on whole genome sequences that suggested Australian Aboriginal/Papuan first split from European/East Asians 60 kya, and later Europeans and East Asians diverged 40 kya (Malaspinas et al. 2016). This implies a two-wave migration into Asia…

The matter is still up for debate/more study.

Negrito couple from the Andaman Islands

In conclusion: All of the Negrito groups are likely descended from a common ancestor, (rather than having evolved from separate groups that happened to develop similar body types due to exposure to similar environments,) and were among the very first inhabitants of their regions. Despite their short stature, they are more closely related to other Asian groups (like the Chinese) than to African Pygmies. Significant mixing with their neighbors, however, is quickly obscuring their ancient lineages.

I wonder if all ancient human groups were originally short, and height a recently evolved trait in some groups?

In closing, I’d like to thank Jinam et al for their hard work in writing this article and making it available to the public, their sponsors, and the unique Negrito peoples themselves for surviving so long.

Race: The Social Construction of a Biological Reality, pt 2

Note: This post still contains a lot of oversimplification for the sake of explaining a few things.

Welcome back to our discussion of the geographic dispersion of humanity. On Tuesday, we discussed how two great barriers–the Sahara desert and the Himalayas + central Asian desert–have impeded human travelers over the millennia, resulting in three large, fairly well-defined groups of humans, the major races: Sub-Saharan Africans (SSA), Caucasians, and east Asians.

Of course, any astute motorist, having come to a halt at the Asian end of our highway, might observe that there is, in fact, a great deal of land in the world that we have not yet explored. So we head to the local shop and pick up a better map:

race2

Our new map shows us navigational directions for getting to Melanesia and Australia–in ice age times, it instructs us, we can drive most of the way. If there isn’t an ice age, we’ll have to take a boat.

900px-oceania_un_geoscheme_-_map_of_melanesia-svgThe people of Melanesia and Australia are related, the descendants of one of the first groups of humans to split off from the greater tribe that left Africa some 70k ago.

As the name “Melanesian” implies, they are quite dark-skinned–a result of never having ventured far from the equatorial zone.

Today, they live in eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and a smattering of smaller islands. (Notably, the Maori of New Zealand are Polynesians like the Hawaiians, not Melanesians, descendants of a different migration wave that originated in Taiwan.)

Fijian mountain warrior
Fijian mountain warrior with curly, “African” style hair

There is some speculation that they might have once been wider-spread than they currently are, or that various south-Asian tribes might be related to them, (eg, “A 2009 genetic study in India found similarities among Indian archaic populations and Aboriginal people, indicating a Southern migration route, with expanding populations from Southeast Asia migrating to Indonesia and Australia,”) but I don’t think any mainland group would today be classed as majority Melanesian by DNA.

They may also be related to the scattered tribes of similarly dark-skinned, diminutive people known as the Negritos:

Males from the Aeta people (or Agta) people of The Philippines, are of great interest to genetic, anthropological and historical researchers, as at least 83% of them belong to haplogroup K2b, in the form of its rare primary clades K2b1* and P* (a.k.a. K2b2* or P-P295*).[7] Most Aeta males (60%) carry K-P397 (K2b1), which is otherwise uncommon in the Philippines and is strongly associated with the indigenous peoples of Melanesia and Micronesia. Basal P* is rare outside the Aeta and some other groups within Maritime South East Asia. …

Naural blond hair
Two Melanesian girls from Vanatu (blond hair is common in Melanesian children.)

A 2010 study by the Anthropological Survey of India and the Texas-based Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research identified seven genomes from 26 isolated “relic tribes” from the Indian mainland, such as the Baiga, which share “two synonymous polymorphisms with the M42 haplogroup, which is specific to Australian Aborigines“. These were specific mtDNA mutations that are shared exclusively by Australian aborigines and these Indian tribes, and no other known human groupings.[12]

A study of blood groups and proteins in the 1950s suggested that the Andamanese were more closely related to Oceanic peoples than African Pygmies. Genetic studies on Philippine Negritos, based on polymorphic blood enzymes and antigens, showed they were similar to surrounding Asian populations.[13]

Negrito peoples may descend from Australoid Melanesian settlers of Southeast Asia. Despite being isolated, the different peoples do share genetic similarities with their neighboring populations.[13][14] They also show relevant phenotypic (anatomic) variations which require explanation.[14]

In contrast, a recent genetic study found that unlike other early groups in Malesia, Andamanese Negritos lack the Denisovan hominin admixture in their DNA. Denisovan ancestry is found among indigenous Melanesian and Australian populations between 4–6%.[15][16]

Australian Aboriginal man
Australian Aboriginal man

However, the Negritos are a very small set of tribes, and I am not confident that they are even significantly related to each other, rather than just some short folks living on a few scattered islands. We must leave them for another day.

The vast majority of Aborigines and Melanesians live in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and nearby islands. They resemble Africans, because they split off from the rest of the out-of-Africa crew long before the traits we now associate with “whites” and “Asians” evolved, and have since stayed near the equator, but they are most closely related to–sharing DNA with–south Asians (and Indians.)

So we have, here, on the genetic level, a funny situation. Melanesians are–relatively speaking–a small group. According to Wikipedia, thee are about 12 million Melanesians and 606,000 Aborigines. By contrast, Tokyo prefecture has 13 million people and the total Tokyo metro area has nearly 38 million. Meanwhile, the Han Chinese–not a race but a single, fairly homogenous ethnic group–number around 1.3 billion.

Of all the world’s peoples, Melanesians/Aborigines are most closely related to other Asians–but this is a distant relationship, and those same Asians are more closely related to Caucasians than to Aborigines.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, the diagram, because it is 1-dimensional, can only show the distance between two groups at a time, not all groups. The genetic distance between Caucasians and Aborigines is about 60 or 50k, while the distance between Asians and Caucasians is around 40k, but the distance between Sub-Saharan Africans and ALL non-SSAs is about 70k, whether they’re in Australia, Patagonia, or France. Our map is not designed to show this distance, only the distances between individual pairs.

Some anthropologists refer to Bushmen as "gracile," which means they are a little shorter than average Europeans and not stockily built
Some anthropologists refer to Bushmen as “gracile,” which means they are a little shorter than average Europeans and not stockily built

Now if we hopped back in our car and zoomed back to the beginning of our trip, pausing to refuel in Lagos, we’d note another small group that has been added to the other end of the map: the Bushmen, aka the Khoi-San people. Wikipedia estimates 90,000 San and doesn’t give an estimate for the Khoi people, but their largest group, the Nama, has about 200,000 people. We’ll estimate the total, therefore, around 500,000 people, just to be safe.

The Bushmen are famous for being among the world’s last hunter-gatherers; their cousins the Khoi people are pastoralists. There were undoubtedly more of them in the past, before both Europeans and Bantus arrived in southern Africa. Some people think Bushmen look a little Asian, due to their lighter complexions than their more equatorial African cousins.

Genetically:

Various Y chromosome studies show that the San carry some of the most divergent (oldest) human Y-chromosome haplogroups. These haplogroups are specific sub-groups of haplogroups A and B, the two earliest branches on the human Y-chromosome tree.[48][49][50]

Mitochondrial DNA studies also provide evidence that the San carry high frequencies of the earliest haplogroup branches in the human mitochondrial DNA tree. This DNA is inherited only from one’s mother. The most divergent (oldest) mitochondrial haplogroup, L0d, has been identified at its highest frequencies in the southern African San groups.[48][51][52][53]

I loved that movie
The late Nǃxau ǂToma, (aka Gcao Tekene Coma,) Bushman star of “The Gods Must be Crazy,” roughly 1944-2003

In a study published in March 2011, Brenna Henn and colleagues found that the ǂKhomani San, as well as the Sandawe and Hadza peoples of Tanzania, were the most genetically diverse of any living humans studied. This high degree of genetic diversity hints at the origin of anatomically modern humans.[54][55]

Recent analysis suggests that the San may have been isolated from other original ancestral groups for as much as 100,000 years and later rejoined, re-integrating the human gene pool.[56]

A DNA study of fully sequenced genomes, published in September 2016, showed that the ancestors of today’s San hunter-gatherers began to diverge from other human populations in Africa about 200,000 years ago and were fully isolated by 100,000 years ago … [57]

So the total distance between Nigerians and Australian Aborogines is 70k years; the distance between Nigerians and Bushmen is at least 100k years.

When we zoom in on the big three–Sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, and Asians–they clade quite easily and obviously into three races. But when we add Aborigines and Bushmen, things complicate. Should we have a “race” smaller than the average American city? Or should we just lump them in with their nearest neighbors–Bushmen with Bantus and Aborigines with Asians?

I am fine with doing both, actually–but wait, I’m not done complicating matters! Tune in on Monday for more.

When did Asians Evolve?

When did Asians evolve?

Humanity's path out of Africa
Humanity’s path out of Africa

The history of humanity’s long sojourn across the globe has resulted in, more or less, three main super-clades, or races: Sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, and Asians. The words we use for these are not perfect (“Caucasian” is particularly imprecise,) but do the job well enough.

Genetic distance map of 18 human groups, by Saitou Naruya https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongoloid#/media/File:Neighbor-joining_Tree-2.png
Genetic distance map of 18 human groups, by Saitou Naruya

The Asian super-clade has three main branches: Melanesians (and Aborigines,) who traveled south into the Pacific; the Native Americans, who settled North and South America some 13-40,000 years ago; and of course the East Asians, like the Chinese, Japanese, and Polynesians.

(Amusingly, Indians, though they clearly live in Asia, are part of the Caucasian clade because they are more closely related to Middle Easterners and Europeans than Chinese people. As a result, Indians were–for a while—recorded as “white” on US censuses, though today they are recorded as “Asian.”)

People are fond of saying that the SS African race contains the greatest genetic diversity (as well it might, due to the inclusion of groups like the Pygmies and Bushmen, who may have split off from other human groups over 100,000 years ago,) but the Asian race has the greatest pre-Columbian geographic/environmental range, stretching from Australia and Polynesia to Siberia and Greenland, from Mongolia to Patagonia.

Asian, Australian, and Melanesian ethic groups (including Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese) from Haak et al's dataset
Locations of Asian, Australian, and Melanesian ethic groups (including Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese) from Haak et al’s dataset

Trying to offer a single, coherent description of the physical appearances of such a diverse range of peoples is nearly impossible. They range in skin tone from almost white to as black as most of Africa; in stature from slight, Pygmy-like Negritos to the formidable Comanches (who in the 1800s were among the world’s tallest measured people;) and in average reported IQs from >105 to >65. (Okay, IQ isn’t appearance.)

We will be able to speak much more meaningfully about appearances when we address each of the sub-races.

Here are the relevant portions from Haak et al’s lovely dataset:

nativeamerican eskimoonge eastasian

On the left, we have the Native American DNA, from the depths of the Amazonian rainforest to the tribes of upstate New York. The olive green section are the Inuit/Eskimo and related Russian groups. The Inuit (who appear to have wiped out the earlier Dorset people,) share a great deal of DNA with other Siberians, eg the Yakuts (a Turkic people) and the Nganasan, (who speak a highly divergent language of the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic family, which also includes the Finnish, Hungarian, and Sami languages–language is a very bad guide to genetics.)

The pale peach are the Onge, who live in India’s Andaman Islands; purple the people of Papua New Guinea and Australia.

The very yellow part is all of the groups normally thought of as “East Asian,” like Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. Yellow is most dominant in the aboriginal people of Taiwan (who were there before the Chinese started migrating there in the past few hundred years,) and are the ancestors of the (not pictured) Polynesian peoples of Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand. (I think they picked up some Melanesian DNA on the way.)

And on the right we have the various peoples of Siberia and central Asia.

I think it an open question whether the Melanesians and Aborigines ought to be properly classed with the other Asians, or awarded their own clade.

I totally stole this from Razib Khan, didn't I?
I stole this from Razib Khan, didn’t I?

According to Masatoshi Nei, a biology professor at Pennsylvania State University,[131]  the ancestors of today’s Asians and Caucasians split into two separate groups around 41,000 years ago, (give or take 15,000 years,) and their ancestors split from the ancestors of modern Africans–the “Out of Africa Event”–around 114,000 years ago, (give or take 34,000 years.)

 

The Daily Mail reports:

BERLIN (AP) — The human populations now predominant in Eurasia and East Asia probably split between 36,200 and 45,000 years ago, according to a study released Thursday.

Researchers used new techniques to analyze genetic samples from the shin bone of a young man who died at least 36,200 years ago near Kostenki-Borshchevo in what is now western Russia. The study, published in the journal Science, concludes that Kostenki man shared genetic sequences with contemporary Europeans, but not East Asians.

A separate study published last month in the journal Nature determined that a 45,000-year old sample found in Siberia contained sequences ancestral to both modern East Asians and Europeans.

Meanwhile:

In a genetic study in 2011, researchers found evidence, in DNA samples taken from strands of Aboriginal people’s hair, that the ancestors of the Aboriginal population split off from the ancestors of the European and Asian populations between 65,000 and 75,000 years ago—roughly 24,000 years before the European and Asian populations split off from each other. These Aboriginal ancestors migrated into South Asia and then into Australia…

A different study found:

The first complete sequences of the Y chromosomes of Aboriginal Australian men have revealed a deep indigenous genetic history tracing all the way back to the initial settlement of the continent 50 thousand years ago, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology today.

The Native Americans much more conveniently split off around 25,000 years ago.

Or in other words:

Also credit Robert Lindsay
Also credit Robert Lindsay

So on the one hand, race is biological and real, and on the other, it’s a social construct. Australian Aborigines are more closely related to other Asians than to, say, Europeans or Africans, but the Chinese are more closely related to Europeans than to Aborigines.

nature-siberian-neanderthals-17.02.16-v2One reason why Australians and other Melanesians appear so divergent from other Asian populations maybe their Denisovan (or other human) DNA. Most (if not all) human groups appear to have picked up DNA from some other, non-Homo Sapiens source. Europeans, East Asians, and Native Americans all have a small percent of Neanderthal DNA. Africans, IIRC, have a small % of some local African homin. And Melanesians/Australians have a small % of Denisovan DNA (Denisovans were a less-well-known cousin of the Neanderthals.)

Remnants at the fringes theory and the Ainu

I’ve been meaning to get around to this!

Frequency-of-red-hair-in-Europe europe-hair0223--light-h

Here we have maps of the distribution of red hair and the distribution of blond hair. If we could overlay these maps, we’d see, especially in North Western Europe, a large overlap between the places where blond here is and red hair isn’t. It looks kind of like the blond-haired people started out somewhere around Sweeden and spread out in concentric circles from there, and as they spread, they began displacing an earlier, red-haired people who ended up surviving only on the far fringes of Britain. (The red splotch in the middle of Russia represents the Udmurt people, who could have been originally related to the ancestors of the folks on the coasts of Britain, but I suspect not.)

Luckily for me, we have historical records for this area, and we know that this is exactly what happened, what with the Germanic barbarians invading Gaul and Britain and Prussia and so on.

Anyway, so this is just an idea I’ve had kicking around in my head that when you see something like the red hair/blond hair pattern, the trait that’s in the easy to conquer, fertile, valuable areas is more recent, and the trait that’s in the fringier, more isolated places–sometimes widely separated–is the older one.

“Fringe” areas don’t have to be the edges of coasts. They can also be rainforests, mountain tops, deserts, icy tundra, etc.–just anywhere that’s far away or hard to conquer.

The Ainu

The Ainu are among the most famous Siberian peoples primarily because, once upon a time, Europeans mistook them for Caucasians, probably because the Ainu had beards and other East Asians tend not to. (I think East Asians generally can’t grow shaggy beards, but it’s hard to say because shaving one’s head is so common among men these days.)

Count the beards!
Count the beards!

As it turns out, merely having a beard does not, in fact, make you Caucasian; the Ainu are most closely related to other groups from north / east Asia:

Screen-Shot-2012-11-08-at-10.07.15-PM

screen-shot-2012-11-08-at-5-47-49-pm

Graphs from “The history of human populations in the Japanese Archipelago inferred from genome-wide SNP data with a special reference to the Ainu and the Ryukyuan populations;Dienekes, Lindsay, and Ahnenkult (via the Wayback Machine) have excellent posts on the paper.

It’s not surprising that the Ainu aren’t actually long lost Europeans, but it is odd that they appear to be most closely–though still distantly–related to the Ryukyuans (aka Okinawans,) and mroe distantly related to their immediate neighbors, the Japanese. The Ainu hail from Hokkaido, in the far north of Japan, (though they may have previously ranged further south:

700px-Historical_expanse_of_the_Ainu.svg)

while the Okinawans hail from Japan’s southern end. Here’s another look at their respective genetics:

Screen-Shot-2012-11-08-at-5.47.16-PM

So we’re left with the Ainu still being quite unusual.

For that matter, their beards actually are rather unusual for the area–while the neighboring Nivkh People have beards, most of the other nearby Siberian groups, like the Yukaghirs and Oroks, (not to mention their Japanese neighbors) don’t seem particularly beardy, even though facial fur seems like it’d be useful in cold places.

Ainu
Ainu
Yukaghirs
Yukaghirs

To be clear, based on my past half hour’s worth of research, the Japanese (and other east-Asians) can grow beards, but their beards are generally thin and patchy due to the distribution of hair follicles. The fluffy, full beards of the Ainu appear to be rare among the Japanese and other east Asians.

I’ve yet to find a map I trust of the distribution of hairiness among humans, so we’re going with one I don’t entirely trust:

Bodyhair_map_according_to_American_Journal_of_Physical_Anthropology_and_other_sources Why are Norwegians furry, but not Siberians?

Potential issues with this map: 1. Hindley and Damon gathered their estimates from the literature of their day, which means some of these numbers may be quite old; 2. Map is based on a measure of hairiness of people’s finger joints, not beards or overall body hair; 3. It looks like the numbers in the US are based on current populations rather than indigenous ones, which isn’t an issue so much as just something to be clear on; 4. the Wikipedia lists some of the numbers cited in the article, but not those for Melanesia/Indonesia/SE Asia, and the article itself is paywalled; 5. the article’s abstract notes that Solomon Islanders measured 58.8% hairy–purple–which seems in contrast to the very yellow area nearby.

At any rate, judging by the Wikipedia, lots of people rate the Ainu as “very hairy” and the Japanese as “not very hairy.”

Interestingly, the Australian Aborigines seem to have nice beards:

australia-aborigines-225x228

The article on Ainu genetics notes, “…Omoto conducted a pioneering study on the phylogenetic relationship of the Ainu population considering various degrees of admixture. When a 60% admixture with the Mainland Japanese was assumed for the modern Ainu population, the ancestral Ainu population was clustered with Sahulian (Papuan and Australian). This sort of simulations based on the real data is needed.”

Speculative… but interesting.

The Ainu belong to Y-haplogroup D-M55, a sub-clade of D-M174, which according to Wikipedia, is found “at high frequency among populations in Tibet, the Japanese archipelago, and the Andaman Islands, though curiously not in India. The Ainu of Japan are notable for possessing almost exclusively Haplogroup D-M174 chromosomes,…” (You remember our discussion of the Andaman Islanders the other day, right?)

It’d be interesting to know if the Ainu have any Denisovan admixture.

The Ainu language doesn’t seem to be related to any of the nearby languages, not even Nivkh (aside from loan words.) It’s hard to study the Ainu language, since very few people speak it anymore, but so far all of the proposed groupings sound very tentative.

The Ainu also have different teeth from their neighbors. “Sinodont” teeth are found in Japan, China, Siberia, and Native Americans. “Sundadont” teeth are found in the Ainu, Okinawans, ancient Japanese skeletons, Taiwanese aborigines, Filipinos, Indonesians, and folks from Indochina like the Thais and Laotians.

Here’s a helpful map:

200px-Mongoloid_Australoid_Negrito_Asia_Distribution_of_Asian_peoples_Sinodont_Sundadont (N = Negritos; A = Australians)

The word “Sundadont” refers to “Sundaland“, which is the part of Indonesia that was above water and connected to the mainland back during the last ice age. Getting to Indonesia was therefore potentially quite simple for ancient people, since they could just walk there; getting to Papua New Guinea and Australia was much more difficult, since deep water lay between them. WestHunter has an interesting post on the subject.

However, on the subject of Native American teeth, the Wikipedia notes:

“Rebecca Haydenblit of the Hominid Evolutionary Biology Research Group at Cambridge University did a study on the dentition of four pre-Columbian Mesoamerican populations and compared their data to “other Mongoloid populations”.[3] She found that “Tlatilco“, “Cuicuilco“, “Monte Albán” and “Cholula” populations followed an overall “Sundadont” dental pattern “characteristic of Southeast Asia” rather than a “Sinodont” dental pattern “characteristic of Northeast Asia”.[3]

As we discussed previously, it looks like Melanesians may have been the first folks to reach the Americas, but were later conquered and largely wiped out by a wave of “East Asian”-like invaders.

Taken together, all of the evidence is still kind of scanty, but points to the possibility of a Melanesian-derived group that spread across south Asia, made it into Tibet and the Andaman Islands, walked into Indonesia, and then split up, with one branch heading up the coast to Taiwan, Okinawa, Japan, and perhaps across the Bering Strait and down to Brazil, while another group headed out to Australia.

Later, the ancestors of today’s east Asians moved into the area, largely displacing or wiping out the original population, except in the hardest places to reach, like Tibet, the Andaman Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon Rainforest, and Hokkaido–the fringe.

Each group, of course, has gone its own way; the Ainu, for example, have mixed with the nearby Japanese and Siberian cultures, and adapted over time to their particular climate, resulting in their own, unique culture.

 

 

World_Map_of_Y-DNA_Haplogroups

 

Species of Exit: The Sentinelese, the world’s most isolated people

North Sentinel Island
North Sentinel Island
Map showing location of North Sentinel Island (red) relative to the rest of the Andaman Islands
Map showing location of North Sentinel Island (red) relative to the rest of the Andaman Islands
Map showing the distance between the Andaman Islands and land.
Map showing the distance between the Andaman Islands (small islands south of Myanmar) and land.

The Sentinelese appear to have split off from the rest of humanity approximately 48,500 years ago, and aside from occasional contact with other members of the Andaman islands, have remained isolated ever since.

People have occasionally landed on or near Sentinel island, but the islanders have all resisted contact, generally by shooting arrows at anyone who gets too close. Even National Geographic hasn’t got any pictures of them–when they tried to make a documentary on the island, armed with gifts, they had to retreat after the director took an arrow in the thigh. The last guys whose boat accidentally drifted onto their beach got killed and buried in shallow graves on the beach.

North Sentinel Island is technically owned by India, but India has given up trying to make peaceful contact, and it would probably look bad to just bomb the place.

So what do we know about the Sentinelese?

Obviously not a whole lot, since most of what we know of them has been observed from a distance.

The whole island is about the size of Manhattan, and probably inhabited by 40-500 people. They’re generally characterized as Negritos, a term used for the shorter than average but taller than Pygmies, dark-skinned people of the Andaman Islands and certain groups in the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia. The term is only descriptive; different Negrito tribes may not be related to each other at all. (I promised I’d get around to the Negritos eventually.)

Aside from stuff that has randomly washed up on their island or was given to them by folks trying to make contact, they have only stone tools and, according to the Wikipedia, appear not to have fire.

But a little more research suggests that Wikipedia may just be wrong on this point; during the search for the lost Malaysian jetliner, smoke was observed rising from North Sentinele, which implies that the people there probably do have fire.

At any rate, we do know that they have bows and arrows, boats, and spears.

When National Geographic tried to make contact, they left a plastic toy car, coconuts, a live pig, a doll, and aluminum cookware on the beach before getting shot at. After they retreated, they observed the Sentinelese shoot and bury the pig (not eat it?) and, if the Wikipedia is accurate, shoot and bury the doll. They took the coconuts and pans; no word of the car’s fate.

In 1970, a group of Indian anthropologists that came near the island had a decidedly strange incident:

Quite a few discarded their weapons and gestured to us to throw the fish. The women came out of the shade to watch our antics… A few men came and picked up the fish. They appeared to be gratified, but there did not seem to be much softening to their hostile attitude… They all began shouting some incomprehensible words. We shouted back and gestured to indicate that we wanted to be friends. The tension did not ease. At this moment, a strange thing happened — a woman paired off with a warrior and sat on the sand in a passionate embrace. This act was being repeated by other women, each claiming a warrior for herself, a sort of community mating, as it were. Thus did the militant group diminish. This continued for quite some time and when the tempo of this frenzied dance of desire abated, the couples retired into the shade of the jungle. However, some warriors were still on guard. We got close to the shore and threw some more fish which were immediately retrieved by a few youngsters. It was well past noon and we headed back to the ship…

Virtually nothing is known about the Sentinelese language, though it is speculated that it is related to the Onge language of the Andaman islands. However, attempts at using the Onge as translators have failed, as the Onge themselves cannot understand a word of Sentinelese.

A British expedition in the 1880s that got a decent look at the island claimed that, of all the nearby groups, Sentinelese culture most closely resembled Onge culture, so it is still possible that the languages are related, albeit distantly.

Since much more is known about the Onge, I’m going to speak briefly about them:

A member of the Onge collecting Honey on the Andaman Islands
Onge man collecting honey, Andaman Islands

The Onge are marked in blue on the map above; today they live chiefly on Little Andaman Island in the south, but in the past they ranged further north, closer to to the Sentinelese. Contact with the outside world has reduced their population from almost 700 people (1900) to about 100. (There may well have been >700 people before 1900, that’s just the first date I have numbers for.) Strangely, the Onge appear to be the world’s least fertile people, with 40% of couples suffering infertility. Wikipedia estimates their Net Reproductive Rate (similar to TFR, but only looks at daughters) at 0.91, which is below replacement, however, their population appears to have held steady for the past 30 years, so perhaps the problem is working itself out.

Why such infertility? The most obvious guesses (IMO) are some sort of environmental poison/effect; some sort of diseased-induced infertility, like gonorrheal scaring (please note that I have no idea if any of the Onge have ever had gonorrhea, but it is a common cause of infertility;) or a side effect of inbreeding/lack of genetic diversity following their extreme population collapse.

The article Malnutrition and high childhood mortality among the Onge tribe of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands suggests that the real cause of the low NRR is high childhood mortality due to malnutrition/insufficient food, probably due to loss of their traditional hunting/gathering grounds.

Genetically, the Onge appear to have been isolated for an extremely long time. They all share the same mitochondrial DNA, haplotype M32, which is not found anywhere outside of the Andaman Islands. (The larger umbrella-group M, to which all M-varieties belong, is one of the world’s most wide-spread lineages, emerging either shortly before the Out of Africa event, or shortly after it, but is most reliably concentrated in Asia, with several ancient lineages in India.)

The Onge language is related to the languages of some of the other tribes in the Andaman Islands, and speculated to be part of the greater Austronesian language family. (Considering that the whole Indo-European language family is about, what, 4-6,000 years old, I am a little skeptical of our ability to reconstruct too much about a language that may have diverged 40,000+ years ago.)

Onge Y-DNA belongs to Haplogroup D-M174, which emerged in Asia about 60,000 years ago and isn’t found outside of Asia. It is found today among Tibetans, the Ainu, and the Andaman Islanders, suggesting that these people are all (at least partially) descended from a common source that split off from other humans around 60,000 years ago, or just after the OoA (relatively speaking.) D-M174 is also found in small amounts in China and central/east Asia.

The Ainu, IIRC, also have a particular tooth shape that is commonly found in Melanesia, but not outside of it, and a small amount (about 15%, I think,) of Siberian DNA. And, of course, we now have evidence of Melanesian DNA showing up in the Amazon rainforest, not to mention the curious concentration of archaic Denisovan admixture in Melanesians, despite the only Denisovan remains we’ve found so far coming from Russia. However, it appears that there is no Denisovan DNA in the Andaman Islanders, so maybe they split off before the Denisovan admixture advent.

The sum of the evidence suggests a single band of people, perhaps most closely resembling the Negritos, spread 60,000 years ago along the coast of southern Asia and spread far into the interior, reaching at least as far as Tibet, the Andaman Islands, and northern Japan, and possibly even crossing the Bering Strait and down to the tip of South America. (Since Melanesians do not appear to have ever spread to Polynesia, I suspect they did not boat straight across the Pacific, but maybe we just haven’t yet found Melanesian remains in Polynesia.)

Over the ensuing millenia, later population waves, like the Polynesians and the common ancestors of east Asians like the Han and the Japanese, migrated into the area, leaving only a few isolated remnants of Haplogroup D-M174 in far-flung, difficult to reach places like the Andaman islands, the Himalayan Plateau, and the coldest parts of Japan. Likewise, Melanesian DNA in the New World seems to have best survived in one of its harshest, most difficult to penetrate habitats: the rain forest.

This all gets back to my theory of genetic survival at the fringes, (discussed here,) which I hope to devote a full post to soon. The history of the world is the group with better tech conquering the group with worse tech, and then getting conquered in turn by a group with even better tech.

The island of Taiwan illustrates this well; the most recent immigration wave happened in 1949, when the ROC lost their war with the PRC and evacuated 2 million of their people to Taiwan, a nation of 6 million at the time. Taiwan had previously (temporarily) been conquered by the Japanese, and before that, by other Chinese people, who began arriving around 1300. They’ve been gradually defeating/replacing the aboriginal Taiwanese, who are now a very small population, and the aboriginal Taiwanese themselves have legends about having wiped out a negrito-like people who predated their arrival, but I consider such legends only potentially true. Each group got conquered by the next group with better tech.

A couple more pictures of Andaman Islanders:

source Wikipedia
Onge mother and child, Wikipedia

 

source Wikipedia
Andamanese Couple, Wikipedia

Anyway, back to the Sentinelese.

The available evidence suggests that they split off from the rest of the human population ages upon ages ago, and have been effectively isolated from everyone but their immediate neighbors ever since. Though technically their island is considered part of India, as a practical matter, they govern themselves. They have managed to retain their independent status for so long by living on a tiny, hard-to-reach island and enforcing a strict immigration policy of killing anyone who shows up on their beach.

Given that the Sentinelese would probably all die of the common cold if they ever did let foreigners onto their island, their policy is not unreasonable. You wouldn’t want to let some plague-bearing foreigner kill you with their germs, either. Unfortunately, the disease situation is unlikely to reverse itself; their population is just too small to withstand contact with the outside world. Too-long isolation in such a tiny place has cut them off from all the technological progress of the past 40,000 to 60,000 years, and their population is too small to develop much tech internally. To be fair, their strategy has worked so far. But now they’re stuck, maintaining their tiny island against the odds until someone decides to show up with guns and do some logging, fishing, or whatever they feel like, at which point there’s a good chance they’ll be wiped out.

Long term, total isolation is a policy with very low survival odds.

After some thought, the best option I can think of for the Sentinelese, other than continuing as they are and hoping for the best (after all, the rest of the world could destroy itself in a nuclear holocaust and leave them behind to continue doing their thing for the next 40,000 years,) is to expand their numbers and send excess people to the other Andaman Islands. Sure, most of those people would probably get colds and die, and if not the colds, alcohol’s a likely culprit, but as long as they keep exporting people, eventually some of them will survive, and create a breeding population/intermix with the other Andamanese until they have the numbers/immunity to interact with the outside world.

Stolen Land

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I’m not actually against immigration, but I am pro-borders and prefer to live among people I find pleasant, and in this day and age, the two positions are treated as equivalent.

Why borders? Why can’t we all just go wherever we want? Why should a mere accident of birth condemn one person to live in a god-forsaken hellhole, and another to live somewhere peaceful and prosperous?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t like god-forsaken hellholes anymore than the next guy.

So I have a little garden. No trivial undertaking, by the way. Clearing out the brush, pulling up the weeds, digging holes, building rock walls and planting beds, and, of course, watering the darn thing has taken hours or work. Many of the plants are perennials started from seed, so I won’t even get to harvest them for several years.

There’s just one problem: the land isn’t mine. It’s an unattended lot that was a neighborhood eyesore. I’m trying to turn it into something nice, but the owners could come back at any point and mow it all down. For that matter, anyone else in the neighborhood could walk into the garden and take my turnips, pick all my flowers, or knock down my walls. These are problems I have had. And what can I do? Press charges against someone for vandalizing someone else’s property? It doesn’t work that way.

As a result, there are certain improvements that I’m not going to make. Why plant a tree that cold get chopped down? Or buy a pleasant little bench that could get thrown away? For that matter, even a decent lawn mower costs several hundred dollars. Who wants to invest money into something they could lose?

A proper garden requires ownership.

“Why bother at all?” you might be wondering. Because a garden is a lot nicer than as a bunch of dead weeds, and if I get lucky, some of the plants might survive to benefit the neighborhood for years to come.

 

Each country is a garden. Each country decides what to do with its own resources, how many people they can support, and how they want to conduct their lives. Sometimes countries need more people. Sometimes they need fewer. Sometimes the numbers are just right, but it wouldn’t hurt to switch a few people with another country, to the mutual benefit of everyone.

In no case does a country benefit from allowing in more people than it can feed. California produces a great percentage of America’s food, has had a drought for 1o years, and doesn’t have enough water for all of the crops and people already there. And yet the open-borders advocates want more people to move to California?

If California runs out of water, not only will the local farmers suffer (and no, an orchard someone’s been tending for decades is not something you can just stop watering for a few years,) but so will the rest of the country, especially those whose food budgets are already tight.

In no case does a country benefit from allowing in a bunch of people who are higher crime or lower IQ than the existing population. This should be obvious.

And then there is the more subtle matter of culture. Most people basically like their own cultures, and have little interest in radically changing them (else they would have already.) And culture, as I’ve noted before, is far more than superficial trappings of food and clothing. It’s values. It’s norms of appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Type-A New Yorkers stuck in Seattle often report being completely miserable because they just can’t cope with the laid-back Seattle attitude. What happens when peoples with radically different values or social norms try to live together? What happens, for example, when French people who believe in freedom of the press and anti-religious values and people who think that drawing pictures of the Prophet Mohammad’s testicles is a blasphemy worthy of death live in the same country?

There is really no solution to this conflict. Either one side has to not print dirty pictures of Mohammad, or the other side has to not kill people for drawing dirty pictures of Mohammad. Better, therefore, to avoid the conflict.

For a country to function, it must be able to select which immigrants it takes in.

For that matter, I believe that a country has a moral obligation to treat its immigrants well; if you cannot guarantee that your fellow countrymen will treat well the immigrants from a certain land, then you should not encourage those immigrants. People deserve to live in places where they are happy, after all.

 

There’s been a lot of debate recently in the US over Mexican (and more broadly, Hispanic) immigration. Some people would like more Hispanic immigration, perhaps because it appeals to their libertarian instincts, they want cheaper labor, or they love Hispanic people and culture. Others would prefer less immigration, perhaps because they want higher wages, less crime, or just aren’t keen on Hispanic culture.

The Left generally responds to anti-immigrant sentiments by pointing out that previous waves of immigration to the US were total disasters for the people already here. When Europeans arrived in the early 1500s, their diseases exploded through native communities like atomic bombs. The death toll is generally reckoned at 80-90 percent. This was followed, of course, by warfare, enslavement, and genocide.

This seems like approximately the worst argument in favor of immigration ever.

Other waves of immigration, like the 1910 Irish/Italian/Eastern European wave, were accompanied by rising crime; immigration since 1970 has been accompanied by stagnating wages, all of which we have discussed before.

Even Bernie Sanders thinks that full open borders is a capitalist plot to destroy the American worker by forcing wages down to third-world levels.

So why bother making the worst argument in favor of immigration ever?

To imply that whites have no right to their own land. If their land was stolen from someone else, if they are just illegally occupying it, then they have no legal right to it. (And of course, no claim of adverse possession can be made, since the Indians are still around and would prefer their ancestral lands back.) And even if the Indians weren’t around, what sort of precedent does letting people get land by shooting its current owners?

But are the Native Americans the original inhabitants of this land?

No, not in the least.

If you think the Indians arrived here 20,000-40,000 years ago, sat down, and didn’t move until Columbus arrived, you’re delusional.

Humans move around.

Modern Indians are most closely related to the peoples of north east Asia, a point in favor of the Bering Strait hypothesis.

But the earliest settlers of the Americas, before the Clovis Culture even began, appear to be a totally different group most closely related to the people of Papua New Guinea, Australia, and Melanesia. We now have skeletal remains, artifacts, and genetics (not to mention the timeline in which people otherwise made it from the arctic to the rainforest in record time), all of which point Melanesians as the first Americans.

The later invaders, ancestors of today’s Indians, wiped most of them out. Only a few groups with significant Melanesian DNA remain, most of them deep in the rainforest.

Peter Frost reports a similar finding from Mexico:

“Similar findings have emerged from analysis of skulls from Mexico dated to between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago and skulls from Colombia dated to between 7,500 and 8,300:”

And quotes from Gonzalez-Jose et al, 2005,(pdf)

“To summarize, analyses of individual skulls against reference samples suggest that the early Mexican fossils studied do not share a common craniofacial morphology with Amerindians or East Asians, as reported elsewhere for South Paleoindians, some North Paleoindian specimens […] and some modern groups like Fuegian-Patagonians and the Pericúes from Baja California.”

I know nothing about the Pericues, but the Fuegian-Patagonians are really interesting. IIRC, they’re a language isolate living in a very cold environment, and when Europeans first arrived, they basically had no clothes. They just carried fires around with them everywhere they went–in their canoes, while hanging out, everywhere. Hence the region’s name, “Land of the Fire.” One imagines they must have been cold a lot, but maybe they were perfectly happy with the temperatures.

Of course, people have been saying that the giant Olmec stone heads look like Africans for approximately forever, and they have a point:

Olmec_Head_No._1

Further north, a third (or fourth, or whatever Nth,) wave of people, the Dorset, survived in the arctic for over 4,000 years, until the Thule (ancestors of today’s Inuit/Eskimo) showed up. It’s unlikely that the Dorset suddenly forgot how to live in the arctic, nor do the Thule show any signs of having intermarried with the Dorset. The Dorset, as they say, were “replaced.” The Thule killed them.

The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic
The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic

Take a look around, and you’ll find conquering everywhere. The Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs created empires by conquering the people around them. The Aztecs marched home their prisoners of war and sacrificed them to their gods, ripping out their still-beating hearts. Lovely people, I’m sure.

Of course, the Americas are not the only places this has happened. The historical occupants of South Africa were the Bushmen, hunter-gatherers who’d been isolated from the rest of humanity for almost 100,000 years before anyone else showed up in the area. South Africa’s dominant group today, the Bantus, are more closely related to Koreans than Bushmen.

Compare:

Southern African Rock Art

Distribution of art attributed to the Bushmen vs:

Modern distribution of major African language groups
Modern distribution of major African language groups

Bantus are newcomers, having only arrived in northeastern South Africa within the past couple millenia, and having been largely absent from the cape when Europeans settled there. (That is, most of the people in the area of Cape Town were Bushmen, and after them, most of the people in Cape Town and its surrounding area were Dutch. Major Bantu presence in the area came later.)

The Chinese who moved to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War are distinct from the Taiwanese Chinese, who displaced the ethnic Taiwanese, who have legends about the darker (perhaps Melanesian) people they displaced.

Replacement has happened virtually everywhere on Earth.

 

“There have been periods where the folks who were already here suddenly say, ‘Well, I don’t want those folks,’ even though the only people who have the right to say that are some Native Americans.” –President Obama, Nov, 2014

Which Native Americans? The ones who wiped out the Dorset? The ones who wiped out the Melanesians? Or maybe the folks in the Amazon rain forest and a few other isolated tribes should get to determine immigration policies for both continents?

Or maybe that sort of thinking is really fucking dumb?

The people who are in France right now have a right to their country and their culture. If they want to let in people from elsewhere, that’s their business. If they decided they don’t like Freedom of Speech anymore and they’d rather make sure no one produces dirty pictures of Mohammad, that’s their business. But if they want to have Freedom of Speech and decide to not let in people who would have an issue with this, that is also their business. If Americans decide they want more Hispanic immigrants to work in their fields and bake enchiladas, that’s their business. If Americans decide they don’t want more Hispanic immigrants, that’s also their business.

Bhutan is one of the hardest countries in the world to visit (much less immigrate to), because the Bhutanese government doesn’t want a bunch of outsiders ruining their way of life. The Andaman islands are even harder to visit, because the islanders have a habit of killing anyone who gets too close. (And well they ought, because after being isolated for so long, any outsiders would most likely be carrying diseases to which the Andamanese have no defenses. Contact with the outside world would probably kill them all.)

The fact that people in the past have waged wars and often lost them does not make me eager to lose a war. The fact that people in the past have been replaced does not make me want to be replaced. The fact that my ancestors might be related to some guys who won a war or might just look kind of like those guys does not mean it makes any sense to suddenly declare that we (by which I mean everyone currently here, regardless of ethnic background) do not have a right to decide where we should go from here.

So Why do Native Americans have so much Neanderthal DNA?

Warning: highly speculative post ahead.

As I mentioned the other day:

Worldwide distribution of B006, (from Yotova et al. “An X-Linked Haplotype of Neandertal Origin Is Present Among All Non-African Populations,” Mol. Biol. Evol. 28 (7), 2011).
Worldwide distribution of B006, (from Yotova et al. “An X-Linked Haplotype of Neandertal Origin Is Present Among All Non-African Populations,” Mol. Biol. Evol. 28 (7), 2011).
SNP PCA from Skoglund & Jakobsson’s “Archaic Human Ancestry in East Asia” (2011)
SNP PCA from Skoglund & Jakobsson’s “Archaic Human Ancestry in East Asia” (2011)

(Please note that Africans do not have chimpanzee admixture, despite the labeling on the graph–no human group has chimp admixture, because chimps and humans have different #s of chromosomes, so even if you could get a successful cross, the resulting child would be infertile, like a mule. I assume the point of the chimp node is just to represent that which has neither Neanderthal nor Denisovan admixture, though of course there is the possibility of some other form of archaic hominin admixture in Africans.)

Anthropogenesis-DenisovaAlleleMap

So, Native Americans appear to have a ton of Neanderthal DNA. (Relatively speaking.)

Possibilities:

  1. It’s all measurement error/convergent evolution/something else other than archaic admixture.

As much as I hate to say it, I still consider this very likely. There is just a ton of stuff that we don’t about the Americas–like how and when people first got here. I’m sticking here with what I think are the most scientifically-supported theories, but a lot of this is still quite disputed. In particular, all of this genetic admixture business is still kind of speculative, and when people start talking about finding admixture in the admixture, either life is totally awesome, or we’re trying too hard.

2. Survival at the Fringes theory

A lot of people seem to look at this data and respond with something like, “But Neanderthals are from Europe, not America!” But this is not a big issue; the Indians are descended from people who passed through Neanderthal-inhabited regions (the Middle East), just like everyone else with Neanderthal DNA. The migration to the Americas took place long after they acquired Neanderthal admixture.

But this doesn’t explain why they have so much of it.

My “concentration on the edge” theory states that when one population is displaced by another population, you end up with a “fringe” of the original population’s traits. Sometimes this fringe results in isolated groups, as the invading population completely surrounds or cuts off a remnant population from their former range.

The Ainu, for example, resemble certain other Oceanin groups, but not their neighbors, the Japanese. I’m speculating here, so don’t take my word for it.

But I have a much better case with the distribution of red hair: Frequency-of-red-hair-in-Europe

(So far I have found nothing explaining that dot over in Russia.)

Red hair is highly associated with the so-called Celtic fringe. It looks like it’s highly concentrated in Wales, Scotland, and parts of Ireland, but since I know a little history, and I know these aren’t areas of concentration, but just the areas that managed to escape being displaced by Anglo-Saxon invaders, just by virtue of being further away from the south-east coast of Britain.

One can imagine that the isolated dot in the middle of Russia might, at one time, have been connected with the other red-haired regions before other peoples invaded the lands between them and cut them off.

Compare to the map of blond hair:

europe-hair0223--light-h

Blond hair looks like it has been spreading steadily outward from a central source.

So what does this have to do with Neanderthal admixture in Native Americans?

It means that I think the Native Americans may have closer to original levels of Neanderthal admixture, while people in Europe and Asia have lower admixture because they mixed with later waves of people who came from Africa and had no Neanderthal admixture.

3. The Bering Strait selected for Neanderthal admixture

Alternatively, the harsh conditions of life in the Bering Strait–where some scientists think the ancestors of today’s Indians hung out (or “paused”) for thousands of years before the ice sheets opened up to let them through–may have selected for winter adaptations that came from ice-age Neanderthals. I have speculated previously that Type-2 Diabetes may actually be a winter adaptation picked up from Neanderthal DNA; now scientists think this DNA may be responsible for high rates of Type-2 Diabetes in Native Americans.

4. Western diseases selected for Western immune responses

One of the interesting things about the Neanderthal DNA hanging around in people is that it appears to code for certain immune responses. West Hunter recently had a great post (TLRs, PAMPs, and Alley Oop) detailing how they work, but for our purposes, “provide immunity” is sufficient. Austin Whittall suggests that back when smallpox, influenza, measles, and all of the other Western diseases tore through the Native Americans, killing about 90% of them, the guys who had more Neanderthal DNA were more likely to survive because they were more likely to be immune to the same stuff as Europeans. By contrast, those Indians with less Neanderthal DNA may have had less immunity to the European diseases, and so been more likely to die, leaving behind a population of high-Neanderthal DNA people.

5. One thing we can say for sure: if the data’s correct, the peopling of the Americas was more complex than previously thought.

There are four areas of particular interest:

A. The highly Neanderthal area in the Pacific Northwest

B. The highly Denisovan area in Brazil

C. The low-Neanderthal area on the South American coast

D. The low-Neanderthal and low-Denisovan area along the Baja gulf in Mexico.

I’ve got nothing on A and C; supply your own theories.

6. Speculations on the origins of high-Denisovan people in Brazil:

A couple of papers in Science and Nature recently proposed that Melanesian-related people somehow made it to the rain forest long after the other Indians got to the area. West Hunter helpfully summarizes them.

West Hunter suggests that the Melanesian-related people with their high-Denisovan DNA got to the Americas first, and were then replaced throughout the continents by later invaders, the ancestors of current Indians. The one place the Melanesian-related people managed to survive was in the depths of the rainforest, a very difficult place to conquer. Even today, there are “uncontacted tribes” living in the Amazon rainforest; if anywhere were a good spot for a group of humans to avoid getting conquered, the depths of the rainforest is a good one.

7. The low-Neanderthal and low-Denisovan area along the Baja gulf in Mexico.

So what’s up with that? As far as I know, the only people who don’t have any Neanderthal or Denisovan are Africans. (And even there, there’s a little, just due to back-migration from the rest of the world.)

Are these people descended from a totally different group that came directly from Africa?

There’s a tiny ethnic group in the area, called the Seri:

Dona Ramona of the Seri Indians of Sonora, Mexico
Dona Ramona of the Seri Indians of Sonora, Mexico

According to the Wikipedia, the Seri speak a language isolate–that is, their language, like Basque, doesn’t appear to be related to any other language on Earth–and they are not culturally connected with any of their neighbors. They’ve also held out significantly against Spanish and Mexican assimilation. In other words, they might very well be a totally isolated population that is not related at all to any of their neighbors.

Some more information on the Seris.

Then I found this interesting map:

map showing global distribution of the HLA-B*73:01 allele
maps showing global distribution of the HLA-B*73:01 allele

I found these maps over on Austin Whittall’s post on Denisovans and America.

Looks like the same spot, doesn’t it?

The two different “real” maps how different things because they come from different scientists who came up with different data, but the overall picture is similar–if you look closely, both maps show a hotspot in Israel, for example. The second map looks less detailed, (hence their miss of several Middle Eastern hotspots,) but has a wider global range, which is obviously useful for our purposes. They also help show the importance of not putting too much stock in any single study about the distribution of a particular gene or allele or whathaveyou; different scientists come up with different numbers.

At any rate, while this could be just a totally random coincidence, if it isn’t, it’s awfully interesting, isn’t it? I know the Egyptians circumnavigated Africa; the Carthaginians and Phoenicians were also noted sea-farers. Or perhaps some other group I know nothing about from the region, before folks started keeping good records. Who knows?

8. Other people’s theories: Neanderthals, Denisovans, and H erectus made it to America before we did, and H Sapiens intermixed with them after they arrived; humans evolved in American, and then migrated to the rest of the world from there.