Thursday, January 11, 2018

The people before the First Nations

Aeta woman (Philippines) – Wikipedia (Ken Llio)

Modern humans pushed out of Africa along two routes: a northern one through the Levant and into Europe and a southern one along the Indian Ocean coast and eventually into New Guinea and Australia. The southern route is said to have had two waves: an earlier one between 62,000 and 75,000 years ago that was ancestral to present-day Australian Aborigines and a later one between 25,000 and 38,000 years ago that was ancestral to present-day Negrito groups in Southeast Asia: the Andaman Islanders, the Semang of the Malayan Peninsula, and the Aeta of the Philippines, although these groups would have intermixed with the population already present from the first wave (Rasmussen et al. 2011; Reyes-Centeno et al. 2014).

Did this southern route end in Southeast Asia or did it swing north along the Pacific coast? We know that the Philippines was once inhabited by Negritos—the country still has over thirty such groups. In addition, there have been claims that a Negrito group used to live on Taiwan. In the early 20th century, the anthropologist Rolange Dixon argued that a Negrito population once occupied the whole of the South, Southeast, and East Asian littoral:

At this time the southern and eastern borderlands, from India around to Kamchatka, seem to have been occupied in the main by a dolichocephalic, dark-skinned, Negroid population which was a blend in varying proportions of the Proto-Australoid and Proto-Negroid types. There is some evidence which leads us to believe that this Negroid population extended farther westward than India, along the shores of the Persian Gulf and the southern coast of Arabia, so being continuous with the great area held by similar peoples in Africa. (Dixon 1923, p. 243)

In the late 20th century, interest declined in Negritos and their place in human prehistory, partly because anthropologists were increasingly taking an ahistorical approach hunter-gatherers and shunning anything that smacked of racial or evolutionary thinking. Though a student of Franz Boas, Dixon studied anthropology (1897-1906) at a time when Boas believed not only in the existence of human races but also in psychological differences between them, albeit in a statistical sense (Frost 2014, Frost 2015). Furthermore, genetic studies in the late 20th century seemed to show that different Negrito groups had little in common with each other. Clearly, Negritos are a very ancient population, and the time to the most recent ancestor for all of them is greater than it is for, say, present-day Europeans and present-day East Asians. They still look similar to each other only because they remained under similar climatic and cultural conditions.

Recent years have seen a renewal of interest in Negritos. Mitochondrial DNA studies have shown that they are indeed the remnants of a southern "Out of Africa" route, together with New Guineans and Australian Aborigines (Reyes-Centeno et al. 2014; Stoneking and Delfin 2010; Thangaraj et al. 2005). Of particular interest is the discovery of significant admixture from these peoples in Amerindians from Amazonia and the Central Brazilian Plateau (Skoglund et al. 2015). This admixture seems to be very old:

The genetic data allow us to say with confidence that Population Y ancestry arrived south of the ice sheets anciently: the fact that the geographically diverse Andamanese, Australian and New Guinean populations are all similarly related to this source suggests that the population is no longer extant, and the absence of long-range admixture linkage disequilibrium suggests that the population mixture did not occur in the last few thousand years.

As the authors note, this finding is consistent with ancient skeletal remains from the same region:

This discovery is striking in light of interpretations of the morphology of some early Native American skeletons, which some authors have suggested have affinities to Australasian groups. The largest number of skeletons that have been described as having this craniofacial morphology and that date to younger than ten thousand years have been found in Brazil6, the home of the Suruí, Karitiana and Xavante who in genetic data show the strongest affinity to Australasians.

How did this population reach the Amazonian basin? Perhaps the same way the Paleo-Amerindians did: across the Bering Strait and down through North America. If Negrito groups had reached south China and the Philippines, they could have continued up the East Asian shoreline and then down the west coast of North America. One problem with this model, raised by Greg Cochran and Steve Sailer, is that the "Australasian" admixture is absent from native North Americans. Keep in mind, however, that at least three waves of migration entered North America: the latest one corresponding to the Inuit-Aleut peoples, an earlier one corresponding to the Na-Dene peoples, and the earliest one corresponding to all other Amerindian groups. Only this earliest wave reached South America. There has consequently been much more population replacement among native North Americans than among native South Americans.

Population replacement is widely seen as something that has been done by European peoples (and, more recently, which is being done to them). In reality, the world was not a static place before Columbus. Human populations have been replacing each other for a very long time.


Cochran, G. (2018). Beringians, West Hunter, January 4

Dixon, R.B. (1923). The Racial History of Man, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Frost, P. (2014). The Franz Boas you never knew, Evo and Proud, July 13 

Frost, P. (2015). More on the younger Franz Boas, Evo and Proud, April 18

Rasmussen M, et al. (2011) An Aboriginal Australian genome reveals separate human dispersals into Asia, Science, 334(6052), 94-98.

Reyes-Centeno, H., S. Ghirotto, F. Détroit, D. Grimaud-Hervé, G. Barbujani, and K. Harvati. (2014). Genomic and cranial phenotype data support multiple modern human dispersals from Africa and a southern route into Asia, PNAS, 111(20), 7248-7253.

Sailer, S. (2018). Were There People Already in the New World When the Indians Arrived? The Unz Review, January 6

Skoglund, P., S. Mallick, M.C. Bortolini, N. Chennagiri, T. Hunemeier, M.L. Petzl-Erier, F.M. Salzano, N. Patterson, and D. Reich. (2015). Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas, Nature, 525, 104-108

Stoneking, M. and F. Delfin (2010). The Human Genetic History of East Asia: Weaving a Complex Tapestry, Current Biology, 20(4), R188-R193 

Thangaraj, K., G. Chaubey, T. Kivisild, A.G. Reddy, V.K. Singh, et al. (2005). Reconstructing the origin of Andaman Islanders, Science, 308(5724), 996


Sean said...

I suppose the European counterparts of Negritos would be the Sami.

Peter Frost said...

Not really. I suppose you could say that both groups are hunter-gatherers, but even that's debatable. Food gathering is a very limited source of food among the Sami, whereas it's very important in all of the Negrito groups.

Sean said...

I was thinking of the Sami as a very diluted remnant of indigenous north European hunters. But maybe you have your own ideas about whether North Europeans could have been as completely replaced as the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego were.

Peter Frost said...

The genetic evidence suggests that ancestral Sami split off from other northern Europeans at the height of the last ice age, c. 18,000 BP. They seem to be a third branch of northern Eurasians, having characteristics of both northern Europeans and East Asians.

As to whether northern Europeans will be replaced as completely as the Negritos of the Amazon Basin, well, time will tell.

Anonymous said...

The Sami did switch to reindeer herding late, though. At the time late antique writers were describing Scandinavia, during the Volkswanderung, the Sami were still hunter gatherers.

As for the Andamanese type Population Y: please remind me, where do the old Botocudos fit into this? As well as Old World and non-Asian traits, like their hair texture and dolichocrany, Botocudos did have cultural traits, or lack thereof, that make them outliers in South America. For example they didn't revere the jaguar, unlike the Amazon and Andean peoples. What can be gleaned must be insightful, no?

Anonymous said...

Dixon's writings that you mention, were fairly speculative for the day, and in many ways outdated nowadays. In his view Paleolithic Africa was inhabited by four kinds of man, the the Proto-Australoid, Proto-Negroid, the Mongoloid, and the Palae-Alpine. The first of these is not even H. saps, although it might be relevant to the "paleoafrican" component, that diverged in the time of Rhodesian Man, and the supposed Mongoloid is the Bushman-Hottentot type, though Dixon claimed it was present in the Canaries, with traces in Carthage and Egypt(!!!). It is the palae-Alpine that interests us most, because it was this stock he thought to unite the African forest pygmies with the Asian Negritos. Incidentally Dixon believed there were palae-Alpines even in ancient China and Japan, and that the Mon-Khmer language family was brought by palae-Alpine pygmies. He could not decide wether the people of Gerba and the adjacent shores of the Gulf of Gabes, were primitive Alpine pygmies, or Mongoloids. All the same, the world's pygmy races shared a root with Central Europeans, as revealed to Dixon by short statured men in Europe and Atlantic Africa. I confess I am fascinated by this pygmy theory, but the evidence from the European and Atlas Mts is definitively caused by local pathologies. The same populations increased in height with better nutrition during the 20th century, ending the theory of a widespread pygmy race. It feels whimsical now, thanks for linking but connecting Dixon's proven falsehoods to modern theories seems a bad move, no?

Peter Frost said...


Tacitus refers to the "Fenni," who may or may not have been Sami.

The Aimore (Botocudos) were not tested in this study, only the Surui, the Karatiana, and the Xavante. The theory is that Paleo-Amerindians replaced a Negrito-like people some 10,000 years ago and perhaps at a later date in remote areas of South America. While there might be surviving cultural traits from that time depth, it would be difficult to prove. People still argue whether jazz music has African influences, and that's a much shallower time depth.


I agree that Dixon's writings are in many ways outdated, but the same could be said for Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict (two other students of Boas). Yet Dixon has disappeared from anthropology curricula, whereas Mead and Benedict are still widely taught, even at the undergraduate level. Nowadays, anthropology students learn that modern anthropology began with the Boasian school (excluding Dixon) and the British school of social anthropology. Almost everything before is ignored.

Anonymous said...

Jordanes describes the Screrefennae and their subsistance.

Aimore do show a continuity from Pleistocene Brazilians of Minas Gerais, and are distinct from other New World relicts such as the Chubuti. A recent paper tried to connect them to Arctic populations, but it was none too convincing.