Sunday, October 18, 2009

226. The Baseline Scenarios -- part 2

The reason the revisionist counter-myth is a myth is not because the traditionalist myth is not a myth. Both are "myths." When Colin Turnbull wrote that the Pygmies "may well be the original inhabitants of the great tropical rain forest," or when Alan Lomax wrote of "[t]he Bushman and Pygmy peoples" as "living close to the source of man's known beginnings," they were speculating on the basis of vaguely understood notions generally accepted at the time for reasons that made a good deal of sense -- but there was little in the way of real evidence to either substantiate or falsify such claims. Not, strictly speaking, a myth. But not exactly science either.

On the other hand, when Roy Grinker tries to convince us that there was never any such thing as a Pygmy people, or a Pygmy culture, but only different groups of little people who had "always" been associated with Bantu farmers, and entered the Ituri forest along with them, as their servants or slaves; or when Edwin Wilmsen writes, of the Kalahari Bushmen, that "[t]heir appearance as foragers is a function of their relegation to an underclass in the playing out of historical processes that began before the current millennium and culminated in the early decades of this century," they too are weaving a "myth" -- the evidence they cite could be interpreted in many different ways, depending on what one would prefer to believe.

It was only with the advent of a radically new and indeed revolutionary approach, variously referred to as "population genetics," "anthropological genetics," "genetic anthropology," "genographics," etc., that reliable and consistent tools for the systematic investigation of the biological "deep history" of modern humans became available. On the basis of the genetic research, coupled with Cantometrics-based musical research, I was, I believe, able to demonstrate that the traditionalist position was consistent with the evidence, both genetic and musical -- and the revisionist position was not. (See my paper New Perspectives on the Kalahari Debate: A Tale of Two Genomes.) In retrospect, therefore, the so-called Pygmy or Bushmen or Hunter-Gatherer "myth" may not have been a myth at all, but an insight.

Moreover, as I have been attempting to demonstrate, lo these many posts, this new situation emboldens us to reconsider the various bits and pieces of ethnographic and archaeological evidence, already at our disposal for some time, from an entirely fresh perspective. If, indeed, certain Pygmy groups and certain Bushmen groups, from widely scattered regions within SubSaharan Africa, 1. share an ancestry occupying the deepest clades of the human family tree; 2. share a strikingly similar set of cultural values and behaviors -- as mirrored in strikingly similar musical traditions; and 3. share a strikingly similar material culture (characterized by, for example, bows and poison tipped arrows, "beehive" huts, foraging, nomadism, etc.); then it seems reasonable to assume that all of the above would almost have to be grounded in traditions long since established within the group ancestral to all. In other words, we are now in a position to develop meaningful hypotheses about the culture, both material and non-material, of the population from which everyone in the world is descended -- and on that basis propose additional hypotheses regarding the history of "modern" humans from that time to this.

There is an interesting problem, however, regarding the status of any biologically defined "ancestral group," due to certain discrepancies between the mitochondrial evidence, representing the female lineage, and the Y chromosome evidence, representing the male lineage. They "coalesce" at different points in time, with "mitochondrial Eve" thought to have lived between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, and "Y Chromosome Adam" dating from roughly 60,000 years ago. Moreover, the differences between the mitochondrial and Y chromosome data also produce different estimates for time of divergence from the ancestral group for either the Pygmies or Bushmen.

Due to the this purely methodological but nevertheless confusing discrepancy, I am reluctant to use the term "ancestral group," since the genetic evidence necessarily produces two such groups and there doesn't seem to be any way of resolving this discrepancy in the near future. For that reason, I've decided to make use of the more technical, neutral, nonspecific term, employed by Lomax: "baseline."

Specifically: I will define Hypothetical Baseline Population (HBP) as that population from which the ancestors of either the Pygmies or the Bushmen, or both, diverged, at some point during the Paleolithic era. And I will define Hypothetical Baseline Culture (HBC) as the culture of that same population.

(to be continued . . .)


Anonymous said...

pygmy kitabu by jean-pierre hallet

DocG said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I just ordered a copy.