Sunday, January 31, 2010
303. Aftermath 18: Australia and New Guinea
Before offering my "solution," it's important to remind everyone that the word "solution" is surrounded by quotes, which should probably be in boldface. As I've stressed many times, what I'm doing here is exploring various hypotheses, and not insisting that I've come upon some absolute truth which only needs to be demonstrated to be accepted. There is and always has been tremendous resistance to speculation in the academic world, so it's handy that I am no longer a part of that world and dependent on its power brokers (phew!). But there are those, and not only the academics, who will never forgive one for having ideas and presenting them seriously, as though they might actually be worth something, and so there are those who will never accept that I'm sincere when I say I'm not really in love with my ideas, but only interested in getting them out there so I, and others, can take a good look.
There is, in my opinion, real value in presenting a coherent, consistent hypothesis, based as much as possible on reliable (though certainly not foolproof) evidence, even if it turns out to be wrong. Because even if wrong, such thinking can help to focus all interested parties on the problem at hand, and challenge them to come up with something better.
There will, in any case, probably never be a definitive solution to the problem I've posed for myself in this series, because there are too many things about both Australia and New Guinea that may never be fully known or understood and there is too much room for doubt and endless argument in this respect, and in almost every aspect of the problem, from genetics, to archaeology, to the significance of Dingos and Singing Dogs.
So now, without further ado, here's what I think might have happened, and why. My scenario isn't all that different from the one developed by Birdsell -- in some respects simpler and in others more complex. The numbers in brackets refer to specific, numbered clues, as offered in Posts 298 - 302:
1. Early entry into Sahul by island hopping from Sunda, in the wake of the Out of Africa migration. The earliest immigrants would have been a small band of HMP (Hypothetical Migrant Population) descendants, both male and female, who would have retained an African morphology and an African culture and value system (or, more specifically, some variant of the Hypothetical Migrant Culture -- HMC -- I described in Post 253 et seq.). For example, they would have been singing and playing in some version of P/B style and the women would probably have been assembling beehive huts, very much like those of today's African Pygmies and Bushmen. Since it's possible that HMP were in fact Pygmies, we might want, at least provisionally, to think of the Sahul immigrants as "Negritos." They may well have resembled Negritos, even if some of them may, by that time, have grown to "normal" height (what is normal, anyhow?). The best evidence for their Negrito status would be the "gracile" character of the Mungo Lake fossils, as described by Birdsell. These early immigrants would not have been seriously affected by the population bottleneck(s) I've associated with the Toba eruption (or some equally devastating event), as they would presumably have been living far enough to the east of India at the time to be unaffected or only minimally affected, and therefore would have retained their original African characteristics to at least some significant degree. If this were not the case, then it would be difficult to explain the survival of P/B-related musical traditions, both vocal and instrumental, among so many Melanesian groups today, as well as the Negrito morphology of certain groups in highland New Guinea, such as the Eipo, as well as the few surviving Australian Pygmies studied by Birdsell [see clues 1-3, & 8 ]. There are also remarkable wood working and mask making traditions now found in Melanesia that bear a striking resemblance in many ways to those of Africa.
2. This original immigrant band, Negrito or quasi-Negrito, would have rapidly expanded throughout the entirety of Sahul, from what is now New Guinea to what is now Australia and also Tasmania, which would have been attached to the mainland by a land bridge.  They may well have still been speaking the original HMC language, which would, in all likelihood, have been a tone language -- since almost all African languages are tonal.
Posted by DocG at 3:12 PM