Tuesday, February 16, 2010
(. . . continued from previous post.)
One might suppose that the simplest and most logical alternative explanation for the different types of human morphology, culture and music would be based on the oldest and most extreme version of the multiregional model, where it is assumed that both language and music were independently invented at different times in different parts of the world, among "archaic" humans who can also be seen as "racial" prototypes. Thus one might argue that the distinctive unison/ iterative/ one-beat musical style of Australia could have originated as a completely independent invention among some "Australoid" Homo Erectus group somewhere in South or Southeast Asia; that solo oriented, embellished vocalizing could have originated among a group of "proto-mongoloid" Homo Erectus somewhere in East Asia, leading to the development of Lomax's "elaborate-style"; that the various types of drone polyphony so commonly found among certain indigenous groups in Southeast Asia, Island Southeast Asia and Polynesia could have originated somewhere in that part of the world, among yet another Homo Erectus group; that the strophic song, ballad and epic could have originated independently somewhere in Europe or Central Asia, among some "proto-caucasoid" Neanderthal group; etc.
The wide distribution of P/B style and its variants among so many isolated indigenous groups of varying morphologies could, according to the same model, be seen as the survival of a truly archaic tradition dating back, not tens of thousands but literally hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years, to the origin of "Homo Sapiens" as a distinct species (which, according to the multiregional model, would have included Homo Erectus as a distinct type, but not a separate species), also in Africa, but millions of years ago, which would date P/B to millions of years before the advent of the ancestral group I call HBP.
If I had to choose among the various alternatives presented in the last three posts, purely on the basis of the musical evidence, I would definitely pick this version of multiregionalism, since it does appear to account for much of the diversity we see in the world of today and very neatly "solves" at least some (though certainly not all) of the riddles I've been struggling with. Unfortunately, even the most enthusiastic proponents of multiregionalism have been forced to back away from this, the most extreme version, since 1. it cannot account for all the many similarities we see among all the various human populations; 2. it depends on an unlikely model of biological and cultural convergence that was once very fashionable, but most evolutionists now reject; 3. it is completely inconsistent with the genetic evidence, which reveals no sign of biological convergence, or indeed any type of hybridization between Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals or Homo Erectus.
Newer, more or less compromised, versions of multiculturalism have arisen, based on various attempts to accommodate aspects of the Out of Africa model. The most recent, and most widely accepted (among the relatively small group still promoting the multiregional view), is probably the one offered by Vinayak Eswaran in his essay A Diffusion Wave Out of Africa. Eswaran's highly imaginative, if not fanciful, theory is so complex and so full of tortuous arguments and caveats as to defy my powers of paraphrase and summary, so I hope he'll forgive me if I misrepresent him. In essence, what it amounts to is an "Out of Africa" theory based not on migration but on a "diffusion wave" that would have transmitted genetic materials through a series of localized encounters between adjacent groups spanning all regions of Africa, Asia and Europe over a very long period of time.
He sees anatomically modern humans evolving first in Africa, in accordance with the now prevailing view, but according to his model, their modern genotypes were transmitted via a kind of daisy chain exchange of sexual partners across vast regions of time and space, a process driven by certain physical advantages of the modern anatomy that would, over time, have preserved the "modern" geno and pheno types through natural selection while causing the more archaic anatomy to gradually disappear. Eswaran's theory may or may not make sense, depending on one's tolerance for mathematically driven models, but he has so little to say about the cultural side of his diffusion wave that it's not clear what we are supposed to think regarding the origins and peregrinations of stone tools, hunting methods, language families, or musical styles.
While traditional multiregionalism remains far too problematic and Eswaran's version far too speculative, there are simpler variants that are potentially more convincing. For example, what if there could have been some degree of significant friendly contact between Homo Sapiens and Homo Erectus during the initial Out of Africa trek? The possibility of some degree of interbreeding can't be completely ruled out, but what interests me more is the possibility of cultural "interbreeding." If many "Bantu" groups of today have adopted certain aspects of Pygmy culture, as seems to be the case with music, despite their disdain for the Pygmies as social and intellectual inferiors, then who is to say that a similar dynamic might not have developed between Homo Sapiens and Homo Erectus during early stages of the Out of Africa migration?
I find it difficult, in fact, to completely rule out at least the possibility that some of the cultural transformations I've attributed to a major bottleneck, induced by Toba or some other disaster, could be due to the influence of traditions originating independently among archaic humans, who would certainly have been living in various regions of Asia at that time. If even one "modern" human of African origin managed to mate with a member of a Homo Erectus group, who is to say that such a union couldn't have produced the first "mongoloid" or first "australoid" or first "caucasoid"? And even if such a congress could not have resulted in "viable offspring," as many now suspect, it could have led to the sort of cultural symbiosis that might, under the right circumstances, have encouraged the "modern" humans to adopt some Erectus traditions, including musical traditions.
While I think it unlikely, it is in fact at least possible that a musical tradition such as, say, the unison/ iterative/ one-beat tradition, now so common among both Australians and Amerindians, could have originated among Homo Erectus peoples, to be adopted at some point by some Homo Sapiens group that could have passed it on intact to its descendants. Since such a transaction would have left no genetic trace, I don't see any way of testing such a hypothesis, but neither do I see any way of ruling it out. So at this point I have to admit that there is at least one viable alternative to the hypothesis I've been exploring -- and I find that possibility both intriguing and thought provoking.
Posted by DocG at 2:52 PM