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February 19, 2003

Paleoanthropology in the outback

Mungo Man has been re-dated. 42,000 years B.P. instead of 62,000-that matters a bit....

Posted by razib at 12:18 AM

Tacky tacky journalism. Very few have ever believed the 62 kyr data for Mungo, so this is certainly not news. But then the last paragraph is completely gratuitous:

" Two leading critics of his theory, the archaeologists Dr. Allison Brooks and Dr. Sally McBrearty, did not respond yesterday to messages seeking comment."

I don't know about McGrearty, but Brooks was stuck in air traffic hell consequent to the snow in the east. This is blatantly a journalist trying to generate an issue where there is none.

The interesting fact about the colonization of Australia is that they bore Neanderthal technology instead of the fancy Upper Paleolithic stuff that is the basis of Richard Klein's ideas about a "creative explosion".

Henry Harpending

Posted by: Henry Harpending at February 19, 2003 08:29 AM

Hmm - Nic Wade is usually one of the bright lights of the NYT, but your right, that last comment was a bit much...

Posted by: jimbo at February 19, 2003 12:27 PM

thanks for clearing that up henry-i was hoping that you would have something to add, because after reading it, i felt like i'd read a college paper that was spaced 2.5 to just barely make the 1 page req. or something :)

Posted by: razib at February 19, 2003 12:41 PM

Tacky journalism indeed. But I agree there has been much worse. In Australia journalists have long concentrated on Mungo, as opposed to far more interesting finds at Kow Swamp. Either way the Out of Africa thesis is untenable.

How can people like Klein explain Homo Sapiens in China well over 100000 years ago, or the continuity in mongoloid features found in these fossils. How can they explain the Homo Erectus looking Kow Swamp fossils in Australia that were prevalent only 10000 years ago?

They are looking for an ancient migration to Australia. Look to the Adaman Islands Queensland rainforest and other areas where there are Negritoes. This in no way supports their thesis for it does not explain the existence of other types, such as Kow Swamp man, from which modern aborigines are in part derived, who arrived from Java after Mungo man, but far more primitive in morphology. Nor does it explain the morphological continuity in East Asia. Apart from this what of the conspicuous genetic, physiological, cognitive and sociological differences between the different varieties of man - Homo Erectus, Neanderthal, Negroid, Capoid, Mongoloid and Caucasoid - all of which were walking the earth thirty thousand years, with everyone man on earth ultimately (and in part directly in the case of the aborigines at least) evolved from the first, and is a mix of the later subspecies.

Henry is right that the Aborginals of Australia had essentially Neanderthal technology, not part of any "creative explosion". Moreover it is interesting that the apparent creative explosion of advanced behaviour around 50000 years ago is given a genetic basis - the emergence of a gene that allowed fluent speech - yet the far greater disparity in civilizational achievements of whites and East Asians compared to others like Africans and Aborigines must only be explained environmentally.

Posted by: Dan at February 21, 2003 12:30 AM