View Full Version : Old World, new world

Ian B
04-11-2013, 11:00 PM
I'm often envious of the range of archaeology to be found in countries of Europe, North Africa etc. Ingeniously built tombs, cities with modern features such as sewerage and running water and no modern technology to build them with.
Living in a country only settled by Europeans less than 250 years ago, our range of archaeology fits into two categories only, modern (from 1778 onwards) or very ancient, from the Stone Age people who are the Australian Aborigines.

What would it have been like if other people had migrated to Australia after the Aborigines but before the Europeans?

One can only theorise.

04-12-2013, 05:56 AM
Well, you can look at the Americas. European colonization there doesn't go a whole lot further back than in Australia. There were, however, several pre-Columbian civilizations (Inca, Maya, Aztec, and others).

Ian B
04-12-2013, 06:55 AM
Just my point-South America had several cultures which were comparable to, for example, Egyptian and Roman cultures in their advanced building techniques, and all of these pre European settlement (or invasion).

European cultures' development of metallurgy is astounding, for the period.

I watched a Time Team episode today and wondered at the brilliance of jewellery made in 6AD, copper covered with a silver/gold mix.

Jean M
04-12-2013, 10:39 AM
A new paper suggests some people arrived in Australia in between the first arrivals and the Europeans:

Irina Pugach et al., Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene flow from India to Australia, PNAS, Published online before print January 14, 2013

The Australian continent holds some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the expansion of modern humans out of Africa, with initial occupation at least 40,000 y ago. It is commonly assumed that Australia remained largely isolated following initial colonization, but the genetic history of Australians has not been explored in detail to address this issue. Here, we analyze large-scale genotyping data from aboriginal Australians, New Guineans, island Southeast Asians and Indians. We find an ancient association between Australia, New Guinea, and the Mamanwa (a Negrito group from the Philippines), with divergence times for these groups estimated at 36,000 y ago, and supporting the view that these populations represent the descendants of an early “southern route” migration out of Africa, whereas other populations in the region arrived later by a separate dispersal. We also detect a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world. We estimate this gene flow to have occurred during the Holocene, 4,230 y ago. This is also approximately when changes in tool technology, food processing, and the dingo appear in the Australian archaeological record, suggesting that these may be related to the migration from India.

Razib Khan was not entirely convinced in his commentary on it: The voyage of Krishna Crusoe (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/01/the-voyage-of-krishna-crusoe/). He gives a lot of detail and images from the paper, which is helpful, as the original is behind a paywall.

Jean M
04-12-2013, 10:46 AM
Back on the old DNA Forums, someone from Australia wondered why the Australian aborigines had remained as hunter-gatherers. What is it that triggers invention?

My reply 12 May 2009:

It's largely a question of numbers. The larger the number of people within a society, the more likely it is that among them will be an inventive type who thinks up something new. So

* Hunter-gatherer economy = low levels of human density in the landscape; small communications groups = slowest pace of technological change.
* Agricultural economy = higher population density; wider communications = faster pace of technological change.
* Industrial economy = very high population density; global communications = fastest pace of technological change yet known.

A physical environment which creates a cost/benefit ratio conducive to change seems to be the key to moving from one economic base to the next. An astonishing range of inventions were thought up by the Ancient Greeks, but the time/place just wasn't right for the Industrial Revolution it seems.

I elaborated on 13 May 2009 after a request for supporting facts:

Any explanation of rates of technological change must be based on an interpretation of the available evidence. The basic facts are

1) Inventors are a small percentage of any society and always have been, as far back as we know. There is no reason to suppose that the percentage was higher in prehistory than in history. Psychologists and geneticists may eventually work out why in some conclusive way. At the moment we have the simple fact that this is so.

2) Anyone familiar with the history and prehistory of the human species will be aware of the strong correlation between the economic base of a society and its rate of technological change. Our ancestors spent many thousands of years as hunter-gatherers, during which time the pace of technological change was very slow.

3) The economic base of a society controls density of population. There are other factors, but this one is overwhelming.

4) The economic base of a society is also strongly correlated with the effective communications range of any individual within it. An important factor for pace of invention is the size of the effective communicating group, so that inventive types can build on what kindred spirits have done and are doing. Agriculture begets writing, as there is a need to tally crops, etc. Industry begets communications devices.

On 8 June 2009 I was pleased to find that someone agrees with me.

Science Daily has the story: High Population Density Triggers Cultural Explosions (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090604144324.htm)

Increasing population density, rather than boosts in human brain power, appears to have catalysed the emergence of modern human behaviour, according to a new study by UCL (University College London) scientists published in the journal Science.

Adam Powell et al., Late Pleistocene Demography and the Appearance of Modern Human behavior (http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1170165), Science 5 June 2009: Vol. 324. no. 5932, pp. 1298 - 1301:

The origins of modern human behavior are marked by increased symbolic and technological complexity in the archaeological record. In western Eurasia this transition, the Upper Paleolithic, occurred about 45,000 years ago, but many of its features appear transiently in southern Africa about 45,000 years earlier. We show that demography is a major determinant in the maintenance of cultural complexity and that variation in regional subpopulation density and/or migratory activity results in spatial structuring of cultural skill accumulation. Genetic estimates of regional population size over time show that densities in early Upper Paleolithic Europe were similar to those in sub-Saharan Africa when modern behavior first appeared. Demographic factors can thus explain geographic variation in the timing of the first appearance of modern behavior without invoking increased cognitive capacity.

Ian B
04-13-2013, 12:53 AM
Thanks Jean, I wasn't aware of this study, but I would have thought it more than reasonable that there was movement between Papua-New Guinea and Australia. There was obviously some movement from Polynesia as the islands between Australia and New Guinea are populated by people who are not Australian Aboriginal nor New Guinean. The people of Bouganville are not New Guinean etc. What I'm getting at is the fact that Australian Aboriginal people, upon the arrival of Europeans, were still living as Stone Age people. Because of their isolation they had not had the opportunity to develop as, for example, South Americans or Asians had. No buildings, no real signs of agriculture etc.

Had they had the opportunity to develop along with the rest of the world, what archeological finds may have been made?