A Blog Book, by Victor Grauer

. . . . . for Alan Lomax, who lives . . . . .

I felt that their music came from the back of time, but also, to a certain extent, from my own depths.

Simha Arom

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Chapter Fourteen: Mysteries of Sahul

At the time of the Out-of-Africa migrations, water levels in the oceans were much lower than they are today, and as a result many of the islands of Island Southeast Asia were linked with the Malaysian mainland to form a single peninsula, called Sunda; and Australia and New Guinea were also linked to form a single continent, Sahul:

Figure 14.1 Sunda and Sahul

As you can see from the map, the low water levels meant that island hopping from Sunda to Sahul would not have been too much of a challenge -- especially since, as is now suspected, the Out of Africa migrants had already been doing much of their traveling by boat. Since some of the earliest archaeological evidence of modern human habitation comes from Australia, and since some of the arguably “oldest” populations (based on both their genetic and cultural makeup) now live in New Guinea and Australia, it stands to reason that Sahul must have been part of the Out-of-Africa migration.

But there is a problem. If Sahul were populated by Out of Africa migrants when both New Guinea and Australia were joined into a single landmass, and both regions had remained relatively isolated from then to now, as appears to be the case, we would expect the populations now living in both places to be quite similar, both morphologically and culturally. And we would assume they'd be closely related genetically as well. This, however, is not the case.

Melanesia overall, including both New Guinea and the closely related group of islands to its east, known as “Island Melanesia,” is highly differentiated culturally, whereas Australia is much more homogeneous, with almost all aborigines having distinctively “Australoid” features and sharing many traditions in common. Possibly because of the prolonged isolation of each group from its neighbors, due partly to geography, partly to endemic warfare, there are far more different languages and language families in New Guinea than anywhere else on Earth, while Australia is dominated by a single language family, called Pama-Nyungan, with all the others crowded into a relatively small area in the north, the region closest to New Guinea. The unusual distribution pattern for language families in Australia is visible in the following map (from the Wikipedia article, Indigenous Australian Languages).

Figure 14.2 Native Australian Language Families

The huge yellow region is where Pama-Nyungan languages are spoken, while the much smaller, multi-colored region to the north contains just about every other language family on the continent.

The African Signature

The musical picture for New Guinea and Island Melanesia is complex, with several different vocal styles and many different types of instruments. In several cases, we find P/B-related vocal styles, and also instances of instrumental hocket, especially with wind ensembles of pipes, panpipes, trumpets and flutes (see Chapter Nine, Audio Examples 17-22). In other cases we hear unison singing, and in still others, relatively simple part singing similar to that of Western Polynesia. The picture for Australian aboriginal music, on the other hand, is completely different, exhibiting a remarkably high degree of homogeneity and lacking any trace of an African signature.

Among the most compelling instances of the “African Signature” in New Guinea is Audio Example 17, already presented in Chapter Nine -- P/B style yodeled/interlock, as recorded by Steven Feld in the Southern Highlands of New Guinea: Audio Example 17:Bosavi Yodeling (from Bosavi: Rainforest Music of Papua New Guinea).

A somewhat different type of yodeled interlock can be heard among the Abau people of the Upper Sepik River highlands: Audio Example 53: Healing Song (from Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea, track 5, recorded by John Thornley).

Here is an example of relatively straightforward “shouted hocket,” with yodeling, from the Huli people of the Southern Highlands: Audio Example 54:  Huli Yodeling (from Emap FM – Music from Oceania ).

A very similar type of shouted hocket can be heard in this recording of another highland group, the Dani: Audio Example 55: Dani (from Emap FM – Music from Oceania).

Among the Aka Pygmies of Africa a very similar type of hocketed interchange, called “esime,” functions as an interlude between more complex songs (Kisliuk 1998:41): Audio Example 56: Aka esime (from Musical Anthology of the Aka Pygmies, recorded by Simha Arom). Relatively simple hocketed performances of this type are classified as “haplogroup” A1 in the Phylogenetic Tree provided in Appendix B.

Highland vs. Lowland

There are two large language families in New Guinea and Island Melanesia: Austronesian and "Papuan." The former is generally regarded as much more recent than the latter, as it is associated with groups thought to have originated somewhere in southern China or Southeast Asia that expanded during the last 4,000 years or so, first to Melanesia and then to Polynesia. Most of these newer populations settled along the northern and eastern coast of New Guinea, and on many other Melanesian islands. "Papuan" is the name given to the languages of those who were presumably already living in Melanesia when the Austronesians arrived. The so-called "Papuan" languages are actually a large group of unrelated language families -- along with several languages regarded as unaffiliated "isolates" -- spoken by people living, for the most part, in the interior highlands.

Geneticists Alan J. Redd and Mark Stoneking found two mitochondrial DNA clusters among Papua New Guinea highlanders with “coalescent time estimates of ~80,000 and 122,000 years ago, suggesting ancient isolation and genetic drift.” There are indications that “84% of the sample of PNG highlander mtDNA belong to these two clusters” ("Peopling of the Sahul: mtDNA Variation in Aboriginal Australian and Papua New Guinean Populations," American Journal of Human Genetics, 65, 1999, p. 808). This is only one of several such assessments, ethnological, linguistic and genetic, that associate the ancestry of the New Guinea highlanders with the original "Out of Africa" lineage, while most Austronesian speakers of the coastal and lowland areas are considered relatively recent arrivals from the north.

To determine whether the highland-lowland dichotomy could predict the African Signature, a Cantometric search for one of the most distinctive features of P/B, vocal interlock,  was conducted for the entirety of the New Guinea sample, with the following results:

Culture Name
Language Family
Highlands of Irian Jaya -- Baliem Valley
Southern Highlands
Highlands -- East Sepik Province
Highlands of Irian Jaya -- Baliem Valley
Highlands of Irian Jaya -- Baliem Valley
Highlands -- Gulf Province
Southern Highlands
Umboi Isl., Morobe Province, Northeast Coast
Highlands of West Papua -- near Irian Jaya
Highlands of Irian Jaya -- Baliem Valley

Table 14.1 Vocal Interlock -- New Guinea

Of the 11 groups above that “tested positive” for interlock, all are Papuan speakers and all but one are highlanders. Since 23 groups in the entire sample are identified as highland and 22 as coastal or lowland (with an additional 13 I have not yet been able to locate accurately), there does appear to be a strong correlation between the musical evidence and the genetic/linguistic evidence, distinguishing an indigenous highland population, with roots in the early Out-of-Africa migration, from a much more recently arrived coastal/lowland population, associated with Austronesian languages and culture.

The picture for Island Melanesia, is not so simple, however, as the “lowland/highland” dichotomy is not always clear, and many native “Papuan” groups now speak Austronesian languages. Nevertheless, Island Melanesia also contains many instances of the African Signature, as evidenced by Audio Examples 18 and 22 (see Chapter Nine), and the following, truly remarkable, recording of vocal interlock, accompanied by pipes, from the island of Buka, north of Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands:  Audio Example 57: Buka Singers with Pipes (from Emap FM – Music from Oceania).

Australian Homogeneity

Melanesian music is by no means limited to P/B-related styles, and is in fact one of the more diversified musical areas on Earth. In contrast, Australia is among the most musically homogeneous regions in the world. Australian aboriginal singing is characterized by tense, nasal vocal style, either solo or unison, the frequent iteration of single notes, with sticks or boomerangs beaten together to produce relatively simple one-beat rhythms or simple variants of the one-beat pattern:

From the Yuendumu Community, Central Australia: Audio Example 59: Traditional Song (from Traditional Aboriginal Music:Sounds from the Bush, Arc Music, track 20).

More or less the same general performance style pervades the entire continent, though occasionally one hears something more complex, with traces of polyphony. The only important musical instrument is the Didgeridoo, which was traditionally found only in the west and may be a relatively recent innovation. Drums, plentiful in Melanesia, are all but absent in Australia. The above descriptions are deceptive, however, as Australian singing and Didgeridoo playing are among the most sophisticated musical art forms in the entire world. Many of the texts that go with these songs are also remarkable examples of highly sophisticated, allusive and complex poetry.

Considering the importance of Australia as the bearer of the earliest archaeological evidence of modern humans outside of Africa, evidence which so strongly supports the Out-of-Africa model, the absence of any trace of the “African signature” in any of its indigenous music is difficult to explain. If the Out of Africa migrants were singing and playing in some version of P/B style, then what could have happened when they got to Australia that made them lose their musical traditions and develop such different ones? And since, as we’ve seen, we do in fact find many instances of the African signature in New Guinea and Island Melanesia, its absence in Australia is especially difficult to understand. Coupled with all the other evidence for major discrepancies, morphological, genetic, linguistic, etc., we are faced with an extremely perplexing mystery.

I would like to propose an explanation that might resolve all or most of the contradictions, which again, like so much else in this book, should be seen as exploratory, speculative and provisional. Let’s begin with some provocative clues:

A Divided History

It has long been thought that the Tasmanians, tragically exterminated during the initial stages of the colonial era, might have been direct descendants of an initial wave of immigration that preceded the entry of australoid peoples. This notion was revived by anthropologist Joseph Birdsell and his associate Norman Tindale, who promoted what they called a "tri-hybrid" theory of Australian history involving three successive waves of migration. According to Birdsell, the first immigrants, the "Barrineans," were Negritos, and it is their remains we see in the "gracile" Mungo Lake skeletons, the earliest (ca 45,000 ya) fossil remains in Australia. The next wave were what he called the "Murrayians," with "caucasoid" features resembling the Ainu. And the last wave were the "Carpentarians," the now dominant "australoids," with affinities to the australoids of India. Birdsell's research confirmed the almost mythic existence of Pygmies in Australia, which made it logical for him to conclude that they were most likely descended from the original "Barrineans."

Figure 14.3 Joseph Birdsell with adult Australian Pygmy

For Birdsell, the early Tasmanians, who may have had a similar morphology, judging from various remains, had also been Negritos, and therefore must also have been descended from the earliest immigrants. Birdsell's "tri-hybrid" theory has been disputed and is no longer a part of mainstream anthropology, possibly due to "political correctness" concerns, as it flew in the face of a popular movement promoting the idea that all aboriginals were descended from the original inhabitants of the continent.

Male vs. Female

An ongoing theme in the genetic story from this part of the world is a surprising male-female distinction, and Australia is no exception. The findings reported in a paper of 2003, by Max Ingman and Ulf Gyllensten, Mitochondrial Genome Variation and Evolutionary History of Australian and New Guinean Aborigines, reveal

a striking difference between the genetic history of females and the reported history of males in the Australian Aboriginal population. . . Kayser et al. (2001) proposed that the high frequency of a unique [Y chromosome] haplotype in Australia is the result of a population expansion that started from a few hundred individuals. In this case, the predominance of a unique Y-chromosome haplotype in Australia would be the result of a founder effect. However, there does not appear to be a corresponding loss of genetic diversity resulting from a bottleneck seen among mitochondrial lineages (p. 1604 -- my emphasis).

In other words, the major discrepancy between Australian Y and mtDNA diversity suggests a bottleneck in the former, yet none in the latter, which seems puzzling -- unless males and females have a very different history on this continent. (Remember, the Y chromosome is found only in males and can represent only male lineages.)

Our mitochondrial [i.e., female line] data imply that some lineages from the populations of Australia and New Guinea have shared a common history since the initial colonization of Sahul. . . . [However,] [t]he lack of a common Y-chromosome haplotype found both in Australia and in the New Guinea highlands (or in any other Melanesian population) argues against the concept that the New Guinean and Australian populations are derived from the same migration event . However, the Australia-specific Y chromosome haplotype could have arisen after the colonization of Sahul and therefore is absent in other populations. (Kayser et al. 2001 - my emphasis)

Passage from India?

For many years, anthropologists have speculated regarding what appear to be striking physical similarities between Australian aboriginals and the Vedda of southern India and Sri Lanka, many of whom have a distinctly “australoid” physiognomy. While such comparisons have often been dismissed, recent findings suggest that they could have a genetic basis after all – but, interestingly enough, only on the male line.

In an article titled Gene Flow from the Indian Subcontinent to Australia: Evidence from the Y Chromosome, by Alan Redd et al., 2002, the authors present “strong evidence for an influx of Y chromosomes from the Indian subcontinent to Australia . . .”:

In sum, we found that 50% of the Y chromosomes sampled from aboriginal Australians [haplogroup C*] share common ancestry with a set of Y chromosomes that represent less than 2% of the sampled Indian subcontinent paternal gene pool. . . . (p. 676)

While only 2% of the male gene pool for India might seem insignificant, it's important to remember that the C* haplogroup is found only among certain tribal peoples in south India and Sri Lanka (where we find many australoid types today). It would be very strange indeed if the figure were much higher than 2%, since Australian aborigines bear little physical or cultural resemblance to East Indians generally. However, the figure shoots up to 50% in Australia, a remarkably strong representation. While these results are indeed suggestive, the connection may be relatively recent. According to their estimates, C* dates only to the mid-Holocene, roughly 8,000 years ago, which places this particular migration well past the Out of Africa exodus.

It would be much easier to argue for an Indian-Australian cultural connection if there were any distinctive musical similarities between Tribal India and Aboriginal Australia, but that does not seem to be the case. However, I recently came across a remarkable video clip containing some interesting examples of dancing among the Chenchu hunter-gatherers of South India that strongly resembles certain types of Australian Aboriginal dance: Video Example Seven -- Children of the Forest:

Skip to 13 minutes in for the relevant dance segment.

Compare the above with the Australian Aboriginal dancing seen in portions of Video Example Eight: Dance During Initiation Ceremony (skip to roughly 30 seconds in):

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6hKzvdtIcg&feature=related )

A Hypothetical Reconstruction

On the basis of the analysis presented above, along with a considerable amount of additional evidence not presented here, but available via my blog, Music 000001 (see especially Posts 297-310), I’ve been able to put together an admittedly very speculative hypothesis, roughly consistent with Birdsell’s “trihybrid” theory, which could account for all or most of the odd discrepancies, morphological, genetic, linguistic and musical, between New Guinea and Island Melanesia on the one hand, and the Australian Aboriginals on the other. Here’s what I think could have happened:

1. Early entry into Sahul by island hopping from Sunda, in the immediate wake of the Out of Africa migration. The earliest immigrants would have been a small band of HMP (Hypothetical Migrant Population) descendants, who would have retained an African morphology and an African culture and value system, based largely on HMC. 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 only minimally affected, and therefore would have retained their original African characteristics to at least some significant degree.

2. It seems reasonable to think in terms of a fairly rapid expansion along the coast of the entirety of Sahul, followed by a very long period of stability, in which these relatively peaceful and cooperative hunter-gatherer descendants of HBP and HMP could have lived together in harmony for literally tens of thousands of years.

3. On the basis of the genetic evidence for both a highly contrastive history for males and females in Australia and a close Y chromosome association between Indian and Australian australoid populations, we can posit a second migration, occurring many thousands of years later, of mostly male australoid hunter-gatherers, whose ancestry would have stemmed from the South Asian centered bottleneck posited in Chapter Ten. According to Redd et al (2002),

The divergence times reported here correspond with a series of changes in the Australian anthropological record between 5,000 years ago and 3,000 years ago, including the introduction of the dingo; the spread of the Australian Small Tool tradition; the appearance of plant-processing technologies, especially complex detoxification of cycads; and the expansion of the Pama-Nyungan language over seven-eighths of Australia. Although there is no consensus among anthropologists, the former three changes may have links to India, perhaps the most relevant of which is the introduction of the dingo, whose ocean transit was almost certainly on board a boat. In addition, Dixon noted some similarities between Dravidian languages of southern India and Pama-Nyungan languages of Australia.

4. We can now extrapolate backward to speculate on how the arrival of these strangers could have led to the conditions we now see. And the first thing to consider is the fact that, in order to produce the largely australoid population we see in Australia today, the more recent immigrants would have to have mated with the “native” women, probably forcibly at first, and at the same time largely either killed, displaced or enslaved the native men, wherever they encountered them. This would explain the “different histories” of males and females we see in the genetic evidence. The mtDNA (female line) picture would not reflect the presence of men from a completely different population, but the Y chromosome evidence would -- and that does seem to be the case. Over time, as the more aggressive and belligerent newcomers expanded throughout the continent, the original inhabitants would have done what so many relatively non-aggressive, non-competitive, non-violent peoples have done throughout history -- retired to easily defended or undesirable refuge areas. This would explain the special status of Tasmania, which could have served as a last stand for some of the natives as they retreated southeast to the point farthest away from the most likely point where the newcomers would have arrived, the northwest. And since Tasmania was originally a kind of peninsula with a fairly narrow land bridge, that might have worked for them as a last line of defense until the sea level rose and they became completely isolated.

5. Since Australia is relatively flat and easily traversed, the indigenous males would not have had much chance of survival, but could have been hunted down and slaughtered or enslaved, and their women appropriated as wives. Northeast Queensland contains a tropical forest, which was until recently, according to Birdsell's research, the home of a few small groups of Pygmies, who may have originally retreated to this area as a refuge, possibly many thousands of years ago. But the most obvious refuge area would have been to the north, in what is now New Guinea, and it is the highlands of New Guinea that we can posit as the most likely refuge area for the majority of the retreating natives. If the newcomers had arrived while New Guinea was still attached to Australia, the refugees could have made their way north by land, but if the sea had already separated the two regions, they could have retreated in boats or rafts, at least while the distance was not too great. The australoid invaders would have followed them, and at that time taken over the New Guinea coast, while the natives retreated into the highlands.

6. The next important event in the history of this region is the advent of the so-called “Austronesians,” who are thought to have migrated to various points in New Guinea and Island Melanesia anywhere from 6,000 to roughly 4,000 years ago. The newly arrived Austronesians appear to have displaced most of the australoids along the coastal regions to the north and east. Their only recourse would have been a retreat into the highlands, which would therefore have come to harbor a mixed population, partly of “negrito” and partly of australoid origin. Since these groups would have formerly been bitter enemies, it's not difficult to see how the endemic warfare we now see in the New Guinea highlands could have originated at this point, although many of these populations seem ultimately to have merged, both physically and culturally.

If my scenario is correct, then the current situation in the former Sahul could be described in the following terms:

1. in Australia, the descendants of males from the second wave of migration and females from the first, with australoid morphology, speaking, for the most part, a Pama-Nyungan language; 2. in New Guinea, descendants of the original “negrito” settlers, with a degree of australoid intermixture, now surviving mostly in the highlands, but also along portions of the coast, living as foragers and part-time horticulturalists, speaking a wide variety of very different “Papuan” languages, and retaining at least some of their original African traditions, including, in some cases, P/B-related musical styles; 3. in New Guinea, descendants of population 1, formerly based on the New Guinea coast, now living for the most part in the highlands as forager/horticulturalists, possibly intermixed with population 2, both biologically and culturally -- also speaking “Papuan” or in some cases Austronesian languages; 4. relatively recent Austronesian immigrants, speaking Austronesian languages, and inhabiting, for the most part, the northern and eastern coastal and lowland areas of New Guinea.


  1. "If Sahul were populated by Out of Africa migrants when both New Guinea and Australia were joined into a single landmass, and both regions had remained relatively isolated from then to now, as appears to be the case, we would expect the populations now living in both places to be quite similar, both morphologically and culturally."

    Why? 45,000 years is a long time (as it the more than 10,000 years of separation when Sahul breaks up). Papua New Guinea and Melanesia (a mix of magrove forest, jungle and relatively cool highlands) couldn't be more different from desert Australia. Desert Australia could easily force cultural transformation from African or South Asian folkways not necessary in Papua New Guinea that was more similar.

    Also, North Australia's linguistic diversity could easily be a function of that being the fertile area, while the vast majority of Australia being barely inhabitable outback. The map areas and the population equivalencies aren't there, and it stands to reason that regions settled via the outback would be more like it linguistically.

    The genetics and archaeology combined suggest that the settlement of Australia and New Guinea was separate but roughly contemporaneous and from roughly the same place. The initial population of Australia, at least would have been quite small, allowing for large founder effects.

    Birdsell’s “trihybrid” theory is strongly discredited. Changes in height and technology upon separation from the Australian mainland given a small population are to be expected, and echos animal continuity between the two areas.

    A connection between Dravidian languages of southern India and Pama-Nyungan languages of Australia also makes little sense. We know that there was some contact with Australia and the outside world at that point, due to the Dingo, but the Dingo points a very strong finger at an Austronesian contact, not a South Asian one.

    "Australia is relatively flat and easily traversed", flat yes, easily traversed, no.

  2. "Desert Australia could easily force cultural transformation from African or South Asian folkways not necessary in Papua New Guinea that was more similar."

    Interesting hypothesis. However, like any other hypothesis, it must be supported by evidence. I'm wondering whether such a theory has ever been proposed and if so, what the evidence for it would be. Do you have a reference?

    I'm troubled by that word "easily," because your theory would have to account for a great many differences between the two regions that are not easily explained: 1. NG highly diverse both musically and linguistically; AUS extremely homogeneous -- cultural diversity often correlates with age, since the development and establishment of new traditions takes time; AUS could be homogeneous simply because there hasn't been enough time for new linguistic or musical families to develop since the last major bottleneck. 2. Genetic evidence suggesting different histories for males and females in AUS. 3. Genetic evidence suggesting mtDNA commonalities between NG and AUS, but Y chromosome incompatibilities; 4. Genetic evidence linking the australoids of India with Australian Aborigines with a very similar morphology. (Admittedly, the genetic evidence is incomplete, inconsistent and inconclusive, but such findings must be accounted for nevertheless.) 5. Musical evidence of P/B-related styles and instrumental ensembles in NG and Melanesia generally, but no trace of any African musical tradition in AUS. 6. The presence of negrito populations in a forested region of Australia, whose morphology strongly resembles African Pygmies and Andamanese, and is completely different from that of all other AUS Aborigines. 7. Significant morphological differences between NG populations and those of AUS -- many NG natives strongly resemble Africans, while Australians do not. 8. Presence of bow and arrow in NG, but not in AUS.

    I'm not saying that the hypothesis I've presented here is the only possible one, or even that it accounts for all the evidence -- especially since so much of the genetic evidence evaluated so far appears to be contradictory. But it does represent an attempt to account for the discrepancies listed above and for that reason I think it deserves to be taken seriously.

    "Also, North Australia's linguistic diversity could easily be a function of that being the fertile area, while the vast majority of Australia being barely inhabitable outback."

    Actually northern Australia is apparently not very fertile. After a bit of digging, I found this: "Except in the Lake Eyre Basin and adjacent areas to the east, the soils of Northern Australia are quite remarkable in global terms for their low fertility and difficulty of working." Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Australia

    I tend to agree about possible connections between Pama-Nyungan and Dravidian languages. That sounds like quite a stretch, yes.

  3. SchhhuX. Video Example Seven -Children of the Forest is removed. I realize it might be impossible to find a substitute.

  4. Thanks again for the heads-up, Dave. It's becoming clear that youtube is not the most stable source. Which is too bad, since it's a veritable cornucopia of interesting video documentation.

    1. I was (finally) able to find an alternative source for the same video, which is now, at least for the time being, once again accessible.

  5. Al West describes himself as a writer with degrees in the Chinese language and social anthropology and an interest in archaeology, anthropology and linguistics. In a recent post on his blog, West's Meditations (http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.com/), he discussed some aspects of the most widely distributed language of aboriginal Australia, Pama-Nyungan, in a manner I found especially interesting, and also relevant to some of the issues raised in my book (http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.com/2013/04/pama-nyungan-and-languagefarming.html).

    I invited him to take a look at the chapter presented above, as I thought he'd find it interesting. To my delight he responded in some detail, in a series of comments on his blog, offering a very interesting critique that I found quite useful, though I don't completely agree. With his permission, I'm including those comments here, along with my responses.

    Here's the first installment:
    While there may be tantalising similarities between Dixon's reconstructed proto-Australian and the languages of (IIRC) the eastern Highlands, at least according to William Foley's The Papuan Languages of New Guinea (published in the 80s; I believe it is still the most current work on the topic), there doesn't appear to have been any serious overlap between Australia and New Guinea for 8,000 years (when they became geologically distinct entities). That's a long time. It's long enough to obliterate connections, I think, certainly any that would warrant any serious scholarly attention. Just as most of the Americas can and should be understood without reference to northeastern Asia, so New Guinea and Australia can and should be treated separately, especially as the economies on each landmass were utterly different - domestication occurred early in New Guinea and only appeared in Australia with European contact. So they should be treated separately. That's a general point, not necessarily linking to your chapter.

    Now, onto your chapter. I don't find the model all that convincing, largely because the proposed (controversial, hypothetical) migration of Indians to Australia is supposed to have occurred c.4000 BP, consistent with the rise of both the dingo and the small tool tradition (so-called) but not with the economic intensification you cite for the same time period and which Evans and McConvell associated with Pama-Nyungan (archaeologists now believe it occurred much earlier, as I say above). So the arrival of Indians cannot have caused a migration into New Guinea as part of a refuge, because New Guinea was separate from Australia at that time and had been for four thousand years or so. Unless you assume that the Australians had seaworthy vessels, and, when they arrived, ditched their language and material culture (AFAIK, Australian and Papuan blades are different, and the time-depth is easily shallow enough to preserve linguistic connections), the model is untenable.

  6. Part two of Al West's response:
    Also, the multiple migration model of the settlement of Australia - including so-called 'Negrito' migration - is no longer the consensus. Birdsell was an excellent scholar, but he was also capable of being wrong. I'd suggest reading Hiscock's excellent (if rather dry) The Archaeology of Ancient Australia as a remedy for these problems. Australia, it seems, was settled by one primary group who arrived in the around 50,000+ years ago. Differences in early Australian skeletons (gracile versus robust) actually appear to be due to the mistaken classification of some female skeletons as male, as surprising as that sounds. Again, I defer to Peter Hiscock.

    Moreover, Tasmania was separated from Australia for a long time, about as long as New Guinea if memory serves, and saw none of the mid-Holocene changes seen on the mainland (Tasmanian languages do not appear to have been related to Pama-Nyungan). But that doesn't mean that Tasmania didn't have a history. Of course it did. For instance, the taboo on eating fish appears relatively recent, and is only sporadically realised in the archaeological record. The exploitation of different ecological zones in response to climate change is also well-documented, and there must have been plenty of sociological changes in response to these as well. So the idea that isolated Tasmanians preserve some aspect of 'African' (viz, early human) culture is not tenable, and it seems like the least verifiable kind of history possible.

    If musicological evidence is at all important for reconstructing human prehistory, it needs to be inserted into a proper framework for prehistory. I'm sure you agree with that. It looks to me like your model needs a rethink in light of the archaeological and linguistic evidence. Definitely give Hiscock a read. Hiscock, by the way, doesn't link Pama-Nyungan to the spread of backed blades, ie, the small tool tradition. He doesn't mention language at all, as the book is about the archaeology, and is one of many examples of the need for linguists and archaeologists to work together. The linkage between backed blades and Pama-Nyungan is mine, and it fits better than the Evans and McConvell model (which was good in its day, but now the evidence doesn't fit).

  7. My response to the above, as originally posted on West's blog:
    Thanks for your very thorough critique, Al. I'm pleased to see that you read through my chapter pretty thoroughly, and I very much appreciate your response. I don't pretend to be an expert on Australian archaeology or linguistics, but I must say I was puzzled by the striking contrasts between Australia and New Guinea (also Island Melanesia) and also some of the mysteries surrounding the deepest layers of Sahul's history. So I tried my best to come up with a theory that might account for at least some of the issues that puzzled me. Also I was intrigued by some of the genetic (also morphological) evidence suggesting an Indo-Australian connection, especially the contrast between the mtDNA and Y chromosome evidence. As far as the musical part is concerned, I must confess that I've never been able to find any musical practice in India that resembled Australian Aboriginal music, though I did point to at least one interesting similarity with respect to dance style.

    It's all very speculative, as I admitted in the book. But even if it can't account for all the evidence, or seems unlikely in view of the evidence, I do believe I've highlighted some of the conundrums that face anyone trying to make sense of its history.

    As far as Birdesell is concerned, I believe he did establish the presence of pygmies in Australia, which can't be ignored, nor easily explained away. Nor can the contrast between the linguistic picture for northern Australia (closest to N. Guinea) and all the rest, which suggests that Pama-Nyungan is in all likelihood a language that appears to have spread with the migrations of a particular society throughout most of the continent in relatively recent times.

    My reconstruction may be full of holes, but there's a lot in that chapter that can't be ignored, nevertheless.

  8. My followup to the above:
    With respect to your comments regarding the timing of my hypothetical arrival of "australoid" males from India: "So the arrival of Indians cannot have caused a migration into New Guinea as part of a refuge, because New Guinea was separate from Australia at that time and had been for four thousand years or so."

    According my reconstruction, the earliest inhabitants of the Sahul would have been part of the original Out of Africa migration, ca. 80000-60000 ya, and would still have had a fundamentally "African" physiognomy (pygmoid), culture, value system and musical style (as defined earlier in my book). And they would very soon have inhabited ALL of Sahul, or at least the coastal regions, and become established therefore in BOTH what is now N. Guinea AND Australia. So when my (hypothetical) australoid males arrived from India, there would have been no need for the "Africans" to retreat to N. Guinea in boats, since they were already there. One might therefore posit that the "African" males in Australia could have been (mostly) wiped out, but those in N. Guinea survived by retreating to the highlands. That's one possibility.

    Another possibility is that, as has often been argued, the Out of Africa migrants may have, from the start of their migration, been following the Indian Ocean coast in boats or rafts, so relatively short ocean voyages may have been within their capabilities. As far as Tasmania is concerned, I'm not sure what to think as there is now so little evidence.

    Whether my model might possibly be adjusted to fit the blade evidence, I have no idea. I appreciate the reference to Hiscock's book, and will look into it. I have no problem adjusting my theory to the facts as I learn more, especially since my Sahul reconstruction has no bearing on the rest of my book or my take on deep history generally.

  9. More from West:
    The first thing to mention is that pygmies, so called, do not appear in Australia's archaeological record. It seems as if the aboriginal population of Australia derives primarily from a single population that arrived approximately 50,000 bp from islands to the north and west. Genetic differences between Australians and Papuans can perhaps be explained by reference to the different climate and geology on each landmass, which would contribute different selective pressures, and by the contribution of so-called 'Mongoloid' markers in the form of Austronesian interlopers in the mid-Holocene. I don't think multiple Negroid/Australoid migrations are the best explanation, certainly not any proposed movements from India in the Holocene.

    You're right that there are mysteries. According to paleobotanists, domestication of the banana occurred in New Guinea a thousand years before New Guinea separated from Sahul. So why didn't horticulture spread into Australia as well? Where did the dingo actually come from? Why do some south Asian markers appear in Australian populations? How did Pama-Nyungan proliferate? These are the big mysteries, and to be frank, I don't think your account provides satisfactory answers to them.

    Even if you take nothing else away from this, you should at least amend the reference to economic intensification in mid-Holocene Australia, as it is now known that this occurred many millennia earlier and had nothing to do with the spread of Pama-Nyungan. Australian archaeology is not especially fast-moving, but paradigms do occasionally get overturned, as this one has been.

  10. My response to the above:
    Thanks again, Al. I agree that I need to learn more about Australian archaeology. However, I must add that, as I stress in my book, archaeological research comes with some very serious limitations that make it especially problematic as an historical tool. For one thing, the evidence is highly fragmented, and extremely sparse. No one can ever say for sure if something important has not yet been uncovered. For another, in the absence of ethnographic analogy, which many archaeologists frown on, it's almost impossible to interpret the meaning of just about any of this evidence, aside from establishing certain dates (often with questionable certainty). Also, just about anything claimed by one archaeologist is almost certain to be disputed by another, so there is very little consensus in the field as a whole.

    "It seems as if the aboriginal population of Australia derives primarily from a single population that arrived approximately 50,000 bp from islands to the north and west." There was no such thing as "Australia" at that time, nor any land mass corresponding to it. We are talking about Sahul, which tells us that it makes no sense to separate "Australia" from "New Guinea" when attempting to reconstruct the earliest history of that region. I agree that the populations found by the earliest Western travelers and missionaries were very different between Australia and N. Guinea, but that doesn't provide an excuse for ignoring the fact that the original settlers landed in Sahul, not Australia. The differences must therefor be accounted for, convenient though it might be to ignore them.

    That said, I am by no means in love with the reconstruction I proposed in the book and very much appreciate your critique, which I take very seriously. Would you mind if I copied and pasted your comments into the comments section of my blog-book?

  11. And West's response to the above:
    Archaeology is easily the most reliable means of finding out about the past, and generally there is a strong consensus. It also tends not to depend on ethnographic parallels, unless we have evidence of continuity. Archaeology is the best method, and you ignore it at your peril. It's fragmented, sure, but if you want to know about mid-Holocene economies, there literally isn't another method, and archaeology is now incredibly reliable on such issues. Everybody seems to have a pet human science that they're willing to abuse; biologists seem to hate linguistics and readily abuse it, labelling it unscientific because it doesn't work exactly like population genetics, while linguists and ethnographers abuse archaeology, as if it were nothing more than unscientific rummaging in the dirt. It's best to examine all of the pertinent evidence without prejudice, to my mind, and to attempt to understand the workings of every relevant method.

    You're right that the population entered Sahul, but New Guinea has seen subsequent migrations and economic changes that Australia did not, and while Australia's population saw little influx of new blood for 50,000 years, New Guinea's saw plenty. That's why I mentioned only Australia, not Sahul. Australia's population has been consistent, while Sahul's as a whole has not.

    And of course you can copy my comments to your book.

  12. DocG to Al West:
    Thanks for permitting me to repost your comments on my blog. One advantage of publishing a book in this way is to encourage further discussion and critique by eliciting feedback. So by opening itself up to comments of this sort, my book becomes truly interactive.

    As far as my comments on archaeology are concerned, it wasn't my intention to dismiss archaeological research but to "put it in its place," so to speak, because in certain circles it's regarded as some sort of ultimate arbiter of truth simply because it deals with "hard facts" as opposed to ethnographic, linguistic, musical, etc. evidence, which might seem less "scientific." As I see it, ALL the evidence, including the archaeological evidence, must be considered. While fossils, bones, stones, etc. constitute tangible survivals from the distant past and are in many cases amenable to scientific methodologies, such as stratigraphy, carbon dating, etc., that evidence is, as I've said, notoriously fragmentary and difficult to interpret. So I must respectfully disagree regarding its special status as our "most reliable" source of historical information. In fact archaeologists, more than most, are notorious for their tendency to speculate, often wildly, on the basis of very slim evidence indeed. On the other hand, there is no question that archaeology can be an extremely valuable resource and that many archaeologists have contributed to our understanding of human evolution and history in a major way, so I would by no means advocate ignoring or underestimating such research.

    Speaking of which, I took your good advice, went to the library and now have Hiscock's book, "Archaeology of Ancient Australia" in my hands. It is certainly an impressive piece of work, filled to the brim with useful information and interesting interpretations of a wealth of data gathered from a wide array of sources. I've been reading it and learning a lot, so thanks for the tip.

    I'm impressed certainly -- but not overwhelmed. Hiscock has clearly made up his mind about what is and is not the case as far as Australia is concerned. He is very sure of himself and not shy about dismissing the ideas of others. But I see no particular reason for accepting his interpretation at the expense of so many others simply because his is the latest take. Birdsell's trihybrid model is dismissed in two or three lines, with no mention whatsoever of his claim regarding the existence of Australian pygmies, for which there seems considerable evidence, including photos. We're talking naked tribal people found living in a rainforest refuge area. Where could they have come from? How did they get to where they were found? He appears to have no interest in this question and I wonder why.

    He glibly dismisses the genetic evidence for the Indian connection I've pointed to, claiming simply that "further research found no evidence for substantial gene flow from the Indian subcontinent" (p. 97). Significantly, he forgets to mention that the gene flow in question was based exclusively on the male lineage (Y chromosome) only, with no trace of any similar connection on the female line (mtDNA). Yet, as is clear from their titles, literally all the papers he cites in rebuttal are based exclusively on mtDNA. So, as far as the connection with India is concerned, the presumed lack of evidence is beside the point.

    It is moreover far from clear that the difference between "gracile" and "robust" skeletal remains can be explained simply on the basis of sexual dimorphism as Hiscock claims. Examining any number of photos of contemporary aboriginals we see a great many "robust" females, with not a single "gracile" face among them. And I'm wondering where else in the world one would expect to find such dramatic dimorphism between males and females, at least among members of the human species. It's an interesting speculation, but I see no basis for it whatsoever.

  13. DocG unearths more evidence:

    Returning to the possibility of an Indian connection, I must admit that in all the years since the publication of the paper I cited (Redd et al. 2002) I haven't seen any trace of a followup, and have been wondering if the evidence of Y chromosome gene flow from India might have been an artifact or the product of an inadequate sample. So I did a little digging this morning, and was delighted to find that in fact the followup I'd been looking for has recently been published, and the results, God help me, are encouraging.

    The paper, by Pugach et al (including Mark Stoneking, a leading authority on the genetics of Oceania) was reported last January, in Nature News, under the heading, "Genomes Link Aboriginal Australians to Indians": http://www.nature.com/news/genomes-link-aboriginal-australians-to-indians-1.12219#/b1

    "Some aboriginal Australians can trace as much as 11% of their genomes to migrants who reached the island around 4,000 years ago from India, a study suggests. Along with their genes, the migrants brought different tool-making techniques and the ancestors of the dingo, researchers say."

    The paper itself is titled "Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene
    flow from India to Australia." I've read it and am pleased to report that it's findings are, for the most part, consistent with the hypothesis presented in my book. Since Pugach's research is based on genome wide, i.e., autosomal, data, the earlier evidence regarding the difference between the male and female lines is, unfortunately, not a factor, and therefore not discussed. Nevertheless, there is nothing in it that contradicts the earlier paper, so I'm assuming that the "different histories for males and females" aspect still holds.

    Another finding from the same source appears to be consistent with my reconstruction of the earliest phase of Sahul's history:

    "Pugach confirmed an ancient association between the genomes of Australians, New Guineans and the Mamanwa — a Negrito group from the Philippines. These populations diverged around 36,000 years ago, suggesting that they all descended from an early southward migration out of Africa."

    Let me know, Al, if this paper interests you and if so I'll email you a copy. I'd very much appreciate your thoughts on this, and whether anything in the paper might have changed your mind.

  14. West's response:
    Robust and gracile are classifications of human bodies - physique, not face. And like all human groups, indigenous Australian women are slighte[r] than the men. In any case, regardless of Hiscock's personal opinion, it is the consensus of archaeologists and physical anthropologists that Australia was settled approximately once.

    Now, onto the Indian issue... this is a tricky one. If you've been following Razib over at Gene Expression, you'll know that the results showing Indian mid-Holocene migration to Australia are controversial and the implications are not fully worked out. Moreover, if they did arrive at that time, they brought no Indian tools and southeast Asian dogs. So... again, it's controversial. I think it might better be explained by late Holocene gene flow from Indonesia to south Asia, which is historically documented. A few Australian haplogroups are present in Indonesia populations, after all. Either way, Indian migration still wouldn't correlate with economic intensification, because that didn't happen in the mid-Holocene. It happened earlier. Climate change and the spread of Pama-Nyungan were the big issues then, neither of which need parsimoniously be related to Indian migration.

    I seem to remember H[is]cock giving significantly more space to refuting Birdsell than a couple of lines. I'll check the book tomorrow for references. In any case, the consensus is that Birdsell was wrong about that.

  15. And docG's reply:

    "Robust and gracile are classifications of human bodies - physique, not face." Not according to Hiscock (see p. 93 of his book).

    "In any case, regardless of Hiscock's personal opinion, it is the consensus of archaeologists and physical anthropologists that Australia was settled approximately once."

    Well, clearly this is still a contentious issue, and will probably remain so for some time.

    As far as the Indian connection is concerned, I must admit that I too am puzzled by all the back and forth, especially the apparently contradictory and confusing genetic evidence. It's hard to believe that some group from India got in a boat and sailed directly to Australia, either deliberately or accidentally. (On the other hand, we do have the precedent of Austronesians making their way to Madagascar.) The most compelling non-genetic evidence has always been the strong morphological resemblance between certain S. Indian tribal peoples (the so-called "australoids") and today's Australian aboriginals. But of all people living in India 4,000 years ago, the tribals seem least likely to have been capable of such a long Ocean voyage.

    Who can tell what might have happened 5,000 years ago? According to Pugach el al., "The signal of Indian gene flow might not necessarily come directly from India; it is easy to envision a scenario whereby the Indian ancestry comes to Australia indirectly, e.g., via contact with island SE Asian populations." That has always seemed the most likely possibility to me. But Pugach and her colleagues found "no signal whatsoever of recent gene flow from India into these populations or from these populations into Australia." Very strange. However, the absence of such a signal doesn't mean it's not there, but could simply be due to an inadequate sample.

    As far as "economic intensification" is concerned, that possibility is more important for you than me. Whether or not all these various changes, including certain types of stone tools, the dingo, etc., can be ascribed to some sort of Indian incursion strikes me as a side issue. What's important is very simply the possibility (and I must stress POSSIBILITY, as that's all it is at this point) that a group of australoid males MIGHT have landed in Australia at some time after its initial settlement and literally took over the continent, intermarrying with native females and thus producing the australoid phenotypes we now see, and in the process spreading a single language family AND a single musical style throughout most of the continent. Such a development could explain a lot, so I think it worth exploring. Whether or not that or anything like it actually happened is, of course, a matter for speculation, but I see nothing as yet in the genetic or archaeological evidence that disproves it.

  16. Al West footnote:
    I should point out that I'm much more interested in the problem of Pama-Nyungan expansion than Indian genes in indigenous Australian populations or the initial settlement of Australia. Pama-Nyungan can tell us a lot, while Indian markers are just puzzling and controversial at this point. Still, it's interesting to think about. Either way, I'd suggest revising your account of Australian prehistory to include a fuller understanding of Pama-Nyungan, even if you keep everything else the same.

  17. Al West's response to my last comment, above:

    The original founding population of Australia was 'Australoid'. That isn't in serious dispute in the academy anymore. I don't think Pama-Nyungan is best explained by Indian migration, either - and by that I mean the set of traits associated with Pama-Nyungan, including tool types, dogs, and possibility the musical style you allude to. I have set out the Pama-Nyungan expansion model above, the most realistic and sensible one that accords with both the archaeological and linguistic data. The idea that Indian migration was behind any of this is, as far as I can tell, pseudoscientific, and even if Indians were responsible for something in mid-Holocene Australia (even if it were just a few haplotypes), that still doesn't give us a model for the expansion. It's just a black box: Indians arrived and then Pama-Nyungan/musical style/backed unifacial blades, &c, spread across the continent. No, we need a model, and the one that accords best with the archaeological and climatic evidence, by far, is the one I wrote about above.

    Moreover, if proto-Australian has any validity at all (and perhaps it does), then Pama-Nyungan is a part of it. It isn't a foreign interloper in Australia. The expansion of an indigenous family due to a non-indigenous social group entering the continent seems unlikely, and we'd need much more evidence to go on than this spurious multiple-migration-Negrito-Indian model, which is a) based on out-dated scholarship, especially in terms of archaeology and b) fails to provide a realistic model for population movements in Holocene Australia.

    (On the other hand, we do have the precedent of Austronesians making their way to Madagascar.)

    That isn't a precedent for tribal migration from India, which would involve a completely different group of people, completely different technologies, and completely different time frame (Austronesian migration to Madagascar from Borneo seems to have occurred c.1 CE). It seems likely that trans-Indian Ocean trade was occurring as far back as 2000 BCE (4,000 BP), as cloves, a Moluccan spice, have been found in the stores of merchants in Syria dating to around 1700 BCE (in fact, if I can dig up the reference, I can even tell you the merchant's name). But this must have been trade conducted primarily by Malayo-Polynesian-speaking people in outrigger canoes and other seaworthy vessels, products of Malayo-Polynesian design. It's not impossible that south Indian merchants could have hitched a ride on a trans-Indian Ocean vessel piloted by Malayic speakers, and then ended up in Australia.

    Again, though: what would this explain other than the Australian genetic material? The answer seems to be, nothing.

  18. Al, the model I laid out above is, first of all, an attempt to deal with what appears to be a serious discrepancy between the musical evidence and the standard interpretation of Australian history. You seem to have no problem accepting the possibility that the musical style now found so widely among Australian Aboriginals could have been dispersed along with the spread of the Pama-Nyugan language family, roughly 6,000 to 1,500 years ago. That makes sense to me as well, so I'm glad we have no serious issues on that point (or at least I'm assuming we don't.)

    I must admit I'm puzzled as to the origin of this very distinctive musical style and also the origin of Pama-Nyugan, but I suppose both could have simply "arisen" in response to "microevolutionary" events within Australia that have been lost to us.

    What prompted me to go more deeply into the history was not only the musical evidence from Australia, but also the very different picture in New Guinea, but again it's always possible, I suppose, to simply explain certain things away without really accounting for them and after all we're talking about many thousand of years of isolation between the two places.

    What really got me going, however, and inspired the model that disturbs you so much is the genetic evidence, specifically the evidence for "different histories" for males and females in this region generally. And on this point, I'm sorry, but I see no room for compromise, especially in view of the most recent findings, from last January.

    From Max Ingman and Ulf Gyllensten, Mitochondrial Genome Variation and Evolutionary History of Australian and New Guinean Aborigines:

    "Kayser et al. (2001) proposed that the high frequency of a unique [Y chromosome] haplotype in Australia is the result of a population expansion that started from a few hundred individuals. In this case, the predominance of a unique Y-chromosome haplotype in Australia would be the result of a founder effect. However, there does not appear to be a corresponding loss of genetic diversity resulting from a bottleneck seen among mitochondrial lineages (p. 1604)"

    From the paper by Kayser et al, dated 2001:

    "Our mitochondrial [i.e., female line] data imply that some lineages from the populations of Australia and New Guinea have shared a common history since the initial colonization of Sahul. . . . [However,] [t]he lack of a common Y-chromosome haplotype found both in Australia and in the New Guinea highlands (or in any other Melanesian population) argues against the concept that the New Guinean and Australian populations are derived from the same migration event . However, the Australia-specific Y chromosome haplotype could have arisen after the colonization of Sahul and therefore is absent in other populations."

    From an article published the following year, by Alan Redd et al.:

    "In sum, we found that 50% of the Y chromosomes sampled from aboriginal Australians [haplogroup C*] share common ancestry with a set of Y chromosomes that represent less than 2% of the sampled Indian subcontinent paternal gene pool. . . ."

    And now, we have the recent paper by Pugach et al, the title of which speaks for itself: "Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene flow from India to Australia."

    Regardless of what one may want to believe regarding the history of Australia or the Australian aboriginals, I fail to see how the above truly remarkable and, admittedly very surprising, findings can be ignored. What I wrote in Chapter 14 above is admittedly speculative and I could certainly be on the wrong track. But it's unfair to claim that the reconstruction I've attempted is contrary to the generally accepted archaeology, because the new genetic evidence has clearly challenged the accepted view.

    1. You seem to believe that I'm arguing something I'm not. I'm not expecting the genetic evidence to be over-turned and I don't disagree with you about its surprising and interesting nature. But it's not the best-established story in Australian prehistory, it doesn't explain any of the other phenomena, including Pama-Nyungan and its related attributes, and it doesn't seem to have much to do with accurate reconstruction of Australian history, life, or prehistoric culture. The only thing it tells us right now is that indigenous Australians share some genetic markers with some south Indian groups, and that the connection is more recent than the 60,000+ years since they've been separated. It tells us nothing more than that. We don't know in which direction the flow went or how it got there.

      Moreover, you really seem to have ignored my post on Pama-Nyungan completely. You got the time-frame wrong, for a start - Pama-Nyungan, assuming it correlates with the small tool tradition and the spread of backed unifacials, which it does, separated into its sub-branches only 4,000 years ago, not 6,000, and it appears to have continued to expand (into the deserts, in particular) in the last 1,000 years or so.

      You haven't taken account of the climate evidence or the archaeological evidence, you've decided to ignore the point about economic intensification (which, by the way, has been a major point of contention among prehistorians), and you haven't formulated a theory of Pama-Nyungan/Small Tool Tradition/musical style expansion beyond 'Indians arrived and spread a new set of haplogroups, language, and technologies across the continent', something that accords with none of the evidence except for the genetic stuff, which is a) controversial and b) of unknown aetiology.

      The genetic evidence doesn't trump the archaeological evidence and it doesn't give you a free pass to ignore archaeology in support of your frankly spurious ideas as found in the chapter above. You say you're willing to ameliorate the book on the basis of new information - well, now you have new information, and your adherence to your former beliefs appears as strong as ever.

    2. "The only thing it tells us right now is that indigenous Australians share some genetic markers with some south Indian groups, and that the connection is more recent than the 60,000+ years since they've been separated. It tells us nothing more than that. We don't know in which direction the flow went or how it got there."

      No, it tells us a great deal more than that (assuming these results are solid and not some sort of artifact, which is of course always possible). For one thing, it points to evidence for a founder effect along the male lineage, and the lack of evidence for any founder effect along the female lineage. I agree that we don't at this point have enough knowledge to fully explain this or to apply it directly and with certainty to Australian history, but it can't simply be put aside for that reason, just because it doesn't fit with the currently accepted archaeological view.

      It also points very strongly to south India as the source of the male "founder" population in question. What that might mean, how it might be explained, etc. is certainly at this point a mystery. But again the evidence can't simply be shunted aside for that reason.

      "Moreover, you really seem to have ignored my post on Pama-Nyungan completely. You got the time-frame wrong, for a start - Pama-Nyungan, assuming it correlates with the small tool tradition and the spread of backed unifacials, which it does, separated into its sub-branches only 4,000 years ago, not 6,000, . . ."

      My reference to 6000 ya is based on Patrick McConvell's paper of 1996, "Backtracking to Babel: the chronology of Pama-Nyungan expansion in Australia." That's his estimate for the origin of proto-Pama-Nyungan. I have no idea who is right or who is wrong, nor do I attach any particular importance to that date, but my reference to it IS based on research, not something I plucked out of the air. The spread of this language family may or may not be associated with backed unifacials, that's an interesting hypothesis, but certainly not an established fact.

      "You haven't taken account of the climate evidence or the archaeological evidence," etc. The model I've constructed is preliminary and hypothetical, and certainly not, as yet, tested. It's unreasonable to expect me to take account of every piece of evidence unearthed by archaeologists, especially because my goal is not to prove I'm right, but only to open some doors to the exploration of certain possibilities. I do very much appreciate your bringing these issues to my attention, and at some future date your criticisms might lead me to completely revise my thinking -- but at this point I see no reason to alter the general outlines of the model simply because I can't yet take everything you mention into account.

      I'm not sure what the "new information" is to which you are referring, Al. I see nothing in any of the evidence that necessarily refutes my model, all I am getting from you is your interpretation of evidence that's extremely sparse and extremely difficult to assess. I have no intention of ignoring archaeology, if by that you mean the archaeological evidence itself, but I see no reason to accept the opinions and interpretations of archaeologists (or linguists), especially when they conflict with newer evidence drawn from the genetic research.

      As for my "adherence to my former beliefs," belief doesn't enter into it. I do not "believe" in either the genetic evidence or the model I've attempted above. You are the one who "believes." My intention has always been to explore certain possibilities.

    3. "I see no reason to accept the opinions and interpretations of archaeologists (or linguists), especially when they conflict with newer evidence drawn from the genetic research."

      Genetic evidence does *not* have priority, especially when it is poorly established, as this research still is. Just because it seems sciency and supports your suppositions, that doesn't mean it is more reliable or better evidence than archaeology or linguistics. And think about this: you're trying to link a musical style and its propagation to *India* because of some genetic material that links two populations who don't share any single musical style. That's bizarre. The musical style is endemic to Australia and nowhere else. Why not take the leap and assume that it, like the Small Tool Tradition and Pama-Nyungan languages, comes from Australia?

      But, that aside, let's look at the serious problems in your account above.

      1) You use Birdsell's multiple migration model, dependent on his incorrect analysis of some skeletons as representing different populations instead of genders (the genetic evidence, by the way, also shows Birdsell's suppositions to be wrong, as Hiscock notes in his book). This is an entirely empirical point: do the skeletons represent different populations? No. They do not. More modern analyses tell us that they are all of one population that entered Australia a long time ago in the Pleistocene. These people were 'Australoid', if that is even a valid category, and resembled, although not completely, modern Aboriginal people.

      2) You link the spread of the musical style to Indian influence while simultaneously accepting that there are no musical parallels within India itself. This doesn't make any sense whatsoever, and either it invalidates musicological analysis for prehistory as a whole or it tells us nothing about this case in particular.

      3) You appear to believe that Pama-Nyungan spread as a result of Indian influence, despite the fact that Indian languages are unrelated to Pama-Nyungan and the technologies that enabled the spread had no relationship to Indian technologies. This also makes little sense.

      4) You still haven't corrected the reference to economic intensification in the mid-Holocene, which simply did not occur. It is a key part of the theory that Indian influence was behind the spread of Pama-Nyungan, of course: Indians turn up, tell locals how to better exploit the land, have a lot of sex, etc. But it isn't true. Pama-Nyungan and the Small Tool Tradition correlate with extremely dry climate and a decline in the productivity of many resources, resulting in desperate economic diversification and efficiency in tool use but not expansion or population growth (as Evans and McConvell had assumed).

    4. 5) You appear to ignore the possibility that the musical style spread more recently as a result of the smallpox and influenza epidemics of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries, or as a result of marriage alliances and trade, both of which linked disparate groups across the continent in song cycles and caused major sociological changes in more recent times. The decision to ignore this possibility is to ascribe to Aboriginals only a small amount of history - as if little has happened since Pama-Nyungan propagated itself.

      So that's five serious problems, two of which could easily be considered offensive by indigenous Australians - the notion that it took Indian influence to kick-start migration and economic processes in Australia, and the notion that nothing in the intervening 4,000 years has made much difference. You're still relying on old evidence and old papers (the Evans and McConvell model is now known to be wrong and is, despite their best efforts to reconcile language with archaeology, incommensurate with the current archaeological evidence). You're still using a bunch of out-moded and incorrect ideas in support of a theory you have to realise is wrong, or at least in need of serious amelioration.

      Listen to the linguists and the archaeologists. They know more about language and material culture than do geneticists, and it is language and material culture that can really help unlock Australia's ancient past.

    5. I believe most of the objections you raise in the above two posts have already been answered in my responses below. Clearly you see your own interpretation of the evidence as solid and complete, based as it is in what you see as established archaeological fact (and what I see, at least to some extent, as dogma). One problem we have is that you keep arguing as though I am as confident in the solidity of my model as you are of yours. Yet over and over I've tried to explain that for me this model is very far from being written in stone (no pun intended). It's just a series of possibilities, inspired by some questions raised by the musical, linguistic, genetic and, yes, archaeological evidence. On the basis of what I've been learning, I've attempted to put things together in an order that might make sense and explain certain mysteries. The fact that I can't account with certainty for everything (such as for example the lack of continuity between Indian and Australian musical styles) does not in itself prove that my model is wrong, just that it is incomplete, which I certainly acknowledge. If you read the chapter carefully, you'll see that there is other musical evidence that I do take into account, and that my model attempts to explain. And some sort of explanation is necessary, because otherwise the huge discrepancies between the music of N. Guinea and Australia are puzzling indeed.

      What is lacking in the archaeological model you take as definitive is the failure to take anomalies of that sort into account at all -- and also in many cases to concoct some sort of "just so" story no better than anything to be found in the just so story I've put together. Sure the expansion of a particular language family might be explained on the basis of climatic conditions, but I see no reason why some other explanation might be equally as good or better. I'm willing to admit I could be wrong, but you apparently don't feel the same way about your own assertions, which you present with total conviction. Sorry, but I'm not buying it.

      As far as the "economic intensification" issue that bothers you so much, that's just an incidental part of a paper I quoted, NOT part of my model. I see no reason to correct it, since it's not anything I myself have claimed, and I have no basis for challenging the authors of the paper other than the model that you prefer. Sorry, that's not sufficient.

      And as far as Birdsell is concerned, I described my model as "roughly consistent" with Birdsell’s “trihybrid” theory. It certainly isn't identical to it, far from it, as his theory is far more complex and detailed. The genetic evidence appears to have identified two founding populations, not three, as Birdsell asserted, and until I am able to learn more about Birdsell's theory I'll stick with two for now.

      I think the crux of the problem between us is that you have great faith in the explanatory power of archaeology whereas I have serious doubts on that score. The archaeological evidence is certainly important and can't be ignored. But there is a certain faith that so many in this field have in the efficacy of their findings and their (often extremely speculative if not off the wall) interpretations that is very simply not warranted. As I must insist, most such evidence is highly fragmentary, full of gaps, and very difficult to interpret -- and I'll stand by that. The genetic research also has its problems, and I by no means accept its findings as gospel either. But I do think we need the evidence from both realms. Plus the ethnographic, linguistic and musical evidence and anything else we can find. We need it all. Simply accepting at face value the stories told by today's archaeologists (which you KNOW will be contradicted by tomorrow's) strikes me as naive.

    6. It's not dogma; you're attempting to overturn *all* of the Holocene archaeology and linguistics of Australia based on a couple of results from geneticists and some older texts by archaeologists.

      If you actually read Hiscock, instead of skimming through it, you'll know why you are wrong, and why discussing this with you is so frustrating. You don't seem to have any idea of the science here. Really - none. It isn't my supposition that Birdsell is wrong, or that economic intensification did not occur. It is the current consensus, as you'll find if you actually go ahead and read about it.

      "Sure the expansion of a particular language family might be explained on the basis of climatic conditions, but I see no reason why some other explanation might be equally as good or better."

      Really? Even a model that goes against all of the evidence from climate science? Or one that goes against all of the archaeological evidence? You say that I'm dogmatic, but actually I'm just even-handed; I'm willing to accept genetic evidence, but the archaeological and linguistic work is much better established at this point, and you seem to be totally unaware of it. I'm not dogmatic in my support of archaeology, but you appear to be dogmatic in your rejection of it, refusing to take into account the possibility that your model might be refuted by archaeology as it now stands.

      You are right that it could be overturned tomorrow. I'm not annoyed at Evans and McConvell for being wrong. They were wrong but had no way to know it. They produced a fantastic model that accorded with the evidence as it then existed. But the evidence has mounted up and the picture has changed drastically. The model changes with it. No other model, right now, accords with the evidence better than climate change and tool efficiency. If the evidence changes, the model will change - but you seem to be hedging your bets by going with an out-moded model that is known to be false. You're not bowing to the evidence, you're running away from it. It's mad. You claim to be taking into account all of the evidence, but you aren't. You don't even seem to know the evidence well enough to do that. You've got hold of some old and incorrect ideas and you're pushing them hard, and I don't know why. Pride?

    7. "But the evidence has mounted up and the picture has changed drastically."

      Yes, and the picture continues to change -- just as drastically. I cited a total of no less than four important papers, published over the last 12 years or so by some of the leading figures in population genetics, people like Mark Stoneking, Manfred Kayser, and Alan Redd, who've been at it for a very long time and are universally recognized as authorities in this field, which by the way encompasses anthropology and archaeology as well as genetics. I'm not the one challenging the archaeological orthodoxy, they are. I've just been trying to put it all together somehow and make some sense out of it.

  19. Again, gene flow from India to Australia explains nothing. Backed unifacial blades are not an Indian technology; dingoes are closely related to southeast Asian dogs, not Indian ones; Pama-Nyungan languages are not related to Indian languages. So what does Indian gene flow explain? Nothing other than the presence of Indian genes in Australian populations. It doesn't explain Pama-Nyungan or the musical style.

    You seem utterly blase about the spread of the Pama-Nyungan family, as if it is unimportant for understanding Australian prehistory. But it is absolutely vital. It tells us that major population movements occurred in Australia in response to environmental stimuli. You also appear willing to disregard a realistic model based on the archaeological and linguistic (i.e., the most relevant) evidence in favour of speculations based on out-moded archaeology and controversial, if intriguing, genetic work.

    The genetics does not overrule the archaeology, especially when trying to explain migrations within Australia. You're defending a model you now know to be incorrect: even if a population of Indians arrived in Australia in the mid-Holocene, the founding population in Australia was already 'Australoid'. You have found no links to Indian musical styles, Pama-Nyungan isn't related to any known Indian language family, and the small tool tradition isn't related to Indian traditions. Nothing links any of this to India, so 'explaining' it by reference to India is a little silly.

    No, the best explanation of the Pama-Nyungan expansion is this: about 4000 BP, earth's climate shifted, particularly in the circum-Pacific, resulting in the rise of the El Nino effect and a severe drop in precipitation in Australia. This made Australia exceptionally dry and its human population had to find ways to continue to eke out a living. This led to a need for efficiency in tool design - the archaeological evidence indicates a clear need to maximise efficiency both in use and production, with blades of all kinds showing repeated re-sharpening and being produced from smaller cores in more efficient ways.

    The ability to produce and use extremely efficient tools would have given the users a greater ability to exploit the unpredictable resources of the drying Australian landscape, and would also have encouraged long-distance migration in search of new food sources. These factors are sufficient to explain the spread of the language family, which shows some possible to other families in Arnhemland and no links to families outside Australia.

    That's Pama-Nyungan. It spread primarily because of climate change making previous lifestyles impossible and conferring a selective advantage on efficiency in tool design and resource exploitation.

    The apparently uniform musical style could have spread with Pama-Nyungan, which is not outside the bounds of possibility, but it could also have spread more recently through alliance and trade connections. The section/sub-section kinship systems - famous among students of kinship - arose recently, through alliance and cultural contacts between groups. Elaboration in social structure appears to have been passed between groups, each seeking to out-do the rest in intricacy, and each seeking to link themselves up to other prestige groups through marriage connections within the same kinship framework.

    Also, starting in 1789, a series of major changes occurred in Australian Aboriginal societies as a result of a massive smallpox epidemic. It affected men and women differently - far more women were carried off, as is usual in smallpox epidemics. Wife-sharing appears to have become commonplace.

    So even the most fundamental aspects of life can be altered, severely, by fashion, disease, and climate change. I doubt music is immune to fashion, or to the effects of population bottlenecks, etc. I see no reason to put the genetic evidence on a pedestal when the evidence from the other, more relevant, disciplines is more interesting and points in interesting directions.

    1. "Again, gene flow from India to Australia explains nothing."

      It appears to be a fact though, and as such cries out for an explanation. We can't expect facts to provide the explanations, that's for us to do, that is one our responsibilities.

      "Backed unifacial blades are not an Indian technology"

      Why should the blade evidence necessarily trump the genetic evidence? Also, as you well know, the picture for the archaeology of many sites in many parts of the world can be both complex and contradictory. And as is well known the archaeology of India is filled with huge gaps, so it may be too soon to rule out the existence of such blades in southern India.

      "dingoes are closely related to southeast Asian dogs, not Indian ones"

      From the recent Pugach paper: "Although dingo mtDNA appears to have a SE Asian origin (47), morphologically, the dingo most closely resembles Indian dogs (46)." If the dingo got to Australia via India, it would not necessarily have to have originated there. The resemblance to Indian dogs is also mentioned in Hiscock, as I recall.

      "Pama-Nyungan languages are not related to Indian languages." Do we really know that? As I'm sure you realize, attempts to establish links of that sort are extremely difficult and almost always controversial. Claims of relatedness are easy to discount, but by the same token why should we blindly accept the opposite? According to the genetic evidence, only a very small group of males contributed that particular Y chromosome to the Australian gene pool, in an event that took place many thousands of years ago. How can we possibly know what language they were speaking? What we do know is that PN appears to have arisen out of thin air. What sort of explanation is that?

    2. Continued from my previous post:

      "So what does Indian gene flow explain? Nothing other than the presence of Indian genes in Australian populations. It doesn't explain Pama-Nyungan or the musical style."

      As I've confessed, I see no relation between any music from any part of India, including any of the tribals, and the musical style of the Australian aboriginals. It would certainly strengthen my model if such an association could be established, that would be really nice I must admit. However, as with the linguistic evidence, there is no reason to assume that we can always reconstruct the exact conditions prevailing in a society that existed thousands of years ago. When we do find similarities, that's great, those become valuable clues. But the absence of such similarities is NOT nearly as meaningful -- absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, remember?

      But when you ask in general terms what the genetic evidence explains, I must insist that, potentially, it could explain a great deal. That's the whole point of my reconstruction. For one thing, it could account for one of the oldest mysteries, the uncanny morphological resemblance of south Indian "australoids" and the Australian aboriginals. I see no other explanation that makes much sense, other than coincidence, which is of course always possible.

      It could also account for the presence of a Pygmy population in Australia, as noted by Birdsell; the strange discrepancy in the distribution of both the languages and music of both Australia and New Guinea; the "different histories of males and females" noted in the genetic literature; the fact that the oldest human remains found in Australia resemble Africans more than today's Australians. Etc.

      I certainly won't insist that any of the above has been established, but I will insist that the model has potentially considerable explanatory power and deserves further investigation and testing. What I'm getting from you, Al, is certainly interesting and valuable, but as I've explained in my many responses, I just don't see anything in any of your objections that constitutes a refutation. I can understand why you have doubts, you've expressed them very well. And if you would like to offer an alternative model that also took the genetic evidence seriously into account, I'd love to see it.

    3. ""Pama-Nyungan languages are not related to Indian languages." Do we really know that?"

      Do you have any idea how linguistics works? Linguists look for regular sound correspondences in words with similar semantic fields: cow (English), Kuh (German), bous (Attic Greek), go (Sanskrit), bo (Irish), etc. They reconstruct a past word for this semantic semantic based on the regular sound changes, using an unattested word that would explain the words in terms of phonetic principles. In the above example, that would be *gwous, meaning 'cow'. It is well-established because almost (but not entirely) wherever Greek has /b/, Irish has /b/, English has /k/, and Sanskrit has /g/. It is a regular sound correspondence, indicating a set of regular sound changes from an initial protolanguage once spoken by an ancestral linguistic population.

      So we look for sound changes in human languages, especially those that are consistent. The trouble is, over long periods of time, these sound changes can pile up, making the comparative method, as it is called, tricky. It makes it difficult to establish connections. 10,000 years seems easily long enough to completely eradicate similarities between languages unless we have some written evidence of earlier languages.

      But 4,000 years isn't long enough at all. Indo-European *definitely* separated over 5,000 years ago. Afroasiatic split apart 7,000 years ago or more, which is why it is difficult to establish the internal connections of the family accurately. Austronesian split up 5,000/5,500 years ago as well. So if there were a connection between Pama-Nyungan and any known Indian languages, it would be quite easy to show it. If Pama-Nyungan derived from proto-Dravidian, it would be immediately visible in the evidence and linguists would be able to reconstruct proto-Dravidian with Pama-Nyungan as a core part of it. The reason that they haven't done this is because it isn't true. Pama-Nyungan isn't a Dravidian language. It isn't related, as far as can be told, to any language in India, and only extreme time depth or an impossibly fast rate of change could allow the possibility of a relationship.

      There was no pygmy population in Australia. Can you please get that into your head? I have no idea how this is not sticking: Birdsell was wrong and analysed the samples incorrectly. Archaeologists and paleoanthropologists today are unanimous in their agreement on this point. I have no idea why you have decided to shun the consensus and the most recent work on the topic.

      Of course the oldest bodies in Australia most closely resemble Pleistocene Africans. (They do not resemble modern Africans, whatever that would mean; but of course they closely resemble Pleistocene Africans because they were a closely related populated migrating out of Africa.) And of course Australia and New Guinea have different musical styles - they've been separate for 8,000 years. For whatever reason, you appear to assume that musical style can remain consistent over tens of thousands of years instead of changing in response to other variables. In fact, I consider this a perfect example of why musicology is so limited. If 8,000 years is enough to obscure the similarities in music, then it isn't a tool with much time-depth. I see why this could be important to you now - you need there to have been a major migration into Australia in the Holocene in order to account for the change in musical style, because you assume that music doesn't change over long periods. But this doesn't seem to be correct.

      Australia and New Guinea have had very different recent prehistories. In Australia, groups were linked across the land by marriage, trade, and song cycles, but they weren't linked to New Guinea in this way. They diverged from one another in the early Holocene. They had no contact and their traditions departed from one another. No foreign migration is needed to explain this.

    4. There's no evidence that Pama-Nyungan sprang out of thin air, either. Some linguists, including Evans and McConvell, believe it to be distantly related to other Australian language families still found in Arnhemland. So it seems to be wholly indigenous.

      And I don't have a really good model for the genetic material. Nobody does. The geneticists who think they have a good model don't know the archaeology or the linguistics and make claims about the archaeology based on the genetics - like the idea that the Small Tool Tradition came from India, which it did not. It's a puzzling result. It does no good to attempt to overturn the archaeological and linguistic research on Australia because of a controversial paper on Aboriginal genetics.

    5. "Pama-Nyungan isn't a Dravidian language. It isn't related, as far as can be told, to any language in India." Nor Australia either, apparently, aside from those languages patently derived from proto-Pama-Nyungan. So where did it come from? If we see evidence that some foreign group landed in Australia at roughly the same time proto-Pama-Nyungan arose, then why not consider the possibility that it could have originated with this group?

      And I do know something about linguistics, by the way, enough to realize that many languages and language families have gone extinct over the long history of the human race. It's naive to assume that simply because you can't find a connection with any language currently spoken in India (or anywhere else) that such a language could not have existed thousands of years ago, and is now no longer spoken. Especially when a clear genetic link has apparently been established.

      And if you find it unlikely that tribal people from India could have made their way to Australia by boat, consider the Andaman Islands (a better example, I would think, than Madagascar). How did the Onge, Jarawa, Sentinalese, etc. manage to find their way to these remote Indian Ocean islands? It would be hard to find more "primitive" people anywhere in the world, yet there they are!

      "There was no pygmy population in Australia." On this point I'm not inclined to argue because we still don't know whether the short stature of so-called "pygmies" is due to convergence or not. Birdsell seems to have assumed it was not, but he could have been wrong. It's too soon to say. A group from Sarah Tishkoff's lab published a paper on this question last year, focused on the Pygmies of West Africa, and they came up with some interesting theories suggesting that environmental adaptation was a reasonable possibility, but indicating also that more research was needed. And I must say there is no evidence linking the various groups of "pygmies" worldwide with a particular musical practice either, at least not consistently across the board. Birdsell insisted that there would not have been enough time for such an adaptation to take place, but he could certainly have been wrong on that score.

    6. Continued from last post . . .

      "And of course Australia and New Guinea have different musical styles - they've been separate for 8,000 years. For whatever reason, you appear to assume that musical style can remain consistent over tens of thousands of years instead of changing in response to other variables."

      This is in fact one of the major points I make in the book. To understand, you need to read Chapter One pretty carefully, and also Appendix A, where I make my point in more technical terms. Unfortunately very few anthropologists have the training to follow my argument in any depth, any more than most could follow a highly technical linguistic argument. This is the cross I have to bear, unfortunately, and it's a huge barrier. I feel sure I've proven something absolutely essential to an understanding of cultural evolution, but very few with an interest in that field are in a position to evaluate what I've done, and all are justifiably skeptical because it goes so strongly against the grain of so much that's been taken for granted in the social sciences for so long.

      As far as N. Guinea is concerned, we find many clear instances of what I call the "African signature" in the music of many highland peoples. Not just the vocal music, but the instrumental music as well. To me this is crystal clear. You can listen to the examples I offer and decide for yourself, but again hardly any anthropologists are qualified to make this sort of judgement, very sadly. The only explanation that makes any sense at all is that this is a survival from musical traditions maintained by the original Out of Africa migrants. And the absence of anything like this in Australia is a huge puzzle that has to be explained. Sure, the two places separated off from one another a long time ago, but that in itself does not explain why such an important tradition would survive in one place and completely die off in the other.

      There is a tendency in archaeology, which you certainly share, to explain away certain problems in what I would regard as an extremely facile, superficial manner. The fact that two regions have separated off from one another does not in itself explain anything at all.

    7. Where did proto-Pama-Nyungan come from? Another protolanguage. As I said, many linguists believe that there are demonstrable connections, if vague ones, to other language families in Australia that don't have as wide a distribution. So what you're saying is that in spite of this evidence, we should suppose that Pama-Nyungan, a language family found only in Australia and with no demonstrated relatives of any kind outside of Australia, is actually an interloper in Australia, the result of a foreign migration.

      No. That is not how science works. You're expecting us to drop everything because of a single genetic result of ambiguous interpretation. That is not how it works. Pama-Nyungan can be explained entirely in terms of Australia climate, geography, motivation, and language. There is no need to invoke migration from outside Australia. And the genetic result, importantly, *doesn't* demonstrate a migration at the right time. Only by sequencing the genomes of Holocene Aboriginal people - or Pleistocene Australians, to ensure it doesn't come from the founding population - can we be sure that this is a real phenomenon worthy of the profound implications ascribed to it. Until we have more evidence in its favour, and a model to go with it that fits the existing evidence, the genetic evidence is inert and explains nothing.

      You cannot assume that the language is foreign unless you have evidence that it is. If Andaman Islanders are the result of a similar migration (presumably from southeast Asia rather than India, but okay), or the same migration, can we show that their languages are related to Australian ones? Well, no, we can't. And like I said, 4,000 years is not long enough to obliterate the connection. That is the perfect time to establish connections between languages.

      You accuse archaeologists of attempting to explain things away frivolously. Some of them certainly do that - Peter Bellwood has taken plenty of liberties in ascribing Indo-Aryan language to the first south Asian agricultural population at Mehgarh, for instance - but you can quite easily be accused of the same thing. You appear willing to disregard whole areas of evidence that contradict or even wholly invalidate your model.

    8. Moreover, there was no pygmy population in Australia, not because of anything to do with pygmy populations as a whole, but because supposed pygmy skeletons in Australia were not actually 'pygmies' - they weren't shorter or differently formed than we would expect. They do not differ from the rest of the population except that they are women and children. There is no physical anthropological evidence of a migration in the mid-Holocene. The only apparent migration documented in the strata is one occurring c.50,000 BP.

      There are two pieces of evidence pointing to some population movement into Australia at some point between the initial settlement and European contact. One is the dingo. It arrived in the mid-Holocene. It is most closely-related to southeast Asian dogs and may have arrived with Lapita traders from the Bismarck archipelago in the northeast. Given the maritime skills and technologies necessary for this, the Lapita settlements are by far the most likely source. They clearly did not settle in Australia, however.

      The second piece of evidence is the genetic work to which you have become enthralled. It has to point to something other than Lapita migration as Lapita people do not have those genetic markers. Only further research will show what it actually means. As of now, it is completely and utterly uninterpretable for historical purposes. Nothing can be made of it except spurious interpretations that conflict with, or even directly contradict, the known archaeological and linguistic evidence, which at this point has clear priority and is much better established.

      I'm not qualified to assess the musicological evidence, but given the variability of music and the rapidity of musical change, it doesn't seem all that reasonable to attribute it to Pleistocene origins without further evidence of the validity of this. It seems like an unwarranted assumption that music can survive so long, and one grounded in the equally unwarranted idea that certain groups around the world have had no history. The whole issue of 'survivals' is deeply problematic, and when it comes to something as variable as music, I'm suspicious. Given that the method is producing problems that don't make sense in light of the archaeological and linguistic evidence, it doesn't seem to put the method in a good light.

      But I will endeavour to find out as much as I can about it, nonetheless. And maybe some bridge-building can commence between the methods.

    9. "Moreover, there was no pygmy population in Australia, not because of anything to do with pygmy populations as a whole, but because supposed pygmy skeletons in Australia were not actually 'pygmies'"

      The absence of Pygmy skeletons becomes moot if in fact the living Pygmies Birdsell claimed to have found were for real. He photographed them and he measured them. Systematically. You weren't aware of this? Of course their height could have been the product of adaptation to their tropical forest environment and if so then Birdsell was wrong. But if that's not the case (and at present we have no way of telling, one way or the other), then Birdsell was right.

      "Only further research will show what it actually means." I agree.

      As far as the musical evidence is concerned, my thinking is NOT based on any assumptions but on a very systematic comparative analysis, as presented in Appendix A. What this establishes is that "the rapidity of musical change" so commonly assumed ain't necessarily so. It's actually far truer for our society today than any traditional society. This is why I see so much potential in the musical research, because musical style cab be far more conservative than any other aspect of culture I can think of.

  20. Well, first of all, Al, I want to thank you for taking the time and trouble to comment on this aspect of my research, even if your comments are largely negative. My perspective obviously differs greatly from yours, but at the same time I am willing to listen (more willing than you might think) and am taking your responses seriously. Now is not the time to revise my book, but if and when that time comes I will definitely go over the comments, including yours, and may well make changes in accordance with some of your objections (or at the very least add some pertinent footnotes referencing them). It's also possible that I might by then have decided to drop the model entirely, depending on how future research in both genetics and archaeology pans out. At this point, however, I must insist that nothing you've said, including some things that actually make sense :-) constitutes a deal breaker. Definitely food for thought, however.

  21. "So what you're saying is that in spite of this evidence, we should suppose that Pam-Nyungan, a language family found only in Australia and with no demonstrated relatives of any kind outside of Australia, is actually an interloper in Australia, the result of a foreign migration."

    Here again, as is typical, you overstate my position. I don't suppose anything. Aside from the assumption that the geneticists actually know what they are doing, I make NO (other) assumptions. I don't expect anyone to accept that Pam-Nyungan is an interloper, but at the same time I see no reason to rule out such a possibility, and I insist on the value of exploring that possibility. And what do you mean by "this evidence"? What I'm getting from you is a hypothetical, not real evidence.

    "You're expecting us to drop everything because of a single genetic result of ambiguous interpretation." As I mentioned earlier, I referenced four different papers from some of the leading authorities in the field. This is more than just a single result. And judging from the title of that last one, "Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene flow from India to Australia," the results are not ambiguous. They could, of course, be wrong. I'll be happy to send you that paper so you can pick it apart if you like.

    "Pama-Nyungan can be explained entirely in terms of Australia climate, geography, motivation, and language."

    You know, I've been taking your advice and reading Hiscock's book in more detail. And what I very often see is more or less the same sort of statement as what you've written above. Complex and/or perplexing evidence is "explained" in typically vague terms such as these. Ah yes, such and such can be understood on the basis of microevolutionary processes, climate change, geography, ecology, adaptation, etc., etc. Hey, why not?

    Of course he goes into more detail but realistically this ain't science either, its pure speculation, more or less like what I'm doing. (Only what I'm doing IS based on science, the science of genetics.)

    There is no real method involved, no consistency, it's all ad hoc, made up to suit whatever problem he's faced with at the moment, to in effect explain it away. I can't blame him, because certain things are either very difficult or even impossible to explain. But he must have an answer for everything, so there you go, he finds one.

    Don't get me wrong, his book is valuable, I'm learning a lot from it. But much more from the descriptions of the evidence than his attempts to explain what they might mean or how they got that way. What I'm learning is that there seems to be a great deal of variety and differentiation in the human fossil evidence, especially from some of the earlier dates. And as I see it, that's as much of a problem for his model as it is for mine. Only I'm prepared to be flexible on that score and he isn't.

    What it looks like to me is that Australia seems to have been populated several times, by groups that mostly went extinct. Some of those might even have been stray homo erectus (I don't support the multiregional view, but see no reason why homo erectus couldn't have entered Australia at some point).

    He refuses to accept multiple entries, for reasons that are never clear. His explanations on the basis of adaptation seem reasonable I suppose but I see no reason to accept them as gospel on that basis alone. What's missing is some real science, and that is exactly what genetics can provide, when the time comes. Until then all bets are off.

  22. Victor and Al, I've been reading your discussion and pondering the argument from both sides. Just now, something (I think) fascinating occurred to me: what if both of you are right, to an extent? By separating the various clues a bit, we can arrive at a scenario that, while unproven (and perhaps impossible to prove), could overcome some of the obstacles in your discussion.

    The genetic link between Australia and South India seems to be more or less established now (Y-DNA haplogroups don't lie). I believe I read somewhere, and I will need to look this up, that the spread of the "Indian" haplogroups coincides with the extent of the Pama-Nyungan languages. Indeed I have looked at pictures of peoples from the north of Australia where non-Pama-Nyungan languages are spoken and compared them with those from the rest of the continent (admittedly not the most scientific methodology) and their phenotypes seem more archaic, more "Melanesian", more like Tasmanians than the more general Australian phenotype, which is more similar to that of people in South India (albeit not the same - for all the striking similarities, there are also many differences). However, as Al points out, there seems to be no linguistic connection, and the spread of Pama-Nyungan seems to coincide with the spread of technology that also apparently isn't related to India. Combine this with the lack of musical similarities and the picture appears puzzling at first sight, but allow me to posit my explanation.

    I should state for the sake of clarity that I am a linguist. As Al says, 4000 years is usually not too long ago for linguistic similarities to disappear. If there existed a connection between (Proto-)Dravidian and Pama-Nyungan, one would imagine that more solid evidence of that would have been found. But even though it seems that the genetic difference between Pama-Nyungan-speaking and non-Pama-Nyungan-speaking Australians seem to point to South India, this need not be the case for the language.
    It is important in this regard to distinguish between the time of spread of a language family and the time of that language family coming into being. (they are equivalent, by analogy, to what in population genetics is called the "coalescence age" and the "divergence age", respectively, of a haplogroup - terms that sound to me like they mean the exact opposite of what they mean, but I suppose that's because from the point of view of population genetics one looks backwards in time, whereas from the point of view of linguistics one tends to look forward). As a linguist, I'm pretty sure language families don't come into existence suddenly out of thin air, but must be preceded by something.
    Al gives 4000 years ago for the SPREAD of Pama-Nyungan, whereas Victor cites a source that gives 6000 years ago for the ORIGIN of Pama-Nyungan. These two dates needn't contradict each other. The genetic studies Victor cites give 4000 years for the arrival of South Indian genes in Australia, but genetic mutations (especially on the Y-chromosome) are hard to date, so let's suppose they are off by two milennia, and it was in actuality closer to 6000.


  23. (continued)

    6000 years ago (4000 BC) was the time when in India the Indus Valley civilization was still flourishing, well before the arrival of the Indo-Aryans, and from what I've read the development of Dravidian languages is more recent than this (they seem to have come from the north and have been linked to the as of yet unknown languages of the Indus Valley and of Elam, though I have no idea how serious these claims are). Imagine there was a population in South India at the time - think more in terms of "Ancestral South Indian" than "Dravidian" - of which a handful of (mostly or exclusively) males, probably through an accident, ended up on the shores of Australia. It's not beyond possibility that they would have shipwrecked there, especially if such trade routes as mentioned above would have been around at the time (which requires a bit of a stretch of the imagination, and it doesn't seem consistent with the image of a tribal population, but it's not impossible). This population would have spoken a non-Dravidian language. As for their phenotype, taking into account Al's claim that "the original settlers of Australia were Australoid", one must remember that "Australoid" (a term which, like all such physical anthropology terms is of limited use and ultimately depends on one's definition of it) would include not one distinct phenotype but many similar although distinct ones - in the broadest definition it includes Melanesians and Papuans as well as indigenous Australians and South Indians - in any case it would include a range of phenotypes. So these people would have looked slightly different to the ones they met in Australia, different enough to account for the diversity of phenotypes found in Australia today, and similar to the "Australoid" component in South India.

    In the 6000 years after this event happened, subsequent migrations in India would have changed the genetic and cultural landscape to the extent that most of this "Ancestral South Indian" culture would have been absorbed and admixed by "Ancestral North Indian" (possibly including refugees from the Indus Valley and/or Proto-Dravidians) and Indo-Aryan people, surviving in their most pure form only in marginalized tribal groups, perhaps akin to the Chenchu in the video posted above.


  24. (continued)

    Meanwhile, their relatives who ended up in Australia would have intermingled with the local population they found there, to the extent that they left their genetic imprint firmly enough, but they would not have had a cultural impact large enough to influence their music or language (taking into account that there were only a handful, and most or all of them would have been male, which makes me wonder if musical traditions in such a people would have been carried mostly by women). This admixed population would have been speaking a proto-Pama-Nyungan language, related to the other Australian languages, while the differences it would have had with them may or may not be ascribed to an "intruder" adstrate (which, as I said, would have been not Dravidian or proto-Dravidian, but from an older South Indian language, today gone or perhaps lingering in marginalized tribal languages). This people, their culture and language would have continued to stay in the same region, at roughly the same population size, for the next 2000 years, which without written history would certainly have been enough to erase any notion of "foreign-ness" (which, I stress again, would have been the contribution of a small number of individuals to begin with) so that by this time, around 4000 years ago, they would feel just as indigenous to the region as any other Australian population. And from this point, the climatic changes that Al describes would take place and this - indigenous Australian, with Y-DNA admixture from South India - population and their technology would have spread, spreading the Pama-Nyungan languages, in the manner that he describes.

    I'm sorry to have been so wordy, but this is the most succint way in which I could express myself. I hope both of you read it and even though it is not (and not intended to be) a scientifically valid theory, I hope it will at least open your minds up to the possibility of a scenario like this, which would offer insight in your disagreements over the existing evidence.

    1. Thanks so much, J. A. B., for these very interesting suggestions. I'm not sure if Al is still "listening in" here -- probably not. In any case, I very much doubt that anything either of us proposes is likely to change his mind. But your ideas strike me as very interesting and very reasonable, so I appreciate your chiming in here.

      The most controversial aspect of my reconstruction is, of course, the idea that the "Indian" males would have run the males of the indigenous population out of Australia and into N. Guinea (and possibly Tasmania as well). He sees no evidence of that but to me it seems highly likely.

      Why do we differ so completely? Well, as I see it there are two very different ways of looking at any such problem. One can focus on certain details and simply reject anything that seems inconsistent with that evidence. Or one can focus on the big picture and try to formulate a hypothesis with sufficient explanatory power to account for that picture -- assuming that any discrepancies one might come across will eventually be resolved as more evidence emerges.

      At the time Einstein developed his Special Theory of Relativity, it was criticized as being contrary to certain experimental results and thus, in certain circles, completely rejected. Ultimately, the experimental results turned out to be erroneous and now Einstein's theory is almost universally accepted. To me the value of that theory and so many others like it is not it's conformance with every detail of the so-called "evidence," but it's profound explanatory power.

      I'm not saying my explanations are always correct, or ever correct, and I am willing to admit that my thinking is more in the realm of exploration of possibilities than anything else. However, if someone takes a position that respects the "evidence" but doesn't make any sense, then I'm sorry but I have a problem with that. As I see it, the mainstream, consensus view of Australian archaeology espoused by Al, may account for all the "evidence" but makes no sense in terms of our understanding of the big picture. And, I might add, without an understand of the big picture, all the research in the world is purely academic, if not totally irrelevant.

    2. I'd like to add the thought that the musical style of the South Indian tribal population in question might also have gone extinct in parallel with what might have happened to their language, as you've suggested. In fact their entire culture may well have become extinct in India. Why not?

      The highly distinctive music of the Australian Aborigines, as we know it today, could in fact have originated with the bottleneck I focused on earlier, which was, of course, centered in South Asia. That particular style could have then vanished in South Asia, but survived in Australia. Again, why not?

      While I admit there is no evidence for any of this, it does have considerable explanatory power, and does help us understand the big picture, so I have no problem considering it as a real possibility and certainly see no reason to dismiss it unless and until some more convincing explanation presents itself.