The Tasmanians--an amazing tale of survival

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Wed Feb 20 2002 - 09:22:04 EST

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    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: []On
    >Behalf Of Jonathan Clarke
    >Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2002 8:01 PM
    >Subject: Re: Definition of "Species"
    >bivalve wrote:
    >> A recent popular science book on the
    >> history of Australia seems to claim that the Tasmanians
    >> might have been surviving Homo erectus...
    >I am 1/64 Tasmanian aboriginal according to a cousin who got into the
    >family tree. If this assertion be true, some might say that explains a

    I know of no reputable (indeed know of no irreputable) anthropologists who
    hold that Australians are 'surviving Homo erectus'. As with the
    Neanderthals, a case can be made that in Australia H. erectus interbred with
    moderns. Alan Thorne is one of the advocates of this view. H. erectus has
    also been dated to have survived in Java until between 27-53,000 years ago.

    "Hominid fossils from Njandong and Sambungmacan, Central Java,
    are considered the most morphologically advanced representatives
     of Homo erectus. Electron spin resonance (ESR) and mass
    spectrometric U-series dating of fossil bovid teeth collected
    from the hominid-bearing levels at these sites gave mean ages of
    27+/- 2 to 53.3+/-4 thousand years ago; the range in ages
    reflects uncertainties in uranium migration histories. These
    ages are 20,000 to 400,000 years younger than previous age
    estimates for these hominids and indicate that H. erectus may
    have survived on Java at least 250,000 years longer than on the
    Asian mainland, and perhaps 1 million years longer than in
    Africa. The new ages raise the possibility that H. erectus
    overlapped in time with anatomically modern humans (H. sapiens)
    in Southeast Asia." ~ C. C. Swisher III, W. J. Rink. S. C. Anton,
    H. P. Schwarcz, G. H. Curtis, A. Suprijo, and Widiasmoro,
    "Laterst Homo erectus of Java: Potential Contemporaneity with
    Homo sapiens in Southeast Asia," Science, 274(Dec 13, 1996), p.
    1870-1874, p. 1870

    The Tasmanians, however, were some of the most incredible peoples on earth
    and suffered the longest isolation of any peoples on the surface of the
    earth. The land bridge to Australia was gradually covered between 12 and 8
    thousand years ago, stranding about 4,000 people for the next 8,000 years.
    Their survival was a miracle and their life style shows that 4,000 people is
    not enough to maintain technology nor is it enough to allow for innovation.
    Over the next few thousand years they lost much of the Aboriginal technology
    until when they were found by Europeans about 200 years ago, they only had
    24 tools in their repertoire.

            "Even more surprising is the incontrovertible evidence that
    after eating fish for many thousands of years the Tasmanians
    dropped fish from the diet about 3500 years ago. Early explorer
    were amazed that the Tasmanians did not eat scale fish and did
    not even seem to regard it as human food. Those who could bring
    themselves to believe this astonishing fact ascribed it to the
    extreme primitiveness of Tasmanian culture. Certainly the
    Tasmanians had no nets or fish-hooks, so it seemd logical to som
    scholars, steeped in Darwinian evolutionary theory, that these
    most primitive representatives of the human race should be unabl
    even to catch fish, one of the basic foods of mankind.
            "This concept of a people too far down on the evolutionary
    ladder to have learnt how to catch fish was not seriously
    challenged until fish bones were found in the middens of Rocky
    Cape. Yet fish bones were not at the top, but at the base, of
    the middens. The Tasmanians had once eaten fish but later gave
    up this excellent source of food.
            "In rocky Cape South Cave there were 3196 fish bones in the
    lower half of the midden, dated to between 3800 and 8000 years
    ago, and only one fish bone in the younger, upper half." ~
    Josephine Flood, "The Archeology of the Dreamtime, (New Haven:Yale
    University Press, 1989), p. 179

    In many respects the lack of critical mass(numbers) for innovation meant
    that some people assert that they were the best model for the Neanderthal
    lifestyle and that their few numbers can be used to explain the apparent
    lack of creativity among H. erectus, Neanderthals and early anatomically
    modern peoples. We humans, are not innately creative (contrary to rather
    unthinking apologetical claims). Take a child, isolate him and when he grows
    up he will not be a great inventor. We need lots of mental stimulation to be
    creative. When placed in tiny communities, we generally don't do well.
    Neither did the Tasmanians in their enforced isolation. Flood writes:

            "That the simplest material culture should be found among
    the people who experienced the longest isolation in the world is
    significant. Rhys Jones sees analogies with the reduction in the
    number of faunal species on islands that become separated from
    their parent continents. He consideres the 4000 people isolated
    on Tasmania and divided into several different language groups
    were too few to maintain indefinitely their Pleistocene culture,
    and that they were therefore, doomed--'doomed to a slow
    strangulation of the mind.'
            "Certainly the evidence for the religious life of the
    Tasmanians is very limited, which may indicate a limited
    religious life. Compared with the burial ceremonies and dances
    depicting mythical and historical themes. But by the time George
    Augustus robinson made his record of Aboriginal life, the
    population had been decimated and large ceremonial gatherings
    would hardly have been possible." ~ Josephine Flood, "The
    Archeology of the Dreamtime, (New Haven: Yale University Press,
    1989), p. 185

    The claim often made by apologists that creativity marks and
    differentiations modern humans from the archaics like the Neanderthals is
    falsified by the Tasman experience. Isolation is cruel and causes loss of
    technology. The lack of creativity seen among Neanderthals, early
    anatomically modern peoples and H. erectus might simply be due to the lack
    of population and mental stimulation in life--that slow strangulation of the
    mind. Such claims by apologists are numerous:

    " As David Wilcox put
    it, 'In less than half the tenure of the Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon
    man was walking on the moon!'
            "The best information we can seek about man's ancestors is that
    which tells us, not what they looked like, but what they did and
    how they behaved. Of course, such information is often very
    fragmentary if found at all, but it is the most important data
    for which to search." ~ Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, Of
    Pandas and People, 2nd edition (Dallas: Haughton Publishing Co.,
    1993), p. 110-111

    Wilcox writes:
    "In contrast, the Aurignacian evidence of the AMH Cro-Magnon
    people shows rapid continuous change.
         "The extended period of Neanderthal cultural stasis is not
    true of any AMH population, including modern 'stone age' groups
    such as the native people of Australia" ~ David L. Wilcox, "Adam,
    Where Are You? Changing Paradigms in Paleoanthropology,"
    Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith , 48:2( June 1996),
    p. 92

    Which of course is pure BS as the Tasman experience shows that it too can be
    part of the human experience when we are subjected to cruel and lonely
    isolation in a tiny, tiny world.

    Josephine Flood, "The Archeology of the Dreamtime, (New Haven: Yale
    University Press, 1989), p. 173


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