Human Expansions

In Intro to Anthro 2022 after talking about Interpretations of Figurines we read chapter 6, “Cultural Diversity from 20,000-5000ya” in Through the Lens of Anthropology together with “A Genetic Chronicle of the First Peoples in the Americas” by Jennifer Raff (2022). The main topic was Human Expansions into the Americas.

Next: Domestication Stories

Transcript: Human Expansions

We begin by linking to what we were talking about in Biological Anthropology, some of the early dispersal routes from Africa of Homo erectus populations, and what are called archaic Homo sapiens. See: Homo popularis: From Bipedalism to Fire.

In this map, you can see that most of the cool stuff in evolution happens within Africa. The first dispersals or expansions from Africa are of Homo erectus populations, going across Eurasia. It’s speculated that these cousins, the Neandertals are well documented, the Denisovans are more genetically documented than archaeologically documented, but they seem to be cousins or related Homo populations.

There’s your favorite, Homo floresiensis who somehow got onto this island across the biogeographic boundary and stayed there. That’s still a mystery. There’s no evidence that Homo floresiensis admixtures with the Homo sapien populations as they came through. Homo floresiensis seems to have been there and gone.

But there is evidence of Neandertal admixture or interbreeding, and with the Denisovans. Those populations did shape the genetic code as people expanded into these areas, but eventually the Homo sapiens… Oh by the way at about 65,000 years ago, pretty amazing, Homo sapiens went into Australia!

But what we see here is these so-called archaics or Neandertals or other bipedal species eventually disappear at about 30-35,000 years ago, leaving only Homo sapiens throughout this incredible geographic range.

This map is from a research article published in 2018 that discusses what separates the Homo sapiens from the other bipedals. The argument is that it wasn’t some symbolic switch or language that suddenly turned on in their brains, but the unique position as a “global general specialist.” This is a hypothesis that Homo sapiens seem to be uniquely flexible or plastic as in plasticity. We can adapt to very different environments. There are species that adapt, or other species that are specialists in certain environments. They get very adapted to one environment. There are other species that are generalists: they can live almost anywhere, but they don’t really adapt to that environment, they’re just able to live there. Homo sapiens are not only able to live in these different environments, we adapt culturally, and in some ways because culture has feedback loops on our biology and how we eat affects how we develop–we can go from being heavy meat eaters to exclusively vegetarians–we do different kinds of things in different environments.

This pretty much squares with what Muckle, González, and Camp call the expansion of territories (128). You have the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa about 300,000 years ago. Some go into Australia as of 65,000 years ago. Homo sapiens are in what is now the Middle East at about a hundred thousand years ago, Siberia at sixty thousand, and in Europe at about 40,000 years ago. But what enables Homo sapiens to expand their range and enables them to outcompete or live in a larger range of environments than the other bipedals is that they don’t depend on biology for survival. They are adapting culturally to these environments, using a package of hunting, gathering, fire, and toolmaking in order to adapt.

It’s extremely important as we think about the expansion of Homo sapiens they are always connected to each other, trading with each other, borrowing from each other, and having a system of what is called exogamous marriages where you need to marry outside of your closest group. Not everyone is going to be marrying someone from far away, but you must marry and spread out your social ties by making marriages, or even as we saw among the non-human primates, certain females or males would leave their natal group in order to mate with the non-human primates in another group.

Humans have always been trading and interconnected. This means in terms of the membership of these kin groups, these bands, that kinship or being related to somebody, being family, would be important, but it wasn’t the completely defining feature. It’s not like these groups became isolated from each other in any genetic or biological sense. When it comes to the idea of race it isn’t that there were groups that became isolated and developed separate racial characteristics. Obviously, the biological stuff began to vary across this range, or because the adaptation to different environments, or in part because of genetic drift–people who tended to end up in different places–but people were always interconnected and they were always part of one interbreeding species.

For example, the people who were in Australia did in some ways become isolated from the other continents for 50-60,000 years. But Australia is a huge place, and people were interconnected across Australia. As soon as they came together with colonization, people began interbreeding. There were no species-membership issues with interbreeding. People have always been interconnected. Homo sapiens have been one interbreeding species across this range.

It has been something of a puzzle or a mystery as to how people came into the Americas. Now I would say that this is a puzzle for the Europeans, when they sailed westward and stumbled upon the Americas, and found people there. It was not a puzzle for the people who were living in the Americas. They were fine. They knew what was going on, they knew where they were, but it’s been something of a puzzle for people studying human dispersals. How did it happen that people came into the Americas? When and where did this occur?

Before we get into that, let’s talk about one of the issues of the puzzle: what people call other people. Of course, we have Columbus showing up, not knowing where he was, thinking and hoping that he had made it to Asia, and imagining that he was somewhere off the coast of India. That is how we get the name “Indians.” He was lost. Hopefully everybody knows that’s not the best name, but sometimes that name has stuck in archaeology. Even with Muckle, González, and Camp I was sad to see they used a term that showed up in my kids’ elementary school textbook, the name “Paleo Indians” (136), which refers to a period in North America from 14,000-9,000 years ago. “Paleo,” of course means ancient or old. One might get the impression that people are the “old Indians.” Not the best.

After that, my son’s elementary school textbook said, oh these were the “First Americans.” What’s the problem with saying that the people here were the first Americans?

. . .

The name “America” of course comes to us from Amerigo Vespucci who is after Columbus. In fact, Columbus had already died before the name America was used for the continents of the Americas. To call people the “First Americans,” and especially in the context of the elementary school textbook, I just had this image of people coming across the ice bridge and waving an American flag, because here they are, the first day of a patriotic event.

I think “Native Americans” is better. It does still incorporate that “American” phrase, but we’re getting better.

Especially in Canada, some groups have said that they call themselves “First Nations,” which is an interesting idea. It’s the idea that people were organized, and not only living there, but were organized politically as well. Some people are a little bit reluctant to say “Nations,” because it implies that there is a nation-state formation going on. There were certainly some groups that were organized and things that we might call nations or states, but that imposes our own frame of reference onto political systems that were perhaps more interesting than being nations and governed in ways that we should respect.

“First Peoples,” is another way that people talk about it.

I think more and more, Indigenous with a capitalized I, or Native with a capitalized N, is a preferred term.

For people who have group membership, or if people belong to a particular Native or Indigenous group, it’s fine to say that group name.

Just the terminology, be careful here. Why is this an issue? One of the issues is that a lot of the people who were named, were named by, or the names that we’ve received, came from European explorers. A lot of them were wrong or mislabeled. Many of the things that happened with the treatment of Indigenous Americans were some of the worst things in the history of the world in terms of the way people were treated, and treated by so-called scientists, who would be digging up their graves, or extracting artifacts, or trying to figure out from their bones–taking things without permission. This goes into the present, where people have been trying to get Indigenous people’s DNA to extract it and to figure out various things, both to try and claim that people are not Native American or some people trying to claim that they are, and that they are entitled to things.

This relates to a general issue both in DNA research and in anthropology: when you were working with people, try to study *with* them not just do the study of them. In Jennifer Raff’s book _A Genetic History of the Americas_, Raff is one of the few people who took this stuff seriously, and as a result was able to do better science, because she was attentive to some of these issues about naming and origins. Science is not the only answer that people have about how they got to the place they are. We should be respectful of that because there’s been a lot of suspicions about DNA research, and the extractive material that people have tried to get from these groups. I like Raff’s work because in comparison to others, she has been attentive to those issues.

So, dispersal of first people into the Americas, what do we find out that we never knew about before?

. . .

We have people up in Siberia. Then, camping out for a decent amount of time in Beringia. There are still parts of Beringia that exist as a land area, but it had a very different climate and was probably larger than what remains today. The genetic evidence is supporting something that was hypothesized, which is how did people get basically from here pretty quickly all the way down throughout South America? How did that happen? A land route, or an ice bridge?

Basically, the coastal route, the idea that people came down the coast because you could travel faster, seems to be getting more support from the genetic evidence. They could have then come across this side of the coast as well at the Isthmus of Panama. A lot of the archaeological evidence for these routes has basically been submerged and destroyed. It’s still in some ways a non-falsifiable hypothesis, in the sense that there’s not a ton of archaeological evidence for it, but it seems to best fit the dispersal route for what’s going on.

I think it’s important to understand also what is not true, or what is not true that has been speculated. People did not get here from outer space. There was nobody visiting to give people pyramids or something like that. No aliens. They weren’t Europeans, not coming here from Europe. They weren’t Egyptians, and they were not the Lost Tribes of Israel. These things may seem fantastical, especially the aliens, but honestly all of these things have been asserted.

Siberia to Beringia and through coastal routes. The other thing that seems to be true is that this happened before what is called the “Clovis-First” hypothesis, which is named for a site in Clovis, New Mexico, where they’ve found the Clovis hunting artifacts. It was thought that they were big game hunters chasing mammals over the ice and following the mammals down and shooting the mammals with their bows and arrows. It seems like the Clovis hunting techniques were developed in the Americas, by people who were already here. There was the idea that Clovis hunting techniques enabled people to come into the Americas, but people seem to have come before that.

It seems that the coastal routes are at least as important, if not more important, than the land routes. Coming down the coast and then spreading, in this case eastward via land. I don’t think we should necessarily rule out different land routes, as obviously land is very important and people probably migrated that way too, but the evidence seems to be shifting more toward the coastal routes. . . . It seems like we’re getting more evidence for a primarily coastal dispersal. Then, of course, moving over land.

Both continents of the Americas are well populated by 14-15,000 years ago, which is incredible!

Now this matches up well with what Muckle, González, and Camp tell us about North America, with one exception, which is their map. In the last class I told you that I was so happy that they included my suggestion of not following the ancient gender binary, but in this case, they ignored my suggestion and put on here Routes A, B, and C. The Coastal Migration Route, which we just learned about; the Ice-Free Corridor Route, which is also possible and probable, but then they put on the map, the “North Atlantic Route.” If you read in the book, in their own words, this North Atlantic route is called the Solutrean hypothesis. They say, “although this hypothesis remains popular and is supported by some archaeologists, most believe there is not enough evidence to support it” (140). I would say that this is like 99% believe there’s no evidence to support that some people were coming in from Western Europe, across the ice, in the North Atlantic.

I don’t like it. And I don’t like it being on the map, especially if, as it says, “most.” I wanted them to take that out. If you have your book, just X that out. I also don’t like it because: who likes this idea? Why is this idea popular?

It gets support in all the wrong circles. It’s popular amongst all the people I don’t like. They’re like “oh yes well, look at these stone tools they had, they’re just like the ones here.” Well, there’s only so many ways to make a spearpoint, as it turns out. You can find the same-looking spears and stone tools in Africa and other places. Anyway, don’t go with that one.

The evidence, and here they do say there’s cultural, linguistic, technology, biological, and DNA evidence, “of initial entry via Beringia is much stronger” (140). Darn right. “This evidence includes cultural similarities to people of northeast Asia, as reflected in technology, and biological similarities, including DNA” (140). Of course, we never want to completely rule out ideas, and sure maybe somebody made it across and somehow something, but for the most part we can be confident about the scenario for the populating of the Americas.

We are starting this chapter, about what happened from 20,000 to 5000 years ago. Obviously, it’s a big thing that Homo sapiens go out all over the world, but as Muckle, González, and Camp put it, there are some pretty large processes that continue, such as these human expansions and the expansion into the Americas. That was already happening with the Homo sapien expansion, but there are some other things that began during this period, such as the domestication of plants and animals, and new forms of human settlement around the world.

What we have here at about 15,000 years ago, we have all these populations that are dependent upon gathering and upon hunting and mixes of those, across the world. Some people have gotten excited about this, and think that there’s one diet which we all should be on, which is the Paleo Diet, the ancient diet. But as much as we should be looking at our food and thinking about how we can avoid eating super-processed foods, that doesn’t mean that there was one diet or some natural diet for human beings: that everybody ate the same thing, and that you can look it up in a cookbook. It’s not even a cookbook because most of the Paleo people just want you to pull something out of the ground or eat something off a tree and don’t even cook it. The thing is that cooking and harvesting wild grains, and even making bread, which Paleos don’t like at all, predates agriculture. You don’t need to be growing those wild grains in order to cook them, process them, and make them into bread. That happened before they were cultivating grains. I don’t want to be too down on the Paleos. If it helps us to get away from some of the super-processed sugary industrial foods, then fine, but don’t think there’s one natural human diet that existed. There are all kinds of diets, and cooking has long been a part of human life.

There were lots of different ways of hunting and gathering, lots of different ways of interacting with the environment.

What we’ll be looking at in the next class is how people began to experiment with and open new pathways of interaction with plants and animals, which led in certain areas to a dependence on those plants and animals. People started to rely on certain plants and animals, which helped bring about some important social transformations of how many people were able to live in a certain area, and how they were able to organize themselves and group themselves together.

. . .