Web Gems, October 30, 2013

In my category “Web Gems” there are two items this week.

Dienekes writes,

“I don’t know of any anthropologically plausible African cousin of the Neandertals, but, of course, the lack of anthropological evidence does not mean non-existence (cf. Denisovans as an anthropologically invisible Neandertal relative in Eurasia).”

I’m glad to see Dienekes learning from my blog. Denisovans are indeed a prime example how one shouldn’t assume that the archaeological, fossil and paleobiological record is complete and is a firm foundation to base theories of human origins and migrations on. We need to be able to think of “fossils” not as a “record” of evolution ready to be consumed but also as a parchment into which a theory of evolution has to be laboriously inscribed. Only an intelligent combination of cross-disciplinary findings and interpretations as well as skepticism towards more Victorian approaches to the human past will define human origins thinking in the 21st century.

Rokus of Rokus Blog writes,

“…Stylistically the Mal’ta – Buret’ venuses in Siberia (http://donsmaps.com/malta.html) aren’t that far removed from the European fat-ass figurines found from Hohle Fels up to Willendorf. Except for the hair and breasts, that in Siberia appear heavily influenced by the unique effects of EDAR370A! If so, this would support the (paleo) Amerindian identity of the gene rather than being truly East Asian.”

This was written in the same comments string in which Terry Toohill and I are discussing the Amerindian vs. East Asian origin of EDAR370A apropos Kamberov et al. 2013. “Modeling Recent Human Evolution in Mice by Expression of a Selected EDAR Variant,” Cell 152, 691-702. It’s also noteworthy that waterfowl-in-flight figurines found at Mal’ta are interpreted by population folklorists such as Vladimir Napolskikh’s (Древнейшие этапы происхождения народов уральской языковой семьи: данные  мифологической реконструкции (прауральский космогонический миф)/The Initial Stages of Evolution of Uralic-Speakers: Evidence from a Mythological Reconstruction (Proto-Uralic Cosmogonic Myth). Moscow, 1991) as an indication that Mal’ta people knew the Earth-Diver myth currently distributed in Eastern Europe, Siberia, North America and northeastern India but barely found outside of those areas. Fo those who know Russian, there is a video of a talk by Napol’skikh in which he mentions (roughly from 11:40 on) the “cult of a waterfowl” at Mal’ta, the similarity of the Mal’ta waterfowl figurines to the waterfowl figurines used by modern Siberian shamans (who often liken themselves to the mythological waterfowl) in the context of the Earth-Diver myth and its distribution in Eurasia.

While often subjective and controversial, this kind of cross-disciplinary correspondences may provide a unique opportunity to reinforce what otherwise are isolated findings.