Re: A Demand for the Kennewick Man's Remains

Gerold Firl (
22 Nov 1996 21:06:24 GMT

In article <>, writes:

|> Which begs the question, "what is race"? It is a folk concept -- it
|> certainly has no scientific currency, especially in anthropology.

What do you make of the fact that the concept of race (in the sense of
subspecies) is a vital concept in evolutionary biology, and yet it has
no "scientific" currency in anthro? Maybe cultural anthropologists
simply have more mana than biologists, so when they declare that the
geographic variation of human physical types is not "racial" (i.e.,
due to genetic variation caused by breeding isolation and consequent
adaptation and drift) then any further discussion is taboo. Any other
animal which displayed the geographic variation seen in humankind
would be classified as having different races; the extreme
ethnocentrism of anthropologists who declare a priviliged position for
man is delightfully ironic.

|> indices by which the "race" of skeletons is determined are statistical
|> indices. They do not give a probability that a skeleton is one "race" or
|> another -- they give the frequency of occurrence of skeletal traits. It

Well; the frequency of occurance of skeletal traits can be used to
infer the probabilities concerning population origin for particular
remains. If that's the only information you have, then that's the best
you can do.

|> Assigning "race" is therefore
|> an educated guess, as much art as science.

|> But you never really assign "race". Race presumes a particular
|> historical circumstance (genetic relationship to a particular
|> population). The statistical indices don't address questions of history,
|> they address questions of associations between traits.

Not necessarily. Suppose you had skeletal remains from the rwandan
highlands, ca. 500 ad. This area has been an overlapping range for
both rainforest pygmies and nilo-sudanese invaders since the
introduction of iron working and domesticated cattle; a very
unsophisticated forensic analysis will be sufficient to determine
racial affiliation, unless the individual was a hybrid. You can argue
that the racial distinction between a pygmy and a watutsi is trivially
insignificant, of absolutely no import except as a means for imposing
socio-economic/caste distinctions, but such a claim ignores the very
real, long-term ecological adaptations of these two populations.

Recent history should be sufficient to show that while our world might
be a better place if such distinctions really were insignificant,
wishing does not make it so.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf