Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Gerold Firl (
24 Sep 1996 20:35:22 GMT

In article <51u9je$>, (Daniel Maltz) writes:
|> Gerold Firl ( wrote:

|> : |> Salient citations?

|> : Elman Service, _profiles in ethnology_.

|> Does anyone else notice a pattern here? Whenever asked to cite some
|> evidence for just about anything, Gerold Firl cites _Profiles in
|> Ethnology_ by Elman Service. It doesn't seem to matter much to him that
|> this is an introductory textbook and not a very recent one at that. It's
|> apparently the only anthropology source he's ever read.

Well, lets say athat it's one of the few that I've ever read; does
that invalidate it? Actually, _profiles..._ isn't literally a
textbook; it is a survey of something like 30 different cultures, at
different levels of organization, drawing from various sources.
Perhaps the reason you noted the repitition is because the first time
I brought up the hypothesis of arunta adaptations to low population
density you jumped-in with similar "objections"; no actual discussion
of the ideas, just random sniping.

I should also note that the picture of arunta society presented by
service described the situation as it existed in the late 1800's,
before extensive disruption of the aboriginal lifeways.

I've been away from work for a few days, and unfortunately my
newsreader has dropped some articles I wanted to respond to. Julia
Smith had raised some interesting points, which I had hoped to
discuss, but in the absence of the article, I'll have to wing it.

There were a couple of points about the difficulty of falsifying my
predictions about arunta sexual behavior; given my lack of familiarity
with the availible contact-era sources and with the current state of
arunta culture, I can't really comment on that. however, I would like
to address the question of how and why low population densities lead
to social strategies for increasing rates of gene flow, since I get
the feeling that not everyone understands the importance of genetic

All chromosomes (except the xy sex chromosomes) come in pairs, with
each parent contributing half of the pair. If, at a particular
position on a particular pair of chromosomes, you inherit the same
gene from each parent, you are said to be *homozygous*; if you have
two different genes, then you are *heterozygous*. Homozygous organisms
"breed true" for those characteristics; valuable for domesticated
species, but dangerous for wild populations. Wild populations with
high degrees of homozygosity (such as cheetahs) are vulnurable to
disease and other environmental stresses, since any condition which is
dangerous for one individual could also be lethal to a large
percentage of all. Hence the value of genetic variability; organisms
can hedge their bets. One child may prove ill-adapted to future
conditions, but perhaps another will thrive. The sickle-cell
adaptation to malaria is a good example to keep in mind. (Could the
killing of twins, or at least one twin, be related? Seems like a
stretch, but an interesting possibility...)

Population density determines how far a person must travel to find a
suitible mate, and the arunta custom of widespread sexual activity at
ritual gatherings is consistant with such a constraint. I don't recall
if service mentioned anything concerning the walkabout among the
arunta, but again, such a custom would be consistant with a cultural
adaptation for increased gene flow rates: hence my prediction that
they get laid a lot.

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