Re: human origins

Wed, 9 Feb 1994 17:12:53 -0700

I am glad to finally see something on this board about modern human
origins. This is an issue that is so complicated that hundreds of people
in dozens of countries for a century cannot even agree on the relevant
questions, let alone the answer. A good "snapshot" of the two major positions,
continuity and replacement, can be found in American Anthropologist Vol. 95(1)
1993 (this issue has several articles on this subject). A major reason
that people are so divided on this issue (besides it being an emotional one)
is that people are viewing the fossils and archaeology from different
research traditions/paradigms. Geoffrey Clark's 1991 book "Perspectives
on the Past" is a good example of this for Pleistocene hunter-gatherer

Christy Turner believes that we shouldn't look at early fossil human forms and
work our way forward in time, but rather we should look at the variability
in mdern traits (in his case dental traits) and work our way backward.
Using his system of scoring dental traits, he sees nine populations with
clusters of gene frequencies (or "races"), six of which are derived from
the Asian continent. In large part because of this, he argues that modern
populations originated from an Asian-like ancestor rather than an African
one, because (in a nutshell) it is easier to get three non-Asian races
from an Asian one than to get six different Asian races from a non-Asian
one. Whether you agree with his argument depends on whether you agree
with his initial methodology.

Turner says that he finds a distinctly different dental trait pattern
in Neandertals that is not shared with modern populations; he also finds
early modern human populations in Europe to share some dental traits
with early modern populations in Asia and with modern Asians.
He is now working on DNA evidence that he hopes will support his
conclusions based on the dental data.

Turner's Out of Asia theory is currently the minority viewpoint, most of
the researchers holding either an Out of Africa/replacement, a Multiregional
Evolution/continuity, or an amorphous "middle ground" position. Hope
this has helped a bit.

Cathy Willermet
Department of Anthropology
Arizona State University
(602) 965-6213