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Seriously, what the hell did I just watch?

I thought it was from the BBC, but that can't be right, because the BBC produces much higher quality television than most U.S. stations, and what I just saw was 50 solid minutes of Crazy Talk.

It was the first episode of a series called Ancient Voices, titled "Tracking the First Americans". For those of you not in the know, let me preface this with a quick rundown of the generally accepted (pre)history of the Americas. It's pretty well established that of the peoples known to have populated the Americas in very-pre-Columbian times, there were three separate migrations from Asia whose descendants eventually became the native inhabitants of the landmass at the time of the first European explorers who set foot hereabouts. Research-wise, these three migrations were defined not with archaeological materials (since in comparison to the Old World, there is precious little of that left here), but by backtracking from the genetic and cultural makeup of modern indigenous populations throughout the Americas--specifically blood type, dentition patterns, and language group (genetic studies are beginning to be introduced, but as it's such a massive project and the technology hasn't been available all that long, this means of support is fairly new on the scene relative to the other three). It's thought that somewhere between 10 and 16k years ago, these ancestral people skipped across the Beringian land bridge and down into the Americas proper utilizing the pathway relatively clear of ice in the rainshadow of the Rockies. Or maybe they took a coastal route in small boats, hunting and fishing their way down Canada and into Central and South America, but there's no way to know that one for sure since the coast of 10k years ago has been deep underwater since the end of the last ice age, and any artifacts they may have left are long gone. Anyhoo, all three of these migrations were of what might be called the Mongoloid racial type, or more properly were all sinodonts, since the characteristics of the Mongoloid type were still in their incipient stage, but sinodonty (a dentition pattern characterized by the presence of shovel-shaped incisors*, which evolved in Central and primarily East Asia) was a trait held in common among all members of the pre-Mongoloid race then, and the Mongoloid race today. Over the years, however, some evidence has surfaced that indicates there may have been a fourth (or more!) even earlier migration of peoples into the Americas. Until relatively recently the Clovis culture was thought to be the earliest human culture present in the Americas because the distinctive Clovis stone points (projectile/spear tips) associated with it are extremely widespread which would logically indicate that the people of Clovis spread rapidly to cover the previously uninhabited land once the ice of the last ice age retreated. However, to the chagrin of some still very vociferous proponents of Clovis-first theory, sites like Monte Verde in Chile indicate the presence of human settlement in the Americas as much as a thousand years before the advent of Clovis, and a few unexpected specimens, like Kennewick Man**, indicate the presence of a potentially entirely different lineage of people in the Americas from the three that are known. So to finish this very long preface, the existence of pre-Native American-Americans is a widely known and increasingly accepted (if still contentious) theory in academia.

So now to the Crazy Talk. According to Ancient Voices, there were people living in South America before the influx of ancestral Natives. They hold up the evidence that there are some cave dwellings in Brazil with very ancient cave paintings that predate Brazil's Indians. They don't say how they dated the cave dwellings or how long ago they believe the Indians arrived, but ok, I'm willing to roll with their premise. They skip to the lab of some archaeologists who have unearthed some human skulls in a strata of earth that they believe are too early to belong to the known Natives. But this is where shit starts to get weird--they use some calipers to measure the skulls, hem and haw about how the measurements don't match up to what they'd expect for Indians, and do a facial reconstruction on a cast of the skull. Lo and behold, the skulls belong to black people! Nevermind the fact that no method has been discovered to reliably predict race based on skeletal measurements alone, or that facial reconstructions are notoriously subjective and only used in forensic labs as last resorts and in archaeological labs for shits and giggles, or that the sculptor has obviously extremely exaggerated the features that are the hallmarks of African faces...these people were black!

The producers then spend most of the rest of the episode spinning this absolutely unbelievable tale of how not only were these people black, but they were Aborigines from Australia, and they got to the Americas by accident--hopping on a fishing boat (sidetracking just long enough to show an Aboriginal painting of what looks like a canoe, and one or two modern Aborigines affirm that they like to fish) and getting blown out to sea in a storm, somehow managing to cross the entire Pacific Ocean in the process and reach the shores of South America with enough people still alive after god knows how long with no fresh water to create a stable breeding population, and magically avoiding getting snagged on any of those pesky Polynesian islands that dot the Pacific all over.

Ah, but it doesn't end there! These Aboriginal-Americans are then supposed to have lived an idyllic, utopian life, free of conflict or struggle, striding around naked in the "tropical" Americas of the ice age. But they realize they have to explain why the European conquerors had to import their own black people from Africa rather than just exploiting the pretend masses of black people already existing in the Americas when they got there. Simple! The Aboriginal-Americans lived in perfect peace and harmony until the evil Mongolian hordes (well, they said "Mongoloid", but in context, they meant pretty much the same thing) swept in through Beringia and down throughout the entire land mass, committing the most comprehensive genocide EVAR, completely cleansing the Americas of their black inhabitants and conveniently destroying all remnant of their civilization and most of their identifiably non-Indian remains--complete with gratuitously violent CGI naked people beating on each other in the forest! ...but wait! There's more! Since it was just too durn illogical to imagine that every single individual was slaughtered, they even posit a theory that a tiny band of Aboriginal-Americans fled to Tierra del Fuego at the very, very bottom of South America where they hid and eventually interbred with some of the Argentinian Indian population so they stopped looking black, and started looking Mongoloid. Through the power of calipers and a few skulls from Tierra del Fuego natives that died mid-20th century, they prove(!!!) once and for all(!!!!!) that a pair of elderly women from Tierra del Fuego have common ancestry with the Australian Aborigines, and everyone lives happily ever after. Except for my brain, which probably exploded.

I can't help but think this is some kind of revisionist fantasy designed to help absolve white folk of the burden of fucking up race relations in the Americas from the moment they stepped foot on the continent(s). Killing tens of millions of Indians? Pshaw, that's nothing. Haven't you heard of the Mongoloid-on-Aborigine genocide of 8k BC? White folk are racist against black folk? No way! Whites aren't so bad--what about the wholesale slaughter of black folk by the evil Mongoloid hordes with their Clovis points and mean-looking slanty eyes! Ok, well actually maybe that's just me after reading too much race wank on sf_drama, but there's got to be some kind of weird politics backing this up, because there sure as hell isn't any actual (pre)history behind it. Or who knows? Maybe it's drugs. In any case, I'm not in too much of a hurry to watch the rest of the series (10 more eps to go!). If this is how badly they savage American prehistory, I can only imagine how headdesky it will be to watch their treatment of the Nubian pyramids, or "The Search for El Dorado".

*Incisors with a similar cross-section to a shovel blade--flat and smooth in front, with a concave back reinforced by a buttress-like ridge on each side. Those of you without sinodonty in your ancestry should be able to feel with your tongue that your incisors are slick and smooth across the inside surface, whereas those of you with sinodonty should feel your incisors are more bumpity-bumpity (that is the technical term).

**Kennewick Man refers to the remains of a man found near the Columbia river in what is now Kennwick, WA. Study of his remains have so far revealed that though he was not a European of any kind, his resemblance to known groups of indigenous Americans was tenuous at best. Facial reconstructions on his skull make him look strikingly like Patrick Stewart (yes, really). It's likely that he was descended from a small population of sundadonts (sundadonty being the dentition pattern that was an evolutionary precursor to sinodonty, which developed and still exists in South Asia, aka the Indian Subcontinent), whose ancestors may have migrated into the Americas before the solidification of the traits that comprise sinodonty, and subsequently competed, lived alongside, and were eventually genetically enveloped by the later waves of migration. Kennewick Man may represent a resurgence of some recessive traits leftover from the Americas' sundadonty days, or may represent an individual of a heretofore unknown isolated remnant population of sundadonts.


( 7 besos — bésame )
Jun. 10th, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)

That shit is bananas. I just don't even know, man.

(The genetic stuff's really taking off fast, though. The labs here are doing some of it- one of our professors is really into haplotype stuff. I have a good review article about it around here somewhere, if you're interested.

PS: Did you decide what you were doing this summer? Cause I never heard, if you said. And if you are not at Comic-Con, I will be so sad.)
Jun. 10th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
I will definitely be at Comic-Con. The rest of it kind of didn't pan out, but I'm not too sad. That just means I might get the chance to go to field school in Egypt or somewhere where they do their digging not in the summer since it's so damn hot otherwise.

commodoremarie said the rooming stuff is starting to firm up, so if all plans are go, I will be rooming with you too. Whee! Then we can have more lulzy comic book group readings.
Jun. 10th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
OMG YEY! Emmanuel Labor will be so pleased.
Jun. 11th, 2009 12:47 am (UTC)
I want in on lulzy comic book group readings! *raises hand*
Jun. 11th, 2009 01:30 am (UTC)
Well, it won't be me voting you off the island, so I guess you'll have to join. ;)
Jun. 10th, 2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I fully admit to being a little behind the times on what's cooking in the study of prehistoric America, what with not actually taking classes right now and all. I know they're using genetic stuff and doing it as fast as they can, but for the issue of who first populated the Americas and when, it seems like there's got to be so much ground/population to cover there's bound to be significant lag time. Though if you've got any good publications on that scene you'd like to direct me to, I'd be more than happy. :D
Jun. 11th, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
This is the article I was thinking of- it's a little older, but it's a great review. All the fresher stuff I have is Central/South American focused (though there's one in there about the Iberian peninsula that I didn't actual read), but here it is if you wanna have a look.
( 7 besos — bésame )