Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bellwood: Melanesian Type Peoples In SE Asia As Of 2000 BCE

Razib Khan notes a key observation of Peter Bellwood's new book "First Migrants" in which Bellwood notes based upon unpublished materials that ancient DNA and human remains from a Northern Vietnamese frontier of the rice farming phase of the East Asian Neolithic around 4,000 years ago (i.e. 2000 BCE) show the presence of a minority population with “Austro-Melanesian” physical attributes and genetics.

Modern Southeast Asian Negritos are not a good fit for this profile. This hints at an entire layer of SE Asian population history that would otherwise have been completely missed. I'm not aware of any prior study observing these kinds of populations outside Australia, Papua New Guinea and islands connected to them by Austronesian sea faring.


Razib Khan said...

probably have deep relationships to these 'negrito' types, who are a derived specialized branch which emerges in particular marginalized forest locales....

andrew said...

Your point about the negrito phenotype being one that convergent evolutionary pressure produces in different places without a genetic connection is a good one and well taken.

Knowing only what I do, I could imagine two very different plausible scenarios that could put phenotypically Austro-Melanesians in N. Vietnam ca. 2000 BCE.

One scenario is that this is a relict population of early wave SE Asians who arrived there ca. 60kya to 40kya. As I read it, your comment would tend to argue for that theory.

The other scenario is that Austonesians facilitated a migration of Melanesian or Melanesian admixed people either from the Philippines or Melanesia proper, to N. Vietnam during their expansion sometime in the time frame ca. 3900 BCE to 2500 BCE.

Austronesian linguistic populations continue to exist on the Southeast coast of Vietnam and it is very plausible that the area of Austronesian control in Vietnam was greater prior to the arrival of rice farmers who reached a N. Vietnamese frontier ca. 2000 BCE.

In the second scenario, the Austro-Melanesian peoples encountered ca. 2000 BCE who are described in First Migrants were not relict populations of Vietnam who had resided their continuously since the Paleolithic, but relatively recent arrivals who themselves who settled in the region just 1900 to 500 years earlier (or less if the original settlers lived on the coasts and these populations subsequently moved inland overland).

Now, it still isn't impossible that some or all SE Asian Negrito types are derived from Austro-Melanesian migrants who arrived ca. 3900 BCE to 2500 BCE in SE Asia who were mistakenly believed by subsequent waves of settlers from rice farmers all of the way to European colonists and anthropologists to be indigenous relic populations from a much earlier date. But, I would think that the geographic expanse of Asian negrito populations and the phenotypic distinctions between negritos and Melanesians would make this unlikely.

Of course, to the extent that the people in First Migrants either directly as indigenous SE Asian Paleolithic era relic peoples, or indirectly as island SE Asia Paleolithic era relic peoples, may have roots in the same early wave of modern human migration to "Southern route Asia", and this is the nature of the "deep" relationship, I agree that you are very likely correct.