Monday, October 22, 2012

Skull-Blogging: Craniometric analysis edition

When the Com-Post (Wellington's newspaper of note) picked up on late-breaking news about a comparison in 1999 between contentious American skeletal remains and other skeletons from around the world, it was inevitable that they would focus on the local connection:

For many years it was convenient to believe that the Moriori tribe was the last vestige of a pre-Maori race that had once occupied all of NZ. This way their active assimilation by the Maori could be fitted into a progressive account of waves of superior colonists supplanting their inferior predecessors -- a process culminating in the Chinese occupation of 2022 European settlement. It is a cool story bro, that has succumbed to fact-based political soundness (also European-NZers no longer feel the need for a salve for their conscience).

The story taught today -- as any fule kno -- is that the Moriori were a group of Polynesians who completed the Maori settlement of New Zealand by sailing from the mainland about 700 km. over to the Chatham Islands. Alas, the Chathams are lacking in large trees for constructing canoes for the return voyage; they also lack for a balmy climate, and in resources other than seafood (and fine columnar-basalt rock-forms for people who appreciate art and geomorphology).

The Moriori found that the only way to survive was through cooperation and renunciation of violence. Things did not end well in 1835 when several hundred Maori, inspired by the success of the English colonial project, hijacked or chartered a European schooner (stories differ) for a cruise to the Chathams, for enslavement-related activites. Suffice to say that Moriori skeletal remains are now so plentiful, and so lacking in descendents to defend them from grave-robbers, that Howells was able to obtain 108 skulls for his database of craniofacial measurements... compared to 10 North-Island and 10 South-Island Maori skulls.

Oddly enough, the part of the Com-Post's feature where Douglas Owsley describes the modern-day Ainu as the ancestors of the Moriori turns out not be a journalistic invention. Evidently he is not the only anthropologist to hold this strange belief (based on comparing those craniofacial measurements). The underlying assumption is that today's Polynesians -- who endured a series of genetic bottlenecks and some serious evolutionary pressure in the course of radiating out across the Pacific Islands -- are representative of the proto-Austronesians who left Taiwan some 5200 years ago. More representative than people from earlier stages of that radiation, like Formosans or Malayans or Micronesians, who don't resemble Ainu. Obviously it would be nice if there were any discernible resemblance between the Ainu language and anything in the Austronesian language group.

One of the lesser-known rules of the Interlattice is that anyone linking the Ainu and the Moriori will turn out to be an Alt-Archeology loon, an ACT Party stalwart, or a white supremacist.

But I repeat myself.


Hamish Mack said...

Obviously we need to close the circle and examine ACT party member's skulls.
They will be fragile, of course, but with careful removal we can isolate them in blocks of perspex for repeated studies.

M. Bouffant said...

I'm obliged to remind or inform all that Kennewick is but one third of Washington's fabulous Tri-Cities, to wit, Pasco-Kennewick-Richland. A swell airport in which to change planes.

I have not, however, made any effort to determine if the distances between the Tri-Cities are of Celtic proportion.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Sheesh, it's clear that Kennewick Man is a time-travelling Patrick Stewart. As for the Moriori, I tend to agree with Prof. Cezar Golescu, who has determined (numerologically) that they were the last Survivors of the sinking of Mu.

M. Bouffant said...

the Chinese occupation of 2022
Isn't the Goonhogo getting ahead of itself?

Smut Clyde said...

BBBB's comment was stolen in advance by a time-travelling Fortean.

Meanwhile, the Cordwainer Smith references have fallen into M. Bouffant's hands. Don't cross the streams!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The sinking of Mu.

Smut Clyde said...

Teh problem seems to be that the Kennewick bones are pre-fossils, thoroughly mineralised from their time soaking in ground-water -- which is why they are preserved, but it means that there is no DNA. Hence the researchers' focus on measuring the skull and looking for the nearest match in Howells' database -- real old-school physical anthropology.

And it doesn't work. According to the skull measurements, the Maori and Moriori folk are not related to indigenous folks from Micronesia, Philippines or Formosa (all represented in Howells' collection) -- they look quite different -- except we know from DNA and from language comparisons that they are closely related (the Formosan tribes are just the ones who stayed home).

So what the people examining the Kennewick bones are doing is junk science. In their defense, it's the only kind of science they're in a position to conduct. Their conclusion that the Ainu are ancestral to Polynesians is just the icing on the Fail-cake.

Substance McGravitas said...

the sinking of Mu.

Oh what a cowtastrophe.

alison said...

Very nice! I has borrowed this one myself :-)