FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Australia’s Adam Complex

Race, ethnicity and origins are always up for political grabs.  No one really wants to know that they were preceded by someone else, that they were not the first ones there.  This is the Adam complex, and no culture is immune from it.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted by German geneticists suggests that there was a “substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Australia about 4,230 years ago” (Sci-News, Jan 15).

The authors recapitulate the familiar theme of an isolated civilization on a continent holding “some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the expansion of modern humans out of Africa”. They note that the genetic history of Australians has not been examined in detail, finding an “ancient association between Australia, New Guinea, and the Manwanwa (a Negrito group from the Philippines)” and “a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world.”

The study should not come as a surprise, though the reaction from Australia’s archaeological and broader scientific community will be of interest.  The discussion of Indian roots in the Australian connection is probably bound to be troubling for the cognoscenti. It has become something of a shibboleth – the “oldest” civilization and the fact that isolated human existence began on the curiously shaped Australian continent some 40,000 years ago (give or take 10 thousand here and there – who cares?).

Scientists can be a sclerotic lot, often more keen to abide by manifestoes and what their grant making bodies want than the raw pursuit of science.  When native title came into vogue as an important feature of Australia’s legal and political landscape, the rush was on to show the continuous association of various indigenous peoples with their lands.  Inconsistencies, or parallel accounts on such rock depictions as the Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) paintings were ignored.  What does not fit in the cosmos can be conveniently excised or simply ignored.

Most controversially for the stick in the mud community were suggestions by the greatest authority on the Bradshaws – Graham Walsh – who suggested that the sophisticated creations were the product of an Asiatic race before the last ice age.  In an interview for Australian Story (ABC, Oct 14, 2002), this aficionado of rock art re-iterated those claims that terrified the establishment.  “They’ve got to be in excess of 17,500 years, everything that’s on this panel – sort of 4 to 5 times the age of classic Egypt and the pyramids.”  That culture had to have been mobile, using boats, and moving populations.  Walsh has documented but a small section of the thousands of sites.

Other scientists, using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and 14C AMS techniques, have attempted to date the paintings.  One study suggested a span of 1500 to 4000 years.  Another came close to the Walsh figure of 17,000.

A clue on how this latest recent study on Holocene transfer between India and Australia might be treated can be gathered from the overwhelmingly negative response to Walsh.  Walsh was the Galileo of the room, attacked by the Australian Archaeological Association for refusing to comply with the political program. He was, as it were, out of sync with the big project of the 1990s – seeking to find continuous cultural associations with land since 1788.  The scientific had to square with the political.  On December 18, 1995, the Association issued a media statement claiming that Walsh’s interpretations were “based on and encourage racist stereotypes.”

In 1996, the ideology of the association did not waver.  The statement issued by the organisation then is worth considering, given that an observation is made merely to be ignored entirely.  First, a sober note: “To argue for human cultural and genetic continuity in the Kimberly region over a minimum of 40,000 years is to argue for a degree of conservatism without parallel anywhere else in the world and which is at odds with the current archaeological record.”

Then, the blade is unsheathed.  “Even so, there is no basis for ascribing Bradshaws, or any other prehistoric Australian rock art, to any other than the ancestors of Australian Aborigines.” True, there might have been involvement (genetic, cultural) “from adjacent areas of SE Asia”, but that counted for little in the categorisation of the peoples of the area as “Aboriginal”.

The response from various members of the indigenous community was also notable.  Many indigenous elders dismissed the Bradshaws as “rubbish” art, barely worth a mention.

Ian McNiven and Lynette Russell, along with Michael Barry, Peter White and Darrell Lewis, were similarly interested in perpetuating the police man version of history and science, one that must abide by the appropriate political strictures lest it re-enforce racial “stereotypes”.  Indigeneity is supreme, and hermetic.  These academics, after all, know what the policemen of science want.  Writing in 1997, McNiven and Russell claimed that, “Walsh, in refuelling a diffusionist debate, has resurrected a colonialist standpoint that has played into the hands of political conservatives and again placed Aboriginal people in the position of having to demonstrate authenticity and legitimacy.”

Walsh was an Indiana Jones keen to seek out the lost civilization when it was always there, governed by the indigenous populace. He was also – and the slur was never far away – funded at stages by the cash of pastoralists and media moguls.  The indigenous population of the Kimberley, in contrast, had no reason to prove anything.  Walsh, responding in 2000, decried this attitude as reminiscent of a “cultural Dark Ages” where logic and accuracy were excluded.  “Emotional biases cloaked in the guise of scientific rigour are rapidly controlling the potential for voicing of contrary opinions.”

The anti-scientific gibberish spouted at Walsh and the Bradshaw paintings is not bound to stop there.  Identity, framed in the political and cultural sense, is a dangerous and treasured thing.  It remains to be seen whether the latest claims about an Indian genetic connection might be dismissed by the Australian community, both scientific and indigenous, as a “rubbish” link contrary to hermetic indigeneity.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail