LINEs, SINEs, and Sundaland

Maybe ten years ago,  Henry was analyzing some retrotransposons, sequences that randomly make and insert more copies of themselves. These mutations are statistically simpler in some ways that nucleotide substitutions:  insertions are unique.

Henry had gotten some sign reversed while I was distracting him, so for a moment it looked as if modern humans had originated in Southeast Asia, instead of  Africa or nearby.  So the new task  was to come up with a scenario that might explain that.  I was in a silly mood, which helped: took me about a minute to suggest that some of  the Indonesian islands and their neighbors went back and forth between between being accessible during deep glacial maxima ( low sea levels, Indonesian archipelago turns into Sundaland)  and separated most of the rest of the time:  allowing  for occasional colonization by archaic sapiens, isolation and local adaptation, maybe even speciation.

Since then we’ve found signs of Denisovan admixture in people in Melanesians ( PNG, Australia, the Solomons), hobbits on Flores, other little guys in the Philippines, and old tools in Sulawesi.  Very likely we’re going to find Sulawesi man.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see five or more separate archaic pops in those islands. Maybe derived erectus, maybe something earlier, maybe highly differentiated Denisovans, maybe all of the above and a few dark elves. I still don’t think they made to Australia, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

While it looks as if Neanderthals made it to Crete.

Since there were land bridges to Japan in  glacial maxima, you’d have to to suspect that they had their own local archaic populations as well.  To a decent approximation, if elephants could colonize a place, so could archaic humans.



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15 Responses to LINEs, SINEs, and Sundaland

  1. dearieme says:

    But elephants could walk across the sea-bed, breathing through their trunks!

  2. dearieme says:

    Stray thought about more recent times: you might argue that it’s odd that no Roman or Carthaginian ships were carried across the Atlantic by currents or storms, leaving some slight genetic trace somewhere. Is the doctrine of trying to avoid taking women on voyages old enough to explain why Columbus wasn’t greeted by natives speaking Latin or Semitic dialects? Or would any survivors have been eaten by the Caribs?

    • random observer says:

      But would there have been anywhere near enough of them at any one time and in the same place to preserve a Latin or Punic culture and identity, even presuming they succeeded in reproducing a workable, separate community? For more than one generation? Or would they have either just died or been quickly assimilated into the local Amerindian norm. Possibly many times and leave no cultural trace. It would be small numbers at best, and preserving the Old World ways over 2000 years to greet Columbus would not be the most likely outcome of that.

      It would take until modern science to be able to find their traces, if it were looking.

      • dearieme says:

        If you bring metal weapons and tools, and old world diseases, you stand a chance.

        • random observer says:

          Fair enough. And possible if the settlement starts off sufficiently numerous and is somewhere central and the locals are numerous with good trade ties to the interior.

          I mainly think of the tiny Norse presence in Newfoundland, whose metal weapons proved not to be a decisive superiority and who, if they did transmit disease, were in too isolated a location to start a continent wide dying off.

          It’s that plague factor that strikes me as key. If the aboriginal population doesn’t disappear hard and fast, and the settlers multiply fast, and barring further arrivals, assimilation seems more likely than a distinct Old World culture thriving for 2000 years.

          Of course, if assimilation happens, one would think some elements of the culture would spread, like the metal working. I know nothing of the requirements of the terrain- if you know how to find, mine, smelt, and work tin/copper or iron, and are at a Roman or Punic level of culture, does eastern North America have what you need in places that you would be able to get at it with period technology?

  3. Dr J Thompson says:

    So, when the water freezes and sea levels go down, humans and elephants go walkabout. Once the glaciers melt and sea levels rise they find themselves on islands, shrink, and die out. Unless the human cling to a log, and find Australia. A productive morning with Henry.

  4. We don’t know how many tries they had at each island.

  5. Smithie says:

    Does this give any insight into their group size? What is the minimum settler population? One pregnant, archaic hominin on a log?

  6. swampr says:

    Hard to wrap my head around a breeding population crossing ten miles or more without a boat. You can’t just grab a log and flutter kick. Try it. You’ll get nowhere. But crazy stuff can happen if you hang out on the beach for a few hundred millennia.

    “As dead bodies and debris surged around him, he held on to some bits of driftwood and bound them together with twine from floating bark to form a small but sturdy raft. For the next nine days, he drifted alone in the Indian Ocean, escaping two shark attacks, in an incredible feat of survival that became known as the ‘tsunami miracle’.”

  7. swampr says:

    Here’s the Corps of Engineers’ map of what the first Filipinos were up against. The 100m depth contour is roughly where the shoreline wild have been. East and West sides of this strait were linked to Luzon and Borneo.

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