Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Origins That Last

For fifty years, I have walked a rather wide vocational path incorporating history, geography and anthropology and their expressions on the physical landscape. I find the study of human origins, dispersals, and the waves of settlement over time and across the planet simply fascinating. When there's a new bump in what has become the expected order brought on by political correctness, I have always enjoyed watching the jostling for position and reassurance. One of the latest and best examples was the discovery of the 9300 year old Kennewick Man on a bank of the Columbia River in the state of Washington in 1996. Official Native Americans claimed him under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, but their was a problem. Kennewick Man looked very Caucasian. It took nearly eight years to get a federal court ruling keeping the remains out of the hands of the official local tribe and the obscurity that would have followed. When the law says you're "first," there's no place for an interloper with DNA that could ruin your status. After more months of negotiation, a DNA test determined that the remains were most closely identified with the Ainu people of Japan. The results have reopened the debate on the origins of early Americans.

Today, the United Kingdom's Independent reports on a even deeper discovery in the world of paleontology. Could it be that Africa was not the only "cradle of humankind?" The cache of fossilized hominin remains uncovered near Tblisi, Georgia suggests these people lived about 800,000 years before the supposed first migrations out of Africa that occurred about 1 million years ago. If confirmed, such a finding would rewrite the paleontology of the 20th century and the history of man. Read about it here.

I find it interesting that Kennewick Man and the Tblisi remains speak to us as much about the futilty of superlatives as they do about history. When it takes an Act of Congress to make you first, the probability is high that it will not last. Best keep an open mind.