Thursday, 20 February 2014

European Exceptionalism

I saw this comment directed to me on West Hunter, a blog written by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending (famous for their book, The 10,000 Year Explosion).  The comment was left by Ricardo Duchesne, author of a book on the supposed uniquenes of Europe.  The idea is that Indo-European heritage is the main secret of European achievement and the main reason for 'European uniqueness', a dubious nineteenth century concept.  Have a look:
I guess West [me] has not inhabited academia much, or not realized that a major reason the topic of Indo-Europeans has tended to be approached as if it were about peaceful language teachers spreading out is that the idea of IE expansion substantiates the 19th century view that the Europeans were a uniquely expansive, energetic, vital people. At the root of the incomparable creativity of Europeans — 97% of all great scientists, 95% of all the great explorers, 100% of all the great classical composers, 95% of all the great philosophers, the list goes on and on — was the very aristocratic, heroic, individualistic culture initiated by the Indo-Europeans.
I really don't think any of this is true (except maybe that I haven't 'inhabited academia much'; I was never a fan of schmoozing up to professors).  I don't think Europeans are or were 'uniquely expansive, energetic, [or] vital'.  I don't think '100% of all the great classical composers' or '95% of all the great philosophers' were/are Europeans, either.  As for scientists and explorers, it depends on what you mean by each of those things, but in any case, the numbers there are far too high and overlook the rather more obvious causes of European success on the world stage.

So, this post is a scattershot refutation of the idea of European exceptionalism.


Let's look first at the culture of the speakers of proto-Indo-European (PIE) and whether it could be in any way responsible for the later achievements, if that's what they are, of European people.  We're talking about prehistory here: we probably won't find a band of enlightened peace-loving people who had highly developed science and music.

Patrilineal clans can be reconstructed to PIE, as can roving bands of young men attaching themselves to war leaders in order to enrich themselves with theft and fighting.  Debts and elaborate hospitality can also be reconstructed on the basis of comparative literature, as can the raising of large herds and attempting to acquire fame above all things.  Cattle-rustling is also a clearly evident Indo-European tradition, as was the telling of mythic narrative recounting the slaying of dragons and other mythical creatures.


Their view of the world was full of gods, sprites, and spirits, and it is evident that a great deal of superstition and awe surrounded animals, especially horses (as evidenced by taboos causing changes in vocabulary, the use of kennings, and so on).  It is probable that there was a reasonably strong hierarchical bent to PIE society, although this is difficult to accurately reconstruct, and believing that PIE hierarchy functioned like later Indian castes is almost certainly misguided.  Books and reading were not known to speakers of PIE, and little about science, philosophy, reason, or inquiry can be reconstructed to it (somewhat obviously).  There are no orchestras or instruments to reconstruct, either.

That's just a brief summary, and of course it's very interesting.  Indo-European studies is fascinating stuff; whether you approve of this kind of society or not, it's undeniably interesting to be able to peer into the past through the combination of archaeology and linguistics and reconstruct what a past society actually looked like.

But this society and this culture, the one we can believe the speakers of proto-Indo-European had, was violent, illiterate, conservative, petty, acquisitive, and superstitious.  None of those traits is conducive to the development of excellent classical music, sophisticated philosophy, a scientific understanding of the world, or great feats of exploration for their own sake.  It is far more likely to encourage the arbitrary and irrational following of ritual and the violent tendencies of angry young men.

If Indo-Europeans speakers were different to other groups in world history, it is only because they had horses, wagons, and large herds, and could spread across the planet's surface relatively quickly and easily.  They were no different to other groups gifted with powerful technologies, like Austronesian speakers with canoes (who travelled far further than any Indo-European group until the fifteenth century) or southern and central African Niger-Congo speakers with herds and iron or Iroquoians with European-introduced guns.

There is no reason to believe that speakers of proto-Indo-European were particularly excellent human beings, and if they expanded further than other groups, it was only because of temporary advantages (note the relatively recent advance of Turkic speakers in Central Asia, for example).  It is hard to sustain the notion that any group of people can retain a core of 'energetic', 'expansive' cultural traits for thousands of years, else we'd have a hard time explaining the past few hundred years of Mongol history.

You can't say that the 'vigour' or 'energy' of European civilization - if that is indeed what it has - is down to some single prehistoric source when it seems far more likely that global economic, climatic, and bacteriological conditions over the past five hundred years are to blame.  This is especially true when most of South Asia and Central Asia as far as Xinjiang were also settled by Indo-European speakers, who have had few of the climatic and economic advantages people in Europe have had over the last half-millennium, and have therefore explored and experimented less (although their artistic and philosophical achievements should certainly not be in doubt, nor their contributions to human life).

Mainland Europe has so many advantages.  It has one or two volcanoes, no deserts, abundant fisheries, very few serious earthquakes, mild winters, relatively warm and wet summers, excellent soil for wheat and pasture for cows, no tropical storms or tornadoes, no tsetse fly or ebola, limited patches of malaria, and infrequent droughts.  It faces the Atlantic Ocean, is quite near to the Americas, and is just north of an extremely long Mediterranean coastline full of deep harbours and wide bays bordering two other continents full of very different groups of people, all of whom had something to contribute to the development of the modern world.

With resistance to smallpox, measles, and Yersinia pestis, and in such close proximity to the Americas, and using Near Eastern and Indian Ocean developments in sailing and navigation, Europeans were almost inevitably going to encounter indigenous Americans first of all the groups in Eurasia, and having done so, they were almost inevitably going to enrich themselves on plunder from the depleted and infected peoples of two new continents, powering their economy some time and kickstarting scientific and artistic revolutions.

No speaker of proto-Indo-European ever saw a sail, in all probability, and yet it was with sails that Columbus and myriad others went to the Americas and made western Europe's fortune (sails were first used in Egypt).  Without sails, no one from Portugal could have sailed around Africa and taken Goa and Melaka.  Without the development of navigation by the stars on the Arabian Peninsula, European sailors could never have travelled as far as they did.  And without travelling so far, Europe would never have amassed as much gold as Chinese or Indian states or any civilization based in the Levant or Anatolia.

Many of the terms for music, rhythm, and the construction of verse in Greek, which many consider the foundation of much of European tradition with regard to these topics, come from a non-Indo-European language (Greek lura, 'lyre', is non-IE, for example).  Greek philosophy probably developed as speakers of Greek encountered people who didn't speak Greek and who held unquestioned wholly different concepts of non-IE origin; in coming into contact with such different beliefs, they began to question their own and attempted to produce schemes that would explain the world.  The first philosophy was almost certainly a product of diversity and the rejection of the worldview inherited from proto-Indo-European speakers, something also true of Buddhism and Jainism and other non-Vedic Indian traditions.

Perhaps more importantly, philosophy (and science, by consequence) probably wouldn't have developed at all without literacy, which was given to some Greeks by some other people from the Levant, who got their letters from people slightly further south, who got their letters from people in Egypt.  European writing might never have developed - certainly it wouldn't have developed the way it did - without the original script it derives from: Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Without writing, there is no classical music, there is little chance of serious philosophy, and there's certainly no realistic potential for progress in scientific inquiry.

Most European woodwind instruments have their origins in the Middle East, including the shawm (and consequently the oboe, and others).  The orchestra has almost nothing whatsoever to do with PIE culture, and such successes cannot be credited to Indo-European heritage in any way.  Moreover, European orchestras, while certainly impressive, are not the only form of classical music on the planet, and there is really no reason to consider, say, Sundanese gamelan a lesser artform.  The claim that 100% of all great classical composers are European is based on the tautological claim that the best classical music is the European kind.

Christopher Beckwith and many others (of course) have provided compelling evidence that much of medieval European argumentation (and therefore philosophy and science) had parts of its origins in the early medieval Arab and Turco-Persian renaissances in Inner Asia (also caused by a diverse and stimulating environment), with the Crusades, Mediterranean trade, and the Mongol conquests helping to bring these different kinds of thought together.  And we shouldn't forget that a great deal of early knowledge and scientific experimentation was preserved and developed in Persia and the Islamic Caliphates.

There is no 'Western mind' and no set of ideas or symbols that is always found in 'Western' civilization.  There's no single energetic impulse and no Indo-European origin for it.  There's just a lot of people being exposed to a lot of things in lots of different ways for a long time in a favourable environment.  People in Europe are more than capable of laziness, idiocy, violence, superstition, anti-scientific ideas, and bigoted ethno-nationalism, and they are perfectly liable to being held back by circumstance.  But circumstance has generally seemed to favour them - and by 'them' I don't mean Indo-European speakers.  I mean 'inhabitants of the European peninsula of Eurasia'.

The point isn't that Europeans are rubbish people who could never achieve anything on their own.  The point is that groups of people always depend on other groups of people for the good things in life; everyone depends on everyone else, and they always have.  Without pre-Islamic Persians and Sephardic Jews, there would be no fish and chips, and without prehistoric Andean communities, there would be no vodka (as we know it today, anyway).  The truly important thing about world civilization isn't the contribution of a single powerful and important people to whom we should devote the greater part of our studies; it is instead that all of human civilization is effectively united through lots of little criss-crossing stands of influence over the course of many millennia.

I should emphasise, by the way, that even if Europeans had conquered the world through their sheer brilliance and Indo-European essence, that wouldn't endorse any political position and my politics - which are, as you might expect, pretty liberal - would remain unchanged.  I do not oppose European exceptionalism out of a misguided 'political correctness', but rather due to its being clearly incorrect and a definitively useless guide to the history of the human world.

28 comments:

  1. Be prepared. My last exchange with Mr. Duschense was 36 comments long.

    My general impression of his work is that he is a very effect destroyer of many models and common explanations for Western ascendance. His explanation, however, has left me unconvinced.

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  2. Incidentally, that post also contains the data that lead me to rejects the "American Wealth" hypothesis you suggest here. Rise in per capita GDP began two and one half centuries before Americas were colonized and the distribution of wealth afterwards (GDP per capita in Spain, for example, actually declined between 1350 and 1500, and even at the height of the Hapsburg empire was not much higher than it was in 1300).

    I don't think trade w/conquest of/plants from the Americas can adequately explain the data we have.

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  3. Spain experienced an economic crash in the sixteenth century as a result of the influx of cheap money from the Americas. Sixteenth century economists had no idea how to deal with something like that, so of course per capita GDP was lower than before. There are probably other factors, too, including over-grazing and the removal of many trading contacts due to forcibly converting Sephardim and pushing out Arabs. What's important is what happened afterwards, and nearly every one of those (probably bullshit) statistics about European exploration and European scientific achievement is based on post-1500 developments.

    I think rising GDP before the conquests is related to the increasing integration of Europe into the world economy, which was already under way - Europeans were certainly aware of developments in the Indian Ocean, traded for spices and gold with North Africans and Turks, etc. But there's no reason to believe that this would have led Europe to advance ahead of any other part of Eurasia.

    I'm certainly not disparaging Europe before the sixteenth century. Rifling and wheellock mechanisms were both invented in central Europe before or around the same time as Columbus' voyages, for instance. And I like early Netherlandish painting, most of which is pre-Columbian. But Europe then was comparable to the rest of Eurasia.

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  4. Guys I'm still not unconvinced what his explanation is.
    Is it some gene? Then which gene. He claims to be upset with PC-loaded postmodern claptrap but in response to it, he ends up sounding almost entirely like it.

    He's just crazy I think.

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  5. You may well be right. There certainly doesn't seem to be a defined cause or anything similar - only rather vague, Continental-philosophical talk of ethnic essences. It's all very 1890.

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  6. Your gloss on the development of writing is wrong. Full writing developed in Sumer in response to economic needs. It developed separately in China and South America.

    The only type of writing that has any chance---economically and practically---to lead to print and therefore widespread literacy, science, etc., is alphabetic writing. (Other types of writing are too clunky for movable presses.) The alphabet was developed in part in the Levant and perfected in Greece.

    Egyptian hieroglyphics were typically used for formal rituals and such. Hieratics were much more common.

    In short, your claim that "writing" is indebted to the development of hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt is misleading and seriously over-simplified, as is much of your screed.

    The best measure of a people is not what they themselves can develop but to what use they can put things. The miracle of Europe is best described in terms of this latter measurement.

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    1. WOW.That's quite a sweeping claim.

      yes, it's true that the reason movable type printing press, even though was invented in China way before Europe, didn't quite catch on precisely because it's a pain in the derriere to arrange all the character blocks, enough to drive any printing shop employee insane.

      This problem persisted into Mao's China by the way. Since the beginning of the 20th century, there was a serious effort to provide a Latinized alphabetization of Chinese language. There is even talk of do away with Chinese character writing system all together.

      Hence the birth and adoption of Pinyin system in China. I grew up in China in the 1980s. Frankly at the time,I found the studying of pinyin quite useless, there is almost no real world application outside of the classroom.

      oh, by the way, I grew up literate in both classical Chinese and simplified script.

      Wide adoption of digital technology after 1990s in China finally made the clumsy mechanical printing press obsolete. Some claim it gives Chinese character writing system a second lease in life. Yet somehow I grew up in the pre-computer age China completely ignorant of the fact that Chinese writing was ever going out of style.

      Ironically, I now found use of pinyin system which I learned in Elementary school, that's how I input Chinese character online.

      FYI, please check the literacy rate of Meiji Japan vs Tsatist Russia around the time of Russo-Japanese war. At the time, Japanese was still predominantly using Chinese characters system (Kanji) whereas Russian definitely had an alphabeticall writing system.

      The disparity might shock you.

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    2. A limited selection of hieroglyphs, not hieratic, was used in the development of abjads, not alphabets, in the Levant (i.e., proto-Sinaitic). These abjads inspired the Greek alphabet. Your alphabet has an Egyptian origin, simple as that. Also, writing in Egypt is distinct from Mesopotamian writing, although there may have been some mutual influence right at the beginning (probably not, though).

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    3. Your claim that the alphabet has an Egyptian origin is true (but superficially so, IMO, kind of like claiming that baseball has its origin in medieval stick-and-ball games). But I was mostly responding to the overall thrust of your original paragraph:

      Perhaps more importantly, philosophy (and science, by consequence) probably wouldn't have developed at all without literacy, which was given to some Greeks by some other people from the Levant, who got their letters from people slightly further south, who got their letters from people in Egypt. European writing might never have developed - certainly it wouldn't have developed the way it did - without the original script it derives from: Egyptian hieroglyphs. Without writing, there is no classical music, there is little chance of serious philosophy, and there's certainly no realistic potential for progress in scientific inquiry.

      You've drawn a pretty explicit connection between the development of science and philosophy and the development of the Egyptian alphabet. That's the claim that is grossly over-simplified, like your overall post. You're so bent on denying European exceptionalism that you end up deploying sophistries as silly as those used by people arguing for European exceptionalism.

      Every generation stands on the shoulders of the generations that came before it. This is the trivial point your post is making. But it is an argument neither for nor against European excpetionalism. I reiterate that, in my opinion, the best measurement of a society's accomplishment is not what it develops from scratch but to what uses it puts the resources it has. And by that measurement, Europe during and after the Enlightenment accomplished a lot. It somehow pooled its resources (those at home and those conquered abroad) and gave us the modern world.







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    4. FWIW, I'm not a proponent of European exceptionalism, either, insofar as it means that Europe and only Europe had anything to do with the advancement of human knowledge and culture. (China during the Song Dynasty is my personal pick for Best Cultural Moment In History.)

      However, it does no one any good to counter over-simplifications of history with more over-simplifications of history, and that's typically what these "European exceptionalism" debates turn into.

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    5. All I was saying was that European philosophy was and is dependant on literacy and, importantly, literacy in Europe has an ultimate Egyptian origin. The point isn't to say that Egyptian literacy caused European philosophy in some simplistic way, but rather to emphasise that European achievement - like any achievement, frankly - depends on people you wouldn't necessarily think of in societies you wouldn't necessarily consider so important in that respect. I'm not entirely sure that you understand what is being said here.

      If you think it's trivial that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, then you don't understand it.

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    6. I didn't say that "standing on the shoulders of giants" is trivial, I said that it's a trivial point to make, a trivial argument, because time only runs in one direction and it can't help but be true. There's no other possibility than for things done in one generation to be built off things done in previous generations. At least not in this universe.

      Yes, every cultural achievement relies in part on effort expended in other times or places, but at some point, you have to draw the line when talking about causalities of achievement. Why stop with the development of writing? Writing itself would probably not have developed without systems of accounting marked in clay (e.g., Sumerian bullae), or without someone's figuring out how to turn the papyrus plant into papyrus. And no one would have had time for these things without long-term settlements, so really, we can thank the development of agriculture for the development of writing, and . . . so on and so forth, until you're claiming that, really, the achievement of the Internet depends on the invention of fire. Which is true in some stirring, transcendent sense, but it isn't very informative if we want to know why cultures produce or fail to produce cultural achievements.

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    7. I'm not sure you understand the point of the post: it was to evaluate the idea that Indo-European heritage was behind European achievement (if you can call it that). Given that, it's not trivial or simplistic to talk about the non-IE origins of key aspects of European culture and society.

      "it isn't very informative if we want to know why cultures produce or fail to produce cultural achievements"

      Are you kidding? It's the most informative thing of all. Why did Spaniards conquer Peru instead of the other way around? Because they had sails, guns, writing, maps, and so many other things that had their origins elsewhere in Eurasia and came together in the favourable geographical and economic climate of sixteenth century Europe. They had a lot of cool things, and those cool things had diverse origins and origins in diversity.

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    8. I stand corrected. Reading back over the post in its entirety, I believe that I latched unfairly onto the paragraph I quoted. The precis you've given here is fair and obviously reasonable.

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    9. Very gracious of you to say.

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  7. 95% of philosophers? What is the definition of "philosopher"? That word itself is Western and since the Eaastern civilizations did not have such a concept, it should be 100% actually. The Indians who wrotes the Upanishads were rishis and what they wrote were 'darshanas'.

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    1. So you can't be in a category unless you're aware that that category exists? Not so sure about that...

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    2. A dog needn't know it fits the category of dogs, but a philosopher who is somehow unaware or unreflecting of the nature of his thoughts seems like a contradiction in terms.

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    3. You may be right there, but Indian philosophers not being aware that they fit the European category of 'philosopher' is not equivalent to their being unreflecting or unaware.

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    4. "95% of philosophers? What is the definition of "philosopher"? That word itself is Western and since the Eastern civilizations did not have such a concept, it should be 100% actually. The Indians who wrotes the Upanishads were rishis and what they wrote were 'darshanas'."

      Murray gave Indian and Chinese philosophy their own categories, as he also did for Chinese and Indian literature and for Chinese art.

      As for the nomenclature, who cares? They are in their own categories, and it's commonplace among academics to use "philosophy" to describe the thought of eminent Chinese and Indian thinkers like Confucius and Sankara.

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  8. Regarding Tsarist Russian vs. Meiji Japan literacy rates, I'd like to point out that it's almost impossible to compare the numbers.

    While it's obvious that Japanese literacy rate was probably around or over 90% (Tsarist Russian might have been 40-50% or so, by 1914 it was 70% among conscripts), it's difficult to compare, because literacy means a different thing for an alphabetic writing system (knowledge of all characters) than in Kanji. A common literacy test at the time was to write one's own name - in Kanji that's possible even if one's illiterate (knowing only the one symbol for one's name), in Cyrillic you need to know something like a fifth of all characters (and probably all characters, because nobody learns just the characters needed for one's name).

    I also think Kanji was a difficulty for the Japanese, which they overcame, and it didn't mean that it was as easy as (much less easier than) an alphabetical writing system.

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    1. That's my point! Despite of difficulty of using reusable movable printing for characters based writing system,China was still able to achieve widespread literacy under Communist China.

      Kanji was difficult for Japanese. Yet that didn't stop Meiji Japan from achieving widespread literacy rate and eventually industrializing. Nor did it stop Japan from defeating Tsarist Russia for that matter.

      So the claim of the alphabetical system was all that important may not stand up to close scrutiny.

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    2. East Asia had movable type in the 11th century, but it didn't become widespread (or lead to widespread literacy) until many centuries later. Europe developed movable type ~1440, and by 1517, print and literacy were fueling the Protestant Reformation.

      Obviously, alphabetic writing is neither a necessary nor sufficient element for either print or literacy, but I'd say that the history of print proves that alphabetic writing makes print and literacy much easier. (Literacy rates were pretty high in Rome, as well, and Fischer's "A History of Writing" seems to draw an implicit connection between Roman literacy and the Latin alphabet.)

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    3. Should probably make clear that alphabets are not the only kind of writing system with a low character count - abjads (writing systems that have single consonants but no explicitly marked vowels), like the Arabic script or the proto-Sinaitic script from which most of Eurasia's scripts developed, also have a limited number of characters. I doubt that there would be much of an advantage to using an alphabet over an abjad if you speak the right language.

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  9. Toad:

    "If Ind-Europeans speakers were different to other groups in world history, it is only because they had horses, wagons, and large herds,"

    But they had these things because they domesticated the horse and invented wagons. Constructing a light-weight, durable wagon wheel suitable for long journeys requires sophisticated carpentry skills and tools.

    "Austronesian speakers with canoes (who travelled far further than any Indo-European group until the fifteenth century)"

    Austronesian canoes were tree trunks that were hollowed out, a very rude form of carpentry. They had short range, so they had to island-hop. The carpentry skills of IE were later used to make ships that could circumnavigate the world. Thousands of years later they would meet a Tahiti.

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    1. You have managed to pack many inaccuracies into the space of a single comment.

      Speakers of PIE almost certainly did not invent wagons (they were probably widespread in parts of Eurasia for at least about a thousand years beforehand, including the Near East; it possible that they were invented in the Caucasus or somewhere south of there, and IIRC, the Maikop culture and region is where the oldest ones have been found - not IE speakers).

      Speakers of PIE may also have had nothing to do with the domestication of the horse; there's no reason to connect PIE speakers with Botai, where the earliest evidence is found, for example.

      They probably acquired these things in contacts with other groups, and again we see the cultural force provided by a diversity of environments and cultural groups.

      As for Austronesian canoes, you clearly know nothing about such things. The first attested contacts between Austronesian and IE speakers occurred in Southeast Asia, not Tahiti, and the seamanship of Austronesian speakers and the seaworthiness of their vessels easily outstripped those of Indian manufacture (or Chinese, for that matter). Various records attest to the fact that Malay, Javanese, and Sulawesian sailors and craft were the most important ones in ferrying goods, ideas, and people around the Indian Ocean before the fifteenth century.

      And for the canoes themselves - well, I've just been reading William Dampier, who said that the proas of Micronesia were simply the finest small vessels he had ever encountered. There are many such comments in the literature. Most of the time, they aren't just 'hollowed out' tree trunks, but sophisticated craft; Austronesian speakers probably independently invented the sail and the outrigger. It is true that carvel construction is sturdier than most of the solid and clinker constructions in Southeast Asia, but that had nothing to do with IE.

      "They had short range, so they had to island-hop."

      That's true if by 'island-hop' you mean 'explore and colonise the world's largest ocean' and 'travel non-stop between the Marquesas Islands and Hawai'i repeatedly'.

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    2. Some support to AJW views. It now appears that Papuan peoples (the first wave of Homo sapiens from the mid-east) were modifying landscapes and moving between Islands 50,000-yrs ago whilst those homo S left in the mid-east were still in caves coping with Neandertals. Papuan people travelled widely in the archipelago reaching the Solomons by 30-35,000BP so they had more than hollow logs. Later wave of Homo S from the mid-east appears to have reached Asia only about 30,000BP at roughly the same time as Neandertals died out and European colonisation was not that much earlier. Australia/PNG (Sahul) has the deapest of old cultures and they did not sit around twiddling there thumbs. Our western cultural constructs are so alien that we find it hard to recognise their great achievements. Complex type of arboriculture of enormous diversity was one with possible 11,000yr history giving rise to over 200 varieties of banana (we pinched only a few due to our monoculture mentality), probably 100 varieties of sugar cane (ditto), probably 100 varieties of Taro, numerous yams possibly coconut and pandanus and so on. The Austronesians built off this heritage (and carry Papuan genes ) and produced superb open ocean craft but did not improve on the agriculture. The Austronesians used and carried root crops - not rice, even though they might have sailed from Asia on their recent (max 3300yr old) emigration into the Islands of the Pacific not already occupied earlier by Papuan/Melanesians.
      It is worth noting that Papuan/ Melanesians developed over 1200 languages, reflecting their image of the fitness of diversity.
      During the recent Quai Branly exhibition L'Art est une Parole (Art is a spoken word), Prue Ahrens interviewed Emmanuel Kasarherou previously director of the Tijbau Cultural Centre in Noumea who said in response to questions related to the 'art' exhibition and the diverse languages in the Pacific (melanesian) culture reflecting many visions

      "...An object is an object, but first it is an idea that is shaped by language. And the object itself is just a small thing; it's a footprint in the sand, wheras culture 'walks'. We (he was referring here ,I assume to western thought) focus too much on the object, on the footprint, which is only one moment. Kanak culture values the ephemeral - songs and speeches - far more than the final object".

      I would call that surreal and metaphorical. I suppose somewhere there is a reflection on the difference between Melanesian maturity and ours.

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  10. The isolation of northwestern Europe also helped it greatly. They had only each other to fight with. Britain had not been invaded since 1066. Quite an advantage!

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You can post anonymously if you really want to, but I'd appreciate it if you could provide some means of identifying who you are, if only for the purpose of knowing who has written what.