Australia, food production and the obsession with IQ

Some people have a very simplistic view of the relationship between race, IQ, heredity and cultural achievements. A short while ago, I had to correct the author of an article on the Occidental Observer touching on the culture of indigenous Australians and their lack of agriculture or urbanisation.

I did not disagree with the tone of the misinformed article about mentions of race and heredity being brushed out of academic explanations, but its similarly ridiculous to go the other way and to pretend that culture and environment has no effect on psychometric traits or physical anthropology – indeed the sociobiological interpretation of human behaviour is that culture, as an evolutionary strategy, directs what is inherited by future generations.

In my reply, I actually forgot to mention the biological closeness of Aboriginal Australians to the similarly Australoid but food-producing Papuans and Melanesians – the ultimate refutation of the idea that racial reasons meant that Australians were somehow incapable of developing food production on their own.

The article approvingly quoted Richard Lynn that “apart from the deserts of the central region is potentially suitable for the agriculture that was developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by Europeans” yet ignored that the Australian climate is unsuitable for the incipient process of domestication by hunter gatherers, or that feral taro (Colocasia esculenta var. aquatilis), greater yams (Dioscorea alata), bitter yams (Dioscorea bulbifera) and bananas (Musa acuminata ssp. banksii) in Australia, and also the presence of a potentially introduced Asiatic bamboo (Bambusa arnhemica), all suggest the failed experimental attempts at horticulture of crops by Australians in an unsuitable region without their possessing the technology that was necessary to make agriculture viable to white colonial settlers. (This early introduction of crops to Australia was possibly associated with the ‘extended Hoabinhian’ cobble industry, and an Asia-Pacific region of bamboo and rattan processing.)

Essentially, what Lynn doesn’t mention is that the climate of Australia is weird and unpredictable, something which is reflected in the biota – Australia is ecologically and climatically similar to the island continents of the late Cretaceous but unlike Eurasia and the Americas in several ways. Australia has a high biodiversity of ectotherms even into large size ranges, including Mekosuchians such as Quinkana, the enormous Meiolaniid ‘horned tortoises’ and the Varanid goannas such as the fourth largest lizard in the world, the perentie (Varanus giganteus), and the extinct ‘Megalania’ (now Varanus priscus). Of the endothermic Australian fauna although the marsupials are endothermic they have a lower metabolism than most placentals, therefore whilst there were Australian placentals such as Tingamarra in the Paleogene, they lost out to the marsupials. In fact at the time of aboriginal settlement there appears to have been only two genera of large endothermic predators stalking the Australian mainland – Thylacinus and Thylacoleo. There were of course far more herbivores, but even the successful and fast moving kangaroos avoid predators due to their an extremely efficient bounding locomotion because of energy constraints.

As humans are just another animal the unusual physical build of Australids themselves is itself understood to represent adaptation to the hostile environment of Australia, and yet Lynn dismisses that the environment of Australia can at all explain the lack of agriculture among the peoples surviving in that evolutionarily novel continent, which was so ecologically different from anything that their ancestors had ever encountered – when generations of their neighbours sharing a common Australoid stock have terraced the highlands of nearby Papua New Guinea and were food producers 10,000 years ago. (And remember that taro, yams and banana may have been cultivated in Australia 8,000 years ago, when the two regions were actually joined together as Sahuland.)

The lesson here is not that heredity does not affect IQ, nor that IQ does not explain differences between, say, Chinese and Africans, but that far from a low indigenous IQ being responsible for the lack of agriculture, urbanisation or even cultural diversity among the relatively homogenous indigenous Australians, its rather the other way round. The absence of food production and social complexity simply did not favour an increase of IQ in the ancestors of today’s Australian aboriginals.

I also couldn’t help but pick up upon the following paragraph which shows the improbable degree of importance Lynn attaches to IQ as a causative factor in human cultural development and, depending upon whether Rushton is being quoted out of context or not, demonstrates that some people need to read some archaeobotany before beginning to talk about subjects they don’t understand very well.

“Lynn notes that the transition to agricultural societies was not possible until people evolved sufficient intelligence to take advantage of wild grasses, and that it was only after the last glaciation that they were cognitively fit to do this. Evolutionary psychologist J. Philippe Rushton points out that: “Lynn’s view provides an explanation for why these advances were never made by Negroids or those southeast Asian populations who escaped the rigors of the last glaciation.”

The problem is that domestication did in fact occur indigenously in subsaharan Africa and southeast Asia, and its embarrassing that Rushton has not checked widely available information in the relevant literature – even in the form of a simple web search to confirm that Africa is a ‘noncenter’ of domestication within which independent hearths of food production have been proposed. It is simply a botanical fact that more species have been domesticated for the first time in Africa south of the Sahara than there were in pre-modern Europe, therefore if the domestication of new species was linked to IQ or to cultural achievements, then Africans would be the ones with a higher IQ and subsaharan races would dominate the world the way Europeans do, but the truth is obviously the other way around – it is blacks that have a lower average IQ than aboriginal Europeans or East Asians, and have never had anything like the same cultural impact on the rest of the world, even after the Islamic trade caravans from outside connected the Sahel kingdoms to the Eurasian world. The Sahel kingdoms were the recipients of Eurasian culture, not the other way around, and the greatest cultural contribution of subsaharan culture to Eurasia was a musical instrument, the shawm.

Some people are becoming a mirror image of the kneejerk heredity deniers, denying the role of culture in shaping human biodiversity and interpreting the human story in a ‘theory first’ fashion rather than basing theories upon checkable facts, in this case related to the role of intelligence. It should be obvious to anyone that no one can measure the fluid G of Epipaleolithic and Neolithic Near Easterners, who lived before innovative evolutionary strategies that must have affected the IQ of their descendants today, so its obvious that no one is able to test certain people’s proposal that IQ increases led to incipient agriculture among only certain populations living thousands of years ago, even when their claims about the origins of agriculture itself around the world, are simply plain vanilla wrong.

The War on White Australia: A Case Study in the Culture of Critique, Part 5 of 5
Brenton Sanderson


If you have an interest in the politicisation of anthropology and history, then this article by Windshuttle and Gillin ought to be of interest as well.

The extinction of the Australian pygmies
Keith Windschuttle and Tim Gillin


These papers should be of help to anyone who has an interest in the origins and history of plant cultivation in southeast Asia and Australo-Melanesia.

Horticultural experimentation in northern Australia reconsidered
Tim Denham, Mark Donohue and Sara Booth

Link (.pdf)

Was there once an arc of vegeculture linking Melanesia with Northeast India?
Roger Blench

Link (.pdf)

About skadhitheraverner
I'm a young freelance writer from the UK, with an interest in anthropology, the outdoors and rightist politics.

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