Evolution’s short story reaches Paris

Queensland’s short-statured peoples — the ‘Barrinean’ Aboriginal people of North Queensland were the focus of a presentation by Dr Peter McAllister from the School of Humanities at an international conference in Paris this month.

The ‘Revisiting the Negrito Hypothesis’conference was held at the Muséum d’ Histoire Naturelle, with presentations from geneticists, archaeologists, historians and linguists about the origins and anthropology of short-statured peoples around the world

“First noticed by naturalists on Captain Cook’s exploratory voyage to Australia, the short statured Aboriginal people around Cairns were classified (wrongly, as it turned out) as a separate people called ‘Barrineans’ by anthropologists Joseph Birdsell and Norman Tindale in the 1930s,’’ Dr McAllister explained.

The name comes from a lake near Cairns called Lake Barrine.

“Our DNA research at Griffith University, in partnership with the National Geographic Society and La Trobe University, has shown that Birdsell and Tindale were wrong, and that the rainforest people around Cairns are essentially the same as other Indigenous Australians.”

The more interesting question, he told the conference, was why Indigenous people who occupied the North Queensland rainforests evolved such reduced body size.

“Measurements taken in the 1930s suggest that short stature in the rainforest zone is genetically driven, not environmentally.

“It may have been an adaptation to the very short lifespans of people in the rainforest caused by women ceasing growth early so they could start reproducing.”

The Muséum d’ Histoire Naturelle is one of the oldest scientific institutions in the world and was originally established by King Louis XIII in 1635.

PICTURED:Dr Peter McAllister at the ‘Revisiting the Negrito Hypothesis’ conference in Paris. His pointer is a tapir-hunting spear from the indigenous Piro people of Peru.