Our Ancestors Were Great Oceanic Travellers: Elliot Smith

Did you watch the recent episode of the TV documentary The Human Odyssey that showed how massively important to human evolution was the sea-faring ability of early humans? Grafton Elliot Smith was among the first to embrace, and publicise, this ability – something that had been ridiculed as impossible for “primitives”. He stressed the way in which early peoples overcame “barriers” such as rivers, lakes, seas and, finally, oceans in their adventurous spread “out of Africa” to populate the globe. This was part of his general theory of cultural diffusion. He played up the sea-worthiness of early craft and the navigational skills of people like the Polynesians, who rapidly voyaged across the Pacific. ES even argued that they had reached the Americas. As he said in 1927: “it is an altogether incredible supposition that the Polynesian sailors who searched many thousands of miles in the Pacific with such thoroughness as not to miss even the minutest islets were not repeatedly landing on the shores of America for ten centuries or more. How could such people who found Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand have failed to discover the vast continent stretching from pole to pole?”.

More on this anon.

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