Primordialising Aboriginal Australians: Colonialist tropes and Eurocentric views on behavioural markers of modern humans

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Nineteenth-century European theorising on the origins of Aboriginal Australians was underpinned by spurious concepts that emphasised primitivism and simplification. In particular, these essentialist notions were used to explain Aboriginal culture as primordial and undeveloped with so-called advanced cultural traits linked to external influence. Far from obsolete musings from an age of colonialism, such views continue to have traction and currency in contemporary scientific understandings of the movement of modern humans out-of-Africa and into Australia. This chapter reveals the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century intellectual pedigree of these colonialist perspectives in terms of the so-called degeneration and simplification of the modern human behavioural package as it moved eastwards away from Africa and Europe. This critique lends theoretical support to calls that a unified (Eurocentric) conceptualisation of behavioural modernity needs to be abandoned in favour of a pluralised conceptualisation of behavioural modernity that emphasises regionally specific adaptations and historically contingent expressions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterrogating Human Origins
Subtitle of host publicationDecolonisation and the Deep Human Past
EditorsMartin Porr, Jacqueline M. Matthews
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780203731659
ISBN (Print)9781138300415, 9781138300439
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameArchaeological Orientations

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