This article is from
Creation 2(1):18–19, January 1979

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Tasmanian aborigines—another example of cultural 'devolution'


Dr Rhys Jones, a senior fellow in archeology and anthropology at the Australian National University, has studied the history of Tasmania’s now-extinct Aboriginal population for 15 years. Some of his conclusions about their ‘primitivity’ are of interest.

Whenever races and tribes have been ‘discovered’ by civilized man since Darwin, their level of culture has been assessed in terms of their degree of ascent up the evolutionary ladder. Some of the more obvious indicators used for this have been the use and sophistication of garments, tools and weapons. So, for example, a people with no clothes or tools and only few weapons would be regarded as very ‘primitive’. The implication is that they have not yet come as far from the subhuman state. In earlier times this was given biological connotations as well and led to a subtle, implied racism. However, racism is not very popular today, and in any case, scientific research has shown that ‘primitive’ peoples are not any less human in a biological sense. So the emphasis is shifted to ‘social evolution’ or ‘cultural evolution’, with societies inevitably progressing along certain lines (or so we are told).

The creationist, of course, maintains that finding a society with a very simple or absent technology does not imply that their ancestors were equally unsophisticated. A ‘stone-age’ culture may be the result of cultural degeneration, perhaps because of rapid, forced migration/dispersion, or because the environment is such as not to demand tools, clothing, etc. We need to be able to point to actual examples of this having happened in the decipherable past—of people having ‘lost’ a pre-existing level of technology. The Tasaday people in the Philippines are fairly well known for this.

In spite of the fact that Jones interprets the history of the Tasmanian aboriginals within the standard evolutionary/geochronological framework, the following of his conclusions are of great interest in the above context.

  1. Their society rates as the simplest known—much simpler than Cro-magnon.
  2. Their ‘primitivity’ was the result of a degeneration from previously higher levels. Some examples of this:
    • they had lost the art of making garments, being covered only by a coating of seal grease when met by the French scientific expeditions.
    • they had given up catching and eating fish, living on crabs and shellfish.
    • they had lost the art of making fire, having to keep a firebrand permanently alight or borrowing it from their neighbors.

In view of the Biblical implications that man had a fairly advanced level of technology at an early stage in his history, the above is certainly what the creationist would predict and expect. In the context of the Flood/Dispersion model of anthropology applied to Australia, it may be significant that the general pattern of this ‘devolution’ seems to be from north to south, with Tasmania being the furthest point from the original centre of migration. The evolutionists at the time of Tasmania’s early history, intoxicated with the Neanderthal discoveries, seized upon these unfortunate people as representatives of a subhuman race. Many (not all) of the atrocities which were inflicted on them can be traced to this philosophy. Indeed, some anthropologists maintained that they were the same species as Neanderthal, a surviving remnant of evolution. As their numbers dwindled, evolutionary scientists scrambled for their remains, resorting to disgraceful acts of grave robbing and necromutilation in order to fill their museum cases. The handful of survivors towards the end lived in humiliation and terror while the scientific establishment hovered in the background like vultures, waiting for their chance. The last surviving female, Truganini, towards the end of her life, begged that her remains should be left undisturbed, and she was reassured that they would be. Soon after she died, her last wish was betrayed—her body was exhumed and put on display in a museum case. Although the remains were later removed to a storage area, it was only a scant two years ago that her remains were finally cremated and laid to rest in a State funeral. Although the description here is vivid, readers may be sure that I have understated the extent of this sordid chapter in the history of evolutionary speculation.

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