Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Dog-Faced Tribe of Andaman Islands: Marco Polo's Not-So-Tall-Tale?

Early explorers met many races of humanity around the globe.  More often than not the indigenous people greeted them with curiosity and hospitality. Most bad encounters were dependent on the explorers' attitude on approaching foreign people they could not communicate with. In the case of Marco Polo, some of his encounters were exceptional and the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal near India was perhaps the single most unusual report of locals. 

Marco Polo reported about his travels - 
Angamanain is a very large Island. The people are without a king and are Idolaters, and no better than wild beasts. And I assure you all the men of this Island of Angamanain have heads like dogs, and teeth and eyes likewise; in fact, in the face they are all just like big mastiff dogs! They have a quantity of spices; but they are a most cruel generation, and eat everybody that they can catch, if not of their own race. They live on flesh and rice and milk, and have fruits different from any of ours.

Now that I have told you about this race of people, as indeed it was highly proper to do in this our book, I will go on to tell you about an Island called Seilan, as you shall hear.

As exaggerated as that sounded, there might have still been some very strong characteristics from an archaic human that was part of the gene pool in the Andaman Islands that showed in an isolated population.

LINK:  The research produces a new branch on the tree of human evolution, starting with an Unknown Ancestor some 600,000 years ago. Homo sapiens and Neanderthals split off from that Ancestor, and Denisovans later split off from the Neanderthal branch.

Thing is, it now seems that a third species, the newly discovered one, also split off from that Unknown Ancestor.

Later in the course of history, Homo sapiens who left Africa mated with Neanderthals. Members of that human-Neanderthal mix continued on to Asia, where they split into a host of peoples. And at least some of those people, the ancestors of the Andaman islanders checked in this study, mated with the third ancestral species.

Flash forward to now: The only population not to contain any Neanderthal or Denisovan genes (insofar as has been tested so far) are Africans. In other words, the interspecies sex with both happened after the split between the early Homo sapiens who left Africa and those who remained.

Now we have evidence of a third human species interbreeding with man – with a very specific group of men. Or at least that's all that has survived. "This ancestry is absent from Europeans and East Asians," writes the team in their paper.

The beautiful people of this island hardly represent anything that Marco Polo described, except the possibility that in the 1200s when Marco Polo was exploring, an isolated tribe that had not seen outsiders might have existed and that tribe cold have held a higher percentage of that missing man's genes. It is also possible that consanguinity created facial deformities or even things like dental hyperplasia might have created a forward-thrust face. 

This woman (Julia Pastrano) had hypertrichosis and resulting dental hyperplasia that often occurs in tandem. For anyone who had not seen such a defect, she would indeed be considered dog-faced.

It's interesting to note unusual ancient people that appear as if deposited around the globe on islands and left there. Aborigines of Australia, Gaunches of the Canary Islands, and these people of the Andaman Islands, for example. The islanders of the Pacific have  traces of an unknown man in their DNA, as well. In fact, the blond hair that is in 10% of the natives on the Solomon Islands is not from European blond hair lines, but an unknown source. The Guanches of the Canary Islands had blonds among them. 

Was there an early race that took to the seas much earlier than any of us imagined, settling around the globe and leaving their people in isolation to evolve into the unique indigenous people we see today? 

This mystery man might hold some very interesting secrets. Any archaeological finds in the Andaman Islands might also shed some light on a potential sea-faring man that left unusual traits in a population. A Chinese explorer also described such a tribe of dog-faced people at Lake Baikal in Siberia. Could this be the launching point of this ancient man down to the South Pacific and beyond? 

Sometimes exceptional legends have some truth behind them. Is it a coincidence unusual people were reported on an island that has DNA traces of an unknown man? One we have no idea what he looked like or acted like? 

We can just hope that anthropologists continue to open their minds about our origins and how varied it was from China to Africa to the South Pacific and beyond. 

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