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No. 84: Nov-Dec 1992

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American Pygmies

Today's anthropological texts say little about pygmies populating ancient North America, but a century ago, when tiny graves replete with tiny skeletons were discovered in Tennessee, controversy erupted. Were they the bones of pygmies or children of normal-sized tribes? The latter choice was made, and we hear no more on the subject -- at least on the standard academic circuits.

But a few reverberations are still detectable elsewhere. V.R. Pilapil, for example, asserts that the disputed Tennessee graves really did contain pygmy remains. Not only that, but he hypothesizes that the pygmies arrived in ancient times from southeast Asia, probably the Philippines, where today's diminutive Aetas live.

To support his case, Pilapil recalls B. Fell's examination of the Tennessee skeletal material. Fell noted that: (1) The skull brain capacity was equivalent to only about 950 cubic centimeters, about the volume of a non-pygmy 7-yearold; (2) The teeth were completely developed and showed severe wear characteristic of mature individuals; and (3) The skulls were brachycephalic with projecting jaws. Fell had, in fact, described skulls very much like those of today's adult Philippine Aetas.

Another line of evidence adduced by Pilapil involved the traditions of British Columbia tribes, which recognized a tribe of very small people called the Et-nane. More significant is the oral history of the Cherokees, which mentions the existence of "little people" in eastern North America.

(Pilapil, Virgilio R.; "Was There a Prehistoric Migration of the Philippine Aetas to America?" Epigraphic Society, Occasional Papers, 20:150, 1991.)

From Science Frontiers #84, NOV-DEC 1992. 1992-2000 William R. Corliss