Sunday, 11 October 2015

A. C. Haddon

Mask of turtle shell plates made by Torres Strait Islander and described by A. C. Haddon
Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) The Trustees of the British Museum
Alfred Cort Haddon was a marine zoologist who  morphed into an eminent ethnologist and anthropologist after joining an expedition to the Torres Strait in 1898.

The Torres Strait Islanders are a Melanesian people distinct from the Aborigines of mainland Australia. Haddon collected their artefacts avidly -- convinced that their culture would soon be repressed by zealous missionaries. I had an opportunity to view some of these artefacts on a recent visit to the Queensland Museum in Brisbane. Haddon donated also to the British Museum, but the bulk of his Collection is now in the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology at Cambridge University.

Alfred Cort Haddon (1855-1940)
The Wellcome Museum, Wellcome Images (CC BY 4.0)
Haddon's Collection was key to a 2011 study that examined the origin of the Australian Aborigines (here). A genomic sequence was obtained from a hair sample that had been collected in the 1920s as Haddon passed through Golden Ridge, near Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Ethical concerns about using this material were allayed when it could be shown, with the aid of contemporary newspaper reports, that the sample was donated voluntarily. The main finding was that Aborigines are descendents of a human dispersal out of Africa that was separate and much earlier than that giving rise to present day Asians.

Cambridge University Press 1924 (Second and Revised Edition)
Human genomics has greatly improved our understanding of the migrations that gave rise to modern peoples. Haddon would have been fascinated. He did what he could with the tools then available to him and summarized them in the above book. The title was not as controversial at the time as it might be considered today.

No comments:

Post a Comment