The “negrito hypothesis” suggests that populations of smallbodied foragers in South and Southeast Asia who share common phenotypic characteristics may also share a common, ancient origin. The key defining characteristics of the “negrito” phenotype, small body size, dark skin, and tightly curled hair, have been interpreted as linking these populations to sub-Saharan Africans. The underlying assumption of this interpretation is that the observed phenotypic similarities likely reflect shared ancestry rather than phenotypic convergence. Current genetic evidence is inconclusive, as it both demonstrates that negrito populations have genetic affinities with neighboring populations but also rare and ancient variation that suggests considerable isolation. This study investigates the skeletal phenotype of Andaman Islanders and Aeta foragers from the Philippines in the context of the phenotypic variation among other hunter-gatherers globally, to test whether they show a common, unique physique apart from small body size. Particular emphasis is placed on the comparison of negrito phenotypes to African, Asian, and Australian hunter-gatherer diversity to investigate phenotypic similarities to other populations globally. The results demonstrate that despite sharing small adult stature, the Andaman Islanders and Aeta show variation in body dimensions. In particular, the Andaman Islanders share a pattern of narrow bi-iliac breadth and short upper limbs with the Khoisan (Later Stone Age Southern Africans), whereas the Aeta and Efé show broader bi-iliac breadths relative to lower limb lengths. Although general similarities in size and proportions remain between the Andamanese and Aeta, differences in humero-femoral indices and arm length between these groups and the Efé demonstrate that there is not a generic “pygmy” phenotype. Our interpretations of negrito origins and adaptation must account for this phenotypic variation.
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Vol. 85 • No. 1/3