This Thursday’s touchstone is a booby-trap, of sorts. Brian Hayden was a mentor during my undergraduate studies at Simon Fraser University. He employed me as a researcher, as a field assistant, and teaching assistant. He was gracious enough to have included me as co-author on publications dealing with a wide range of theoretical issues: Middle-Palaeolithic tool specialization, Australian Aboriginal site structure, Maya ethnoarchaeology and the development of socio-economic inequality, site-formation processes and lithic raw material variability on the inter-montane plateau of southern central British Columbia.
I’m certain that his recommendation was influential in getting me into the Ph.D. program at Berkeley, and his example as a field archaeologist was crucially important to my maturation with respect to interpreting the archaeological record.
But in one area he was always denigrating: he thought I was mad for suggesting that the evidence for Neanderthal burial was reproachable.
I’m probably flattering myself to think so, but I’ve long believed that it was the May 1989 publication of my article, ‘Grave Shortcomings: The Evidence for Neandertal Burial,’ that spurred him to write his paper, ‘The cultural capacities of Neanderthals: a review and re-evaluation,’ which he submitted for publication in May 1990, which was accepted with revisions in July 1992 and was published in 1993 (Journal of Human Evolution 24:113-146).
‘In sum, various of these authors suggest that for Neandertals there were minimal cognitive abilities; no conception of time; no equivalent of modern speech; no symbolic abilities or even words for tools (therefore no tool typologies and no resulting techno-complexes); minimal or no innovation capacity; an inability to work ‘natural’ materials such as bone or antler; an inability to establish long-distance social relations; minimal social organization; no complex site structure; no ritual frameworks; and a lack of sexually integrated communities (males and females were supposed to have lived in separate groups). These are damning claims with shades of Marcelin Boule’s concepts of Neandertals from a century ago (Fig. 1).’ [italics mine]
For emphasis, Hayden includes this illustration as his Figure 1.
|1909 illustration drawing on Marcellin Boule’s reconstruction from the skeletal remains of the ‘Old Man’ of La Chapelle-aux-Saints.|
I’m unlikely to treat any such arguments with much respect.
in the Ukraine. In the just-published paper on social structure, Hayden recalls the claims of mammoth-bone structures that caused me to LMAO a few weeks ago.
|From Hayden 2012. The lozenge-shaped outlines are Hayden’s addition, representing ‘sleeping areas.’|
Drawing on the ethnographic record, he pencils in some sleeping positions and decides that the ‘social group’ size would have been between 16 and 20. This he contrasts with claims that Neanderthals rarely, if ever, lived in groups. This and several similar extrapolations are all Hayden thinks he needs to silence the Neanderthal critics.
You’ll remember Hayden’s example from my recent post, One Mammoth Steppe Too Far, and the image below, from The Subversive Archaeologist’s Dictum.
|Moldova I (Ukraine). The site plan illustrates mammoth remains that in all likelihood accumulated when the animals became mired in the predominantly clay site sediments, and were then butchered by the Middle Palaeolithic inhabitants of the region. From Demay, Péan and Patou-Mathis (2011).|
Hayden’s rendering is based on the area labelled ‘Circular accumulation of mammoth bones,’ and demonstrates his slavish reliance on others’ findings, no matter how improbable, as long as it shows the Neanderthals in a good light. Indeed, it’s clear to me that Hayden would rather trot out the slightly smelly old chestnuts than confront, head-on, the evidence and the arguments of those he characterizes as the heirs of Marcellin Boule.
That’s about all I have for the moment, except to say, as would the French in such circumstances: touché, Brian.
[Once again I find myself feeling a bit exclusionary by zeroing in on matters having to do with the Middle Palaeolithic of Europe. It’s partly my experience, and, as I’ve said before, partly because the MP is such a fecund field in which to erect fanciful interpretations and (apparently) never be called on them! I’d be glad for some suggestions for cannon fodder from other times and places. Hint. Hint.]