Paul Pettitt’s Version of MIddle Palaeolithic Burial: The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial (Or So He Says)

As most of you know, my awareness of the literature of the past twenty years is somewhat constrained. That extends even to the recent past. I’ve just learned of the publication, last year, of this: The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial, by Paul Pettitt. I became aware of some earlier work of his on the matter, published in an obscure, online journal on the origins of agriculture, about ten years ago. It appears that he’s learned little of a substantive nature in the interim, and his book follows, in lock-step, the published and back-room put-downs of my own work on the subject, going back to 1989.
     Pettitt’s book surrounds the time period of greatest interest with some literature reviews having to do with the philosophy, sociology, and palaeopsychology of mortuary practices, the scarce fossil record prior to what we call the Middle Palaeolithic, and the times since people like you and me entered Europe about 40 kyr ago. But the core of his book reads like a personal crusade to denigrate yours truly’s life’s work. More importantly, in the chapter titled ‘The Neanderthals’ he goes to town on my critique of Neanderthal burial, mentioning (and dismissing my published work) on pretty much every other page of the 80 or so page-long portion. 
     Yet, mysteriously, although he deals with the anatomically modern but behaviorally Middle Palaeolithic hominids from Qafzeh, he is silent on my 1999 take-down. Is it possible he never read it? I’d have to say that’s a safe bet, given what he’s written. What’s even stranger is that at every opportunity he refers to what I’ve published as ‘literature-based.’ And his book is… what? Experience based? I hardly think so. 
     I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks, because Pettitt’s petty BS deserves nothing other than a full exposition. In the meantime. I’m gonna go cool down with some of my famously cheap California chardonnay and hope that by watching old British cop shows I can climb down from the smouldering contempt I’m feeling just now.

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