The article, if you haven’t seen it, is a wonderful example of what [I think] Clyde Kluckhohn termed ‘wallowing in minutiae.’ The authors say that they’re investigating ‘the existence of universal patterns of early use of feathers for ornamental and symbolic purposes’ among the Neanderthals.’ They claim to have found that ‘the relationship involves active processing of raptors and corvids by Neanderthals for the purpose of wing feather removal. ‘Splain somthin’ to me, Lucy:
Question One: Why would a burly Neanderthal need a stone tool to extricate feathers from [even a largish] bird? For those of you who haven’t been brought up in the time of the rural to urban population transformation in North America, I’ll inform you that modern human females of all ages and physical characteristics have been, historically, and still are, theoretically, capable of PLUCKING a gawd-dammed bird without the need for a GD knife–stone or otherwise. But we’re supposed to accept that the Gibraltarian Neanderthals left seriously minute scratches on tiny bird bones because they were removing the feathers for use as ornaments and fashion accessories.
Excuse the upper case: HOW LAME CAN YOU BE? Finlayson et al. are clearly so infatuated with the idea of symbolic behaviour among their beloved Neanderthals that they’ve lost all touch with reality! If you don’t believe me, assemble for me a small bibliography on archaeological bird butchery. I double-dog dare ya.
Question Two: Where do the authors get the idea that you need to butcher a bird? I have to think it’s by analogy to making an elephant carcass useful! But, if you’ve ever spent more than a little time in the kitchen, you’ll know that raw bird meat is relatively easy to remove from the bone with just your bare hands. Imagining that a Neanderthal needed to dismember a bird carcass in order to eat it is LUDICROUS! Raw or cooked, they’re small enough to carry around without the need to butcher them to make individual packages that are easy for one person to carry! Furthermore, cooked bird meat is DEAD EASY to remove from the carcass with your bare teeth! Where do these ideas come from?????
Question Three: Who said that a 50-micron-wide linear scratch on a piece of bird bone is unequivocally evidence of butchery?? The authors looked at the corvids and raptors from the Gibraltar sites and found vanishingly few with such marks on them. What, one wonders, would they have found if they’d examined the skeletal remains of the non-corvid, non-raptor bones in the same sites. Doh!
As I said above. I decline to look further into the data and the data manipulations that Finlayson et al. present in this paper. Without even breaking a sweat I can see that their presence/absence data from 1699 palaearctic palaeontological and archaeological sites is statistically incapable of yielding useful results, especially since they ignore the presence of other kinds of birds at all the sites they employ.
Their premises are preposterous, and so are their results. Someone, please, prove me wrong, and I promise I’ll stop slagging PlosOne.