I’m having a truth attack. That’s my way of saying that I’ve been lying to myself. I’ve been telling myself that there’s too much other shit to be done to be spending time looking stuff up and thinking of smart things to say on the Subversive Archaeologist.
Fact. After I put up a tortured piece on the recently published treatment of middle palaeolithic ‘burial’ I received a note from one of the authors, Erella Hovers. It’s copied below. But, instead of fanning the fire in my belly, Erella’s comment knocked the wind right out of me. Much like Danny Glover’s character in the movie Lethal Weapon, I found myself feeling too old and too tired to get back in the fight. It wasn’t just Erella’s words that caused me to say, “Uncle!” Hers is just another in an arm-long list of similar put-downs that bear no relationship to a real argument, from evidence, about the very dead horse that I’m forced to keep beating—the question of whether or not purposeful burial occurred prior to about 40 ka or 50 ka.
As you read through Erella’s response, I’ll be jumping in and out trying to show you which are the most discouraging words. It’s enough to make me long for my own “Home, home on the range.”
Here we go. The italicized bits are Erella’s words; the words in brackets are my *whispered* rejoinders.
1. “Most of the excavators of Levantine Middle Palaeolithic sites have identified intentional burials on the basis of field observations (see Gargett 1989 for references …).”
2. “Thus, Gargett (1989) suggests that the pits in which remains of Middle Palaeolithic European Neanderthals have been found should be interpreted as resulting from natural phenomena.
While this view has been widely rejected on several grounds, it serves to illustrate the problematic nature of the criteria: they appear both too nebulous and too specific and are by no means unequivocal.”
3. “The fact that Middle Palaeolithic “burials” appear in small numbers is insufficient to disqualify them as intentional burials (contra Gargett 1989).”
(From: Belfer-Cohen, Anna, and Erella Hovers, “In the Eye of the Beholder: Mousterian and Natufian Burials in the Levant,” Current Anthropology 33:463-471, 1992.)
That’s it! I cited a bunch of old publications and Anna and Erella cited my citation. Then they say that my arguments were ‘widely rejected on several grounds’ and can’t even be bothered to cite one such ‘rejection’. Their final mention is either a complete and deliberate fabrication or a dismally poor reading of my paper. At no time did I say that the ratio between numbers of claimed ‘burials’ and the minimum number of individuals represented by the fossil corpus could be used as evidence of anything other than the rarity of specimens recovered in circumstances that provoked the claim of purposeful burial.
That’s how the grownups and the Very Important Archaeologists do it! Don’t like what Columbus says? It’s as easy as pie to get around that. Just say that a bunch of other people don’t believe him and carry on as if he’d never taken a breath on this planet! See above re: Columbus (just follow the yellow arrow at right).]
[I finally understand the difference between being righteous and being self-righteous.]
Another point: we have not “imbibed” any of Pettitt’s claims. I agree with some, disagree with others ( you have NOT seen us use his terminology, and are deceiving people in making this suggestion even implicitly).
[Begging your pardon, Ma’am. What isn’t similar about you and Pettitttttttt naming the concept—and claiming to have done so independently—”cacheing the dead”?]
The ones that seem similar were independently developed by him and us.
[I’d really like to see a timeline of that time-transgressive coincidence!]
In short, the take home message is—even for throwing mud, one has to train if they want to be accurate. Even you.
[I should feel chastened. My mud-slinging, if that’s what it is, has missed the mark. It’s a good thing. ‘Cause if I’d really wanted to sling mud, I’d be ridden out of Dodge on a rail (or off the web, more correctly). Besides, for some odd reason, I continue to feel just tired.]
Please feel free to publish this response on your blog.
[As you wish.]
Okay. I can stop whispering now. [Or, should I say ‘whimpering’?] Thanks very much to Erella for giving me the opportunity to vent. That’s what it amounts to. It goes nowhere. And it goes nowhere, over and over again. Like Groundhog Day. [I only put that in so I could stick in a picture of Bill Murray, who is the funniest man I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on the big screen.]
See? Who wouldn’t be tired, after, let’s see … 24 years? Who wouldn’t be frustrated to the point of exhaustion? I’m sure there are many better bipedal apes than I who’d find it easy to keep going. Sorry. I’m not so good at it.
But, I’m sure I’ll shake it off eventually. In the meantime, I gots jobs to find! Buh-bye!
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