Questioning Middle Palaeolithic Burial is NOT Like Beating a Dead Horse: Science’s Michael Balter Writes About Neanderthal Burial As If It’s an Open Question. More Power to Him!

For one of the very few times in my role as the leading subversive archaeologist on the internet I can say that every anthropologist needs to see this article. The subject goes to the heart of the ‘debate’ [more like a never-ending disagreement] as to whether or not the Neanderthals, their Mousterian contemporaries, and their antecedents had what you and I would recognize as the equivalent of the symbolic behaviour that is the hallmark of us modern humans.
     I am very pleased to point the interested readers of the Subversive Archaeologist to the Michael Balter article in Science to which I alluded in a blurt a few days ago. Kudos to my friends Harold Dibble and Alain Turq [and the whole équipe] for their courage in opening new excavations at the mega-important Middle Palaeolithic site of La Ferrassie (Dordogne, France). And a rousing ‘Huzzah!’ for Michael Balter for featuring this *cough* ground-breaking work in Science, and for having the good sense to interview me for the piece.
     While you’re reading, remember that whenever Alain Turq says that articulated skeletons MUST have been purposefully buried, remember Rule #1 and what I’ve said previously about how wrong-headed the notion is.
     So, without further ado: Ta-Da!
     ‘Did Neandertals Truly Bury Their Dead?‘ by Michael Balter.

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Portentious [sic], Dude!

New prehistory museum in Sauveterre-la-Lémance. From LaDepeche.fr

From the news ticker comes this: ‘SauveTerre Musée de Préhistoire : le grand voyage dans le temps.’ I’ll assume that not all of you have your universal translators to hand, so I’ll stand in. The article is titled ‘Sauveterre-la-Lémance (Lot-et-Garonne, France) Prehistory Museum: a cool trip through time.’

The sleepy little town of
Sauveterre-la-Lémance.


Why would I want to bring this to your attention? Just this. In 1989 I stayed in Sauveterre-la-Lémance for about three weeks while taking part in an excavation at Roc Allan, on a project run by Alain Turq. The mesolithic culture known as the Sauveterrian was named for the town. It lies in the shadow of Le château des Rois Ducs, shown lower down. A more pleasant three weeks I can hardly remember. Good food, good company, and rocks, rocks, rocks [it’s a rockshelter, after all!]. I’m pretty sure I found no artifacts in three weeks. The place had been pretty much sucked clean decades ago and the project was trying to recover what was left so as to clarify stratigraphic questions. 

Le château des Rois Ducs

The first night I was in Sauveterre, they took me out to a bar [odd, that, considering they’re achaeologists]. In that part of the world they sell bottled beer in 750 ml portions. They call these gargantuan units ‘distingués.’ It had been a very warm day and the delicious amber liquid was just that. Being neither distinguished nor dignified I finished mine rather quickly. By the time I was well into number two the crew confided in me what I was not happy to hear. This Belgian beer, they said, is 14.5 percent alcohol. 
     The hangover was collossal. Not an auspicious first 24 hours, I can tell you. Still. They all had a good laugh, and I learned an important lesson–when in Lot-et-Garonne do as the locals do. If they stop at one it should send a message that you’d be silly to ignore.
     That this article should come to my attention less than two weeks ahead of a new archaeological adventure in Europe is what we sages call a portent. It bodes well for my enjoyment of the last three weeks in July. It’s reminding me not to get stupid drunk on the first night in Czechland. 
     And, somewhere in the fine print, in the basement of the new museum, in a most-likely locked, public-access file cabinet, is the name of a minor contributor to our knowledge of the past in the area of Sauveterre-la-Lémance. 
     Small world.

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