"Intelligent Design" "Science" in Paleolithic Archaeology? I’m Shocked.

It’ll come as no surprise to you that I just can’t let the “Handaxe as Art” and “Levallois Technique as Science” crowd get too complacent.

Wait! I misspoke. I meant that I can’t let them continue in their complacency without now and again reminding them that they’re on very shaky empirical ground.

Today, I’m going to try a new tack. So different, in fact, that I think it’s positively brilliant. [I might as well—it’s unlikely they’ll think so!]

Okay. Here it comes. To say that the shape of a so-called hand axe is predetermined is tantamount to claiming that the God of Abraham created every living thing on earth.

Here’s why I can say so with confidence. I’ll start with an rock.

“Why a rock?” you ask. You have to ask? I should have thought it’d be obvious. Look at how smooth it is. How perfectly rounded it is. How beautifully elliptical it is. Surely this must be the work of some minor deity! Or, perhaps, even, a major one. This rock came out of the ground all rough and angular, and by [name your favorite deity]’s grace, today it is a work of uncommon beauty and symmetry. Observe. And be amazed.

Okay. I’m being a bit sarcastic. Do you blame me? This rock, with its no-doubt angular but roughly oblong beginnings, has undergone a gradual process of evolution at the ‘hands’ of—not a god—but of flowing water. Simple as that. By a random process of attrition—the removal of as little as a molecule at a time of its original mass, by friction and percussion against other similar clasts—this rock has attained an almost perfectly symmetrical ellipsoidal shape in three dimensions, and a very nearly burnished surface. However did it get this way?

Well, I’ve already let the cat out of the bag. It wasn’t a deity—an intelligent creator. Just good ol’ Nature—what a geoarchaeologist would term a natural process. You know! The sort of natural process that a good archaeologist is supposed to rule out before claiming that an extraordinary bipedal ape was the creator.

“But wait!” you say. “Nobody’s suggesting that this lump of [What is it? Quartzite?] is an act of God. I know where you’re going with this. And I think you’re setting up a straw man argument!”

Hey! Settle down. It would be a straw man if it weren’t that paleoanthropologists have always looked at the shape of hand axes as desired end products of a purposeful set of flake removals. I don’t have to go into detail to remind you of the innumerable times you’ve read drivel like this in the literature . . .

Production of large flakes as blanks for bifaces–handaxes are notably rare in the Qesem Cave assemblages (e.g., Fig. 3, and a roughout on a large flake, Fig. 4). Raw material used for handaxes was non-homogeneous, relatively low quality flint that differed from the materials used for any of the other production trajectories. It appears that the hand axes were made on large flakes, but apart from the single preform made on a large flake there are no traces of their production in the form of detached flakes or very large cores. The production of large flakes in the Lower Paleolithic is considered a conspicuous and characteristic cultural phenomenon . . . . The use of large flakes for shaping handaxes at Qesem marks the end of this tradition. (“Qesem Cave: An Amudian Site in Central Israel,” Gopher, A., R. Barkai, R. Shimelmitz, M. Khalaily,  C. Lemorini, I. Heshkovitz, and M. Stiner. Journal of The Israel Prehistoric Society 35, 69-92,  2005.)

Look at Figure 4. If you threw this presumed “roughout” into the sandy gravels on a modern-day beach in North America’s Pacific Northwest, what shape do you think it would eventually take?

Right-y-oh! A nicely rounded teardrop in plan; in all likelihood a somewhat flattened ovoid when viewed from the distal end. I’ll leave it up to you to imaginate what it would look like from the side.

The bipedal ape and the energetic sand and gravel beach have one fundamental similarity. Neither the ape nor the ocean NEEDS to have the least concern for the ultimate shape of this lump of rock for it to turn out either as something Gopher et al. would want to call a hand axe, or that I’d want to call—simply—a biface. As Gopher et al. so kindly point out, this “roughout” began as a big flake. If the ape removed flakes repeatedly, following a random pattern that affected all of the flakable edges equally, the result would be an angular version of the nicely rounded alternative that was subjected to the whims of ocean waves.

There is no difference between the arguments of Creationists, Intelligent Design mavens, and these paleoanthropologists and thousands of others who claim that the so-called hand axe is a purposeful creation.

I rest my case. And, in that case, I’m going to get some rest.

Nighty, night!

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That Wild and Crazy Casey Luskin Uncorks Another Beauty: Makes Monkeys Out of Professional Palaeoanthropologists

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [1 John 1:1]

I’m beginning to get a sense of the problem. When approaching the voluminous literature of human evolution Young Earthers and Creationists/IDers [i.e. Intelligent Design adherents] can’t get past the habit of believing that [at least some of] what they read as being the revealed word of a deity. As such my colleagues could afford to be a bit more careful when choosing their words. I can easily see why their best efforts feed into the Christian creation myth.
     Notwithstanding his propensity to treat the writings of us as the word of a deity revealed [much like my colleagues come to think of it], Luskin is either very lucky and came up with the foundation for his argument by chance or the man has done his homework and read widely in ‘our’ literature. Such is his virtuosity.
     Shortly before leaving for the Czech Republic in July I felt preternaturally compelled to write about the efforts of Casey Luskin, a lawyer and IDer. At that time he was promising a whole series of tell-all revelations that he reckoned would dissolve the humanist edifice that is our present knowledge of the fossil record. As I now discover, in the interim I’ve missed many more articles by the prolific Mr. Luskin. No worries! The SA news ticker came to the rescue the other day when up popped this: 

THE GENUS HOMO: ALL IN THE FAMILY

Luskin’s major point is a variation of the theme of the earlier article. Australopithecus is an ape; Homo is a human. Read on to find out how he makes monkeys out of my colleagues. 
     I could give Luskin’s whole spiel a pass were it not for the way in which he artfully weaves the words of our colleagues into a narrative that underscores his conclusion–that the appearance of Homo in the fossil record isn’t prefigured by the earlier australopithecines, and is thus strong evidence of the special creation of humanity. Of course, to do so he must paint all members of the genus Homo in such a light that ‘we’ all appear to be like modern humans. And that’s where where my colleagues come in–aiding and abetting Luskin and his ilk with authoritative statements such as the ones included in the medley of the following Luskin quotes [complete with a very scholarly looking list of references cited]. 

‘Donald Johanson suggests that were erectus alive today, it could mate successfully with modern humans to produce fertile offspring.’ [from Lucy]

‘Wood and Collard [reinforce the similarities among members of our genus when they write]: “The numerous associated skeletons of H. neanderthalensis indicate that their body shape was within the range of variation seen in modern humans.” ‘ [That wouldn’t be you, Mark, would it?] [published in Science]

 ‘Erik Trinkaus likewise argues: “They may have had heavier brows or broader noses or stockier builds, but behaviorally, socially and reproductively they were all just people.” ‘ [From an interview in Time]

‘Trinkaus and others say there is no reason to believe they were any less intelligent than the newly arrived ‘modern humans.’ ‘ [Washington Post interview]

‘Fred H. Smith [adds in a Smithsonian interview] “[The first European palaeoanthropologists] believed [Neanderthals] to be scavengers who made primitive tools and were incapable of language or symbolic thought.” Now, … researchers believe that Neanderthals “were highly intelligent, able to adapt to a wide variety of ecological zones, and capable of developing highly functional tools to help them do so. They were quite accomplished.” ‘

‘Francesco d’Errico affirms these comments [in the same Smithsonian article], stating, “Neanderthals were using technology as advanced as that of contemporary anatomically modern humans and were using symbolism in much the same way.” ‘

My dear old friends from the Kebara Cave project add fuel to this fire: ‘ “the morphological basis for human speech capability appears to have been fully developed” in Neanderthals.’

‘Neanderthals made musical instruments like the flute.’ [citing the debunking article in Current Anthropology, as it happens]

‘a report in Nature from 1908 that reports the discovery of a Neanderthal type skeleton wearing chain mail armor.’ [from Notes in Nature, 77 (April 23, 1908): 587, see below.]

[At least Luskin owns up to the preceding two inferences being somewhat ‘uncertain’–would that my colleagues were so circumspect.]

‘Trinkaus says that when comparing ancient Europeans and Neanderthals: “Both groups would seem to us dirty and smelly but, cleaned up, we would understand both to be human. There’s good reason to think that they did as well.” ‘ [Another humdinger from the Washington Post article cited above]

Plunging the knife in even a tad further, Luskin then cites the recent DNA ‘evidence’ that Neanderthals R Us and vice versa. I don’t have to tell you what I and a few others think of those tasty inferences. The author finishes the medley of incriminating statements with: ‘We saw earlier that Leslie Aiello said “Australopithecines are like apes, and the Homo group are like humans.” ‘ [Shame on you Leslie Aiello. You of all people should know that you can’t split the ape family/superfamily into us and them.]

I ask you. How can we expect to gain credibility with the supernaturalists when we so readily feed their doctrinal belief that humans aren’t apes?  At every chance we should be reminding them that humans are nothing if not apes. That oughta get ’em thinking.
     So, let’s all get on the same page and stop these people from making monkeys of us all! 

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