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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Oy vey! Late-breaking News: Kebara Cave Neanderthal Was Terminally Depressed

 Earlier today Anonymous left a comment on my inaugural post, which among other things dealt with my work on the evidence for Middle Palaeolithic burial. I think this person’s statement deserves serious consideration, not because they’re right, but for all the reasons that they and their colleagues are wrong about, in this case, the Kebara 2 Neanderthal, nicknamed Moshe. Here is what Anonymous said:

As an grad student I excavated a Neandertal burial. Clear margins around the grave, and flexed position (fetal position), as in so many other cases. We all know about your interpretive caution, but you have to had been there to understand how clear it was. As hard as it might be to swallow, the ‘armchair’ critique that has been aimed at you must be factored. Anonymous for privacy…sorry!

I suspected that this person must’ve been referring to this specimen because of the phrase ‘clear margins.’ If I’m wrong, I hope Anonymous will disabuse me of my misconception. However I’m fairly certain Kebara 2 was the specimen being referred to. In situ, it was missing the right leg, and all that remained of the skull were mandible, hyoid and an upper molar.

Kebara 2 skeletal remains.

     Anyone who’s read carefully my critical analysis of this putative burial will already know the gist of what I’m about to say. I’ll try not to repeat myself. Instead, I prefer to bring forward, as evidence, a photograph that I was allowed to copy back in the late 80s, and which has always been in my back pocket, almost as a talisman against the buffetting winds of dismissal and denigration that my thoughts have received at the hands of rank and file palaeoanthropologists, including the authors of the Kebara 2 find, Ofer Bar-Yosef and Bernard Vandermeersch.
     This photo was first mentioned to me in a brown bag seminar I gave at UC Berkeley in my first year as a Ph.D. student there in 1988 or 89. The photographer was Yoel Rak, one of the physical anthropologists on the Kebara project, and not inconsequentially the author of The Australopithecine Face. Unfortunately it is a rather small file and doesn’t suffer much enlargement. However I think it’s sufficient to illustrate what I hope to foreground in this blurt.
     I was, frankly, astonished when I first saw it, because I immediately recognized the traces of solution processes that had clearly been at work in that place in the cave for quite some time. I’m referring to the numerous laminated strata beneath the partial skeleton, which I’ve delineated with red dots. Here is clear evidence of the processes that had created the traces of a 30-cm or so shallow ‘pit’ with the ‘clear margins’ that Anonymous and others documented, and to which Anon. refers in the above comment. 

     In karst, solution of bedrock and karstic diagenesis of unconsolidated sediments is an ongoing process. In this  location what I’d guess to be a source of phosphate and water had combined to produce basin-shaped depressions layer after layer through time. In fact, the only likely reason that a portion of the Kebara 2 specimen was preserved is that it came to rest in this natural depression, which would have received more rapid deposition of the sediments that contributed to the overall build-up of deposits over the centuries.
     What Anonymous didn’t tell you was that the ‘clear margin’ was invisible on the upslope side of Moshe [to the left in this view]. The only explanation for such an occurrence is that the natural depression, mistakenly inferred to be a burial pit, extended further to the left and ‘up’ in this view than the excavation unit in which the remains were found. On the evidence of this photo it’s clear that the ‘pit’ extended well beyond what you might otherwise expect a ‘burial pit’ to reach.


     I defy the excavators, and Anonymous, 
to explain their way out of this unacknowledged reality surrounding their discovery, the one that’s become part of the irreproachable archaeological canon of Neanderthal archaeology. In fact, I double-dog-dare ’em to reason their way out of this. Rak’s picture alone is worth any number of Roc de Marsal-style vindications to me [thanks, as always, to Denis Sandgathe, Harold Dibble, Paul Goldberg and the rest], because it is my Ace in the hole. And 21 is still Blackjack. Is it not? 
     I don’t mean to sound smug [since that is historically the province of my detractors], but will someone, please tell me I’m wrong. Seriously. I’ll wait. I’ll be right here, waiting, until I hear back from you. But I won’t be holding my breath.
  

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