Lahaye et al. 2013, Take 2

I simply can’t resist the urge to put up one more lot of reactions to the paper by Lahaye et al. Yesterday’s blurt took us through the the end of the paper’s first paragraph. Today’s featurette gets us a couple of sentences into paragraph 3. I think this’ll be the last editorial comment I’m going to make. [Big sighs are heard throughout the audience.] [Sheesh. Somebody’s gotta do it!]

TEXT, paragraph 2, Line 1 
“As already stated there is a lot of data available. However, some are contradictory and what is needed is reliable chronological framework.”
The first statement is superfluous. In the second sentence there is no indication what is meant by “some are contradictory.” Also, I’m not sure “reliable” is helpful here—“unassailable” might be more correct, as would “accurate and precise.” There’s an article missing, too. It should read “… needed is a reliable…”

TEXT, paragraph 2, line 3
So we propose to bring new chronological data to the issue by using luminescence dating in the study of a South American archaeological site, the Toca da Tira Peia site, the integrity of which is not under question.
They aren’t “proposing” anything; they simply bring new … data to the issue.” In that vein, I’m fairly certain that, on the basis of paragraph 1, the reader will have any idea what the “issue” is of which the authors speak. Using “site” twice within seven words is repetitive. And then there’s that “integrity” again, that was mentioned in the abstract. It’s still vague.
TEXT, Paragraph 2, line 7
“The site is located in Brazil, close to the Serra da Capivara National Park and its controversial Boqueirão da Pedra Furada archaeological site.”
The word “site is again repeated. Use of “is located” is redundant. The site of Pedra Furada is not “controversial,” but the claims for its antiquity are. This collection of words tells us only that the site is close to a National Park the location of which most readers will have no idea, nor any idea why the authors would have mentioned it. The same would be the case for Pedra Furada, were it not for the map of South America that the authors provide. By the way, that map—Figure 1—identifies five sites not mentioned in the text, nor included on their timeline: Toca da penaBaxão da EsperançaSítio do MeioSantana do Riacho, Alice Boër. It’s a small point, but three of the sites that aren’t mentioned are included in the cluster of red dots in which the Toca da Tira Peia occurs. As if the inadequacy of the map scale weren’t problem enough. In that vein, although this is apparently the first publication arising from the excavations at Toca da Tira Peia, the authors provide no site plan, two schematic profiles, and one photograph of the profile from which the OSL samples were taken. One isn’t provided the site’s aspect with respect to the sun, nor even a plan of the excavations. For that reason the reader has no clear idea where, in relation to the refitted artifacts, the OSL samples were taken. Furthermore, beyond the authors’ assurances that they were able to discern stratification in their excavations, the sole documentation is the profile photograph (Figure 6). To the reader’s eye, that profile looks homogeneous. Under those circumstances it behooved the authors to provide some empirical evidence of their claim to have found stratification. 
TEXT, paragraph 2, line 8
“It will contribute to the establishment of a chronological reference framework, that will allow us to reconsider the “Clovis first” paradigm and, potentially, to contribute to the rewriting of the history of the peopling of the South American continent.”
This sentence begins with an ambiguous antecedent—the proximate “It” is Pedra Furada, with the National Park a close second, and the site itself a distant third. I find specious that the authors’ contribution will do anything to “establish” what they claim. Moreover they say they’ll establish a concept that as written represents a triple-redundant nominative phrase—“a chronological reference framework.” I’ll leave their claim regarding ” ‘Clovis first’ .”This sentence uses “contribute” twice.
TEXT, paragraph 3, line 1
“The oldest traces of human activity in the extreme south of the continent have been studied and the corpus concerning Patagonia is particularly well documented.”
The “extreme south of the continent” and “Patagonia” are equivalent and thus repetitive in this sentence. This paper could easily have done without this sentence, since it states only that traces have been studied and the corpus is documented.
TEXT, paragraph 3, line 3
“The Clovis-first model predicts the arrival of the Pleistocene hunter–gatherers around 10,000 years BP (around 9500 years BC) in the southern part of the continent.”
This sentence begins an authorial digression that amounts to their claiming that citing ages based on 14C should be calculated from the present year rather than from 1950, which has always been the convention. They clearly fail to recognize that, in choosing not to use the baseline of 1950, by the time 2014 comes around their article will be out of date, literally. I can’t believe that the referees let this nonsense be published. Regarding the authors’ depiction of the “Clovis first” model, as I understand it, the consensus age of the Clovis phenomenon is about 11,500 radiocarbon years before the present. Despite what the authors have written, the earliest Clovis sites are not 10,000 years before present, nor 9,500 years before the putative birth of Christ (i.e. 11,513 BP). The earliest Clovis sites are approximately 13,500 calBP. This gaffe casts a long shadow, given their later claim that Monte Verde I at 14,400 BP is significantly at odds with the “Clovis first” scenario. Monte Verde I may be as old as they claim, but it’s largely moot, given that there’s only a 900 year difference, and given that the authors thereafter give us no indication of the age estimates’ error range. It’s quite possible that the date they cite for Monte Verde I has a wider range of error than the 13,500 calBP consensus age for the earliest Clovis sites. I’m left wondering the authors are inadvertently erecting a Straw Man, or are simply benighted with respect to radiocarbon age estimates. However, it is clear that they completely forego convention in the way they choose to cite age estimates. That alone should have meant that the ms needed to be revised. I find their entire presentation of what they term the “state of the art” in South American prehistory to be less than credible, as it continues to fall short in the way the research is presented. My favorite is “in order to be able to compare numerical values that are comparable.”

What, Exactly, Do The Elsevier Editors Do? Judging From Lahaye et al. (JAS 40:2840–2847, 2013) They Do Boom All!

Before I dig in, as it were, to the substance of this paper by Lahaye et al., I have a few words to say about the presentation quality of this article. In brief, I find the data chosen for tables and figures to be unhelpful in assessing the validity of many of the claims made. I find also that the text is riddled with non-standard archaeological terminology, and there are plenty of examples of lexical, grammatical and other errors that could have been avoided if there had been a native speaker of English on the research team, and should have been avoided if [and probably because] the editor had been a native speaker. I am appalled, not by the research team’s effort to communicate in English, but by the fact that no one on the editorial staff seemed to care. At least half the journal’s Editorial Board I know to be native speakers. How this level of English expression was allowed through to publication is beyond me. In a moment, I’ll provide a selective list of sub-standard data and lexicon.

First, though, I thought I’d check to see if the publisher, Elsevier, had any policy on the expected level of English expression. Indeed, they do. Have a look.


The passage that I find most telling is this one

Our long history of publishing peer-reviewed scientific journals has equipped us to ensure your English is free of grammatical and spelling errors. 

That Elsevier have chosen to offer a paper “free of errors” FOR A PRICE tells me that the journal is willing to publish sub-standard English, as long as it is, on the whole, comprehensible. I’d say that broken English is comprehensible, but it doesn’t constitute what the journal calls “English … of a high quality.” Notwithstanding that, the caliber of expression evident in Lahaye et al.’s article obviously wasn’t enough to “cause delays and initial rejections.”

Okay. What do I see as problematic? Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. [Will I ever get those show tunes out of my brain? It’s getting full.]

ABSTRACT, line 1.
“Numerous data, from archaeological researches
That’s simply incorrect grammar. “Researches” is the third-person present form of the verb “to research.” The plural of research is “research.”
ABSTRACT, line 6.
“all our observations … tend to prove the good integrity of the site and the anthropological nature of the artifacts.”
I’m gonna guess that, by “good integrity” the authors mean stratigraphic integrity, and that the artifacts with an “anthropological” nature are those attributed to human behaviour and not geofacts [as stone that has been fractured in such a way that it is difficult to rule out either nature or human agency.
ABSTRACT, line 8.
“The results bring new pieces of evidence of a human presence”
I’ve heard of “pieces” of a puzzle and”pieces of eight,” but I’ve never encountered “pieces” of evidence. If taken literally, the use of “pieces” in this context would indicate that not much had been recovered—only pieces of what they might have hoped to obtain.
TEXT, line 1.
“Understanding the dynamics, knowing the age and the way the first peopling of America took place is, more than ever, a challenge for research, and is closely linked with societal issues.”
Given that “Understanding” is part of what appears to be a compound subject [of one sort or another], one has to assume that the verb in this sentence is “is,” which is followed by “a challenge for research … [that is] … “closely linked with societal issues.” “Understanding” what, exactly. The “dynamics.” But, the “dynamics” of what? If one is to make any sense out of this sentence, whatsoever, one must infer that “the age” and “the way” of the peopling of America are the dynamics alluded to in the first part. And, speaking of firsts, this is the first sentence in the article.
TEXT, line 3.
“Different theories have been in contradiction for a long time, and the paradigm of a post-11,500 years BP occupation has remained predominant for a long time.”
I can’t help from suggesting that the first part, in a very awkward way, is telling us that “contradictory theories” have been around “for a long time.” “Years” is simply redundant. A certain “paradigm” has “predominated,” we are told,  AGAIN “for a long time.” I wouldn’t let this sentence stand in an undergraduate essay.
TEXT, line 6.
“Nevertheless numerous new pieces of data question the initial acceptance of a theory of a migration from Siberia to Beringia, and then from the north to the south of the American continent.”
Okay. Let’s see if we can sort this one out. The subject is “pieces.” Those “pieces” question something. That’s impossible. A “piece” of something is incapable of “questioning” anything. [I’ll ignore the use of the term “migration,” which implies that these people knew where they were going.] This “migration” is said to have taken place beginning in Siberia, continuing across Beringia, and from there, “from the north to the south” of a “continent” that doesn’t exist on the map. As to the direction taken once on the continent that has no existence, it would have been difficult for the first people to have travelled in a SOUTH TO NORTH direction!

This paper is heading for a failing mark, and we’re not out of the THE FIRST PARAGRAPH yet!

TEXT, line 9.
“Maybe, most of all, these new data question the values of the terminus post-quem imposed by a chronological limit fixed to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).”
In this example I’ve highlighted the words that are the frame of this sentence. I’ll condense it for you. “These data question the values of the LGM.” Somehow I don’t think that’s what the authors wanted to say. Once again, we have an inanimate object—in this case “data”—questioning “values.” We won’t find out until much later in the paper why the LGM is mentioned in the introductory paragraph.
TEXT, line 11.
“As far as the southern part of the continent is concerned, until recently it was admitted that it had been quickly colonized after the diffusion of the Clovis culture in the north.” There’s that mythical continent again! In this, the last sentence of the first paragraph, we are told that someone has “admitted” [South America] was colonized after some diffusion in the north. I doubt that anybody “admitted” anything.

Phew! We’ve now made it through the first paragraph.

As you can plainly see, at a minimum this article’s first paragraph is rife with editorial shortcomings. Believe me, it doesn’t end there. As a result, there isn’t time to cover the rest of this article.

Someone should give Elsevier a kick in the ass, especially considering how much their damned publications cost!


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