Regourdou Redux, All Over Again.

Obi-Wan Kenobi was using a little Force-ful mind control there. Effective, in a fiction. But, in reality, I can’t help thinking there’s a history of transgenerational mind control in paleoanthropology. How else to explain the persistent fiction that Middle Paleolithic hominids buried their dead?

Everyone knows that to “assume” often results in making asses out of all who make an unwarranted assumption. That’s why I’m forced to conclude that many of my peers are, to put it in the vernacular, inadvertent asses. Another way of putting it is that they “drank the Kool-Aid,” and are therefore physically incapable of making informed, critical, decisions about even the most egregious examples of unwarranted inference making in the paleoanthropological canon.

Only someone who is thoroughly enchanted by the mind control that exists in paleoanthropology could be bamboozled by the claims that some of their peers have made. Indeed, it seems as if all critical ability flies out the window whenever someone makes a claim about something that Neanderthals could do. No inference is too shaky, or too insufficiently supported, or too preposterous, to go unquestioned.

Unbelievable flights of fancy emanated from La Grotte de Regourdou (Montignac, Dordogne, France) in the 1950s and ’60s, thanks to Eugène Bonifay and Bernard Vandermeersch [with whom, by the way, I have, or had, a convivial relationship back in the 1980s]. These included a Neanderthal burial and—hold on to your hat—a purposefully buried bear!

Before you go and get all excited, let me assuage your fears. I’m not bringing this up again just to whine and piss on Grandma’s grave . . . again. Rather, I have a scholarly purpose. Somehow or other I missed a recent article presenting a taphonomic examination of the carnivore bones from Regourdou. I’m a couple of years behind the curve here, but, in this business that’s the blink of an eye. So, what’s the story? Just wait. It’s sweet.

“L’OURS QUI A VU L’HOMME ? Étude archéozoologique et taphonomique du site paléolithique moyen de Regourdou (Montignac, Dordogne, France),” by N. Cavanhié. PALEO 21: 39–64, 2009–2010.

So. Let’s see. Bonifay and Vandermeersch excavated. Vandermeersch later creates a new journal PALEO in his own image. Cavanhié, decades on, sees a project in the Regourdou carnivore remains. Cavanhié needs access. Bonifay is one of the gods of French archaeology. Whom among the gods would one choose to cheese off if one wished to work on his fauna? Additionally, how near to finished, to say nothing of published, does Cavanhié get if Cavanhié so much as mentions the Subversive Archaeologist’s early career attempt to show the discipline the error of Bonifay’s ways? And where, if anywhere, would Cavanhié choose to publish? Right you are!

So, a few choice quotes to remind you of how mindless one can become when one’s mind is controlled by the likes of Eugène-i-Wan Kenobi.

The excavators ascribed an anthropic origin to the presence of bears at the cave.

Like, bears couldn’t get into caves themselves!

According to them, Mousterian people linked the bear to the belief in resurrection because of his capacity for hibernation, and consumed it in the cave during funeral meals.

Never heard that one before. Stunning, ain’t it? So reasonable, and yet “Oh, so untestable!”

The Mousterian people would then deposit the skins, the head and the paws in structures (pits and tumuli [piles of rock]).

This is the first I’ve heard to suggest that the bear ‘burial’ wasn’t a complete skeleton.

In the opinion of the excavators, the relationship between Mousterian people and bears was visible in the Neanderthal grave because two bear shin bones were placed in the same position as the Neandertal shin bones, which were absent.

That’s some really, really arcane ritual stuff. O’ course, if you look at the Neanderthal remains that were recovered from the putative grave, you’ll see that the tibiae weren’t the only missing bits. Indeed, most of the lower limbs are absent. Ironic, isn’t it? No matter how hard those Neanderthals tried to “protect” the “corpses” of their “kin” they didn’t always succeed. Somehow or other those pesky taphonomical thingies succeeded in scuppering their best intentions. Those taphonomicals are even more impressive in this case, since, as you’ll see a little further down, they managed to wriggle their way into a “tumulus” forming the ‘grave’ [read: a collection of rocks containing the bones] and rubbish the skeleton—leaving only what you see in the image below. [By the way, the lower three rib fragment on the left of this image aren’t hominid. But, who am I to use an ad hominem argument to discredit somebody who arranged these remains eons ago and took the only photo of them that I could find on the web?]

Regourdou 1. Putatively buried.

Back to the great quotes . . .

In addition, this grave . . . was associated with a pit . . . , which for the excavators, represented an inhumation of a bear after ritual consummation [sic] . . .. For these authors, the bear bone accumulations are wholly anthropic, but for others authors, a natural mortality (during hibernation) can be envisioned . . . .

Wow! That was a brave move—suggesting that there may have been a natural explanation for the bear remains. Alas! Although there was a reference to the proposed natural explanation, Cavanhié somehow overlooked Gargett 1989 [in which I thoroughly defused Bonifay’s every claim, including that of bear burial], and instead cites a compatriot, Fosse 2002, of whom, of course, I’d never heard, nor of the paper. Obviously, my review copy of L’ours et l’homme: Colloque d’Auberives 1997 is missing in the mail, and lying in some ‘dead letter’ office in Mombassa [or similar].

Fosse, P., P. Morel, et J.-P. Brugal. “Taphonomie et éthologie des Ursidés Pléistocènes.” In : Tillet, T. and L.R. Binford L.R. (éds), L’ours et l’homme: Colloque d’Auberives 1997, 79-101, 2002.

[Fosse, by the way, is French for hole in the ground—quite a career choice for M., Mlle, or Mme. Fosse!]

As for the natural vs Neanderthal cultural depositional circumstances of Regourdou 1, the image below was taken during its excavation. I can see what’s most likely a Neanderthal humeral head and what’s likely its dislocated diaphysis casting a shadow in the upper right, a bear’s distal tibia poking out and also casting a shadow, and at the same level, what I think must be a partially exposed bear fibula. These remains are clearly disarticulated and disturbed. Ironic, as I mentioned above, considering the trouble Bonifay claims the Neanderthals went to to “protect” the “corpse,” as you’ll see in a moment.

I’m even more sceptical of Bonifay’s claims, now that I’ve seen these two photo-documents of the remains and the one below showing the demolition excavation of the site.

Regourdou during Bonifay’s demolition excavations. Notice the collapsed cave’s proximity to the modern-day surface.

Now, let’s have a look at Cavanhié’s depiction of the pit and the pile that were said to have been the graves of a bear and a Neanderthal [actually this is one of Bonifay’s original illustrations, with Cavanhié’s embellishments]. 

The “Sépulture humaine” is the Neanderthal ‘burial.’ “Fosse 4 C” is subtitled “inhumation d’ours.” “Inhumation” is a burial, and an “ours” is an bear.
Speaking of bears. Being a bear of little brain, can anyone explain to me how Bonifay  could have distinguished between the artificially darkened rocks he called the “Sépulture humaine” and the rocks of the “Mur Nord” [north wall]? Ouija board? Tarot? Crystal ball? And, just out of curiosity, where did all those rocks come from???
Kay, so, have another look at the demolition excavation photo, above. See the ground level? Regourdou is a collapsed cave. The excavated portion was beneath the final roof collapse, which formed the modern land surface. This is shown beautifully in Bonifay’s diagram, below.

The letter S in the profile above denotes the modern-day surface. The notation “ch” indicates that this infilled limestone feature was what geologists called a chimney—an opening to the surface through which outside sediments made their way into the cave proper. All of the rocks that look like parts of a brick wall are the rubble of repeated major and minor roof collapse that ultimately buried the ‘archaeological’ strata of this site. I’ve indicated various bits of cave breakdown material, from the small stuff that’s clearly part of the chimney’s breakdown, to the middling sized stuff interspersed with the gigantic blocks in the upper middle, to the elongated blocks that are lying conformably on the central talus cone—the slanting surface that’s implied by their orientation, even thought there’s no symbolic depiction of what they’re resting on.

In the complex profile above, please note the scale, and the stratigraphic units labelled IVA, IVB, and IVC, respectively—indicating the Neanderthal burial tumulus [cairn or rock pile], the ‘north wall,’ shown here as an elongated lens, and the bear burial pit, looking like an empty space in a stratum overlain by IVB. [That, in itself, should set off alarms, since, in the profile below, IVC abuts IVB, which, stratigraphically speaking, indicates contemporaneity, not diachronic episodes—and, where, by the way, is the big flat rock that the bear was found under?] Also note, if you can, that these three features occur along the line between squares G3-4 and B3-4.

The image above is an enlarged cross-section that follows a line parallel to, and less than a metre closer to the observer than the more-complex cross-section above it—i.e. the section line spans G3 and C3. As you can also see, this close-up includes not only the Sépulture humaine—now a burial pit—but also the Mur nord, shown now as an unnatural, vertically oriented accumulation of boulders, and the gigantic [more than 2 tonne] Grande dalle, or ‘big flat rock,’ which the Neanderthals were said to have placed over the dead bear. Burly folk, the Neanderthals!

K. So, now we’ve seen the Neanderthal’s final resting place depicted as a cairn and a rock-filled depression. Wait. What? Yep. The wall is either a very wall-like vertical structure or an elongated lens—take your pick. And the bear burial, more like a dolmen, really, rather than the lidless stratum depicted in the previous section, or a fosse.

Now have a look at the cross-section below. This one is at right angles to the two up above. IVA is once again shown as a cairn—it’s a shape-shifter! Note also that there is no sign of IVB—the wall—or IVC—the bear burial. That’s interesting all by itself, since in this view IVA—the lonely tumulus cum sépulture humaine—is depicted as a pile of rock beginning against the cave wall in Row 1, and ending somewhere in Row 3. In other words, not only is IVA shown here as a pile and not a basin, but it’s also drawn in a completely different place than it’s shown in the detailed profile above.

W.T.F? W.T.F., indeed!

Now for the really subversive bit.
Or, should I say, the really sensible bit.
All of the illustrative material I’ve shown you here attests to one gigantic reality that seems to have excaped not only Bonifay, but also Cavanhié and EVERYONE ELSE IN THE PALEOANTHROPOLOGICAL COMMUNITY WHO’S EVER REFERRED TO THIS CRAP AS BEING INFERENTIALLY SOUND!
This is a karst landform. This was a subterranean cave. It was developing along the lines of squillions of similar geomorphic formations across the globe. In such places the following can be said, UNEQUIVOCALLY
1. The breakdown products of the vertical and sub-vertical surfaces of the cave [colloquially called walls] will fall vertically and come to rest on the floor of the cave immediately below their previous location.
2. The breakdown products of the upper horizontal and sub-horizontal surfaces of the cave [colloquially called the ceiling] will come to rest on the floor of the cave immediately below their previous location.
The floor of the cave is sloping.
Now, Grasshopper, look at the detailed profiles again. More UNEQUIVOCAL reality.
1. Sediments entering through the chimney will form a cone of talus.
2. Breakdown products of vaults forming in the ceiling will tend to fall in a circumscribed area directly beneath the developing vaults, forming cones of talus, or in the near-term, piles.
3. The sloping surface on which the large flat rocks are resting near IVC are resting on a humungous talus cone that formed beneath a vault or a chimney not shown, at a time when the cave volume was more open.

In such circumstances, it can be stated UNEQUIVOCALLY that on a steep-enough slope
1. Any breakdown products that are sub-round will immediately roll to the bottom, forming murs, ‘walls,’ at the base of planar slopes, and sépultures in naturally formed basins.
2. Any breakdown products that are laminar will come to rest conformably on the slope, or bridging nearby naturally accumulated tumuli or murs. forming what might appear to be a lid over a fosse, or basin.
We can thus state, UNEQUIVOCALLY, that
1. The inferences of purposeful burial and constructed walls at Regourdou are a very large, steaming pile of . . . it.


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More On David Frayer et al.’s Ham-Handed Effort to Use Regourdou 1’s Anterior Dentition To Argue For Language in Neanderthals

Every once in a while a story drops into my lap that makes me thankful there are other disciplines and other minds at work in and around our beloved discipline. In this case, it’s something I found at,

A predominance to be right-handed is not a uniquely human trait, but one shared by great apes, study finds

I know, I know. Me mate, Mark Collard, has recently upbraided me [in what I hope was a friendly poke in the ribs] for turning off my bullshit-ometer when something comes along that fits with my view of the world. Be that as it may. In this case, I wouldn’t know where to begin to be critical of the results, since it’d prolly mean watching thousands of hours of video of children and gorillas doing stuff with their hands. Not something my mother raised me for.
     So, I’m provisionally accepting the findings of Dr Gillian Forrester [who did do the hard yakka watching and coding the video], a visiting fellow in psychology at the University of Sussex and a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Westminster.

The … findings, published in Behavioural Brain Research, challenge a widely held view that right-handed dominance in humans was a species-unique trait linked to the emergence of language. Scientists have long been aware of the association between the left hemisphere specialization for language in the human brain and human right-handedness. For example, 95% of those who are right-handed typically have language function supported by the left hemisphere.

Rewind to about September 8. The Subversive Archaeologist. A piece entitled ‘You Gotta Hand It to Them: From Handedness to Humanity in One. No, Two. No! Seven Inferential Leaps!‘ and followup a couple of days later, ‘A Final (Maybe Not) Word on The Regourdou 1 Micro-Scratches: A Case of Archaeological Foot-and-Mouth?‘ I was responding to the claim that the minute scratches on the labial surfaces of Regourdou 1’s anterior teeth were evidence of right-handedness. The authors preposterously proceed from there to proclaim that it’s also evidence that the Neanderthals had language. Whether or not the Neanderthals could carry on a conversation with me or you, the claim made on behalf of Regourdou 1 and Neanderthals has just suffered a[nother] crippling blow [the first, of course, was my pithy take-down].
     Dr. Forrester also, and crucially, notes that while right-handedness shows up in gorillas when they are manipulating inanimate objects, they cease to favour one or the other hand when interacting with other members of their species. As the good Dr. points out:

‘Human right-handedness is not species-specific as traditionally thought, but rather is context-dependent – a pattern that has been previously masked by less sensitive experimental measures. Our findings support the idea that both human and ape brains have this left hemisphere specialisation directing the right side of the body for ordered sequences of behaviours, but that humans have been able to extend upon this neural architecture to develop language.’

The mighty silverback contemplates manipulating an object with his right hand. Either that or he’s getting ready to signal the pitcher.

In closing, allow me to say that Victory [even a whiff of it] is sweet!
Nitey-nite to all my subversive archaeologist friends.

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