Re: African Artifacts Suggest an Earlier Modern Human

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Tue Dec 04 2001 - 00:23:02 EST

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    I saw Moorad's posting of the NYT article and thought a comment was in
    order. This article represents a position which, in my opinion, is simply
    logically and observationally flawed. The thesis is that these guys are more
    human because they were able to conceive that they could make bone tools and
    then they went and did it. Steven Mithen, one of the most illogical of
    authors I have read, represents the position well. He says:

            "The first was the absence of artifacts made from bone, antler or ivory.
    This can only be explained by recognizing that Early Humans could not think
    of using such materials for tools: these materials were once parts of
    animals and animals were thought about in the domain of natural history
    intelligence. The conceptual leap required to think about parts of animals
    using cognitive processes which had evolved in the domain of inert, physical
    objects appears to have been too great for Early Humans." ~ Steven Mithen,
    The Prehistory of the Mind, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996), p. 130

    This is flawed logically on the grounds that the assumption (no ancient bone
    tools) is false. It is false on the grounds that some modern human cultures
    didn't make bone tools. It is false in believing that bone tool manufacture
    defines humanity and it is false on the grounds that there is a conceptual
    difference in tool manufacture between using stone rather than bone. There
    is no difference between conceiving the making of a tool out of wood, out of
    stone or out of bone. One has to envision the tool in his mind's eye and
    then extract that shape out of the material. The mental process is the same.

    Bone tools do NOT define humanity. There have been several cultures of
    MODERN humans within historical times that made NO bone tools. By this
    thesis, these people can't be fully modern, yet they can learn quantum
    physics and learn to pray if raised in our society. One such culture was the
    Tasmanians. Josephine Flood writes:

            "Bone tools were also present at Rocky cape. Seven thousand years ago
    people here were using a considerable number and variety of bone artefacts:
    large, rounded tipped points or awls made from macropod shin bones, small,
    sharp needle-like points (without an eye), broad spatulae, and an assortment
    of split slivers of bone fashioned ot a point at one end. The people were
    using one bone tool to every two or three stone ones.
            "A remarkable change took place over the next four thousand years: bone
    tools dropped out of use. By 4000 years ago only one bone tool was being
    used for every fifteen stone ones, and by 3500 years ago they had
    disappeared from the Tasmanian toolkit altogether. This disappearance of
    bone tools in Tasmania about 3000 years ago has been confirmed by the
    evidence of several other sites in both the north-west and east of the
    island." ~ Josephine Flood, "The Archeology of the Dreamtime, (New Haven:
    Yale University Press, 1989), p. 176-177

    Who wants to call the Tasmanians, less than human simply because they didn't
    make bone tools? And what kind of logic forces one to say that modern
    humans, who have all the abilities we do, are not fully human?

    This position is observationally FALSE because mankind was making bone tools
    long before Blombos Cave's inhabitants were around. Brian Hayden mentions
    only some of the data that contradicts this incredibly silly idea. He says:

            "Claims that bone tool and blade technology were somehow beyond the mental
    capacities of Neandertals are foundationless. There is no empirical or even
    common sense basis for Dennell's and Gargett's claim that the manufacture of
    bone tools requires a different or a more complex conceptualization process
    than the manufacture of stone tools. As Marshack points out, there is no
    conceptual difference between the carving or shaping of wood and the carving
    or shaping of bone, and there is abundant evidence for Lower and middle
    Paleolithic wood working from use wear analyses as well as actual preserved
    implements, e.g., the yew spear from Clacton, England (ca. 300,000 B.P.;
    Oakley et al., 1977), the spear end in the rib cage of an elephant at
    Lehringen Germany (ca. 120,000 B. P.; Jacob-Friesen, 1956) and the Acheulian
    wood tools from Kalambo Falls." ~ Brian Hayden "The Cultural Capacities of
    Neandertals ", Journal of Human Evolution 1993, 24:113?146, p. 117

    He also points out that there is an antler digging stick and an awl made
    from bone found at Regourdou which dates to 80,000 years ago vs. 70,000 for
    Blombos. And Regourdou was a Neanderthal site (Hayden ibid. p. 119-120).

    Bone digging tools were found at Swartkrans which date 1.6 million yeas ago.
    And the only fossil hominid found with them was Australopithecus. If they
    could conceive of using bone for tools, then so could the smarter members of
    our genus. (C. K. Brain and A. Sillen, "Evidence from the Swartkrans cave
    for the Earliest Use of Fire," Nature 336(1988 ):464-465
    ) Johanson and Edgar, in From Lcy to Language, p. 250, mention a swartkrans
    bone tool that might be as old as 2 million years old!

    At Prolom II bone whistles were found which date at 100,000 years ago and
    they are nothing more than tools for making sound! (Vadim Stpanchuk, "Prolom
    II, A Middle Palaeolithic Cave Site in the Eastern Crimea with
    Non-Utilitarian Bone Artefacts," Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
    59(1993):17-37, p. 17)

    At Haua Fteah Cave, Libya, the oldest known bone flute was found and dated
    to 70,000-80,000 years ago. Once again, this is a bone tool for making
    sound. (Glynn Isaac,,"Chronology and the Tempo of Cultural Change during the
    Pleistocene." in Calibration of Hominid Evolution, ed. W.W. biship and J.
    Miller, Edinburgh: Scottish Academic press (1972), p. 381-430 reprinted in
    Barbara Isaac, editor, The Archaeology of Human Origins, (Cambridge:
    Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 71)

    Marshack points out the following:
    "A digging stick made from a mammoth rib, c. 250 000 BP, has recently been
    found at Abri Vaufrey, Dordogne." ~ Alexander Marshack, "Early Hominid
    Symbol and Evolution of the Human Capacity," in Paul Mellars, The Emergence
    of Modern Humans, (Ithica: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), pp 457-498, p. 474

    Wolpoff and Caspari note:
    "There, barbed bone points and grindstones were found, dated to about 90,000
    years (although with a probable error range of almost 25 percent)." ~
    Milford Wolpoff and Rachael Caspari, Race and Human Evolution, (New York:
    Simon and Schuster, 1997), p. 327

    At Torralba and Ambrona, mammoth tusk spear points were made. The site dates
    to 400,000 years old. ~ F. C. Howell and L. G. Freeman, "Ivory Points From
    the Earlier Acheulean of the Spanish Meseta," in Martin Almagro Basch,
    Homanje, (Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura, 1983), pp 41-61

     We can all pretend that the above bone tools don't exist and hold fast to
    the hypothesis that ancient mankind was too stupid to make bone tools, or we
    can see this article and the ideas it contains for what it is--propaganda
    for downplaying the abilities of even more ancient people. The NYT article
    is one of those that reporters do from time to time which vastly displays
    their ignorance of what they write about.

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