RE: Language at the dawn of humanity

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Fri Mar 28 2003 - 01:15:00 EST

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    Hi Peter,
    You asked:

    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: Peter Ruest []
    >Sent: Friday, March 28, 2003 5:47 AM

    >Would you care to comment on the following article? Or anyone else on
    >the list?
    >Klein R.G., "Whither the Neanderthals?", Science 299 (7 March 2003),
    >1525-1527, reviews the current situation about the origins of modern
    >humans, in particular in connection with their differences from the
    >He infers a crucial unknown event around 50,000 years ago in the brains
    >of modern humans in Africa, but not Neandertals in Europe or Middle
    >East. He refers to the evidence from the relatively recent coalescence
    >date estimate of the gene FOXP2 required for speech and language,
    >greater behavioral flexibility and inferred ethnic
    >identity-consciousness of Cro-Magnons, lack of Neandertal burial ritual
    >or ceremony, projectile weapons, well-made bone tools and jewelry, and
    >rapid replacement of the Neandertals after a long, relatively
    >inconspicuous history. How do you evaluate these indicators for such a
    >postulated crucial brain event around 50,000 years ago?

    First we need to get a couple of factual things correct. The FOXP2 work was
    published in Nature, Aug 22, 2002 p. 869 by Enard et al. Their work does
    not say 50,000 years for the evolution of FOXP2 but 200,000 years. Klein is
    one of those who kind of twists the data to fit his viewpoint--I have read
    his recent book.

    There are several pieces of evidence against Klein's hypothesis, which is
    one that has been around long before Klein. The Hazdabe and Ju|'hoansi
    peoples appear to be separated by 112,000 years and they have a rare but
    related language. This implies that language was in existence that long ago
    in agreement with Enard et al and in disagreement with Klein's twisted view.
    Secondly, given that issue, there was no behavioral difference between the
    Neanderthals and anatomically moderns for something like the first
    60,000-160,000 years of anatomically modern humans' existence. If language
    was such a great thing, it didn't distinguish those who supposedly had it
    from those like the Neanderthals, who supposedly didn't have it.

    Neanderthal hyperglossal canal is as big as ours. This canal carries the
    nerves which enable careful control of the tongue. It seems strange that
    evolution would evolve such control in both Neanderthals and moderns when
    such control wasn't required for one of them.

    mtDNA coalescence show that modern humans are descended from a common female
    who lived somewhere between 100 and 200 thousand years ago. That means that
    any FOXP2 gene change which affected the human populuation would more
    easily spread from that time frame.

    As to the supposed lack of Neanderthal burial objects, this is just plain
    silly. If a stone tool is found on the chest of a modern it is interpreted
    as a burial object but if found on a Neanderthal it is far too often
    interpreted as an accidental event. Neanderthals at Regourdou constructed a
    cairn and laid out Neanderthals along with ritually placed bear bones.
    Teshik Tash goat horns were arranged symetrically around the Neanderthal. A
    boars jaw was found in the hands of an adult at Skhul and a sculpted stone
    was found with an infant neanderthal in Dedireyah Syria. And Neanderthals
    did use bone tools (at Regourdou, 80,000 years ago), just not as much as
    moderns. One can see for
    information on the things Neanderthals invented which include coal mining,
    the flued hearth, the venus figurine craze, anoxic chemistry and shellfish
    exploitation. But we moderns do like to throw rocks at these guys who no
    longer can defend themselves.

    I would also point out that Neanderthals were not easily conquored.
    anatomically modern humans (AMH) stood at the door to Europe, unable to go
    there for 60,000 years. They went to China and even possibly Australia
    before they were able to enter Europe. The Neanderthals were powerful people
    as their muscle attachments show. They would have been a formidible foe and
    probably beat the AMH's and took their women. In any event the conquest of
    Europe, when it occurred, took over 13,000 years, not exactly a Blitzkrieg.
    AMH's are believed to have entered Europe around 42,000 years ago. The last
    Neanderthals are dated to something like 28,000 years ago. To say this is
    'rapid' is plain silly.

    And I don't think the Neanderthal history was 'inconspicuous' given the
    things they appear to have invented which we still use. There is also good
    genetic evidence that some of their genes flow in modern
    Europeans-red/blonde hair, the horizontal oval form of the mandibular
    foramen (found in 1% of modern Europeans and almost unknown elsewhere but
    found in almost all Neanderthals.) There are other things as well.

    So, what do I think of Klein's view? Not much.

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