Friday 25 November 2011

Shame On You, Peter Rowley-Conwy!

As Sherman Potter used to say on the TV series M*A*S*H*:

The article in question.
The material in question.
The paper to which P. R.-C. refers.

The source. Published by the Cambridge University Press (2001).

Peter Rowley-Conwy states flatly, as if it were as factual as the sunrise, that 
'the number of individuals is more than could accumulate by chance'
I said it in the maligned paper and no one including P. R.-C. listened. So I figure I'm safe in saying it again. 
There is NO WAY OF KNOWING the PRIOR PROBABILITY of the NUMBER and CONDITION of animal or hominid skeletal remains that will be discovered in an archaeological site. 
There is, however, ONE THING FOR SURE: 
the chance of finding fossilized Middle Palaeolithic hominid remains in caves is MANIFESTLY GREATER than the chance that they'll be found in the open air. 
Rowley-Conwy's pronouncement is hardly what I'd call the scholarly evaluation of an argument.
     This is an example of the pathetic state of some archaeological discourse in the twenty-first century. In other words, not much different from that of the twentieth century, from my perspective. Granted, Rowley-Conwy's  drivel was published ten years ago and I'm just now finding out about it. But cut me some slack. I left the academic stage at the same time this was published. It's intellectual dishonesty such as his that ensured my career in archaeology would be starved of oxygen--by a general inability or (worse) disinclination to seriously engage my arguments about Middle Palaeolithic burial; through bullying, and closed networks (old boys and others), and a  general disdain for anyone who questions the orthodoxy.
     I had intended to publish this yesterday, so forgive me if the turkey meme is getting stale (or was that 'putrid'). Still, the aim is the same. Need I say more?
Gabriel Stabile photo from the
New Yorker's online only edition, November 23, 2011. 


  1. I was just saying something similar in class the other day: "The reason we likely find Neandertal skeletons in caves is likely due to better preservation, less disturbance, and that's where we look." I'm really liking the critical perspective this blog takes. I don't agree with much of what you write, but I like reading it. I'm not quite ready to agree that the state of archaeological discourse is pathetic, but it has got me thinking it might.

  2. Thanks for looking in, Bob, despite your misgivings about my stance. I can truly appreciate your point of view. So I added 'some' to my characterization of archaeological discourse! And remember, Friends and Present Company are always 'accepted!'

  3. It is still odd that the earliest modern human burials are in the open air. I remember writing that one open air Neandertal would do more to support the belief that N buried their dead than all the evidence so far.

  4. @Iain
    It's not so odd if you consider the 'odds.' Given the relative scarcity of landscapes that include caves, and the vast open spaces across the world, I'd be surprised if most of the earliest examples were found in caves. Sampling theory would suggest quite the opposite.


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