Sunday 19 August 2012

Drop Dead! One Of These Days I'm Really Gonna Lose It! Sima de los Huesos Was a Cemetery????

Did he fall? Was he pushed? Or, did he jump?

If I didn't know it was a story from Spain I'd have to say that this is truly *cough* galling!
 El hallazgo de la falange de un niño en esta campaña ha venido a reforzar la teoría que manejaban los investigadores de que la Sima de los Huesos alberga un santuario en el que se realizarían ritos funerarios. «Se trataría del primer santuario de la humanidad», explicó Arsuaga, quien argumentó que no existen restos en toda Eurasia de este calibre. «Es la prueba más antigua de un comportamiento funerario y de una acumulación colectiva», recalcó.
The short paraphrase is this: according to its excavation team, northern Spain's extremely well known hominid site, Sima de los Huesos, near Atapuerca (Burgos, Castile and León), is rife with the remains of Homo heidelbergensis [or H. antecessor, if you prefer] because it was the site of ritual disposal of the dead! Make. It. Stop. Please!
     It's been said before, of course, and lately it has sparked Sheffield's Paul Pettitt to invoke no end of totally untestable hypotheses about the 'evolution' of mortuary behaviour. And, of course, the media everywhere love to report spectacular archaeological claims. But what are we talking about, here? Graves? Tombs? A mausoleum? Perhaps a columbarium? Well, no.

That's gotta hurt!

     In fact, the circumstances of deposition can easily be guessed by translating the site's name into English. The word 'sima' en Español means, variously, abyss, chasm, or deep fissure]. And the phrase 'de los huesos' means 'of the bones.' Yes, subversive archaeologists everywhere, the Sima de los Huesos is what's commonly called, in palaeontological circles, a natural trap.

Journal of Human Evolution (1997) 33, 109–127

What's the archaeologist's 'prime directive'? That's right. Make every effort to rule out natural causes before imputing the observed phenomenon to hominid behaviour. So. Have J.L. Arsuaga et al. attempted to rule out natural processes? Hardly. They might as well claim that the thousands of cave bear and other animal bones were disposed of in a ritual fashion. I dunno...maybe they have already. Talk about myth-making in archaeology!
     I'm outa here.

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