Wednesday 30 November 2011

Out of Arabia? The Levallois Technique in Oman. No Biggy. Right? Marks and Rose Claim Otherwise. Why?

This is the original document, published November 30, 2011. I subsequently removed some of the vituperation. But by publishing a retraction of sorts, I inadvertently 'unpublished' a comment. For the record.

It's not for me to say what others should make of their archaeological discoveries. I should just listen and synthesize human history accordingly. Trouble is...when I do, it makes no sense and it really hurts my brain!
     I'm looking at the news ticker again. And I see that CBS News dot com today runs a story from LiveScience dot com, which recounts today's peer-reviewed [sic] publication of recent discoveries from the Arabian Peninsula, specifically Oman. The LiveScience dot com byline reads 'Arabian Artifacts May Rewrite "Out of Africa" Theory.' Showing startling creativity, the CBS version reads '"Out of Africa" theory may need a rewrite.'

     Regardless of which you read, or even if you read the peer-reviewed article, you'll be treated to a confused account of what I guess is someone's conflation of some true facts. Both media outlets and the article reproduce the following (intensely beautiful) image of a flint artifact from Oman that is said to be more than 100K years old. 
I can easily believe that. However, I have trouble with the assertion that this discovery is the oldest occurrence of this stone industry outside of Africa. The authors presumably think they can get away with this tripe, since this artifact is typical of an assemblage type referred to among northeastern African archaeologists as the 'Nubian Middle Stone Age.' Thus, the scholars aver that their discovery represents the first occurrence of this type outside of Africa! 
     Contra the authors, and quite irrespective of whatever it's called in northeastern Africa, this creamy, lustrous object is a Bordesian dream: it's the second of the two Levallois Point cores that François Bordes named in 1980. You remember, it's the one with two final flake removals, both triangular (and both, according to the pundits, conceived ahead of time and carefully prepared for by wasting dozens of useful flakes). [Somebody please tell me to stop!] 
     In truth, there is nothing unique about the existence of this kind of artifact outside of Africa! As you all now know, the Levallois technique (or rather the fanciful archaeological construct of the same name), occurs in southwestern Asia (of which, you'll recall, the Arabian Peninsula is part) and across Europe. It's everywhere. And it's been there for at least 150K years...more like 250K. So, this object rewrites no story. It's the archaeologists who're rewriting the story, and I have to ask why. 
     A claim like this, for the oldest anything outside of anywhere, will garner you at least 50K more on your next grant proposal, and it might even get you tenure if you play your cards right. Good on you, Jeffrey Rose and Anthony Marks. Good on you, Plos One for accelerating publication of this level of disingenuity.
     Give me a break! No. Give me a strong drink!

1 comment:

  1. Good on you Rob. I'm know specialist in the archaeology of that part of the world or the Middle Palaeolithic, but I think I know enough that when I read those mainstream media articles on the discovery, I was thinking "Umm....I don't think so." and "The researchers or media is overhyping the find."


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