Thursday 11 October 2012

More On David Frayer et al.'s Ham-Handed Effort to Use Regourdou 1's Anterior Dentition To Argue For Language in Neanderthals

Every once in a while a story drops into my lap that makes me thankful there are other disciplines and other minds at work in and around our beloved discipline. In this case, it's something I found at,
A predominance to be right-handed is not a uniquely human trait, but one shared by great apes, study finds
I know, I know. Me mate, Mark Collard, has recently upbraided me [in what I hope was a friendly poke in the ribs] for turning off my bullshit-ometer when something comes along that fits with my view of the world. Be that as it may. In this case, I wouldn't know where to begin to be critical of the results, since it'd prolly mean watching thousands of hours of video of children and gorillas doing stuff with their hands. Not something my mother raised me for.
     So, I'm provisionally accepting the findings of Dr Gillian Forrester [who did do the hard yakka watching and coding the video], a visiting fellow in psychology at the University of Sussex and a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Westminster.
The ... findings, published in Behavioural Brain Research, challenge a widely held view that right-handed dominance in humans was a species-unique trait linked to the emergence of language. Scientists have long been aware of the association between the left hemisphere specialization for language in the human brain and human right-handedness. For example, 95% of those who are right-handed typically have language function supported by the left hemisphere.
Rewind to about September 8. The Subversive Archaeologist. A piece entitled 'You Gotta Hand It to Them: From Handedness to Humanity in One. No, Two. No! Seven Inferential Leaps!' and followup a couple of days later, 'A Final (Maybe Not) Word on The Regourdou 1 Micro-Scratches: A Case of Archaeological Foot-and-Mouth?' I was responding to the claim that the minute scratches on the labial surfaces of Regourdou 1's anterior teeth were evidence of right-handedness. The authors preposterously proceed from there to proclaim that it's also evidence that the Neanderthals had language. Whether or not the Neanderthals could carry on a conversation with me or you, the claim made on behalf of Regourdou 1 and Neanderthals has just suffered a[nother] crippling blow [the first, of course, was my pithy take-down].
     Dr. Forrester also, and crucially, notes that while right-handedness shows up in gorillas when they are manipulating inanimate objects, they cease to favour one or the other hand when interacting with other members of their species. As the good Dr. points out:
'Human right-handedness is not species-specific as traditionally thought, but rather is context-dependent – a pattern that has been previously masked by less sensitive experimental measures. Our findings support the idea that both human and ape brains have this left hemisphere specialisation directing the right side of the body for ordered sequences of behaviours, but that humans have been able to extend upon this neural architecture to develop language.'
The mighty silverback contemplates manipulating an object with his right hand. Either that or he's getting ready to signal the pitcher.

In closing, allow me to say that Victory [even a whiff of it] is sweet!
Nitey-nite to all my subversive archaeologist friends.

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