Thursday, 18 October 2012

You Must Be Bleeping Joking! JHE: "Modeling Neanderthal Clothing Using Ethnographic Analogues"?




O. M. G. !!!!!!!!!!
R. O. L. M. F. A. O. !!!!!!!!!!!!
Available online today!

Journal of Human Evolution
'Modeling Neanderthal clothing using ethnographic analogues,' Nathan Wales. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.08.006

In the first place, when I saw the title announced I expected to see a parade of plough pullers on a catwalk. But I gave my head a shake the minute I clicked on the link. It was JHE. I knew it was the kind of modelling that always makes me nervous, whether or not there's a stick of a justification for doing it at all.
     Jeebuz. And to think I was getting a little depressed because it's been a while since anything really worth biting on came over the transom. Well. This is it! This is the jackpot! This...is delicious. I could take this apart on soooooooo many levels. But I'll spare you, just for now.
     My first response is to shower JHE with expletives. I always new those guys were Very Serious Scientists. But I had no idea. This paper takes archaeological science completely out of the ground, pumps it up with hot air, let's it go, and whaddayaknow, it floats. Okay. Okay. I know. I shouldn't be so hard on them. After all, they clearly have no inkling of the degrees of separation between the theoretical space in which Nathan Wales exists and any theoretical framework that resides in reality. Did I imagine it? Did I not live through a time in archaeological thought when [archaeologists actually thought] Middle Range Theory, philosophy of science, and reality coincided on a sensible approach to inference making? Diane. Help !@&*
     At best this is a 'thinking' paper. A 'what if' scenario. You might even call it a momentary lapse of sanity. At worst, it's a thinly veiled attempt on the part of JHE's referees to publish anything that aims to reify yet another category of presumed Neanderthal behaviour--in this case, making clothing. There is not a shred of evidence. Not a shred. [heh, heh. Just realized I made a bad pun.] There's less than a fragment. There's not just an emperor without any clothes. There's no damned Emperor!
     Analogy. *catches his breath* Analogical reasoning depends for its veracity on the linkages between the object under examination and the objects being used as the source of hypotheses as to how things might have been. Show. Me. The. Linkages.
     No. Wait. I've just found the linkages. Wales isn't suggesting that the Neanderthals made clothes, he's arguing that the traditional societies supplying the ethnographic analogues are, in fact, modern Neanderthals. Else, why could he use them against which to compare the 'modelled' Neanderthal fashions. It's inherently racist. It's obscene [even if you ignore the vapid referees]. Show me where I'm exaggerating!
     Indeed, the corollary implicit in Wales's paper compels me to ask, why should anyone accept the premise that modern humans are anything like the Neanderthals? 'If they build it Neanderthals will come,' is the best answer I can come up with. I'm beginning to think that the weight of the so called-evidence supporting a modernized view of the Neanderthal cognitive abilities is so damned heavy that there's no getting out from under it. I might as well fold up the tent and steal away into the night.
      Argh.



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10 comments:

  1. Rob, glad you changed the JAS to JHE. Of course, that is one of the reasons why people do not like citing blogs--they can get changed, so my remarks about the haste with which you addressed this paper would have looked stupid. Maybe what follows will too. But I don't think so.
    OK, let’s have a bit of a go at this. You all may know that I am one of the longest serving supporters of the Subversive Archaeologist but I think you are wrong here Rob.
    1) Is it a serious question how Neandertals protected themselves from environmental conditions? I think so.
    2) How would we go about answering the question “how did they protect themselves”? If you agree with me that the question is serious, you cannot just throw up your hands.
    3) Could they have had a different metabolism from people? Well, maybe, and I have speculated about the possibility that Neandertals could have hibernated in caves in the way bears did, and that would account for the finding of their skeletons (and those of bears) in caves. But the serious question is “how would you go about researching that problem?” As it happens, Dunbar, R. I. M., & Shultz, S. (2007) (Understanding primate brain evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362(1480), 649-658. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2006.2001) addressed the question of variation in BMR among primates. Their conclusion was that BMR was strongly associated with diet and when corrected for body size, it was strongly correlated with total brain and neocortex size. On these grounds, I suspect we will find it difficult to argue for a substantial difference in BMR.
    4) If Neandertals had the likely metabolic similarity to humans then we are back to 2). How would we go about investigating the issue. Far from Lew rolling over in his grave, he was the inspiration for this paper, as acknowledged, and the whole of Constructing Frames of Reference consists of similar modelling.
    5) This is a model. It makes assumptions that the best way to look at the question of clothing is to do as wide a survey around the world as possible. It does not take particular instances and say “Hey look, the Fuegians wore very few clothes, so Neandertals could have got away with a strip of fur to keep their genitals covered” (but let us not examine very carefully how we arrive at such intuitions and whether the intuitions are better than a formal modelling). There are a couple of tests of such models. One is to see how well the model explains the cases that are the extremes in the input data. The other is to see what sorts of predictions it makes about the conditions it purports to account for. In this case, how does it do at telling us anything about nature of distributions of Neandertals. I will consider two cases in 6) and 7).
    6) What does the model say about the capacity of Neandertals, lacking sewn clothing to extend into the most extreme climates? Well, it seems to me that it models pretty well the limit on the distribution of Neandertals.
    7) What does the model say about the region in which Neandertals might have had the best chance of survival with little clothing? Well, it seems to me that it suggests that south-west Europe, specifically Iberia, was pretty good for them. And guess what, some scholars have argued (on the basis of evidence) that that was where Neandertals lingered longest. Now, I know that the late dates are currently being questioned, and that we can see from the publications which support late dates that some of them deserve that treatment. But even so, it is another element of the argument about where Neandertals went extinct.
    8) So, it seems to me that methodologically it is much more sound than you say, SA, despite your appeal to higher authority on uses of data from the modern world, and it seems to me that it produces some hypotheses that will be interesting at an empirical level. What is your problem with that?

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  2. Wow. I can't respond just now. It's getting late and I need my gray-cell sleep. I have the answers. Trust me.

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  3. You do not have to fret, Rob. You could just let my response go through to the keeper.
    Sleep well. You find your cells get greyer with age?

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  4. What do you have against Neanderthals. I'm unsubscribing because I feel that you're being racist against some of my ancestors, the general tone of most of your entries and your use of ridiculous Hitlerian era unrealistic caricatures of Neanderthals clearly signals you as a racist against Neanderthals.

    You are not being rational, you just mock them and have a prejudice.

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  7. Hi, Maju.
    I'm sorry that you believe I'm being a bigot. I'm fairly certain, for all kinds of reasons, that the Neanderthals are not your 'ancestors,' in any way that a modern human would understand. It's not bigotry; it's frustration with the myths that are promulgated by the 'aristocracy' of paleoanthropology.

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  8. In other words they were as clever as you and me. Hmmmm. While this is on ok thought experiment that is ALL it is. (Pardon my caps.)
    I was interested to see
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/the-original-africans-are-neandertals/
    If there was an Ice Age Migration from Eurasia, then clothing less necessary?
    IOT the BBC Mon. 22nd Oct. Prehistoric Autopsy. 1/3. Neandertals. Might be worth a look, if you can get it.
    KUTGW. G

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