Monday 26 May 2014

A Tip O' The Hat To Me or That's All I Can Stands, Cuz I Can't Stands N'more!*

This blurt is going to be all about giving credit where credit is due. There won't be any orienting maps or images, no cartoon ironies. Just a straightforward rant from the injured party.

First off. A tip o' the hat to Miranda Semple for bringing this to my attention, just a short while ago.
"Testing the Roc de Marsal Neandertal 'Burial' with Geoarchaeology," by Paul Goldberg, Vera Aldeias, Harold Dibble, Shannon McPherron, Dennis Sandgathe, and Alain Turq. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. Published online November 2013. DOI 10.1007/s12520-013-0163-2
As you're no doubt already aware, in 2011 Dennis Sandgathe, Harold Dibble, Paul Goldberg, and Shannon McPherron published on the first ever attempt to acquire empirical observations aimed at assessing the site formation processes of a claimed Middle Paleolithic [MP] purposeful burial.
"The Roc de Marsal Neandertal child: a reassessment of its status as a deliberate burial." Journal of Human Evolution 61:243-253, 2011. DOI 10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.04.003
You may also remember, it was their 2011 paper that caused me to begin my work as The Subversive Archaeologist [it's all there in my "Inaugural" blurt].

To recap: In 1989 and again in 1999 I published explosive examinations of some of the best-known claims for MP purposeful burial, and found that in every case it was impossible to rule out natural processes in attempting to explain the presence of [in some cases] well-preserved MP bipedal ape remains. That work met with the 4 Ds of intellectually dignified academic critical response: disdain, derision, dismissal, and downplaying. The one D that was missing, to my way of thinking, was debate [except for the principals that discovered the Amud 7 Neanderthal, who published a rebuttal after my 1999 paper in JHE]. Whenever my work was discussed in the literature, those discussions rarely confronted my arguments as to the particular circumstances of the putative burials about which I had published.

And so, when I heard of Sandgathe et al.'s findings from Roc de Marsal, I was both pleased and hugely frustrated. I'll get back to the frustration in a few minutes.

So, Rob, what about Miranda Semple and Paul Goldberg et al.?

In the same manner that I was struck when I first read Sandgathe et al. (2011), as I sat down to read Goldberg et al. (2013) I was flabbergasted by the paper's first statement of fact. It reads
One example of a ritual that has been the focus of considerable debate for the past century is that of the Neanderthal interment of their dead [refs]. Although there are several instances of fairly well-preserved Neanderthal skeletons, there is still sparse evidence for intentional interment [emphasis added, and added, and added].
I hope the reader will forgive me for noting that between August 1988—when I received the first stack of mostly dismissive comments on my soon-to-be-published Current Anthropology paper—and October 2011—when Iain Davidson alerted me to the publication of Sandgathe et al. (2011)—I was unaware of more than a handful of paleoanthropologists who agreed with my arguments as to the equivocal nature of 'evidence' for MP burial. Iain Davidson and Bill Noble were the first to demonstrate their support in published papers.

But it must be said, the effect of a quarter century spent in a virtual vacuum of acceptance had meant, for me, the slow asphyxiation of my academic career. That's the frustration. It was so very chilly in my little corner of the academy.

With that in mind, you can imagine that Paul et al.'s second statement—so matter-of-fact—was bittersweet vindication. It bears repeating
Although there are several instances of fairly well-preserved Neanderthal skeletons, there is still sparse evidence for intentional interment.
Sweet, because one of the foremost geoarchaeologists on the planet had put his name to it; Bitter, since it would have been nice to have known a lot sooner. In October 2011 Harold Dibble confided in me that he had always suspected I had been on the right track. As much as I appreciated hearing it, it too was far more bitter-tasting than sweet.

Now, to the matter alluded to in today's title: "A Tip O' The Hat To Me or That's All I Can Stands, Cuz I Can't Stands N'more!"

In Goldberg et al.'s (2013) acknowledgements I was stunned to find this extended apology.
We have made note in the text of this article that Isabelle Couchoud (2001, 2003) was the first to suggest that the context of the Roc de Marsal child was possibly a natural phenomenon. This should have been made clear in an earlier publication (Sandgathe et al. 2011) that also dealt with the question of the context of this particular Neanderthal skeleton. 
Ouch! *sounds as of a flock of owls ring across the room* Who? Couchoud? Izzy wasn't first, by a long way—a dozen years, at least. In my reply to comments on "Grave Shortcomings: the Evidence for Neandertal Burial" (Current Anthropology 30:157-190) I wrote the following, demonstrating my claim to intellectual priority in this matter.
CA 30:185, 1989.

Goldberg et al. don't even cite the 1989 paper. Sandgathe et al. do, but with an inscrutable addition: "Gargett 1989 and comments therein." No mention of my "Reply" to those comments. If the authors had ever read that reply, they would never have given Couchoud the time of day.

Goldberg et al. do cite my 1999 paper. But, given the statements in their acknowledgements, they clearly never read it! Had they done so they would have been even less likely to have paid attention to Couchoud. Here's my second claim to intellectual priority.
I argued that [the putatively buried remains’] preservation was equally well explained by natural deposition (Gargett, 1989a,b). Furthermore, I suggested that similar doubt could be cast on claims for purposeful burial at Roc de Marsal . . . (JHE 37:29, 1999).
. . . La Chapelle-aux- Saints, several individuals at La Ferrassie, Kiik-Koba 1 and 2, and Roc de Marsal 1 were discovered in depressions filled with surrounding sediments (JHE 37:40, 1999).
. . . there is no direct evidence for pur- poseful burial in the MP. Neither the reports from La Chapelle-aux-Saints, La Ferrassie, Le Moustier, La Grotte du Régourdou, Shanidar, Teshik-Tash, Roc de Marsal, Kiik-Koba, La Quina, Amud (1), Tabun and Skhul (Gargett, 1989a,b), nor those I have examined in the present paper contain any direct evidence for purposeful burial (JHE 37:77, 1999).
It's bad enough that I was left to wander in the desert for going-on 25 years. It's painful to learn this late that my work has long been appreciated by some. But it's excruciating to find one's work is misunderstood, misrepresented, and, above all, when it is missed altogether. I published only two articles and three replies to comments on them. Is that so much that those whose work builds—fundamentally—on mine can't remember, or won't, the substance of my contribution?

As I said in my last SA outburst, it really makes me wonder if any of this is worth the effort.

Thanks for sticking it out, today. Your readership means more than you can imagine.
* Popeye the Sailor Man