Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Maya Angelou 
April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014

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

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Can the Ethiopian change his skinne? or the leopard his spots? then may ye also doe good, that are accustomed to doe euill* : James (don't call me Jimmy) Chatters and the Hoyo Negro Paleoamerican

WARNING! This article includes a photograph of human remains.

Well, well, well! Even though the next Blue Moon is almost two years off, there's a new scent on the interpretative breeze coming out of the Americas this week. James "Don't call me Jimmy" Chatters and a cast of eminent characters have published their findings from investigations at Hoyo Negro, a flooded cave on the Yucatan Peninsula. Hoyo Negro hosts a virtually complete skeleton dated to between 12 ka and 13 ka. That, in itself, is noteworthy, because until now there hasn't been much in the way of skeletal material from Late Pleistocene North America.
"Late Pleistocene Human Skeleton and mtDNA Link Paleoamericans and Modern Native Americans" by James C. Chatters, Douglas J. Kennett, Yemane Asmerom, Brian M. Kemp, Victor Polyak, Alberto Nava Blank, Patricia A. Beddows, Eduard Reinhardt, Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales, Deborah A. Bolnick, Ripan S. Malhi, Brendan J. Culleton**, Pilar Luna Erreguerena, Dominique Rissolo, Shanti Morell-Hart, and Thomas W. Stafford Jr. Science 16 May 2014: 344 (6185), 750-754. [DOI:10.1126/science.1252619]
Of course, this already remarkable discovery is made even more so by Chatters et al.'s findings with respect to the genetic affinities of this ancient occupant of the Western Hemisphere. 
. . . the distinctive craniofacial morphology and generalized dentition of Paleoamericans can co-occur with a Beringian-derived mtDNA haplogroup. This 13- to 12-ka Paleoamerican skeleton thus suggests that Paleoamericans represent an early population expansion out of Beringia, not an earlier migration from elsewhere in Eurasia. This is consistent with hypotheses that both Paleoamericans and Native Americans derive from a single source population, whether or not all share a lineal relationship. In light of this finding, the differences in craniofacial form between Native Americans and their Paleoamerican predecessors are best explained as evolutionary changes that postdate the divergence of Beringians from their Siberian ancestors.
In plain English: even though this individual's cranial and dental morphology are significantly different from similar aged individuals from northeastern Asia, this doesn't mean that the stay-at-home Asians and this individual representing the peripatetic Paleoamericans didn't share a common ancestor.

By itself this conclusion isn't a radical departure from what most scholars have inferred for many decades. However, when you consider the source of the Hoyo Negro genetic study, you might experience an eerie feeling of vu-ja dé—that feeling of never having been here before. That's because in the past we've heard something quite different from out the mouth of Dr. Chatters.

He, after all, is the Clever Dick who made the startling claim that the so-called Kennewick Man was not an ancient Native American, but a Caucasian, and started a prolonged and acrimonious disagreement between Science, on the one hand—represented by J. Chatters—and the Umatilla, a group of Sahaptin speakers whose traditional territory circumscribed the area where the remains were recovered. Whether or not you agree with the premise that the Most Likely Descendants (MLD) of those remains were the indigenous people who inhabited the area at the time of the European incursion, it's hard to refute the notion that the historic occupants were the MLDs of someone in the region who had lived around the time of the Kennewick Man. Hard for you and I, perhaps, but evidently not so for Chatters and some other worthies of the anthropological community.

Here follows a digression to provide some political back-story.

Anthropology as it's practiced in North America has a checkered political history, due to a long-established courtship between physical [or biological] anthropology and a racial worldview. I've had plenty to say about the relationship between a racial worldview and racism [or bigotry in general], so I won't bore you with that, today. I will, however, sit you down to tell you that a racial worldview [and its inherently racist philosophy] underpinned what's known as the skeletal identification of 'race' in the physical anthropological tradition. 

You see, until there was genomics there wasn't much you could do with a pile of unidentified human bones if you wanted to know anything about the individual beyond stature, approximate age at death, and sex. That's because there wasn't any skin to help you decide the skin-colour group to which the person belonged. Living people are much more readily pigeon-holed because you can just look at someone and know they're Yellow (Asian), Black (African, Southern Asian, Australian), Brown (Central Asians, Southern Europeans, Northern Africans), White (Northern Europeans), or Red (Indigenous Americans, sort of). That description was glib, I'll admit. And it both exposes and falsely minimizes the extent to which something as variable as skin colour has long been used to categorize a person as to their cultural, intellectual, and familial background—rather like a lepidopterist would do after pinning a euthanized specimen to a corkboard studded with other similarly euthanized lepidoptera. 

A very short medley of "Caucasians" from Wikipedia
The venerable practice of equating skin colour with 'race' has been around since the time of the earliest Egyptian classifications of the world's people. But, while the five colours I cited above have a long history of use in categorizing the 'races,' when you really look at it, skin colour is next to useless—by itself—as a means of deciding the likely geographic origin of someone. Take White, for example. White people are often officially classified as Caucasian. Simple. Right? No. Not. Have you ever seen a true Caucasian—from the Caucasus Mountains? Many, if not most, so-called White people would have difficulty finding a useful skin-colour comparison among the literally dozens of ethnic groups inhabiting the Caucasus historically. Among the most abundant are the Georgians, Mingrelians, Laz, Svan, Chechens, Kabardians, Abkhaz, Ingush, Lezgi, Armenians, Ossetians, Kurds, Talysh, Tats, Greeks, Roma, Azerbaijani, and Kipchak Turks (Kumyk, Nogay, Karachay, Balkar). No Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Germans, Poles, Dutch, Flemish, northern French, Scottish, Irish, English, Welsh, Czechs, Slovaks, . . . well, you get the point.

So, you see. Even with the skin it'd be hard to tell where a person came from if you found them after they'd stopped breathing. Bones alone? No help at all. So, for forensic purposes physical anthropologists compiled dossiers on large numbers of African American, Caucasian, Asian, and Native American skeletons, trying to come up with some specific skeletal traits that would help narrow down the social circumstances (and perhaps the individual identification, by deduction therefrom) of unidentified human skeletal material. They found generally smaller within-group variation than between-group variation in the samples they employed, from which they concluded that they could, with some accuracy, determine the 'race' of a person's skeletal remains. As long as the unidentified persons's physical characteristics fit within the skeletal morphology profile based on a certain group of skeletons of a certain 'race,' Bingo! 

But, as you and I know now, there's sooooooooo much more variability within and between what have been called the 'races' that any poor sod whose remains didn't fit precisely, or were a 'mixture,' was likely doomed to anonymity in perpetuity barring serendipity.

Not so the Kennewick Man! Against all reason and logic, Chatters did a few measurements along traditional physical anthropological forensic lines and decided that his specimen was a White Man. And, thus, not an ancestor of the MLDs. It was bollocks then. And it's bollocks now. So, you'll be as chagrined as I am to discover that the Kennewick Man yet resides in the University of Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle, thanks to the political machinations of a host of unreconstructed American physical anthropologists—led by J. Chatters—who cling to the racial worldview like so many Jack Dawsons after the Titanic sank. Their time is coming. But it ain't here just yet. Or, maybe it is.
So, the chase toward which I've been cutting: 

Nowhere in Chatters et al. can one find so much as a whisper about the Kennewick Man. Conveniently, his remains were that much younger than those of the Hoyo Negro individual, which allowed the authors to skip any reference to him. But his spirit lives on every page of this paper. And you have to wonder what went through James Chatters's mind when he wrote the conclusion. I can think of at least a hundred emotions that could potentially have come into play. Let's all hope that the only one that did was sincere remorse. And, let's all hope even more for an expedient, sensible, rational, conclusion to the Kennewick Man's excessively lengthy journey back into the arms of the people whose lives he contributed to, simply by being AN ancestor, not necessarily THE ancestor of any living member of the Umatilla.
The Authorized King James Bible (1611). Jeremiah 13:23.
** One of the Subversive Archaeologist's all-time favorite acquaintances. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Introducing Trashtalk Thursday: Dibble, Aldeias, Goldberg, McPherron, Sandgathe, and Steele's Blinkered Effort to Undermine Rendu et al.'s Claim To Have Proven That The La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal Had Been Purposefully Buried.

On 16 December 2013 Rendu et al. published online their claim to have, once and for all, settled the question of whether or not the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal had been purposefully buried.

On 14 May 2014, in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Dibble, Aldeias, Goldberg, McPherron, Sandgathe, and Steele published what is certain to be a classic of palaeoanthropology.
A Critical Look at Evidence from La Chapelle-aux-Saints Supporting an Intentional Neandertal Burial
This careful examination of Rendu et al. leaves *cough* no stone unturned. If you'll recall, in 1908 Bouyssonie, Bouyssonie, and Bardon published their findings from a small excavation in a small cavelet in a small town in France, called La Chapelle-aux-Saints. This diorama from the Musée de l'Homme in Paris purports to represent the circumstances of the claimed Neanderthal burial.

This diorama in the Musée de L'Homme, in Paris, is a falsified rendering of what B, B, and B (1908) published, which itself was undoubtedly add odds with reality. 
Dibble and Co. (2014) pay particular attention to the morphology of the putative grave pit, which they note is nothing like the one depicted in the 1908 publication. The illustration below is from Dibble et al., and clearly shows the disparity between the 1908 profiles and that of the pit that Rendu et al. exhumed over the past several years.

From Dibble et al., 14 May 2014.
I'm really excited to see these, because it means that I was very much on the right track when I wrote three lengthy posts and published a similar set of composites back in December 2013, just one week after Rendu et al. was made public. My montage appears below.

It's nice to know I was on the right track, and to know that I'm no longer just a lonely voice crying in the wilderness.

Of course, my comments on the matter had been in the public domain for two months before Harold and Co. submitted this paper on 20 February 2014. [By the by, does anyone else think it's extraordinary that an article like theirs could be made public barely three months from submission?]

From The Subversive Archaeologist, 26 December 2013.
What I had to say on the subject is catalogued separately, down below, with links to all five of my contributions on the matter, only one of which post-dated Dibble et al.'s submission date [and knowledge of which, of course, I could have had none at the time]. The reader will find my arguments a little redundant after reading the JAS article. O' course, it would be the other way around if you were paying attention at the end of last year!

Dibble et al. point out that, if one were to go by the stratigraphic profile drawings, what fills the pit is part of the extensive stratum that covers the entire cave floor to a depth of a metre in places. The authors are careful to reference the identical argument in my 1989 paper, "Grave shortcomings," for which I was roundly derided. However, the reference is rather perplexing, since it says "see also Gargett, 1999," which is quite at odds with the truth of the matter, which was that I thought it up all on my own in the late 1980s, I published it in a high-profile general anthropology journal, I committed career suicide in so doing, and for 25 or so years saw little to no attention paid to my argument, clearly demonstrated by Rendu et al.'s complete misrepresentation of my 1989 contribution, and Dibble et al.'s throw-away reference to it.

Indeed, Rendu et al. say only that
. . . some scholars have remained skeptical [of the Old Man's purposeful burial] . . . [Gargett 1989], arguing that most of these special treatments of the dead were identified in the context of old and inadequate excavations.
W.T.F? I 'argued' nothing of the kind. I described the early work as such, but it didn't form any part of my 'argument' on the site formation processes at La Chapelle.
In terms of the bouffia Bonneval discovery, the lack of information regarding the Bouyssonie’s excavation procedures has been used as support for reservations concerning the burial hypothesis . . . [Gargett 1989].  
Huh? How many different ways can you say the same thing, and still have it be a misrepresentation of my published contributions?
The lack of evolved karstic morphologies and sedimentation connected to groundwater action in the bouffia Bonneval and in the adjacent La Chapelle-aux-Saints loci reject the hypothesis . . . [Gargett 1989] . . . of an endokarstic origin for the depression. 
Wha'? I offered my impression of the possibility that the Bouffia had been a karstic stream channel, and that streams were capable of creating depressions like the one in which the Old Man's skeletal bits were discovered. It was just one possibility, and it was more or less irrelevant to the real substance of my thesis.

That has little valence with respect to public awareness of my work. The reality is that any naive reader of Rendu et al. would remain clueless, as is just as likely to happen to anyone coming to Dibble et al. (2014) without knowledge either of my 1989 and 1999 papers [to say nothing of what I published in these pages five months ago].

I hope the reader will forgive me for saying that I feel gutted by Dibble et al.'s [obvious] ignorance of my work here at The Subversive Archaeologist. I know from corresponding with Harold that he was aware of this blog, and nobody in our little corner of this field should, or even could, be unaware of my contribution to the question of Middle Paleolithic burial. Frankly, I'm astounded that neither Harold nor his co-authors wondered what I might have said about Rendu et al. Theirs is, of course, merely an act of omission, not plagiarism; however, it does beggar [at least] my imagination. I mentioned my chagrin in an email to Harold a couple of days ago. He hasn't yet responded.

I'll now return to my perch beneath the rock out from under which I appeared for this blurt. I'll be back from time to time, but with a growing sense that it's not worth bothering to do if one is so roundly ignored.

For The Record:

On 16 December 2013 Rendu et al. published online their claim to have, once and for all, settled the question of whether or not the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal had been purposefully buried.
Evidence supporting an intentional Neandertal burial at La Chapelle-aux-Saints
I waited a discrete period while the media hyped it to the Moon. Then on 20 December 2013 I published
Still No Proof That Neanderthals Buried Their Dead. Part One, or O.M.F.G! I Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry.  The Old Man of La Chapelle is a Zombie!
a professional archaeologist's reasoned and well-supported critique of the notion that by uncovering a hole in the ground, Rendu et al. 2013 felt they could argue that the Old Man of La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France had been, after all, purposefully buried. On 23 December 2013 I followed with
Still No Evidence that Neanderthals Buried Their Dead. Part Deux
in which I continued my professional critique. Then on 26 December 2013 I planted the third nail in the coffin that Rendu et al. had built for themselves.
The Neanderthals Buried Their Dead? Nu-Uh! Part Three—The Final Chapter
Following that, on 2 January 2014 I responded to a public comment on my trilogy, and once again resoundingly eviscerated Rendu et al.'s claim.
Even Less Proof That Neanderthals Buried Their Dead
Dibble & Co. submitted their article on 20 February 2014.

Then, as an afterthought, on 11 March 2014, I capped off my effort with a consideration of the bullshit claim that the so-called burial pit had been rectangular.
Not Again!!! Yep! The La Chapelle Not-A-Burial-Pit Not So Much Rectangular as Irregularly Ovaloid
Yep. Seriously pulled the carpet out from underneath them.

The only thing I didn't do was submit my work to a refereed archaeological journal.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Flying the Flag

A new volunteer at SA World Headquarters, and some proto-volunteers bringing up the rear . . . erm . . . inferior.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

No, Paola Villa and Will Roebroeks, los neandertales no eran estúpidos! Pero muchos arqueólogos podrán ser estúpidos, o de manera más correcta, los más crédulos!

UPDATE 20140503 12:43 UTC: I wish to apologize to Paola Villa for allowing several misspellings of her given name to appear in the original version. I'd also like to say sorry to readers, who expect and deserve better. 
Ripped from the headlines!
News to me!
Portrait of a H. Neanderthalensis—man about town—posing with his 1932 Type 41 Bugatti Royale. Gianoberto Maria Carlo "Jean" Bugatti (not pictured) designed this 12.7 L 8-cylinder coupé that some think is the most elegant automobile ever built.
Let's get one thing straight. I've never called a Neanderthal stupid, let alone the entire species. All I ever did was suggest that the widespread perception of them as having been more or less like you and I is based almost entirely on shaky inference-making, fallacious argument, perversely misplaced formal analogies, and a seemingly never-ending propensity to  hypothesize purposeful behaviour to explain unique or anomalous archaeological phenomena without first considering the range of physical and behavioural processes that could have created the Middle Palaeolithic archaeological record.

1931 Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupé
Let me be clearer. I wouldn't call a Neanderthal 'stupid,' any more than I would call a bonobo 'stupid' because it couldn't see the social significance of the difference between an '97 Geo Metro and the beauty pictured here. I know, because I drive the former—gleaning more negative style points than almost anything else on the road—and one of the six produced still stands as one of the top 10 most costly road decorations ever sold at auction.

"As dumb as a mob o' galahs." Galahs are relatives 
of the parrot, and notoriously given to making what
seems like a lot of fuss about nothing—a lot like 
quail in the Americas. In the Australian English 
vernacular the simile applies to someone who's 
evidently under-equipped to tie his** own shoelaces.

Besides, it wouldn't make sense to deride a Bonobo, any more than it would to make fun of a microbe. To be 'stupid' first requires having the ability to engage in a conversation like this one, with another human being. It makes even less sense for serious scholars to claim that the Neanderthals were stupid, or that we are superior to them in any way; scholars who have done so should be sent to anthropological remedial school.
I have, on occasion, derided sheep* and galahs [above right] as perhaps the most senseless of warm-blooded animals. But never a Neanderthal—not in a scholarly vein, at any rate. [A golden Marshalltown to anyone who proves me wrong.] Why would I make such a specious value judgement? I can observe the cleverness of bonobos in the present. However, unlike the palaeoanthropological cognoscenti, I still haven't perfected the arcane science of seeing into the bipedal-ape past using just the unmitigated objectivity of my 21st-century scientific, cultural, filter.

Scene from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey depicting the earliest bipedal apes being inspired by a monolith placed by an extra-terrestrial species, with the intent of kick-starting human cognitive evolution. Note: these are not bonobos. These are meant to represent our human ancestors. Any resemblance to the antagonists in the Planet of the Apes film series is, I'm certain, the result of chance and the then-current perception of what the earliest human ancestors were probably like. Planet of the Apes and 2001 both appeared on the silver screen in 1968. [Jung would have had something to say about that, I'm sure.]
I can't disparage the Neanderthals. On the evidence, they lasted longer than we skeletally moderns have, and a whole lot longer than we cognitively modern H. sapiens. Although I won't say that the Neanderthals were 'limited' because they were different from us, I will say that some archaeologists do seem limited—relative to the rest of their species and others of their ilk—because they are evidently unable to crowbar themselves out of their own disciplinary cultural context long enough to entertain the possibility that I—and others who share the same intellectual pathology—might be making more sense than the endless parade of Neanderthals 'R' Us cheerleaders and their often warrantless [much less well-warranted] premises based on century-old perceptions. The Neanderthal palaeoanthropological corpus is, like the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey, all shiny and polished—where numberless neophytes have reverently fondled it and eventually fallen under its mesmerizing, doctrinal spell. Kinda like the way a pair of H. sapiens colleagues who've just published something to much media acclaim [something which, I must say, is exhilarating].
Villa, P., and W. Roebroeks. (2014) "Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex." PLoS ONE 9(4): e96424. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096424
The authors are long-time acquaintances whom I would presume to call colleagues—I'm really not sure how they view me. They're not friends, but amicable and high-profile archaeologists I've supped with and sipped with [but not slepped with, mind you!], and who are lovely human beings, who've made brilliant contributions—both to our understanding of how we got here, and to archaeological practice. Paola Villa's lithic refitting study shattered the myth of a structure at Terra Amata, and is part of archaeological legend, even if it didn't result in her immediate promotion to the palaeoanthropological pantheon. Given the persistence of the myth of Terra Amata, I can't help but think that Paola must be as bitter as I that the standard story has such staying power.

Henri de Lumley's interpretation of spatial relations at Terra Amata, Nice, France [ca. 400 ka] included an altogether unwarranted claim that the H. antecessor occupants built a structure of saplings planted in the ground, anchored by rocks. Paola Villa painstakingly refitted lithics and demonstrated that the 'occupation layers' de Lumley 'observed' were hopelessly mixed, and that his interpretation was not supported by the evidence he employed.
Kayso, according to Nature, PLOS ONE's—the open-access, online wunderkinde and flavour-of-the-month publishing juggernaut—raison d'etre is radical. PLOS ONE "will publish first, judge later." I couldn't agree more! All PLOS ONE concerns itself with, according to their publication criteria, is that
1. The study presents the results of primary scientific research [emphasis added rhg].
2. Results reported have not been published elsewhere.
3. Experiments, statistics, and other analyses are performed to a high technical standard and are described in sufficient detail [n/a rhg].
4. Conclusions are presented in an appropriate fashion and are supported by the data [emphasis added rhg].
5. The article is presented in an intelligible fashion and is written in standard English. [this shouldn't even be an explicit criterion for publication—who would publish anything less in an English-language vehicle?]
6. The research meets all applicable standards for the ethics of experimentation and  [n/a rhg] research integrity [emphasis added rhg].
7. The article adheres to appropriate reporting guidelines and community standards for data availability.
Hmmm. I'm probably just quibbling. Nevertheless, it's an open question whether or not Villa and Roebroeks (2014) is "primary" research. After all, the common gloss of the term follows closely this quote from Purdue University's OWL pages discussion of Primary Research.
Primary research is any type of research that you go out and collect yourself. Examples include surveys, interviews, observations, and ethnographic research. A good researcher knows how to use both primary and secondary sources in her writing and to integrate them in a cohesive fashion. 
Like I said. I'm just quibbling. But it must be said, this paper is a review article, not primary research. Yet, despite this paper's clear deficit where its minimum publication criteria are concerned, PLOS ONE obviously thought this paper important enough to give it the same "accelerated publication" that has attracted multitudes of archaeologists of all stripes since its inception—and, for my part, some of the worst written, worst argued, least scientific work that I've ever seen, either in print, or online. ['Cept maybe for something Paul Pettitt put up years ago, but I won't go there now.]

Gawd forbid that the discipline had been deprived of this paper for a nanosecond longer than it was! My word! Palaeoanthropological methods, grand ecoevolutionary theories, whole archaeological research programmes, and countless grant applications might have suffered in limbo had this paper been delayed in the publication pipeline of a more mature outlet, a refereed journal, one with a solid, long-standing reputation within the archaeological community for publishing important contributions—like Nature, or Science, or the Journal of Irreproducible Results, or even PNAS—rather than one such as PLOS ONE that will evidently publish anything that seems even marginally scientific and, greatest goal of all, potentially newsworthy [I'll spare you my views on who and what decides what that might be]. Living with the knowledge that they've effectively sold out to instant gratification—and, perhaps, the promise of near-term professional advancement—is for Villa and Roebroeks, and of PLOS ONE. It's not my problem. All I can do is endure the tripe that the moribund media headlines scream at me from the SA news ticker, and hope to make a decent effort at pointing out the shortcomings of whatever comes out of PLOS ONE's intertube entrails.

Where to, now that I've vented a bit? I'd ask you to guess, but it would be unnecessarily coy. Where else, but down the proverbial rabbit hole we go—at least as deep as is necessary to discover the nature of this paper's "primary" contribution. I hope my friends will excuse me for, among others, citing my own primary research to that end. [Notice that I didn't put that occurrence of 'primary' in quotes—neither sarcasm quotes, nor non-standard-usage quotes.] At least when I make a knoweldge claim I give more than one example of what I'm talking about. That, as you'll see, is something Villa and Roebroeks have eschewed in this case.

What follows is my response to this latest PLOS ONE scholarly 'omega.'

Forgive me, Paola and Will, for you know not what I do.

The authors purpose to
test the strength of the archaeology-derived hypotheses for Neandertal extinction . . . [using] a comparative study of the archaeological record of Neandertals and contemporary modern humans . . . between 200 and 40 ka.
Let's see how 'primary' and 'scholarly' their 'study' is.

First up: language evolution and the question of whether or not I could be having this conversation with a Neanderthal. Rather than spend any time at all discussing THE crucial importance of assessing the one ability that, if found lacking, would forever stand to distinguish Neanderthals from us, the authors choose merely to denigrate efforts to infer language from the archaeological record,
Explanations for the demise of Neandertals have been developed at various levels of abstraction, and include topics notoriously difficult to study in the archaeological record, such as ‘‘complex symbolic communication systems’’ . . . , ‘‘fully syntactic language’’ . . .  or ‘‘cognitive capacities’’ in general.
and then to quote one—just one—non-archaeologist linguist, to put to rest the notion that this is a worthwhile avenue of enquiry. Rudi Botha is a colleague, too, and I have no major quarrel with what he says about language evolution and efforts to track it. However, I do object to Villa and Roebroeks's summary dismissal of the whole enterprise using just one quote from Rudi's work.
Botha has shown the assumptions and series of inferential steps some of these authors had to make before being able to squeeze ‘‘language’’ out of their mute artefacts . . . , see also . . . pinpointing the weak spots in the steps leading from observations about archaeological phenomena to statements about the presence of ‘‘fully syntactical language’’.
You'll notice that the authors' 'primary research' effort declines to mention perhaps the most insightful, psychologically, and archaeologically informed study to date on the palaeoanthropology's great potential to pinpoint the time that bipedal apes like you and I became capable of conversations such as the one we're having right now. [Warning to the reader, sincere, but unselfconscious plug of a friend's work in progress.] William Noble and Iain Davidson's Human Evolution, Language and Mind: A Psychological and Archaeological Inquiry took on the complex task of modelling the origins of language with special reliance on primate behaviour studies and a bona fide evolutionary perspective—something that slipped Stephen Mithen's mind in his labyrinthine constructions of a way that language might have evolved like the stages of a Medieval cathedral. Novel, catchy, even elegant, but hardly science, and never evolutionary science. I doubt, Dear Reader, that you've even heard of it.

In their "comparative study of the archaeological record of Neandertals and contemporary modern humans" Villa and Roebroeks spend even less time on Hunting Methods and Diet, citing just four papers. On Organized Use of Space, the authors mention only the claims for vegetable 'bedding' at Sibudu Cave, putatively in the Middle Palaeolithic [MSA] of southern Africa. They pay little more than lip service to space use as a crucial category in the investigation of modern human origins. They cite Lombard's (2012) "Thinking through the Middle Stone Age of sub-Saharan Africa," informing us that
"the deliberate use and organization of living space’’ [is] ‘‘an important trait of culturally modern behavior
And here's where I get to whinge a bit. It looks as if the authors have managed to miss my own, ground-breaking, primary research contribution to archaeological method and theory. I don't say so out of some precious belief that my work is special. Rather, I believe that scientists who claim to have combed the literature for material pertinent to their subject should bloody well do so, and not choose to ignore, or omit out of ignorance, primary research that could inform—or question—their thesis. It's not as if I buried my work in some obscuroid journal. I published a book. It's in libraries. It's sold [or not] on Amazon. But, for reasons known only to Villa and Roebroeks, my work escaped their notice. It's no skin off my nose. However, it does suggest to some that we should take their review with a grain of salt.

In the palaeoanthropological literature it's a little-known—or little acknowledged—factoid that yours truly has actually [en verité] made a primary contribution to the methods and theories that archaeologists use to interpret past events. When I was casting about for a dissertation topic, I settled on a methodological study, both because after the "Grave Shortcomings" debacle I wanted to make a be seen as capable of making a positive contribution, and because it seemed to me that any 'interpretations' of spatial patterning at archaeological sites pre-dating the arrival of modern humans in Europe ca. 40 ka implicitly depended on the idea that only people like us partition space according to cultural prescriptions, e.g. on the basis of gender, or age, heredity, or vocation. I had anecdotal evidence that any animal inhabiting an enclosed space, such as a cave or rockshelter, was capable of leaving behind 'spatial patterning.' [In plain English, 'spatial patterning' means the non-random, horizontal distribution of material of all kinds.] Villa and Roebroeks mention only the vegetation at Sibudu Cave in their drive-by treatment of site structure. But New Archaeologists from Binford to Koetje have discovered non-random artifact distributions at MP sites, and claimed that they represent culturally determined spatial segregation of activities.

Castle Budišov, near Czech Republic. 
One of the campuses of the Moravian Museum.
This is where yours truly, the Subversive Archaeologist, 
undertook Ph.d. research.
So, I spent ages trying to find a palaeontological cave site of a large mammal [cause that's what we are]. Esmée Webb was the next-to-last person whose advice I sought. She suggested that I get in touch with Karel Valoch at the Moravské Zemské Muzeum in Brno, in what was then, still, Czechoslovakia. The rest, as they say . . .  Cave Bears and Modern Human Origins: the Spatial Taphonomy of Pod Hradem Cave, Czech Republic . . . was published in 1996. Since that time a total of 8 scholars have cited it. Despite the resounding dismissal it received, it demonstrated, beyond doubt, that cave bear and wolf behaviour produced non-random, behaviourally meaningful, spatial patterning of bones and bone fragments. *crickets*

It may strike only me as odd. However, to cite one non-archaeologist on the value of spatial patterning in recognizing modern human behaviour, and not to mention my unique, epochal, iconoclastic, earth-shaking, primary research cannot be seen as merely an omission. It's a shoddy piece of research. No doubt in my mind why it was published in that joke of a research outlet, PLOS ONE.

I've probably said more than was necessary about this article. It falls short on so many fronts that, were I to have been the one to publish it, there would have been such an outcry that I might never have been heard from again.

I'm out of gas. So, I'll let you carve into the rest of Villa and Roebroeks—I haven't the heart.

Thanks for visiting. Thanks for listening.

* Sheep are the only species of mammals introduced to Australia that have never, NEVAH, survived in the wild. Goats do it. Cats do it. Rabbits do it. But sheep? Sadly, no.
** I use the