The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mmmm -- tasty seal

A 43,000 year old menu?

Cave paintings from Spain whose context (note: not yet the paint itself) is being dated to somewhere around 43K years ago appear to represent yummy seals that would have been a food item for the painters. What's interesting is that a) this date is nearly 10,000 years farther back than the Chauvet paintings seen in Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and b) that puts them within the theoretical scope of occupation of Homo neanderthalensis, our near relative we used to think incapable of artistic expression.

Note that nothing so far would confirm the seals as being Neanderthal work; all that is suggested is that they could be, assuming the carbon dating of associated material is correct. That is, there would have been Neanderthals around to do the painting, if they did. What is more interesting to me, as a student of Archaeologists and their mental conditions, is the sand castles of theory they construct ("Neanderthals were not creative." "Humans and Neanderthals never interbred." "Neanderthals were not capable of speech." Etc., etc.,) all of which come apart at the seams, or seem to, whenever a small new hard datum comes in. Most damaging to the orthodoxy, of course, has been DNA work, which has shown (or has it?) that yes, you bet, H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis got it on, along with a brand new late hominin, still just being called the Denisovans after the place their preserved bits were found.

Regardless, the assumptions regarding recent Homininae are so loose and founded on so little data, apparently on the basis that we must generalize, even when we know damn well we don't have enough information to do so, that just about anything you dig up is likely to overturn something or other. Not that you should expect quick acceptance of your ideas; for all our DNA-munging smarts, e.g., we still haven't agreed on whether the "hobbits" (H. floresiensis) are a separate species or just a family of sick moderns. The fact that none of them are running for the GOP nomination would seem to argue against the latter hypothesis.