Sunday, June 9, 2013

On the Waterfront

Past Horizons, June 8, 2013

“Beachcombing for early humans in Africa”

In the middle of an African desert, with no water to be found for miles, scattered shells, fishing harpoons, fossilized plants and stone tools reveal signs of life from the water’s edge of another era.

The article goes on to talk in general about the state of early hominid archaeology in East Africa and about previously moister conditions, etc.; the idea being that, if you find old shorelines, you stand a better chance of finding old fossils and artifacts.

Sorry, but it’s time for another “Well, duh!” Where else would you expect to find evidence of early humans? Besides caves? (As if scads of early humans populated all the caves from Ethiopia to South Africa. How the hell many caves were there?)

It’s telling, though, that despite the nearly universal finding of fossils from shoreline conditions (barring caves, which are always located near water), early humans are invariably depicted as savannah-living creatures. Whoever wrote this article, for example, was able to calmly write about the human relationship to wetter conditions without ever once making the connection between the conditions and the sites where she was finding the fossils and artifacts.

Okay, I’m no scientist. I know nothing about foot bones or ear bones and I have no opinion about which hominins were capable of what. I rest all my scientific expertise on one statistics of sociology course a half-century ago. What better credentials than that, eh? But that statistics course said: if it looks like a duck, squawks like a duck, and swims like a duck, odds are it’s a duck. I believe that. It’s not proof that it’s a duck, but it has the likelihood of being a duck, fair enough?

So, if one consistently finds evidence of early humans in close proximity to what were, at the time, bodies of water, one can assume a high probability of a causal relationship between them. It’s not likely that the water came to the people.

Just saying…

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