"...the behaviour of most present day humans remains moderated by magical thinking-type mental processes (lack of integration between the left prefrontal cortical areas and memory), underwritten by sub-optimal cause and effect perception."

Robert G. Bednarik, An aetiology of hominin behaviour, Homo, 2012

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A 5,400 year "overlap" of Neanderthals with Modern Humans

Regarding “The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance”.

Tom Higham et al. Nature  512, 306–309 (21 August 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13621

I don’t have access to the full article yet, but judging by the abstract (bold italic) this is not an issue. My comments are provided in plain type, I also quote from the supplementary information (italic). The authorship of the Chauvet Cave until recently was widely claimed to be attributable to AMH however this has been extensively refuted in part by the association of the paintings with Neanderthal footprints. The dating of this site alone poses a serious challenge to the hypothesis presented.

"The timing of Neanderthal disappearance and the extent to which they overlapped with the earliest incoming anatomically modern humans (AMHs) in Eurasia are key questions in palaeoanthropology."

They are indeed “key” questions for the discipline; however that it is so, illustrates the depth of the problems facing Palaeoanthropology and Pleistocene Archaeology. Even establishing the basis of discrete separation between so-called “AMH” and so-called “Neanderthal” is far from satisfactorily concluded. Such a distinction, made subjectively, on the grounds of morphology alone, is an unstable orthodoxy (Thompson 2014), more so given that species are more commonly separated on a biological basis – the ability to interbreed. Apparently it has not occurred to the referees that the authors most basic assumptions are observer-relative institutionalised facts having no independent existence outside of the discipline and questionable worth with regard to the past that they attempt to describe. Further, a “Neanderthal” disappearance has not been proven, indeed the opposite appears to be the case. It has now been amply demonstrated that “Neanderthal” genes and autapomorphies persist to the present day. This presents a big problem for the discipline because until recently it has largely subscribed to the theory that AMH developed out of Africa unable to interbreed with their contemporaries which is clearly no longer a sustainable position. All models of a reticular gene flow are in fundamental agreement with Weidenreich’s original trellis diagram of 1946 and are therefore multi-regional (Bednarik 2011).

 The original “replacement theory” has now been replaced with a new “replacement theory”; the “idea” that AMH replaced the resident population, “albeit with some interbreeding”. This is the idea that the paper reviewed here appears to seek to prove and since the referees are likely to also subscribe to the consensus view this unscientific approach has not been challenged. The very premise of the paper is false and unscientific since it sets out to prove rather than test. Genetic analysis suggests that “Neanderthal” genes persist in Europeans, Asians and Papuans but not Africans (Green et al 2010, Gibbons 2010). Klyosov (2014) demonstrates that the genetic data only shows that the Non-African and African haplogroups had a common ancestor 160,000 years ago. In other words it appears that it is precisely Africans that had the least contact with Europeans. Countless palaeoanthropologists, archaeologists and geneticists are either misunderstanding or deliberately misrepresenting the genetic data, in a series of publications essentially regurgitating the now thoroughly discredited work described in the 1987 Cann et al paper which also appeared in… Nature! For instance, the Cann team made the unsubstantiated and thoroughly mistaken assumption that genetic diversity equated to ancestory. (See also my first blog post for more criticism of the Cann paper in  “Where did modern humans come from”).  To add insult to injury, a follow up paper by several of the Cann team (but absent Cann) whilst recognising many of the weakness of the original paper, still got it wrong. According to Klyosov:

 “This is again a repetition of the common fundamental mistake by the proponents of the OOA concept, that if one population is more ancient then the other, the first must be an ancestral with respect to the second one. My uncle is older than me, but he is not my ancestor.”

As he explains, later migrations into Africa (3,000 years ago and less) deal further irrecoverable blows to the Cann paper:

“Did they add to the “genetic diversity” in Africa? Sure they did. Furthermore, they migrated to the Sub-Saharan region, where Cann et al. (1987) sampled mtDNA and found a “high genetic diversity.””

Oh dear.

One of the key reasons that the OOA theory gained such popular support (putting aside for a moment the reference to the bible) was the idea that it underpinned the concept of a single humanity. However, as Bednarik and Kuckenburg noted it does so with frightening implications (Bednarik 2011). At best this “triumph” would have come at a terrible cost to other humans and at worst it endorses competition to the point of extinction carrying with it the potential to rationalise genocide. The “Leaky replacement” theory whilst conceding that there was some “gene flow” still implies that “anatomically modern humans” out competed Neanderthals to the point of extinction.

"Determining the spatiotemporal relationship between the two populations is crucial if we are to understand the processes, timing and reasons leading to the disappearance of Neanderthals and the likelihood of cultural and genetic exchange."

Had Professor Higham et al applied taphonomic logic here they soon would have realised their fundamental error. The archaeological “pattern” of evidence is nothing more than a reflection of environmental degradation, research biases, random uncontrolled chance findings, etc., and should NOT be assumed to be representative of any “real” pattern. Even if Higham et al were able to correctly identify the emic properties of remnant artefacts which would allow them to confidently ascribe them to separate ethnic cultures, any “overlap” identified is meaningless.

Assuming that there were two distinct or discrete populations how would Higham et al be able to tell them apart from their respective archaeological signatures? They use technological indices and conflate these designations not only with distinct ethnic cultures, but remarkably biological separation.

The caveat underpinning the paper is revealed in the supplementary information:

“The majority of specialists agree that the European Mousterian technocomplex was probably produced by Neanderthals. In other parts of Eurasia this association is also accepted, although the link remains to be proven, since it is known that AMHs and Neanderthals produced similar Mousterian lithic tools in the Near East prior to the initial Upper Palaeolithic. This is unsurprising given the Middle Stone Age record in Africa. For the purpose of this paper, however, we have assumed that Neanderthals produced Mousterian industries.”

Incredibly then according to their own conclusions the authorship of “Mousterian” artefacts from Mount Carmel alone undermines their fundamental assumption: that is, the key finding of the paper is made worthless!  The authors have done nothing to demonstrate “the disappearance of Neanderthals” but rather performed some dating of Palaeolithic sites across Europe.

With regard to the “likelihood of genetic exchange”, it is noteworthy that Higham and colleagues fail to propose a parsimonious scenario which would account for the extent of preservation of “Neanderthal” DNA and autapomorphies in present day humans.

“Serious technical challenges, however, have hindered reliable dating of the period, as the radiocarbon method reaches its limit at ~50,000 years ago. Here we apply improved accelerator mass spectrometry 14C techniques to construct robust chronologies from 40 key Mousterian and Neanderthal archaeological sites, ranging from Russia to Spain. Bayesian age modelling was used to generate probability distribution functions to determine the latest appearance date. We show that the Mousterian ended by 41,030–39,260 calibrated years bp (at 95.4% probability) across Europe.”

Let’s rephrase that, Higham et al show that for the narrow range of sites sampled those attributed to the “Mousterian” are mostly dated to before 40,000 years ago and those commonly not attributed to this typology are mostly dated to after about 40,000 years ago. That’s to say they have measured the probability that institutionalised researchers can conformably identify stone artefacts according to the preferred unstable orthodoxy of constructed typological chronologies.

 “We also demonstrate that succeeding ‘transitional’ archaeological industries, one of which has been linked with Neanderthals (Châtelperronian)4, end at a similar time.”

‘EUP’ industries arise at sites throughout Europe (Bednarik 2011) ranging from 54,000 years ago (e.g. Senftenberg) to as recently as 8,000 years ago (e.g. Abric Agut). This technological transition, observed in cases in-situ (for example at Theopetra Cave, Greece, in association with “Neanderthal” footprints of small children) can be seen as a mosaic of geographically and chronologically diverse change in knapping methods across the region tending toward miniaturisation and increased blade production – hardly biological markers! 

“Our data indicate that the disappearance of Neanderthals occurred at different times in different regions. Comparing the data with results obtained from the earliest dated AMH sites in Europe, associated with the Uluzzian technocomplex, allows us to quantify the temporal overlap between the two human groups. The results reveal a significant overlap of 2,600–5,400 years (at 95.4% probability).”

Regrettably for Higham and the team their subjective interpretations of data as technological markers does not imply either the disappearance of “Neanderthals” or indicate the arrival of “AMH” in Europe at different times in different regions They simply perpetuate the litho-centric interpretations and narratives of the mainstream Pleistocene Archaeological paradigm by finding “patterns” in data which support their view. In doing so, Higham and colleagues have had to ignore all fossil evidence which does not support the contention that AMH and Neanderthals are a single contiguous species which have transitioned from robust to gracile (i.e. domestication theory, Bednarik 2011). More critically, they have succeeded in demonstrating that taphonomic logic has not been applied.

This has important implications for models seeking to explain the cultural, technological and biological elements involved in the replacement of Neanderthals by AMHs. A mosaic of populations in Europe during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition suggests that there was ample time for the transmission of cultural and symbolic behaviours, as well as possible genetic exchanges, between the two groups.”

A mosaic of features in fossil skeletons, morphological transitions from robust to gracile are parsimoniously explained with recourse to the biological data which indicate neoteny or foetalisation occurring at an unprecedented rate in the course of hominin history (Bednarik 2011).

By talking about “possible genetic exchanges” Higham et al indicate that they do not understand the implication of the current genetic evidence which shows continuity between “Neanderthals” and so-called “modern humans” living in Europe and Asia and clearly shows a common ancestor for both Africans and Non-Africans (Kylosov 2014).

The cultural evidence has never supported the idea that “AMH” arrived in Europe with “modern cognition”.  Only the bias filtering of the archaeological evidence practiced over the last few decades has allowed for the conditions in which a distorted interpretation of the past has been sustained in academe (Bednarik 2011, Thompson 2014).  All the indications are that this practice continues unabated in influential journals such as Nature. That Higham and colleagues can arrive at such a precise calculation for the perceived "overlap" of two archaeo-facts illustrates the depth of the problems facing Pleistocene Archaeology.



Bednarik, R. G. 2011. The Human Condition, Developments in Primatology, Progress and Prospects, Springer, New York.

Cann, R. L., M. Stoneking and A. C. Wilson 1987, Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution. Nature 325: 31-36.

Green et al 2010, cited in Bednarik 2011.

Gibbons 2010, cited in Bednarik 2011.

Higham et al 2014. Supplementary Information, Nature. doi:10.1038/nature13621

Klyosov, A. A. 2014. Reconsideration of the “Out of Africa” Concept as Not Having Enough Proof. Advances in Anthropology 4(1): 18-37.

Thompson J. R. 2014, Archaic modernity vs the High Priesthood: on the nature of unstable archaeological/palaeoanthropological orthodoxies. Rock Art Research 31(2): 131-156.