"...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, 7 October 2014

Human Universe with Professor Brian Cox

Apeman to Spaceman in 250,000 years

Professor Brian Cox opened his new BBC Two series by doing a great injustice to our ancestors.

His statement that human development was an "ascent" from our ape roots is both anthropocentric and Euro-centric inferring as it does that humans were somehow "chosen" for this adventure, perhaps by god? Furthermore, it fails to recognise that from a biological perspective the evolution of humans is a process of fetalization or more precisely neoteny in chordates (DeBeer, cited in Bednarik 2011). It implicitly perpetuates the idea that evolution is teleological when it is dysteleological. The biological trajectory of the human species, a process marked most recently by a transition from strong to weak, can more accurately be described as a "descent" from our ape ancestry.

As the BBC web site reveals, Professor Brian Cox presents a new theory, which I shall refer to here as the "Large Brain Hypothesis (LBH)". According to the LBH model, the earth's 400,000 year orbital wobble in combination with the precession and rapidly changing environmental conditions in the African rift valley precipitated punctuated increases in brain volume resulting in the present human condition. The examples the professor provided to illustrate his case were the brain cases of Australopithecus, Homo Erectus, Homo Heidelbergensis and Omo II perhaps unaware that Omo II was a surface find and is certainly not representative of a "modern human" skull having some very robust features. His suggestion of an accelerated development in brain volume coinciding with the events and scenario outlined are simply not supported by the meagre hominin fossil record. Further it fails to account for the average 13% decrease in brain volume from 50,000 years ago to the present day, following a steady course of expansion over a much longer period . If such investment in brain size was so central to our evolution what conditions occurred to cause natural selection to be halted and for the rapid decrease in brain size and 50% reduction in robusticity which followed? Unfortunately LBH provides no answers to this basic question, no surprises.

Instead, Professor Cox parrots the usual Pleistocene archaeological narrative that in just "10,000 generations" we can all trace our ancestry back to one point. That we are "all related to Africans from the Rift Valley". BS. His and my genealogy, as white Europeans, is very unlikely to be traceable to an African ancestry. The genetic data, both Y chromosome and mtDNA suggest that the haplogroups of African and Non-Africans split from a common ancestor of around 160,000 years ago. The origin of this common ancestor is unknown at present (Klyosov 2014).

He pinpoints the "road to civilisation" (from Africa - of course!) beginning at 60,000 years ago although why this date was chosen on this occasion by this professor is unclear citing the forging of Bedouin routes as evidence. No material evidence (for example the obsidian "spearpoints" he makes much ado of) supports this assertion. More critically, cultural evidence which is at odds with the suggestion that these 250,000 year old spear-points are a manifestation of a uniquely African/modern human trait was not presented. For instance, the finely crafted wooden spear from Clacton dated to around 400,000 years old or the javelin-like spears from Schoningen to name two of many more which contradict this mythical narrative.

But more to the point, implying that the human journey to space occurred in a matter of 250,000 years is simply incorrect. The most comparable journey is of course seafaring which probably began over a million years ago but certainly by 840,000 years ago as attested to by the evidence of hominin occupation at the island of Flores amongst others. These journeys, which by all accounts were a much more dangerous and therefore greater step for humankind, occurred without the global resources and expert scientific support that the first journey to the moon benefitted from. The journey to the moon was a precisely calculated exercise that by comparison with the first journeys across the sea was relatively safe (Bednarik 2011). These early journeys may have had failure rates in excess of 50%.

So, as Professor Brian Cox dismisses several million or so years of archaeological evidence of developing culture as irrelevant, he arrives at writing which he proposes was the next "big step" to the moon following spear-points. He suggests that it is at this moment that humans really came into their own. Whilst he may have support in indicating that "writing freed the acquisition of knowledge", contrary to his case, I would counter that the production of exograms (the externalisation of memory traces) was fundamentally more important than writing since it underpins our construction of a "shared" reality and a frame of reference from which volition arises. What he appears to be doing is conflating the culturally accumulated knowledge which allowed for space travel with the conceptual idea of a "modern mind" which empirically does not exist.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The "Aurignacian" and the Humpty Dumptys of Pleistocene archaeology

Amongst a plethora of papers of a similar nature it appears that in the absence of cultural, genetic or fossil evidence to support either the Out Of Africa (OOA) or Recent African Origin (RAO) models archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists are scrambling to find data from elsewhere which supports the idea that 'Neanderthals' were replaced with 'modern humans'. A pre-publication release from PNAS continues this trend and the mainstream media obediently take up the baton, for example see

Early modern human settlement of Europe north of the Alps occurred 43,500 years ago in a cold steppe-type environment.

Philip R. Nigst, Paul Haesaerts, Freddy Damblon, Christa Frank-Fellner, Carolina Mallol, Bence Viola, Michael Götzinger, Laura Niven, Gerhard Trnka and Jean-Jacques Hublin.

Quoted below in bold are the Abstract and a shorter summary titled Significance from PNAS


Modern humans dispersed into Europe and replaced Neanderthals at least 40,000 years ago. However, the precise timing and climatic context of this dispersal are heavily debated. Therefore, a new project combining paleoenvironmental and archaeological fieldwork has been undertaken at Willendorf II (Austria), a key site for this time period. This project has concluded that modern humans producing Aurignacian stone tools occupied Central Europe about 43,500 years ago in a medium-cold steppe environment with some boreal trees along valleys. This discovery represents the oldest well-documented occurrence of behaviorally modern humans in Europe and demonstrates contemporaneity with Neanderthals in other parts of Europe, showing that behaviorally modern humans and Neanderthals shared this region longer than previously thought.


The first settlement of Europe by modern humans is thought to have occurred between 50,000 and 40,000 calendar years ago (cal B.P.). In Europe, modern human remains of this time period are scarce and often are not associated with archaeology or originate from old excavations with no contextual information. Hence, the behavior of the first modern humans in Europe is still unknown. Aurignacian assemblages—demonstrably made by modern humans—are commonly used as proxies for the presence of fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans. The site of Willendorf II (Austria) is well known for its Early Upper Paleolithic horizons, which are among the oldest in Europe. However, their age and attribution to the Aurignacian remain an issue of debate. Here, we show that archaeological horizon 3 (AH 3) consists of faunal remains and Early Aurignacian lithic artifacts. By using stratigraphic, paleoenvironmental, and chronological data, AH 3 is ascribed to the onset of Greenland Interstadial 11, around 43,500 cal B.P., and thus is older than any other Aurignacian assemblage. Furthermore, the AH 3 assemblage overlaps with the latest directly radiocarbon-dated Neanderthal remains, suggesting that Neanderthal and modern human presence overlapped in Europe for some millennia, possibly at rather close geographical range. Most importantly, for the first time to our knowledge, we have a high-resolution environmental context for an Early Aurignacian site in Central Europe, demonstrating an early appearance of behaviorally modern humans in a medium-cold steppe-type environment with some boreal trees along valleys around 43,500 cal B.P.”

The definitive statement of the first sentence (1) conflicts with the first line of the abstract (2).

“Modern humans dispersed into Europe and replaced Neanderthals at least 40,000 years ago.” (1)

“The first settlement of Europe by modern humans is thought to have occurred between 50,000 and 40,000 calendar years ago (cal B.P.).” (2)

The abstract states that the first settlement of Europe by modern humans is thought to have occurred between two dates whereas (1) states categorically that 'Neanderthals' were replaced by 'modern humans' by 40,000 years ago. The argument by consensus is expanded upon further in the abstract:

“Aurignacian assemblages—demonstrably made by modern humans—are commonly used as proxies for the presence of fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans.”

'Aurignacian' assemblages are not demonstrably made by 'anatomically and behaviourally modern humans' and herein lies the problem for the paper's authors. Since so-called 'Aurignacian' assemblages have not been shown to signify the presence of a particular species, or sub-species the very foundation of the paper's assertion crumbles. That artefacts are used in this context as proxies for cognition, behaviour or anatomy would have been, I suggest, a more productive course of study. By definition no persons living during the Pleistocene were "fully behaviourally modern" since modern cognition can only be assumed to have arisen several centuries ago at most (Bednarik 2012a) and by definition no persons living during the Pleistocene were "fully anatomically modern" since the transition from robust to gracile continues to this day. If, as we are told, 'fully anatomically modern humans' replaced 'Neanderthals', then why do 'Neanderthal' genes and autapomorphies persist in present day humans?

The association of this so-called typology with 'anatomically modern humans' is painted as if it were a given. Crania from sites such as Vogelherd, Cro-Magnon and Mladeč are often cited as proof of 'modern humans' association with the 'Aurignacian'.

Vogelherd – The four Stetten specimens once regarded as evidence of modern humans are now recognised to be later intrusive Neolithic internments dated to between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

Cro-Magnon – This group of fossils is actually quite robust. The pronounced supraorbital torus, projecting occipital bone of cranium 3 are 'Neanderthal'. Despite this they ended up being the type fossil for all 'anatomically modern humans'. Regardless of their attribution to either classification, direct dating to around 27,000 years ago places the 'Cro-Magnon' fossils with the 'Gravettian' rather than the 'Aurignacian' industries (Bednarik 2011).

Mladeč – These specimens are not 'fully anatomically modern humans' and appear to show pronounced sexual dimorphism. Male crania are characterised by thick projecting supraorbital tori, Neanderthaloid posterior flattening, low brain cases, and very thick cranial vaults – typically features of robust not gracile hominins. The Mladeč specimens appear to represent an intermediate stage between robust and gracile. Their occurrence in a cave in indirect association with a handful of supposedly 'Aurignacian' artefacts found is not at all reliable though (Bednarik 2011).

There is no sudden change reflected in the hominin fossil record that would either support or suggest a replacement of one species by another. What can clearly be ascertained from the available archaeological record is that over a period of tens of thousands of years beginning around 50,000 years ago there was a gradual transition from robust to gracile individuals (Bednarik 2012b).

In terms of artefacts, the term ‘Aurignacian' simply refers to the etic interpretation of a loosely defined transition in stone artefact technology deemed to be of particular importance by archaeologists. It is an observer relative institutionalised fact - an archaeofact - having no independent existence outside of the discipline that coined the term.

The 'Aurignacian' is one of fifteen different locally developing 'cultural' traditions recognised within what is termed the EUP (European Upper Palaeolithic - generally regarded to span a period from about 45,000 to around 27,000 years before present) None of these recognised traditions have a precedent in Africa and nowhere in Europe do stone technologies suddenly appear or replace the pre-existing technology (Bednarik 2013). At Theopetra Cave, Greece, this technological transition was recorded in-situ and in association with 'Neanderthal' footprints of small children. ‘EUP’ industries arise at sites from as early as 54,000 years ago (e.g. Senftenberg), to as late as just 8,000 years ago (e.g. Abric Agut) (Bednarik 2011).

The observed transition presents a mosaic of geographically, technologically and chronologically diverse changes in knapping methods across a large region with a tendency toward miniaturisation and increased blade production, none of which are biological markers, and none of which can be assumed to be cultural or ethnic markers either.  Once again then, Nigst et al make the common mistake of conflating technological markers with cultural, biological and behavioural markers.

“In the case of the rejection of symbolic evidence predating the “Aurignacian,” the Humpty Dumptys of Pleistocene archaeology, whose entirely etic terms (of tool types, cultures, traditions, peoples, ethnic groups, etc.) mean whatever they choose them to mean, have collectively fallen off the wall they had erected and sat on for far too long. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot change that the entire replacement hypothesis, particularly the African Eve version, is nothing more than an academic sham. It is bereft of any real substance, was originally based on fake datings of fossils, was then transferred to unsupported genetic claims, sustained by accommodative hypotheses about invented and named tool industries and purported and named cultures, and was presented as a narrative rationalizing racism and genocide. But what is most disturbing about this incredibly naïve notion is that the primary reason for its existence is simply archaeological ignorance.” Bednarik 2011, The Human Condition.


Bednarik, R. G. 2011. The Human Condition, Developments in Primatology, Progress and Prospects, Springer, New York.
Bednarik, R. G. 2012a. An aetiology of hominin behaviour. HOMO - Journal of Comparative Human Biology 63: 319-335.
Bednarik, R. G. 2012b. The origins of human modernity. Humanities 1(1): 1-53,
Bednarik, R. G. 2013. Creating the human past: an epistemology of Pleistocene archaeology. Archaeopress, Oxford.

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.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Rabbits, neoteny and “modern humans”

"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit.

 "No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way."

I was looking for a tenuous link to rabbits and happened upon this quote from Pooh, apparently describing the course of Pleistocene Archaeology.

Rabbits featured in the news recently but anthropologists and archaeologists may have missed the relevance.

Science Daily announced:

“An international team of scientists has now made a breakthrough by showing that many genes controlling the development of the brain and the nervous system were particularly important for rabbit domestication. The study is published today in Science and gives answers to many genetic questions.”

The domestication of rabbits took place fairly recently, purportedly in the last 1,400 years. This has made the task of unravelling the genetic changes that took place less complex than for other animals domesticated much earlier, for instance, humans.

“We predict that a similar process has occurred in other domestic animals and that we will not find a few specific "domestication genes" that were critical for domestication. It is very likely that a similar diversity of gene variants affecting the brain and the nervous system occurs in the human population and that contributes to differences in personality and behaviour, says Leif Andersson”.

Indeed, 50,000 years of domestication brought about major changes that are observed in the hominin fossil record, many of which were deleterious and contrary to natural selection. Only sexual selection can trump natural selection and therefore if the discipline of Pleistocene Archaeology is sincere in its’ quest to unravel the early history of “modern humans” it desperately needs to acknowledge that the “Leaky replacement theory”, “Mostly Out of Africa” and other such models fail to address those changes which are most central to the current “human condition” (Bednarik 2011). Culturally determined sexual selection was ultimately responsible for the rapid decrease in brain volume (37 times that of the previous expansion over the course of millions of years) and 50% reduction in robusticity. These are just two of the traits which are frequently observed in the domestication of animals.

 “The study also revealed which genes had been altered during domestication. The researchers were amazed by the strong enrichment of genes involved in the development of the brain and the nervous system, among the genes particularly targeted during domestication.”

Considered in the context of human domestication this makes perfect sense of “brain re-organisation” especially when the selection is moderated by culturally determined significance. Indeed this process of selection for culturally perceived values continues to the present day and reflects many different pressures and influences including dominance and compliance.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Where did "modern humans" come from?

Mostly Out Of Africa, or mostly making it up as we go along…

Where did modern humans come from? A frequent question, the lead response to which that Google users are referred towards is from the National History Museum web site. So directed, readers will learn that:

“The latest genetic evidence is putting an intriguing twist on current thinking about how our species evolved. While an increasing wealth of data supports a recent African origin, new studies suggest that when Homo sapiens left Africa, rather than simply replacing archaic human species such as Neanderthals in other parts of the world, they interbred with some of them.”

Recent African Origin Model

Let us examine some of the “evidence” offered up in support of the standard dogma regarding “modern human” origins.

“The Recent African Origin model was given a huge boost in 1987, when a paper published in the scientific journal Nature, Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution, rocked the palaeoanthropology world. It showed that part of our genome, inherited only through mothers and daughters, derived from an African ancestor about 200,000 years ago. This female ancestor became known as Mitochondrial Eve.”

Whilst no reference is supplied for the 1987 paper it is probably safe to conclude that it refers to the work of Cann et al (1987). Alluding to the significant resistance generated in response to the Nature paper the Natural History Museum does not report that the results were flawed from start to finish but rather that the results reported supported their in-house “expert” Chris Stringer and “others”.

“Although the paper was contested, the results strongly supported the views that the Natural History Museum’s human origins expert Chris Stringer and others had been developing that we had a recent African origin.”

In fact, at that point Stringer was still peddling the older Out Of Africa (OOA) model which insisted upon a replacement of all hominins by “modern humans” out of Africa. No mention is made of the false datings created by Protsch which were in no small part the basis of this theory which was questionable even then given the existing evidence.

Contrary to the claim of the article the data did not show that part of our genome derived from an African ancestor about 200,000 years ago, although this was the authors’ interpretation. For example, Maddison (1991) demonstrated that a reanalysis of the data could produce 10,000 haplotype trees that were more parsimonious than the one selected by Cann et al in 1987. Not only this, but the more likely candidates tended to have basal branches that were non-African.

Further, Dr. Alan Templeton, who designed the program used by Cann et al to produce the erroneous results, soon pointed out that the same data could have produced 10267 alternative and equally credible haplotype trees (by comparison there are 1070 elementary particles in the universe) (Bednarik 2011).

Whether by design or by error Cann et al also miscalculated the results by over-estimating the genetic diversity of Africans compared to Europeans and Asians: thereby skewing the results in favour of an African origin.

As if these errors were not bad enough, Cann et al made a fundamental mistake. They conflated genetic diversity with more ancient origins for which there is no evidence (Klyosov 2014).

“In the following decade, more genetic data both from recent human people and Neanderthal fossils were collected supporting the Recent African Origin model. The idea gained momentum and with it the view that when modern humans began to leave Africa around 60,000 years ago they largely or entirely replaced other archaic human species outside the continent.”

At least here the Natural History Museum report accurately what happened. “…data… …were collected supporting the Recent African Origin model”. Science however does not work by collecting data to support a theory. Science works when it attempts to refute hypotheses, by collecting data that challenges a theory (refutation) which was amounting in the background. Pleistocene Archaeology historically works by suppressing data that challenges the dominant narrative and in this instance the behaviour of the discipline was not an exception to the rule. It is no exaggeration to conclude that the “idea” that modern humans originate from Africa around 60,000 years ago caught on, precisely because it was not rigorously tested in any of the leading journals. Any challenges to the dominating narrative are ignored, ridiculed or marginalised.

Amongst the most vociferous promoters of the African Origin theory was Chris Stringer and he subsequently presented the theory as fact, as did many of the “others”. Consequently the mainstream media dutifully echoed the conclusions of the High Priesthood of Archaeology regarding “modern human” origins and the gullible masses followed suit consuming and imbedding another factoid into their belief systems.

It is worth pausing here for a moment to consider where the figure of 60,000 years springs from? Your guess is as good as mine. Various unsupported dates were touted in support of a migration from Africa replacing the extant population of Europe, e.g.;

“50 thousand years ago” (Jobling & Tyler-Smith, 2003). “50 thousand years ago” (Thomson et al, 2000). “50 - 60 thousand years ago” (Shi et al., 2010). “50 - 60 thousand years ago” (Mellars, 2011). “50 - 70 thousand years ago” (Hudjasov et al., 2007). “50 - 70 thousand years ago” (Stoneking & Delfin, 2010). “60 thousand years ago” (Li & Durbin, 2011). “60 thousand years ago” (Henn et al., 2011). “60 thousand years ago” (Wei et al., 2013). “60 - 70 thousand years ago” (Ottoni et al., 2010). “60 - 80 thousand years ago” (Forster, 2004). “54 ± 8 thousand years ago” (Forster et al., 2001). “60 thousand years ago” (Stewart & Stringer, 2012). “45 - 50 thousand years ago” (Fernandes et al., 2012). “50 - 65 thousand years ago” (Behar et al., 2008). “50 - 60 thousand years ago” (Cann, 2013). “60 thousand years ago” (Chiaroni et al., 2009). “50 - 75 thousand years ago” (Patin et al., 2009). “50 thousand years ago” (Edmonds et al., 2004). “45 thousand years ago” (Moorjani et al., 2011). “50 - 70 thousand years ago” (Xue et al., 2005). “70 - 80 thousand years ago” (Majumder, 2010). “40 thousand years ago” (Campbell & Tishkoff, 2010). “50 thousand years ago” (Poznik et al., 2013). “60 thousand years ago” (Rito et al., 2013). “55 - 70 thousand years ago” (Soares et al., 2009). “between 40 and 70 thousand years ago” (Sahoo et al., 2006). “between 35 and 89 thousand years ago” (Underhill et al., 2000). “between 80 and 50 thousand years ago” (Yotova et al., 2011). “between 50 and 100 thousand years ago” (Hublin, 2011). “between 27 - 53 and 58 - 112 thousand years ago” (Carrigan & Hammer, 2006). “70 - 60 thousand years ago” (Curnoe et al., 2012). “~110 thousand years ago” (Francalacci et al., 2013). “200 thousand years ago” (Hayden, 2013).” List from Klyosov (2014).

Somewhere along the line a figure of “around 60-80,000 years ago” appears to have been settled on by consent. Another grand example of the scientific precision applied by Pleistocene Archaeology in its’ attempts to describe the human past by moderating popular opinion.

The Multiregional Model is described only briefly with little enthusiasm whereas the Assimilation Model (which is really nothing more than another attempt to salvage OOA) is implicitly given more credence, even going to the extent of highlighting certain text:

“Another group of scientists embraced a third theory – the Assimilation model. Like the recent African origin model, this gave Africa a key role as the place where modern human features evolved, but it imagined a much more gradual spread of those features.”

Under the title “New insights from DNA evidence” it is explained that “Neanderthal” DNA is present in present day Europeans, however, what is not explained is that this refuted the original Out Of Africa theory which demanded that these Africans were unable to interbreed with all other contemporary hominins. The same of course goes for the evidence of “Denisovan” DNA.

Recent Out Of Africa, by conceding that “modern humans” interbreed with “Neanderthals” and indeed “Denisovans” is essentially in accordance with Weidenreichs original trellis diagram of 1947 which is… multiregional.

The page concludes by stating:

“The Neanderthal and Denisovan genetic studies have given our understanding of our ancient past an exciting twist. Both indicate that modern humans did not completely replace other human species, as had once been suggested. Instead there was some interbreeding. This model has become known as replacement-hybridisation, ‘leaky replacement’, or ‘mostly out of Africa’.”

Since Stringer (and others) have painted themselves into a corner by stating such things as “we now know” that “modern humans” originated from Africa it is critical that the final point should be made that this is NOT a scenario the genetic data supports. Klyosov (2014) demonstrates that (see Figure 4, my highlighting):

“The tree shows the α-haplogroup, which is apparently equivalent to haplogroup A1b in the current nomenclature, and is ancestral to both the African and non-African haplogroups (its common ancestor lived 160,000 ± 12,000 ya), and the β-haplogroup, which is equivalent to haplogroup BT in the current classification (its common ancestor lived 64,000 ± 6000 ya).”

The genetic data therefore shows only that Non-Africans and Africans descend from a common ancestor at approximately 160,000 years ago. Any other interpretation is mostly making it up as we go along.



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.

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

Maddison, D. R. 1991. African origin of human MtDNA re-examined. Systematic Zoology 40: 355.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Modern Human Superiority Complex

Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex by Paola Villa and Wil Roebroeks published recently in PlosOne represents an extraordinary feat of accomplishment by relinquishing the argument that a cognitive advantage previously held to characterise the quintessential difference between Homo sapien sapiens and Homo sapien neanderthalis can be observed from the truncated archaeological record. They do this in a manner which ensures that the fundamental premises of the Out of Africa replacement hypothesis are not challenged and neatly conclude that what they perceive as the demise of Neanderthals was “more complex” than previously suggested.

This demise or disappearance perceived in the archaeological record is pinned down by Villa and Roebroeks to a period “between approximately 45 and 35 thousand years ago”. The references provided in support of this particular assertion include Douka et al (2013) which concerns only the chronology of Ksar Akil, Lebanon, and the Zilhao piece on issues with dates, taxonomy and cultural associations in supposed Neanderthal-Modern human contact neither of which identify a clear or convincing picture of Neanderthal extinction or disappearance. They further state that in western Eurasia Middle Palaeolithic technologies associated with archaic populations (Neanderthals) are replaced by a population of “modern humans (Homo sapiens) with Upper Palaeolithic technologies. The first reference cited in support of this claim is Higham et al (2011) which only refers to the earliest inferred examples of evidence for “anatomically modern humans” (AMH) in northwestern Europe. This is based on the circular assumption that the scant evidence of etic stone tool artefact types found are diagnostic of "AMH". Likewise Higham et al (2012) only tests the dates at one site within a narrow context concerning art and music. Even combined, all three references referred to do not persuasively support the aforementioned claim that there was a replacement of technologies and/or populations during the time frame quoted. No evidence disputing this supposed replacement of technologies and/or populations is considered although of course there exists plenty.

Contrary to the authors assertions, the study of the “transition” process in Eurasia does not integrate the data coherently across a wide range of disciplines or at least not according to the dominant narrative of the replacement hypothesis and hence partially explains the reason for publishing their own paper in an attempt to salvage some credibility. Amongst the shortcomings of this mythical-like narrative are the key failures to;

Account for the reduction in brain size observed occurring during this period at a rate 37 times that of the previous encephalization,

Provide any evidence of a direct replacement of technology ,

Account for in-situ development from Mode 3 to 4,

Reconcile dates which do not accord with this model, (e.g. Mode 4 developing in some areas as early as 54,000 years ago and in others as late as 8,000 years ago)

Or likewise explain away the abundance of evidence for art, culture and technology that preceed and therefore do not accord with this model.

In case there is any doubt, Villa and Roebroeks have clarified that the wide acceptance of the genetic argument is largely on the basis of the botched work of Cann et al which was refuted soon after it was first published. Of course they fail to mention any of the major problems with the genetic model put forward. This “genetic evidence” was they claim, later supported by fossils which showed that African were “far more modern looking” than their Neanderthal counterparts.

Omo Kibish 1 and the Herto skulls are cited as evidence of this perceived but ill-defined “early modern human morphology” emerging in East Africa 195 kya.

The Omo Kibish fossils offer some modern features, but also substantially archaic ones too, especially Omo 2 which is very robust. The dating is insecure, the latter a surface find.

The Herto skull (BOU-VP-16/1) is outside the range of all recent humans in several cranial measurements and is essentially archaic also.

Whilst on the one hand it may seem reasonable to suggest that some characteristics of “modern human morphology” (whatever that may be) are visible in these fossils such a claim fails to address the more important and fundamental criticisms that these characteristics are juvenile ancestral traits, and conversely, also fails to account for supposedly “Neanderthal” traits persisting in present day humans. More specifically Villa and Roebroeks do not demonstrate any sharp morphological or genetic separation between the gracile Homo sapiens and the robust Neanderthals as is required to support the replacement hypothesis.

By implication recognising that archaeologists “began looking for modern behavioural markers” at African sites (to confirm their pre-established belief systems?) Villa and Roebroeks proceed to test the evidence of this exercise in confirmation bias within the boundaries of a framework that does not challenge the core hypothesis of the OOA replacement model as they openly acknowledge.

Transitional industries and indeed any evidence (such as in-situ development from Mode 3 to 4) which counters the underlying premise of this poorly defined and dated replacement is specifically avoided on the grounds that it does not support the hypothesis - this appears remarkable in a peer-reviewed journal such as PlosOne. Likewise Châtelperronian dating conflicting with this narrative is also rejected on the same basis. The full implications of taphonomic logic have not been considered and it appears that Roebroeks and Villa make the common mistake of assuming that the earliest evidence is evidence of the earliest occurrence whilst compounding their errors by referring to a very limited set of data concerning the aetiology of hominin behaviour.

The body of the work therefore is based on the futile task of disproving the claim that the relatively few “modern behavioural markers” perceived to exist in support of a qualitative cognitive difference exemplified in the elusive “anatomically modern humans” were valid when it was perfectly apparent all along to anyone studying the epistemology of Pleistocene archaeology and particularly Palaeoart that examples to the contrary abounded. With observations such as “no clear archaeological signature” the paper’s authors offer excuses referring to new data some of which is already more than twelve years old and of which represents only a fraction of the evidence which has refuted this claim for many more years such as seafaring in Wallacea, etc.

Tellingly they refer to the “impossible coincidence” that what they still perceive to be a period of stasis spanning 300,000 years and including the use of hafting, personal ornaments, etc., is described as “rather monotonous” (despite the broad range of the Neanderthal “repertoire” acknowledged) was apparently interrupted by the arrival of AMH of which they can provide no clear evidence either in the fossil, genetic, stone-tool or cultural record.

This paper has a narrow frame of reference which renders it largely redundant in the wider context of Pleistocene archaeology. In fact, it was refuted before it was published.

This blog first appeared on 03/05/2014

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Why are we not all logical when it concerns multiregionalism?

The evidence as set forth by Chris Stringer (2014) in his opinion article in the journal Cell “Why we are not all multiregionalists now” makes little sense. Consider the second sentence of the first paragraph.

“The fact that small portions of the DNA of recent Homo sapiens derive from ancient populations in more than one region of the world makes our origins ‘multiregional’, but does that mean that the multiregional model of modern human origins has been proved correct?”

By recognising that the evidence supports a multiregional origin Stringer implicitly contradicts the title of his own piece. This is nonsensical and he proceeds to provide a humpty dumpty argument in favour of his “personal thoughts” about whether or not multiregionalism has been proven correct when what science demands is refutation. Multiregionalism does not imply unconstrained interbreeding but recognises that it occurs. Any model involving reticular introgression is essentially in accordance with Weidenreich’s 1946 “trellis” model of polycentric human evolution (Bednarik 2011). The “personal view” put forward seems hardly relevant in the context of the biological definition of distinct species. It relies on a perceived morphological separation between ancient hominin fossils and so-called modern humans. Stringer presents this idea by hypothetically juxtaposing archaic characteristics with modern, suggesting this would result in simultaneously opposed features. Indeed this ignores completely the abundant fossil evidence presenting a mosaic of archaic and modern features (Bednarik 2011). Foetalization (neoteny) and self-domestication as advanced by Bednarik (2011) are not addressed providing as they do the only coherent explanation for the rapid gracilisation evident in the fossil record occurring as it did at approximately the same time in all four continents. A period which saw brain volume decrease at a rate 37 times that of the previous expansion observed throughout the latter part of the Pleistocene at a time (between 50-30,000 years ago) when brains size was supposedly at a premium (Bednarik 2014).

Stringer attempts to ridicule Bednarik’s suggestion that Out of Africa models were formulated on the basis of a hoax by quoting a 1975 paper by Protsch instead of the original hypothesis of 1973 cited by Bednarik (2011). Bednarik notes that it was Brauer who “recycled” the ideas and fake data of Protsch in 1984 by using these and other unsound and since refuted information. It was Brauer’s work which according to Bednarik inspired the “replacement hypothesis” later dubbed the African Eve theory by the media. And it was the replacement model or Eve theory that Stringer so actively promoted. Critically this model categorically excludes the possibility of any genetic contribution from robusts (archaics) once these “moderns” had arisen. In other words, the claim that these “African ancestors” were incapable of interbreeding with contemporaneous hominins was central to the specific ‘version’ of OA Chris Stringer promoted across the mass media and now firmly entrenched in the Anglo-American Pleistocene archaeological narrative. Stringer fails to address why these false datings were not picked up earlier by either himself or his colleagues, especially when as Bednarik (2011) reminds us, that concerning the Stetten specimens from Vogelherd “…it had always been perfectly transparent that they were much younger deriving from intrusive Neolithic interments”.

Fundamental errors, such as drawing inference from direct comparisons between the genes of present day humans and ancient humans living 20-30,000 years ago, escape discussion. Yet it is clear that neither could interbreed because they did not exist at the same time. We now have confirmation that there was no biological barrier and this is exactly what the Eve theory could not tolerate. Further inference is made to perceived behavioural gaps in the archaeological record between perceived groups of archaic hominins which pays no heed at all to taphonomic logic nor accumulating evidence that there was never a “replacement” as demanded by Eve theory. The Aurgnacian has now been demonstrated to be directly associated with Neanderthals (Bednarik 2011) but it seems Stringer may be one of the last to comprehend the full ramifications and extent to which the dominant Pleistocene archaeological narrative he has been spearheading has lead the Anglo-American school so far astray.

Ultimately Stringer makes another stab in the dark to salvage the genetic argument by making an un referenced claim that several thousand genetic mutations fixed in present populations are further evidence of modern human’s uniqueness rather than accept the most parsimonious explanation that culturally determined sexual selection guaranteed the survival of these and other maladaptive mutations contrary to natural selection. There is no refutation to the detailed examinations of many of these deleterious mutations and their often very recent aetiology in the history of the human species as put forward by Bednarik (2011, 2012).

One of the key issues is the failure of Stringer to recognise that the hominin fossil record cannot be considered to be representative of population sizes or distribution and therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that he concludes the piece by surmising that in the “big picture” we are predominantly of Recent African Origin, a position he has in many ways ungracefully cornered himself into.


This commentary was first published on 12/04/2014



Bednarik, R. G., 2008. The Mythical Moderns. Journal of World Prehistory: 1-18.

Bednarik, R. G., 2011. The Human Condition, Springer, New York.

Bednarik, R. G., 2012. Aeitology of Hominin behaviour, HOMO—Journal of Comparative Human Biology 63: 319-335.

Bednarik, R. G. 2014. Exograms, Rock Art Research 31(1): 47-62.