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Between March 2, 2021 and April 19, 2021, I published 15 short videos on my Dr. Anth Talks Channel. Each week, 2 short videos are published on topics related to being human in a complex world.
Check out the past videos and make sure not to miss any in the future by subscribing to my Dr. Anth Talks Channel.
December 10, 2012 was the International Human Rights Day, a day that we remind ourselves that far too many individuals still lack basic human rights. There are 27 million men, women, and children laboring in slavery. Girls are too frequently denied an education and forced into early marriage when, instead, girls could be powerful forces of economic and political change.
International Human Rights will not be achieved until women have the same opportunities and rights as men; until we have gender equity. Women’s Rights are Human Rights.
One day each year to remind ourselves that everyone deserves human rights is not often enough. But it is a beginning.
While reading The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, the author discussed the concept of ‘pathological science.’ ‘Pathological science’ results from scientists who cling to their ideas even when there is plenty of evidence against them. For instance, Kean discusses the idea that megalodon sharks might still be circling the deep oceans even though there is no evidence for this, while there is evidence that those sharks died out at least one million years ago. Yet, some scientists are pathologically attached to the idea that the megalodon lives.
I realized that ‘pathological science’ was the perfect term to describe what happened over the past 25 years with the rise of mtEve and the demotion of Neanderthals to non-H. sapiens status. There was/is little evidence to support mtEve as a concept, but it so excited many otherwise respectable scientists, not to mention the media and the general public, that mtEve swept away anyone who disagreed that she was the mother of all modern humans. This was a pathological science creation event par excellence. If this non-existent entity had been named mtMable, the rush to embrace her probably would not have occurred.
The name ‘mtEve’ fed into the creation stories many scientists were raised with; even if they no longer believed the stories, the concepts still manifested at an unconscious level. For the media and the general public who did/do still believe these creation stories, mtEve provided immediate validation that humans were special. Humans were not just another animal; not just another result of evolution. Pathological scientists also want ‘modern’ humans to be viewed as special, distinct, better than any preceding humans who were ‘archaic’ and different, more like an animal, less intelligent. Given the location of mtEve (Africa) and the poorly-derived date of mtEve (it varies a great deal, but many use 250,000 years ago), Neanderthals were relegated to the ‘archaic’ heap.
I have spent the past two-plus decades fighting against this pathological science, only to see it become accepted dogma even in textbooks. This is disturbing. If scientists can be so swept away by their emotions that they totally ignore evidence, is it any wonder that respect for science is softening? Fortunately, science is eventually self-correcting. It’s taken too long, but it is finally becoming clear that Neanderthals were no less ‘modern’ than so-called ‘moderns.’ There was no creation event 250,000 years ago in which mtEve popped into being and begat the first modern human. For 25 years, I asked for evidence of how speciation occurred between ‘archaics’ and ‘moderns’ and was shown no evidence. I was not surprised since there was and is no such evidence: mtEve was a creation of pathological science.
Robert G. Bednarik’s chapter, “The Expulsion of Eve” in his book The Human Condition, is a precise and detailed refutation of mtEve and the concept of ‘modern’ and ‘archaic’ humans. He slices and dices the ‘evidence’ (morphological, genetic, lithic, and cultural) until there is nothing left but hot air. While Bednarik does not use the term ‘pathological science’, it is clear from his analysis that mtEve proponents were and are acting pathologically. “…the Eve supporters have led the study of hominin origins on a monumental wild-goose chase.”
In Part 1, I concluded that the relationship of >power = >possessions =>intelligence = >human leads many of those with numerous possessions and great power to view those with neither as somehow sub-human. This attitude applies not only to the present, but to the past.
Archaeology is the study of the material culture (possessions) of past peoples. While many archaeologists are primarily interested in finding out how the average person lived, others are more concerned with the elites. This is to be expected when one considers what the general public prefers to view in museums. Commonly, one does not wait long hours in line to see how the workers who built Tut’s tomb lived, but rather the material possessions of Tut. One does not brave crowds to look at the few possessions of the sailors who crewed a ship that sank, but rather the cargo of that ship. How many tourists travel to France to tour 17th century slums rather than Versailles? In our view of the past, the wealthy are more real, more intelligent, more human because they are the ones with the most material culture to be found by archaeologists.
If material possessions carry great weight in our view of the past, then it is no surprise that the further back in time we go and the less material culture we find, the less intelligent we think our ancestors were. Of course, this ignores the fact that much of material culture decays. Therefore, the further back into the past we delve, the less material culture there is that would be, could be, preserved. Somehow, we manage to ignore this and assume that what we find is all our ancestors had. When we travel back to the ‘dawn’ of material culture around 2.5 mya we find only stone tools and a few fossilized bones with signs of cut marks. We think: ‘They had so little, they clearly weren’t very intelligent. They probably couldn’t even speak.’ This ignores the fact that by this point our ancestors had been bipeds for over 2 million years and that bipedality is related to language ability.
This also ignores the fact that much of culture is immaterial, intangible. As I said in Part 1, the focus on possessions has led many to assume and treat modern foragers who necessarily, due to their lifestyle, have few possessions, as sub-human, even as animals that can be killed with impunity. If modern foragers are viewed this way, how much less human must our ancient ancestors be?
It seems to be a given by the general public, and even by many anthropologists, that ‘modern’ humans came into existence around 100,000 years ago. That is, there was a speciation event. However, I have yet to read anywhere what caused this speciation event. There is no real evidence. It makes no sense. And yet, it is believed to be true. The date of 100,000 ya appears to have been chosen because the site of Klasies River Mouth in South Africa dates to about 100,000 ya and has a few skeletal pieces that some paleoanthropologists believe look ‘modern.’ By ‘modern’ they mean more gracile. Also, the Klasies people ate a lot of shellfish, which is considered a more modern behavior. However, the earliest bipeds have been found in what would have been a marshy environment, so it is probable that our ancestors have been eating shellfish for millions of years. The earliest non-lithic material culture is also found in sub-Saharan Africa and dates to about 80,000 ya. This is viewed as more evidence of modernity. Add in other gracile skeletal material of about the right age and voila! Modern humans popped into existence. The idea that no one used bones and shells for tools and decoration until around 80,000 ya is ludicrous. These materials will decay rapidly in most environments, so it is not surprising that they do not show up until later in human ancestry.
Now, why is the date of 100,000 years so important? Because if ‘modern’ humans did pop into existence around that date, that would mean that Neanderthals were not human. For some reason, it is critically important to a lot of people, many anthropologists included, that Neanderthals not be ‘us.’ They would rather make the unsupported claim that a speciation event occurred and that Neanderthals are a different species than to accept the more logical deduction that there was no speciation event and that Neanderthals are simply a population of modern humans.
Years of effort and reams of paper have been devoted to ‘proving’ that Neanderthals were subhuman. One of the methods used was to point out that Neanderthals had a very limited material culture compared to so-called ‘modern’ humans. But, surprise! More and more research is showing that Neanderthal material culture and ‘modern’ material culture were very similar. In fact, it may turn out that Neanderthals were the first European artists, not the ‘moderns.’
Will we finally admit that Neanderthals were fully as modern as any other group alive at that time? Does it take clear evidence of plenty of material culture to admit a population to full humanity? Or could we at last realize that material culture is only one limited aspect of being human, and one that is easily lost to time. Having more possessions does not make a person more intelligent or more human.
Recently, a supporter of Mitt Romney at one of his fundraisers equated poverty with poor education and, by implication, lower intelligence. “I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.” It seems pretty clear that this woman believes that her station in life, which is due to her wealth and the privileges her wealth can buy, makes her superior in all ways, including intelligence, to those without great wealth. Although this egregious attitude appears to be pretty typical of the 1%, they are not alone in equating material possessions/wealth to intelligence. This relationship, >material possesions = >intelligence, has been in effect for at least 5000 years, perhaps much longer.
For millions of years, our ancestors were foragers moving around their territory hunting animals and gathering other foodstuffs with which to sustain life. Since they were constantly on the move, minimizing material possessions was a necessity. Particularly rich foraging environments, such as along the Northwest Coast of North America, did allow foraging groups to settle down and accumulate some possessions, but large settlements did not begin to become widespread until after the domestication of plants and animals.
Once a group settled down, it was easy to accumulate possessions. The number of possessions increased when craft specialties developed. Each family no longer had to make everything it needed. Families could trade what they made for something different someone else made. Increasing population size and craft specialization led to the development of class structure and governing hierarchies. Those at the top now had the resources to obtain even more possessions that became status symbols. The ancient “1%” not only had the highest status and the most possessions, they had all the power. We can modify the relationship to read >power = >possessions = >intelligence. The belief in this relationship still holds sway many millenia later.
The result is that those in power, those having the most complex material culture (i.e. possessions) believe that this relationship is evidence that they are more intelligent than those lacking in possessions and power. Those at the bottom of the social hierarchy in agricultural or pastoral societies who possessed the least knew they were considered inferior in all ways to those at the top of the hierarchy. Enculturation in this society probably led them to believe this relationship of possessions and power to intelligence was true. However, there were others who possessed even less than they did: the foragers. The result was a disdain for the foraging lifestyle and a belief that foragers were inferior in intelligence to those who were not foragers. Foraging was deemed to be too similar to how animals lived. Foragers began to be seen by non-foragers as subhuman. Therefore, as with other animals, foragers could be killed with impunity and their territories taken by the ‘real’ humans to use more ‘productively’. This continues to happen in the Amazon, the forests of Southeast Asia, and anywhere else foraging populations struggle to survive.
If foragers, who have almost no possessions, are considered subhuman, then the poor, who have hardly more possessions, are themselves considered barely human. Only true humans can be considered intelligent, so foragers are unintelligent and the poor are at the lowest levels of human intelligence; if they were truly intelligent, they would have many possessions. Certainly, that is what the Romney supporter mentioned above appears to believe. We can modify again the relationship to read >power = >possessions = >intelligence = >human.
Perhaps that particular Romney supporter does not consciously think of herself as more human than those who are poorer than she is, but her statements and behavior, and that of those like her, implies that subconsciously, she does believe that those in the lower economic echelons are less human. Given a belief in the relationship of >power = >possessions =>intelligence = >human, it is not too surprising that those with that mindset do not want to pay more taxes that might go to government programs that would help lower-income individuals and families. Only true humans, those like themselves, are worthy of support.