Science Comic

26 Jul 2019

In World Current Archaeology 96 (August 2019) (www.world-archaeology.com) we have a two page piece on the latest Neanderthal finds and mention is made of a study in PLoSONE online journal that used demographhic modelling and simulation to test what changes over a period of 10,000 years could lead to the mysterious Neanderthal extinction around 40,000 years ago. It found a slight continous slopee in the fertility rates of women under the age of 20 could have led to a signficant impact that could have led to the demise. The key word here is could - and having could twice in a single sentence accentuates the value of could - as it is meaningless and derived solely from the computers they were using. On the other hand the oft omitted catastrophic angle would fit the scenario perfectly.

Another interesting titbit, in the Scientific Reports column, contradicts the idea that an insufficiently varied diet was to blame (for infertility amongst Neanderthals etc) as their  diet was somewhat similar to that of the modern humans who arrived on the scene after the Neanderthal eclipse. They arrived at this conclusion after analysing bones of both Neanderthals and modern humans in collections in Belgium and Germany. Hence, we have a computer driven study as opposed to a science based study.

The page I often go to first is the Chris Gatling column - on page 56. It's a cracker, as they say. He begins by introducing us to a New Scientist article back in March of 2018 that had a blaring red top heading to a cover story that claimed the Neolithic population of northern Europe had effectively been wiped out by a group of livestock herders from the steppe, the Yamnaya culture people. They were described as the most murderous people of all time. The New Scientist then had another piece in March of 2019 on the same subject - which was a trifle rational as opposed to the first one. We are told in this revision of events that northern Europeans were already subject to the ill effects of having adopted agriculture when the steppe people arrived. After 1600 years of farming soil fertility was diminished, we are assured, even though it is known that animal manure was used extensively, and arable crops were blighted by fungal diseases and humans were plagued by various illnesses caused by living in close proximity to their animals. The weather was awful, it continues, and population numbers had shrank, which of course is all part of the event - a switch in climate from warm to very cool (with lots of rain in northern Europe). The thrust of the article is that this occurred prior to the arrival of the Yamnaya people but on the ground it is clear all these events were tied into a single bundle. Moe Mandelkehr wrote a series of articles on what he called the 2300BC event (in a succession of SIS Reviews) on exactly this event (using old money C14 dates tied to the tree ring narrow growth event at 2345BC). The 2300BC event has become the 2500BC in IntCal2013 (divorced from the tree ring event for some peculiar reason and where credence is given to speleotherms and other dating methodologies which do not have the exactitude of tree rings). Continuing, we are told that their miserable existence was overrun by horse borne and chariot riding Yamnaya people who had a warrior caste bent on violent conquest. The Neolithic inhabitants, survivors of a plague like epidemic, were swept aside while the newcomers had somehow developed an immunity to the plague on the steppe zone (and therefore increased in numbers whilst the indigenous people waned away). Suffice to say, any survivors of the epidemic were chopped to pieces with metal swords and other high tech weapons of war. Illustrating the article was an image of Stonehenge set against a fire filled sky. It became a memorial to a vanished people, they assured us, as almost every Briton from the top of Scotland to the south coast of England had been wiped out.

Perhaps the above couple of pieces were written by somebody usually on call to write about the latest piece of climate alarmism as a common thread appears to run through them as any evidence they had came from a DNA study of 20 Europeans buried between 6000 and 4500 years ago. The first group had a shared derivation from Mesolithic basic with an admixture of incoming Neolithic farmers with an origin in Anatolia. The second group showed a strong Yamnaya contribution.

Not to be outdone, the journal Nature weighed into the issue in March 2018 and had a similar piece of genetic change in Europe 2400 years ago - combined with the idea of an invasion of Beaker people (in Britain). Gatling, being a down to earth sort of fellow with an archaeological background, says there is a problem with the genocide hypothesis as there is no supporting evidence in archaeology. Now, archaeology is a limited science and should be viewed as only a small piece of the puzzle, illuminating as it often is on certain facts, but he had a specific piece of archaeology in mind. This is the Beaker Project which set out to analyse the skeletal remains of 264 individuals from the Chalcolithica and Early Bronze Age (2500-1500BC) buried with Beaker pottery  and artifacts associated with Beaker people (such as the introduction of metal in the UK and used for tools as well as weapons). See www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/research/beaker-isotope ... which included archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson. Hence, we have a study involving 264 people as opposed to the alarmist story that invovled just 20 human remains (20 skulls that yielded DNA as presumably some were discarded). The results were not nearly enough exciting for the New Scientist but it did clarify there was a migration into Britain from the continent. However, they came from different parts of the mainland to different parts of Britain - possibly over many generations. Instead of one mass migration we have many movements of small numbers of people - such as the Amesbury Archer and his pals. Individuals and small groups of people can have a large influence if they bring with them inovative ideas and technology - which in this instance included the use of metals. Mobility was common and was a long term feature of Britain's Neolithic, so we have a continuing lifestyle down into the early Bronze Age. All the DNA is telling us at the moment is that there was large scale population shifts across Europe - which is what was suggested by Mandelkehr back in the day. One should perhaps view the Yamnaya movements as being a part of this process - in the wake of a catastrophic event of some kind (followed by a rapid shift in climate).

Chris Gatling ends by saying perhaps we require a Europe and Central Asia wide study, integrating all the disciplines and technologies and not just genetics, at this period of time (the second half of the third millennium BC). He calls this the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in this region, as it is proving to most intriguing - on a par with the post Roman/early medieval period.